Inside Wing & Barrel Ranch – A Private Hunting Club in the Heart of California Wine Country
Sonoma’s exclusive Sports Club is the perfect combination of culinary and outdoor activities.
Gentleman’s sporting life meets the world of food and wine at a thousand-acre retreat in Sonoma, California that quickly goes from best-kept secret to authentic feel.
While Wing & Barrel Ranch was first established on a small scale several years ago as an insider escape for the region’s top winemakers, it has recently acquired more properties and unveiled a new club. -house which has become an important social hub for the exclusive but growing list of members, which now numbers around 300. And with the lifting of pandemic restrictions, the club really comes into its own.
Members flock to Wing & Barrel for the sporting clay pits and courses, seasonal bird hunting, and personalized shooting and fly-fishing excursions, but also for the fine dining and wine-focused gatherings at which l impressive new clubhouse welcomes.
And the list of gear keeps growing, with a golf course in the works to be added to the sporting goods store, offering everything from Barbour jackets to Filson bags; custom gun vault; kennels for hunting dogs; paneled changing rooms; a library dedicated to The Call of the Wild author Jack London; and a cigar lounge which were all added as part of the club’s expansion. Next door is the 1,600-acre Sonoma Speedway, for those who also want to indulge in the passion of fast cars, offering special events for Wing & Barrel Ranch members.
It’s the heart of Northern California wine country, with views of the Mayacamas and Sonoma mountain ranges, but Wing & Barrel Ranch can rightly lay claim to being the only club of its caliber on the entire Pacific Coast. The prestigious club is the brainchild of Darius Anderson, founder and CEO of Platinum Advisors, a government affairs firm that ranks among the top five California-based lobbyists. A dedicated sportsman, he is one of the state’s most influential figures in politics, government, business, and philanthropy, not to mention one of Sonoma’s most prominent citizens.
In a wine country where prime land can cost upwards of a million dollars an acre, while local politics have made all things gun-related increasingly taboo, it is extremely difficult and expensive to maintain a sports operation of this type; but Anderson and his cronies are dedicated to preserving the land and the region’s sporting heritage. Sonoma was once considered one of the best duck hunting destinations in the world, and these activities are actually much more environmentally friendly than most other land uses.
“Wing & Barrel Ranch brings together the best of sports culture and the region’s appreciation for food and wine,” says Anderson. “The Club was founded with a deep appreciation for the rugged landscape, hay fields and surrounding vine-covered hills, which represent the history of the land.” It adds that it “preserves the West’s rich cultural history, protects natural resources, cultural treasures and outdoor experiences.”
All of this holds considerable appeal for hardy individualists who have seen their local wine operations achieve global fame. Many of these men and women became charter members of the club, their wines playing a prominent role in Wing & Barrel’s ever-expanding social offerings, and they remain the foundation of the organization.
The Wing & Barrel brochure doesn’t exaggerate when it states that membership offers the opportunity to photograph with California’s top winemakers and even get a glimpse of harvests and vintages while honing your sporting skills. Not to mention the special wine allowances the club receives and wine racks so members can shop on site to enjoy at future parties.
“Silver Oak was one of the first member winemakers of Wing & Barrel,” says David Duncan, owner and CEO of cult cabernet Silver Oak Cellars. “I’ve seen it evolve, and I’m thrilled at the opportunity for the winemaking community to combine hunting, sportsmanship, and the great wines of Sonoma and Napa.”
Wing & Barrel, which currently has around 300 members, plans to limit membership to around 450, although they have the physical space for more. A membership committee ensures applicants are a good fit for the club, and initiation “deposits” amount to $125,000, with lower fees for those out of state; after 30 years of membership, the deposit is refundable.
Reasonable monthly dues cover clays and hunting on a sliding scale. The reason for capping memberships is that “we want to keep it exclusive,” says Wendy Nelson, director of memberships and strategic partnerships at Wing & Barrel.
