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Sonoma Stories: Matt Dockstader is king of run-and-sip

  • Matt Dockstader, owner of Destination Races, at his home office in Sonoma. (ALVIN JORNADA / For The Press Democrat)

What could be better than running 13.1 miles through a metropolis of asphalt and steel, cheek-to-jowl with 10,000 or 12,000 other souls, and afterward celebrating the achievement with two wedges of orange and a bottle of Costco water?

Pose the question to 100 members of the general public and maybe 95 will answer, “Anything!”

But Matt Dockstader doesn't cater to the masses. The Sonoman is perfecting and replicating the select, run-then-sip half-marathon Wine Country lifestyle experience.

“We are the antithesis of the big-city marathon,” said Dockstader, founder and president of 10-year-old Destination Races.

His niche offers a few thousand discerning runners the chance to visit a wine-growing region, feast their eyes while racing through vineyards and then savor the tastes and congeniality of a post-run festival.

Dockstader made his start in 2004 with the Napa-to-Sonoma Half Marathon, which drew 1,200 runners onto a course that took in the two-county Carneros region and concluded with a grand party and fitness expo on the Sonoma Plaza. A decade later, that run, held each July, quickly sells out to about the first 3,500 registrants.

“We may even go to a lottery system,” Dockstader said.

The popularity of that vineyard run/festival demonstrated to the Marin-reared former video producer, sports marketer and brewery co-owner that he was onto something.

There are signs that running has never been more popular among Americans, and Running USA says the half-marathon has become the country's favorite distance. Dockstader links that phenomenon to the growth in wine-inspired tourism, and his business is booming.

“It's a whole new ballgame,” he said.

From Sonoma Valley and Napa, he his seven-person staff have expanded their runs and expos to five other wine regions.

Closest is the Healdsburg Wine Country Half Marathon, which returns Oct. 26 to Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys and features an after-run event at the Vineyard Creek Hotel and Spa, on the fringe of Santa Rosa's Railroad Square.

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