The Carneros region, split between Napa Valley and Sonoma County, is known for pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, the two varietals that go into great sparkling wines. It’s also known for one of wine country’s best courses: Sonoma Golf Club. Sam Whiting designed the course in 1928, though it doesn’t have the smaller greens that typify layouts from that era—it was built to suit Northern California’s dramatic scale. “It’s luxurious and broad and has sweeping views of the Sonoma Mountains,” says David Brown, vice president of marketing at Gloria Ferrer, one of the Carneros region’s top producers of bubbly.
Brown should know. Though wine is his business, he started out to become a pro golfer. He was one of the best players on the team at the University of California, Berkeley, when he teed it up against future stars Tom Watson and Bob Guilder. “When those guys started turning pro, I thought I would, too,” he says, laughing. “My dad said I was a fool! He said, ‘These guys eat, drink and breathe golf. They don’t think about anything else, and that’s not you.’ But he also said he’d back me until I was twenty-one.” Brown made about $2,700 that first summer, he recalls, and ended up teaching at Stratton Golf University in Vermont, which was founded by Arnold Palmer. “But in the end, as much as I like golf as a sport, I wasn’t as ferociously driven as those guys. My dad was right.”
Working for one of the best makers of sparkling wine in the United States isn’t a bad second career. The Gloria Ferrer 1997 Carneros Cuvée ($50, gloriaferrer.com), produced using the same techniques as the world’s great Champagnes, gains depth and richness from extended aging, and it gracefully mingles pear and citrus flavors with gingery spice notes. You’ll find it on the wine list at Sonoma Golf Club, where the private course is open to guests of the elegant Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa (fairmont.com).