Ever-popular Ollie, Rosko and Louie have missed socializing with guests, but have no idea what delectable experiences await them as Larson Family Winery readies to reopen its outdoor tasting area this week.
“The dogs are doing great — they’re a little thinner now since there have not been as many staff, or of course, guests, to offer them treats,” said Hayden Puryear, newly appointed tasting room manager at the winery.
The Sonoma winery’s many regular visitors are very familiar with Ollie, Rosko and Louie, three Labrador retrievers who will be there to greet everyone when the back pad tasting area reopens on Thursday, Aug. 4. An electrical fire destroyed the winery’s historic barn, which included a tasting room with plenty of valuable Sonoma Rodeo memorabilia, on March 2.
“We are very excited to open the doors,” Puryear said. “The back pad tasting area is looking better than ever. We had two weekends of a members-only soft opening and it was great to host some of our biggest fans. We look forward to opening the doors on Aug. 4 to members as well as the public — or as we like to call them, our future members.”
Tasting experiences will be available Thursday through Sunday, with 90-minute visits starting at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. They will take place outdoors on the tasting pad, amid acres of vineyards. Even before the fire, the winery hosted most of its guests on the back pad.
Two tasting flights will be offered, both of which feature nods to the land’s history.
“‘Ain’t Our First Rodeo’ is a little tongue-in-cheek reference to our history as the home of the Sonoma Rodeo from 1920s to the 1950s,” Puryear said. “This is perfect for first-time Larson guests.”
It showcases the Larson Family Winery and Millerick Road Wines brands as well as the Three Lab Cab label (named after the dogs) while introducing guests to the wide range of varietals the winery produces.
“Our ‘Gold Buckle’ flight, features five gold medal-winning wines — all part of our reserve program,” Puryear said. “This elevated flight was designed for returning guests who want to delve deeper into our library.”
Deli options such as cheese, crackers, charcuterie and some sweet treats will be available each day and sandwiches and Basque bread will be offered on weekends.
Guests will be able to enjoy their visit at picnic tables or at upgraded seating options such as cabanas, new hardwood gliders and the vineyard area, with views of the Carneros Appellation, consisting of 22 wineries covering 8,000 vineyard acres.
The winery will welcome back two updated, favorite lawn games in the pasture. Visitors will once again be able to make reservations to play bocce and cornhole, as was the case before the COVID-19 pandemic. During the pandemic, the games have been available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Rather than being part of tasting flights, these games require guests to purchase bottles and enjoy them with friends and family members when playing.
“They’re ideal for groups who are looking to catch up on some outdoor fun and have some favorite Larson wines in mind to share with friends,” Puryear said.
Visitors will also be able to view a newly acquired 1952 Ford 8N tractor and two vehicles that were not affected by the fire — a 1931 Ford Model A truck and a 1959 Ford Tractor.
“Also, we saved part of the old rodeo gate, with metal hinges, and are still figuring out the best way to incorporate it into a display, but we will do that some day,” said Becky Larson, who oversees the wine club and tasting room.
The winery also plans to eventually relaunch the Larson Family Winery Walkabout, a tour of the property that ended with a tasting in the barrel room.
Puryear says that the Larson family and team members have been working around the clock to prepare for the reopening.
“It absolutely took a ton of determination from both the family and team to create the outdoor tasting space,” he said. “This required a lot of cleanup, as well as some basic things like getting the electricity and water working. We have a great teams and worked very hard to meet our deadline.”
Sonoma Ballooning has donated hot-air balloon certificates to be raffled off during the reopening weekend.
“The hot-air balloons can only land where the wind takes them,” Puryear said. “However, when conditions are ideal, they love to land at Larson. Their customers enjoy being greeted by our three labs and Sonoma Ballooning crew, and love having Rosko help to deflate the balloon.”
Winery staff have been busy concentrating on opening the outdoor tasting pad, but they’re also planning to eventually open a new barn that will house an indoor tasting room.
“We really don’t know when the rebuild will begin or be complete, but now that the tasting room is open again for members and guests, we can imagine that project,” Larson said.
Puryear says that as the winery hosts guests in its new format, staff will be carefully watching what does and doesn’t work.
“We are looking forward to the opportunity to make a new indoor space that really works for what we need and most importantly, what our guests want,” he said. “The barn was a pillar in our roots, history and brand. While we want to update and improve when we build our new space, we won’t stray far from the heritage and hospitality that the barn symbolized.”
The indoor tasting room will include storage and service areas, plus more spaces for educational opportunities and merchandising.
Puryear is enthusiastic about serving in his new role.
“It has been a lot of work getting the tasting pad back up and running, but I have loved every minute of it,” he said. “I want to maximize the customers’ experience at the winery at show new customers the reasons why I and many others have fallen in love with the wines, view and atmosphere here.
Larson is excited about the leadership Puryear will provide.
“He has had experience in many aspects of the winery, the vineyards and our bottling line company, so he brings a lot to the table,” she said. “We are also very grateful to have our staff back and have some great new additions. We look forward to making some great memories with our awesome customers and team.”
Reach the reporter, Dan Johnson, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy: