A vintage vacation for Tom Noonan, CEO of Visit Baltimore

Celebrity traveler

When Noonan isn't luring visitors to Charm City, he escapes to California's wine country for some R&R

  • Dutcher Crossing Winery in Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County, Calif.
Dutcher Crossing Winery in Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County,… (M. J. Wickham Photo for Dutcher…)
December 06, 2013|By Stephanie Citron

There isn't much that goes on in Baltimore that doesn't include Tom Noonan. The president and CEO of Visit Baltimore is responsible for promoting the region and all of its venues as a destination for conventions, meetings, leisure travelers, day-trippers, and even family reunions.

But being Charm City-centric doesn't mean that Noonan doesn't ever get out of town — quite the opposite. As a leader in the tourism industry, he also works with national organizations that teach travel marketing, a role that takes him to destinations far from Baltimore.

So what does our local authority on all-things-travel do on his time off? Would you believe us if we told you he travels?

Where is your favorite travel destination?

I just returned from a trip to Sonoma and Healdsburg, California.

Did you go alone?

[I took] my wife Mindy and my 4-year-old son. We were there for about four days. This year it was for a family wedding. We usually try to get out there at least once a year. We used to live in Dallas, and then we would go three or four times a year because it was such an easy 21/2- or three-hour flight, and we were there, versus going all the way across the country.

So now that you live 3,000 miles away, what makes you want to return each year?

I describe it as my wife's happy place. We love the setting, the vineyards, the feeling of Sonoma. We go to buy wine. We like Sonoma so much better than Napa because it's much quieter, with great wineries.

Where do you go in Sonoma?

We love the town of Healdsburg. It's got a great little town square, with nice small shops, restaurants and hotels.

You attended a family wedding?

Yes, my brother got married at the B.R. Cohn Winery in Sonoma. I have this big family; I'm one of 10 kids, and it was great that everyone was out there.

Which wineries did you visit?

Dutcher Crossing [in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County]. It's one of our favorites. We had a picnic there. We're members of that wine club and another called Lynmar [Estate] Winery, so we always stop in. Lynmar is known for their chardonnays and they have a couple of pinots. We [also] went to Papapietro Perry Winery, known for its pinot [noir] and zins [zinfandel]. Before [our son] came along, we would go out there and hit a dozen or so wineries in a day and buy a few bottles to bring back. You know, before you could ship to Maryland, you could check it in as baggage, but now that Maryland ships, beginning a few years ago, we signed up for the wine clubs … and they ship [it home to us].

Are you a collector of wines?

We're not necessarily collectors, we're wine lovers. We probably have 100,150 bottles of wine in the house. We're constantly rotating them until they hit maturity in about five years. You know, if you buy wine from off the shelf of a winery that's a 2012, you probably don't want to drink that for five years. ... The ones we bought in 2008 or 2009 are the ones we're having today.

I'd guess that 150 bottles is at least the beginning of a collection.

Yeah, but there are people with thousands of bottles. We're not doing this as an investment. We do it because we like to open a bottle of wine with friends or family when they are in town.

What else did you do on your trip?

We also went to the park with the ruins of the home of the writer Jack London. The world-famous author Jack London, wrote 50 or so books [in the early 1900s]. He announced [in 1911] he is going to build this 13,000-square-foot lodge [in Sonoma County]. He gets to two or three weeks from completing it and it burns to the ground. He vows to rebuild it, and unfortunately dies before he gets a chance. So the ruins sit there … and it's spectacular.

The burned-down house ruins are spectacular?

One of the stone walls is still there. They actually do theater in the park right there. They'll put 900 chairs in the ruins; so you can sit there and watch theater in the ruins.

Where do you like to stay in Sonoma?

We used to stay an the Madrona Manor, but this time we stayed at the Sonoma Mission Inn — a Fairmont [property]. It was beautiful.

Where do you like to eat?

The Dry Creek Kitchen … it's fabulous — amazing fine dining. And you have to go to Oakville Grocery. That's where we got the stuff for our picnic with our son. You can buy wine and cheese and sandwiches … all those things you want to have when you're off to a winery. There's also an incredible restaurant, Zin, that has these beer-battered green beans. Kind of like a french fry but you feel healthier about it because it's a green bean.

So these restaurants are all in the town of Healdsburg?

Yes, it's a great little town to walk around in. Its got a really charming, kind of old-school town square. There's a nice men's shop where I've bought a few things and really cool antique stores. And there's tasting rooms, in case you don't want to go all the way to the wineries.

So you mentioned also visiting Sausalito. What did you do there?

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