She adds: “We want to keep it very limited and really bring people together for whom this is their way of life. That’s what they appreciate. That’s what they appreciate. The history, the sports, the whole idea of conservation, everything that goes into that kind of outdoor lifestyle. We really want to bring like-minded members together this way, because it forms a good collective here. Our members are literally the who’s who of the area, but they are the most down to earth and humble people you will ever meet.
One such member became the club’s executive culinary advisor: celebrity chef Charlie Palmer, who is also a hospitality entrepreneur, hotelier and avid sportsman. Named “America’s Best Chef” by the James Beard Foundation, Palmer, who is best known for his restaurants Aureole and Charlie Palmer Steak, tells us that “Wing and Barrel has a real American sports culture and the food and tastes there. are associated are incredible.The results of the wine partners and the camaraderie that emerges from these experiences makes Wing & Barrel Ranch so special.
The ethos is true farm and field-to-table, a movement that Palmer helped pioneer. At Wing & Barrel, under his auspices, farmers, ranchers, fishers and winemakers combine their talents to create menus that emphasize connection to the local landscape. Guest chefs, some of them Michelin-rated, who have presided over dinners at the clubhouse include Rogelio Garcia, Chris Consentino, Tyler Florence, Matt McCallister and Laura Cole, household names like Excellent chef among others.
Chef Francisco (Frankie) Lopez, Jr., a longtime Palmer’s associate, now oversees the day-to-day culinary operations of Wing & Barrel. Many dinner parties culminate in extended sessions on the outdoor bocce courts, with crackling fires and drinks served in a converted horse trailer, while bands like Los Lobos perform.
One of the many benefits of Wing & Barrel membership is that the club makes every effort to ensure that birds caught on hunting trips (chukar, pheasant, partridge and quail are in season from October to April) can be served for dinner on the same evening.
Members can ask the kitchen staff to prepare their meats in the form of sausages, pâté, boneless breasts or Bolognese. Even if the only thing you take home are clay pigeons, the club is home to the only 80-footers on the West Coast. The High Tower Stand, which mimics real birds for an authentic shooting experience – there’s usually a good guy basking in the glow of a successful day’s hunt and more than willing to share the bounty.
With massive wooden beams, comfy leather club chairs, a large fieldstone fireplace, and a stuffed grizzly bear dominating the entryway, it feels much more authentic than if an interior designer had simply been brought in to give it a look. the “good” look.
This is because every space has a function, such as the gun cleaning room at the entrance, as well as the incredible collection of sports art and antiques that Anderson has amassed over the years. The first thing that greets you when you enter the clubhouse is a display case containing a pair of 12-gauge side-by-side shotguns owned by Steve McQueen.
Beyond the myriad of offerings from the club itself, membership gives you access to unique sporting excursions in America and abroad, thanks to Wing & Barrel’s partnerships with other prestigious clubs, estates shooting and fox hunting, including Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, UK; Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, England; and the Stock Farm Club in Hamilton, Montana; plus ultra-exclusive boar hunts and more at the Hearst Ranches in San Simeon and San Luis Obispo County, California.
Another connection to high society is the club’s affiliation with James Purdey & Sons, makers of the finest bespoke shotguns and carbines for royal and aristocratic sportsmen for 200 years. Purdey has enjoyed the patronage of England’s royal family since 1838, when Queen Victoria placed her first order, for a pair of pistols, and Wing & Barrel Ranch is the only authorized seller of her coveted firearms, which begin at around $80,000 and rapidly climbing into six figures, all over the West Coast.
Twice a year, Purdey sends its highly trained representatives and gunsmiths to the club for a kind of trunk show, where members can have their measurements taken for custom commissions and look at various examples of engraving, exotic woods and dabs. other improvements.
These gentlemen with their well-worn Savile Row tweeds and cut-glass accents bring a decidedly English spirit to this utterly unique outpost in California’s wine country. And you can be sure they’ll stay for dinner.
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