We continue our “Driver Spotlight” Q&A series where we introduce you to some of our top-notch Napa and Sonoma wine tour guides, provide some insights as to why they love working for Platypus and what makes their tours so special.
Today we would like you to meet Sue Steirer, who is coming up on her second year as a tour guide for Platypus Wine Tours.
Q. Where are you originally from? How long have you lived in the Bay Area?
A. I’m originally from Ohio – the Mistake by the Lake as they say! Don’t get me wrong… I LOVE OHIO! I’ve lived all over California but mostly on and off around the Bay Area for nearly 12 years. I’ve lived in Napa almost two years now.
Q. What do you love best about the Wine Country?
A. That’s exactly it, Wine Country! My love for wine came second. My love for Napa Valley started with my love for “wine country” first. Living in the city can be tough and for me, Napa Valley has always been my getaway back to nature.
Q. Why do you enjoy working for Platypus Wine Tours?
A. Platypus allows their drivers to have their own autonomy. We design our own tours, we talk about what we want to talk about, we go wherever we want to go. We’re allowed to let our own individualism dictate the tour, and that is what makes every single Platypus Tour different and unique. It’s also why we get so much repeat business. Because you will never get the same Platypus Tour twice. It’s an excellent business model and works great for the company and for the guides. One thing you will never ever see is a Platypus driver wearing a penguin suit like every other tour company! Plus, there is much camaraderie between the staff which is always a nice added benefit.
Q. What makes your tours so successful? What do you strive for to make your wine tours truly unique and special?
A. I do actually have a philosophy when it comes to my tours. It’s important to me to bring laughter and joy to others while sharing and exploring what I love about this beautiful place, whether we call it Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley, Planet Earth. Nature is so beautiful with so much to offer. I want all of us to laugh, play, relish, and most importantly, appreciate the abundance that surrounds us.
My tours are successful because I take a great deal of pride in planning a unique dynamic tour tailored specifically for my groups. I’m always feeling out the vibe of my guests and I’m always trying to anticipate their wants and needs. It actually gives me a great deal of pleasure to be a gracious host to others. Also, I’m the only Platypus driver that has tailored specialty music mixes for my tour groups (it helps that I’m a former DJ). So you never know what you might get while on my bus. If i think you can handle it, we might just have a dance party or have an 80′s music sing along. We might just simply zen out with a little Jimmy Buffett and take it all in mellow style. Either way, when you step off my bus at the end of the day, you’ll step off happy and feeling good!
Q. What are some of your favorite wineries to bring people to, and why?
A. For the longest time folks would ask me what my favorite winery was in the valley and I never knew how to answer them as I have many different favorite wineries for different reasons. Also, wine is completely subjective like art. Just because a winery has a reputation of having great wines doesn’t mean that a guest will like the wine or that they’ll have a great experience there.
One thing I will say for sure is that the wineries I choose almost always have a lot to do with the folks at the winery. I’ve found that my groups actually have a tendency to like the wineries and purchase wine from them based on the level of service they get from those wineries. I work tirelessly to build and nurture the relationships I have with the folks at different wineries and am able to finagle perks for my guests that they wouldn’t normally get. Whether it’s an added facility tour, barrel tasting, or tasting with the winemaker or winery owner, all these factors play into the experience and memory the guest will take with them. The idea is that when you open up that bottle of wine months after your trip, you re-live that experience and remember what a great time you had, and enjoy the wine even more.
I will say this though. I did officially decide on a favorite winery about six months ago – it’s Hopper Creek. Marcus and Dan (the tasting room manager and his cohort) might have turned the cellar into a man cave, but I don’t think I’ve ever brought in a group that didn’t beg me to leave them there. Plus, those guys have become my friends over the last couple years and I love to support my winery friends – especially when they help support me and my tours.
Q. Do you have any particularly memorable wine tour experiences that stand out that you would like to share?
A. my longest, most trying, best, worst, most difficult, and most fun tour was on the Saturday of Labor Day Weekend of 2011 (which by the way is also our busiest weekend of the year). It was a private charter with a San Francisco pickup for a Napa Valley Tour. The Bay Bridge was closed due to construction on the new bridge and so the only way in and out of the city was over the Golden Gate Bridge. I already knew I was in store for a long day (little did I know it would turn out to be 16 hours). When I arrived at 9am to pick up my group of 12 young professionals (half of which lived in SF and half of which flew in from Ohio), they told me they had all gone to high school together in a neighboring town that I grew up in Ohio. Ironic! As they filed in, they loaded up a giant cooler filled with libations for the day (because clearly somehow a full day of wine tasting wouldn’t have sufficed). Then I was handed three iPods and told I should “turn it up all the way.” I knew then this was going to be a wild ride.
