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


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.

Dockstader's company also hosts vineyard half-marathons and festivals in Santa Barbara, Oregon's Willamette Valley and the Leesburg area of Virginia. Earlier this month, the firm went international with its first run-and-sip in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley, Canada's second-largest wine region.

"We have at least five other regions that we're talking to, or they're pursuing us," Dockstader said.

His company also scored a big victory earlier this year when he hired Julia Stamps Mallon to help with race management and marketing.

Mallon, now 34, set national track records at Santa Rosa High and won a full athletic scholarship to Stanford, where she was a six-time All American.

She has run more than her share of marathons, and she said it's unfortunate to finish one and then just go home.

"There's no opportunity to celebrate what you just did," she said.

After living for several years in New York City, Miami and Los Angeles and working in financial services and apparel marketing, Stamps is excited to be back in Sonoma County. She's still running, often after preschool daughters, Ashlin and Siena.

Stamps said she's very big on the concept of a festival that follows a race. Since the birth of her girls, she said, whenever she competes, "I love afterward being able to share the experience with them."