Under the Sun: Rob Samson, keeping Sonoma institutions going
You’re on the board of the Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival. Is that a big job?
Over the course of a year, I put in at least 2,000 hours. The weekend of the festival, I’m lucky if I sleep two or three hours a night. I’m in charge of the Friday Night Gala. I’ve been on the board seven years.
Is it true the Vintage Festival is Sonoma’s oldest event on the Plaza?
Absolutely. This year’s will be the 121st. It’s all about celebrating the harvest, celebrating the bounty of food and wine, and sharing that with the community. And the people who come are still about 60 percent locals. A big part of it is to demonstrate the superiority of Sonoma wines over Napa. The first festival, in 1897, was created by three local wineries – Gundlach-Bundschu, Buena Vista and a third one whose identity we don’t know. .
What’s your day job?
I’m in business analytic software. I work with FICO. I love my work. I got into software when I was in the Air Force.
How did you get involved in the Vintage Festival?
It was through the Native Sons of the Golden West. I’m a member and nine years ago the Vintage Festival came to us for help. Their board was down to four people. Five Native Sons joined up. Currently there are three Native Sons on the eleven-member board.
Tell me more about the Gala.
It’s a great event. We take over the Barracks and the courtyard next door (on September 28). Live music. Wineries participate, and restaurants and caterers make tapas. All local. But you know, things are different now that so many of the wineries have been bought up by big corporations. The corporations are not as supportive of the Festival. Still, we’ll have about 30 wineries pouring at the Gala; and about 15 in the Plaza.
What are the other parts of the Festival?
Of course there’s wine-tasting all day long both days. There’s the Blessing of the Grapes on Saturday morning in front of the mission. Sangiacomo and Gundlach-Bundschu give us three tons, and we use the grapes for the Stomp, on Saturday and Sunday. Saturday night there’s the Parade. Sunday morning there’s a 5K and 12K cross-country race in the hills. And we take over most of the Plaza, with our wonderful artists, and bands and food trucks too. Have a look at our website, Valleyofthemoonvintagefestival.com.
And it’s all for a good cause.
The Festival doesn’t raise a lot of money relative to most of the big fundraising events, but we make a difference with it. We donate to the wrestling team, cross-country team and track team at Sonoma High. Those sports don’t get the attention and support that the big four get. And lots of other causes.
The Native Sons is another community-minded group
We promote and foster California history, and do community service. Our Sonoma Parlor is extremely active, with about 250 total members total, 80 active. We provide security for many local nonprofit events. And do other things like parking cars at the Vets for the Memorial Day. We’re course marshals for running races. We pour beer and wine at the City Party, as a fundraiser. We cook for our own chicken BBQ on Flag Day, and for the Shellville Fire BBQ, too.
We’ve put plaques on many of the old buildings around town. Most of the Plaza park was created by the Native Sons. We did the entire NE quadrant including the Bear Flag statue, and helped raise money for the Vallejo statue. Of course we put on the annual Bear Flag celebration.
Will you get some rest when the Vintage Festival is over?
In October. (grins) In November, we start planning for next year.
— Interview by Anna Pier