SREC Retreat Spotlights Napa

Fine wines, conversations with top entrepreneurs, and a preview of one of the wine country’s most dramatic new developments in decades. All that and more awaited over 20 people who took part in a Stanford Real Estate Council retreat in Napa in early May.

“It was a great opportunity to convene with other Stanford alumni in the real estate industry and enjoy some very exceptional experiences with food and wine – and also learn about some of the real estate development in Napa,” says Loryn D. Arkow, (JD, Stanford ‘96), a partner in real estate practice group of Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, a SREC member and the Los Angeles regional director, Stanford Professionals in Real Estate. 

“It’s an exclusive opportunity to meet the vintners and enjoy the wonderful wine and food pairings in an intimate setting,” she says.

The thought is echoed by William Huck, managing director and CEO, Common Bond Capital Partners LLC of San Diego, who earned his Bachelor’s degree in economics in 1972 at Stanford and his MBA through the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 1981 and is also a member of SREC.

He says while he enjoyed the exceptional wines that were serviced by some of the industry’s top winemakers, the weekend offered more than wine and food.

“It’s the opportunity to have extended, informal discussions with smart, successful entrepreneurs. To be with these busy people in an environment where you can spend a couple days relaxing and talking about things is great,” Mr. Huck says. “We not only talked about business, but also had personal discussions. We were able to develop relationships because we had more than the typical 60-minute business meeting timeframe.”

Featured wine and attending Stanford vintners included Grgich Hills (Austin & Sarah Hills); Jones Family Wines (Rick & Elaine Jones); Villa Ragazzi (Gregory Rodeno); Expression/Tetra (Dick & Sue Wollack); Charles Krug & Mondavi Family (Peter & Kate Mondavi); Plumpjack (Brock Brockmeyer and son Brent); Elke Wines (Mark Elke), and, Staglin Family Vineyard (Garen & Shari Staglin).

But there was a strong real estate aspect to the May 3-5 weekend event, too.

Mark Harmon, principal and chief executive officer of Auberge Resorts, gave the opening presentation on Saturday. Mr. Harmon has taken the company he helped start to new levels in recent years with luxury resorts stretching from Napa to Hawaii to Mexico. The SREC members benefited from hearing from one of the leaders of the hospitality industry. Mr. Harmon discussed the development story of Solage Calistoga including its design and concept. Additionally, he highlighted how they are leveraging technology in an innovative manner to personalize how they interact with their guests.

In the afternoon there was a presentation by Kelly Foster (Stanford ’80), Silver Rose Venture LLC, on their plans to construct a new 85-room, five-star resort with 21 new single-family homes, expansion of an existing winery, and other site improvements on a 22-acre site adjacent to Solage Calistoga. The presentation also included a tour of the site.

“With some of the super high-end hotels [like] the Auberge and this new property that’s being developed into a four-star resort that we toured, they’re really raising the bar as far as the special experience that people can enjoy when they’re visiting Napa,” adds Ms. Arkow. “And I was amazed when speaking with some of the vintners how much the industry has progressed.”

“I have a specific real estate business interest in Napa right now,” says Mr. Huck. “I wanted to get closer to and have a chance to explore that business opportunity.”

“It’s interesting from a real estate perspective to see what drives land values and what drives development – and what hinders development as well,” Ms. Arkow says.

The Friday dinner was hosted by SREC Member Dick Wollack, founder & managing principal, Fulton Capital Advisors and MBA, Stanford ‘69, at his home in St. Helena, while the Saturday dinner was at the 64-acre estate in Rutherford of Garen Staglin, Stanford MBA, and owner of Staglin Family Vineyard.

“I think what’s surprising, and pleasantly surprising,” Ms. Arkow says, “is how well the resorts are able to integrate themselves into the Napa Valley landscape and the character. They thoughtfully consider how to give you an experience that is specifically Napa and how to construct their buildings in a way that blends with the character of the town.”

For those who have not been part of a weekend such as the Napa retreat, Ms. Arkow has a suggestion:  “Take every opportunity to interact with your fellow Stanford grads because certainly the experience is always elevating. You get inspired by what people have accomplished and their openness.”

Mr. Huck sums up the May Napa retreat this way in urging other members to take part in future events:  “This is an opportunity to spend hours in close conversation with people who are interesting, successful and active in your business. To have an opportunity to do that is rare. To do it in a setting where it’s comfortable and casual – where you can really relax – is exceedingly rare.”