We had the chance to plan yet another corporate getaway, this time in Napa Valley, California.
We took a small team of execs from Shiseido to the upscale yet approachable Yountville in Napa Valley for four days of meetings, team building, and exclusive wine tastings.
This NYC-based event team is no stranger to world travel and events in exotic locales. We’ve taken a hop across the pond to London, square-danced our way through Nashville, and been “on-location” in sunny California’s Paramount Studios. With new destinations constantly being added to our “Been There, Done That” list, we’ve got off-site planning down to a science.
Now that our latest excursion to Napa is behind us, we thought it would be a great chance to give our fellow planners a little low-down on the what’s what and who’s who of Napa Valley.
1. THE MANY SIDES OF NAPA VALLEY
We know San Fran is quite the destination, but we took things one step further for this team bonding trip by taking them to Napa Valley. If you’ve never been before, it’s important to note the difference between Napa County and Napa the town. Napa County is, of course, America’s wine country, and no matter where you are, there’s sure to be no shortage of reds and whites at your disposal. But, each town has its own unique flavor, and it’s important to look at your event’s goals, your client’s brand, and the group you will be hosting when choosing a destination. Some towns have more of an organic, back-to-nature feel, while in others you can’t even enter some of the hotels unless you own a yacht.
We chose Yountville for our event because it is the perfect mix of luxury and grace. Even with world-famous wineries and Michelin star restaurants around every corner, this town was quiet and reserved.
2. GIVE YOURSELF A SNEAK-PREVIEW
Not all towns in Napa are created equal, and not all wineries are created equal, either. Some vineyards will give you the sense of a rich, storied past, while others are sleek and sophisticated. Is your group the kind that will be fascinated when the sommelier walks them through 100+ years of history on the tour, or are they going to be waiting impatiently for someone to put glasses of cabernet in their hands? You know your group better than anybody, and nothing beats seeing each venue first hand and meeting the hosts face-to-face to figure out what works for them.
As we scouted out Napa in advance, we took the time to experience every location on our itinerary as our guests would, and look for potential pain points. One area of note: our hotel rooms had beautiful, homey fireplaces that we knew our guests would be obsessed with. When we visited, we found ourselves going through an entire pad of hotel stationary and most of a book of matches trying to light a fire. So, we sourced extra long matches to include with the room drop, and it made all the difference. Our guests relaxed each evening by the crackle of a fire they could build themselves.
3. TEAM UP WITH THE LOCALS
As much as we would have loved to, we couldn’t pack up our bags and relocate to Napa for three months. Years of experience has taught us that it’s often easier (and more effective) to hire a professional and in this case, no one knows Napa like a local. We worked with Wine + Dine to fill in the gaps in our knowledge. Their team was able to easily tell us things that would have taken us hours of research. Every step of the way, we could be confident that we were going to give our clients the best experience possible.
They were also able to offer us a very crucial piece of advice: February is Rain Season. Which brings us to our next point:
4. MAKE RAIN PLANS
There’s a reason why certain locations are so popular certain times of the year, and weather plays a big part in that. A good rule of thumb for any destination is that tourist season usually coincides with sunny days and smooth sailing.
When we went to Napa, we didn’t have the luxury to select our own dates. Corporate events run on a different calendar from the rest of the world. February was the time our group could set aside for work-related travel, and it was our job to make that happen. While we had our pick of the litter when it came to booking venues, we had to make rain plans knowing very well that they would certainly be put into action. No problemo, we have a special place in our hearts for plans B, C and the rest of the alphabet.
Fast forward to February, and lo-and-behold, our event started off with our guests stuck on the tarmac for hours due to inclement weather. Regardless of any hangups, we know travel days tend to take a lot out of people, so we made sure to plan an easy first day. Short meetings, and a low-key dinner at Ottimo, on the same estate our hotel was located on.
Guests dazzled their taste buds with a private olive oil and salt tasting, fresh baked pizza, and gelato served in Shiseido branded cups. The location allowed guests the chance to sneak out whenever they were ready and be escorted back to their rooms, while others could stay later, with plenty of wine to accompany them.
On Day Two, we were met with another torrential downpour (and this time, it was personal). This delayed the arrival of our A/V team for the start of their meeting that morning, and so we had to step in as impromptu presentation gurus. That afternoon, we had reservations for a tour, tasting and dinner at the exclusive Lokoya Winery. The trip up the mountain to Lokoya is tough even on a sunny day, but worth every minute. But the rain closed all the roads and caused little old Yountville to almost completely shut down. (Think of Napa during rain season like the south during a snowstorm.) Eventually the rain stopped and we got our party up the mountain, and made arrangements to move their outdoor campfire reception to the next night.
Another item of note: include a look at the weather on the daily agenda. Even though it will be a hassle getting these to the printer and delivering them in real-time every day, it’ll make all the difference when your guests wake up and know exactly what to expect, what to bring, and what to wear each day.
5. BRAND TO LOCATION
When you take a team to Napa (or any world-class destination, for that matter) you’re giving that team a taste of where they’re going. The group lives and breathes their own brand everyday, they don’t need to fly to the other side of the country just to feel like they never left home. Afterall, the best team building experiences take your group out of their element.
So, we wanted Napa to be the star of the show. With every winery and dinner, we branded the experience to the location. Our goal with every venue we selected was to provide spaces that would speak for themselves without much sprucing up from us. It made our event-planning hearts sing when our guests arrived for dinner at the famous Stag’s Leap Wine Caves, and no one could take their seats until everyone got a picture of the dining room tablescape.
5. BRAND TO LOCATION
When you take a team to Napa (or any world-class destination, for that matter) you’re giving that team a taste of where they’re going. The group lives and breathes their own brand everyday, they don’t need to fly to the other side of the country just to feel like they never left home.
We wanted Napa to be the star of the show. So, with every winery and fancy dinner, we branded the experience to the location. Our goal with every venue we selected was to provide spaces that would speak for themselves without much sprucing up from us. It made our event-planning hearts sing when our guests arrived for dinner at the famous Stag’s Leap Wine Caves, and no one could take their seats until everyone got a picture of the dining room tablescape.
We gave every piece of collateral we designed the look and feel of the restaurant we were in, rather than the usual Shiseido branding. Our favorite example by far were the handmade menus created for our final dinner at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, where we added a special flair by attaching Stag’s Leap wine corks to each menu, which guests could take as a keepsake.
Even when we were branding to location, we were always sure to bring in a few special pops. When our guests were relaxing by the campfire on our final night in Napa, they were treated to a special surprise with Shiseido branded marshmallows.
Between all the ups and downs of planning in Napa, our best piece of advice: if you get the opportunity, go. Our guests were treated to one of the best meetings and team-building experiences they’ve ever had, and were constantly saying that it would be impossible to top.
There you have it, event planners — everything you need to know about Napa Valley. Happy planning! Taking your team to Napa soon, or have another destination to add to our travel itinerary? Give us a shout.