Tourists flocking to wellness activities within Sonoma County since pandemic struck - Press Democrat


The interest in wellness had picked up in previous years, but the pandemic sped up the growth as locals and visitors sought to get outside and placed a greater priority on their physical and emotional health.


The most noticeable change? Wineries have realized they can have an edge if they also offer wellness services. Some have adapted to take advantage given the interest. That has been the experience at Red Car Wine Co. in Sebastopol, where Jenny Harrow-Keeler leads guests for forest bathing at its vineyard near Occidental.


Harrow-Keeler has a unique perspective on the topic as she served as director of hospitality at the winery and later obtained a master’s degree in integrative health studies and became a certified nature therapy guide. She jokes that at the beginning of a session her clients are not going to undress, but she wants them to open up their sense of smell, sight and touch.


“It’s part of opening the senses, especially in the vineyards,” Harrow-Keeler said. “You taste the chardonnay … and this is from the land.”


In a post-pandemic environment, she said Sonoma County has an advantage over typical spa destinations, such as Scottsdale, Arizona, or Palm Springs, because of its wide variety of wellness practitioners who have taken advantage of the natural beauty that surrounds the area.


“People are not looking to escape in the same way,” Harrow-Keeler said of travelers before the pandemic. “They are sort of looking for travel to recharge.”


The services have been mostly targeted for out-of-town visitors, but Harrow-Keeler said one potential untapped market will be corporate retreats to help stressed-out executives manage their well-being.


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