Part-time Napa resident Donald E. Sodaro translates his love of wine into producing decorated cabernet blends, and recently transformed a non-descript hotel into a gem of a boutique hotel.
The 21-acre boutique Sodaro Estate Winery in the Coombsville area of Napa was purchased in 1998 after Sodaro uprooted the existing grapes and started from scratch, but not before a year of studying the soils, analyzing the weather and calculating sun exposure.
He hired renowned vineyard manager Michael Wolf and renown winemakers Bill and Dawnine Dyer. In 2000, they planted grapes: all five Bordeaux varieties.
The winery produces only about 1,500 cases a year of two wines, both Cabernet blends. There’s Felicity, named for his wife, and Private Estate, a blend that changes slightly every year to showcase the best of the best grapes grown that year.
Both have won awards: The 2005 Felicity Cabernet Sauvignon took Best of Class and Double Gold awards at the 2009 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Tasting Competition and its 2006 version earning 91 points from Wine Spectator magazine.
“It may look like I’m a risk-taker, but they are calculated risks I’m taking. I do my homework,” Sodaro said.
Sodaro applied this same hands-on method when as a hotelier, he decided not to renew his franchise relationship with a nationally known chain, a fixture in Orange County since 1973, in the height of a recession and transform it into the area’s newest, boutique hotel.
It’s the kind of move one makes only after being steeped in an industry so long, business decisions become intuitive.
In 1969, Sodaro founded Sixpence Inns of America, a chain of limited-service hotel properties across six states. His vision was to take the Motel 6 concept and improve upon it. It worked because the highly successful chain of 49 motels was sold to Motel 6 in 1989 for $210 million. Sodaro then joined its board of directors and served on the Audit and Site Acquisition Committee until 1991.
After a short break from the hospitality industry, Sodaro, now in his mid-70s, returned to found Hanford Hotels, Inc. with his longtime business partner William Caine, Jr. After gutting an existing hotel, their vision for a one-of-a-kind boutique hotel in the heart of Orange County came to fruition last year.
The Hotel Hanford is a reflection of the man, with its wine room, Savoy restaurant and classic furnishings that lean contemporary.
The renovations now complete, the hotel is earning rave reviews on Internet rating sites, including being named the No. 1 Costa Mesa hotel on Trip Advisor.