The party had begun five minutes into the journey. While en route to Napa I could see one of the fellows in the back was turning green and white as, of course, they had all been partying heavily the night before. I had him sit up front with me. Despite the ibuprofen and water I gave to him I could see he wasn’t going to make it all the way to Napa. So I made an emergency landing at Cline Vineyards in the Carneros region of Sonoma. I unloaded the crew so they could start with some impromptu wine tasting and I sat with my sick guest and quickly prepped a sandwich for him as I could see he needed to get something in his body to soak up the alcohol. Finally, he started to come back to life and I gathered up the rest of the forces and we worked our way into Napa Valley.
The party was on all day…singing…dancing…you name it. Finally it’s time for the drive home. Inevitably due to the bridge closure Rt 101 was completely backed up and it was stand still traffic on the highway for hours. At this point the sun had gone down but the dance party was in full force. I could feel the bus bouncing around and then all of a sudden a big blanket of smoke comes seeping up from the back of the bus. Then the question,”Is there a smoke machine on the bus?” I remind everybody that even though they’ve been under the impression throughout the day that our bus is, in fact, a moving dance club, it is in actuality just a tour bus. I crawl back to see what the heck is going on back there. I can tell that the smoke doesn’t smell like smoke but what is it? Apparently in the midst of the wild dance party someone somehow dislodged the fire extinguisher from its brace on the safety stanchion, and the pin was knocked out. (That never happens!) So now the bus and everyone in it is covered in a layer of grey sooty fire extinguisher stuff.
After opening up the doors and windows and trying to air it out a bit, it is brought to my attention that everyone needs to use the bathroom. Keep in mind, I can walk faster than traffic is moving on this highway, I barely eek my way to the next exit which is really only basically a scenic pull-off. Everyone immediately rushes out to find the nearest bush or to huddle around the back of the bus to relieve themselves. This truly was a classy sight. Finally we load back up and slowly make it back to our final drop off. Everyone clumsily makes it out of the bus. Each one covered in grey ashy stuff and red wine stains. The leader of this motley crew finally disembarks and he is missing an entire sleeve of his once nice button-up shirt. Don’t ask me how that happened. They all grabbed their wine and gave me hugs and proceeded to tell me how they had the best time they ever had. The gentleman missing the sleeve informs me that he’ll definitely be booking me again and, in fact, did come out with me two more times over the next six months on much more sedate wine tours. So yes, this was my most memorable group. Leave it to Ohio!
Here’s what a few of our customers have to say about Sue and her tours. Additional customer reviews/comments about our Platypus Wine Tours can also be found on Google+, our website, Yelp and TripAdvisor.
“Our Napa Valley tour was great, thanks to Sue, our tour guide. I really like going to the smaller, lesser known wineries that have so much more character! The choices Sue made were terrific. We met some interesting people and had some wonderful wine. Thanks again. We will most definitely be back, and have already recommended you to our friends.”
“Wow, Sue was fantastic. She picked the right places for sure. Welcoming, informative, interesting and fun. I will recommend Platypus and Sue to anyone and everyone.”
“We booked Platypus Tours for a bachelorette party of 8 girls and we had the time of our lives with tour leader/bus driver Sue. She was amazing! We did the Join In tour, so we were with other people, but that made it all the more fun. All the wineries that she took us to were fabulous, the lunch was delicious, she made sure we stayed hydrated, and she gave us lots of interesting information and facts about Napa Valley. Later in the day, the tour bus turned into a dancing party bus (naturally), and so much fun was had by all. In addition to the actual tour, I had a really great experience with the staff who helped book our tour in advance. I have experienced many different wine tour buses and companies, and this has been my best experience by far!”
Additional photos of Sue and some of our other tour guides can be found in our Photo Albums on the Platypus Wine Tours Facebook page.