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Daedalus Howell wants to epicure you
Daedalus Howell has transformed his personality—or at least some relative approximation of it—into a freestanding career. It seems to have something to do with the unabashed pursuit of visibility, notoriety and fame for the sake of, well, visibility, notoriety and fame.
Paris Hilton would come to mind if she were even moderately interesting, intelli-gent, talented and could write. And if she had some sort of higher calling. Like Paris, Howell has turned his life into an advertisement for himself, but he’s intelligent, literate, talented and—here comes the higher calling—he promotes not only himself but the greater glory of all things Sonoma. He’s our official Lifestyle Ambassador, the first in Sonoma County, perhaps in the nation (no one has done the research).
Howell seems to believe that his job—courtesy of the Sonoma County Tourism Board—requires him to personally test all the products and services that make their way into his various columns, blogs and videos. That, of course, means consuming dangerous amounts of rich restaurant meals, along with all the wine, beer and miscellaneous spirits that invariably accompany the free food. It also means attending celebrity gatherings, galas and other events of sybaritic excess. A hard job, granted, but how else could he speak with integrity and authority?
You might mistakenly interpret these Bachannalian behaviors as mere self-indulgence. Au contraire. Howell is simply out there working his grueling beat, tracking the local lifestyle hour after hour, a Riedel glass in one hand, a microphone in the other.
Which means he now promotes to the wider world, with viral videos, online editorials and whatever other guerilla marketing strategies he and his cohorts at the bureau come up with, all that we hold dear: great wine, fab food, farmers markets, film festivals, the good life, à la Daedalus Howell.
“It’s good for both of us,” he shrugs. “I get to try all this stuff out, there’s gobs of food I have to eat,” and, he admits with what passes for rueful ennui, the occasional cedar enzyme bath, the oceanside frolic, the ongoing effort to educate his oenological palate on each of Sonoma’s 13 appellations. More often than not, such bon vivant benders culminate in amusing travelogs, named “Inside Sonoma,” that star Howell and plug Sonoma County’s hot spots.
The rigors of Howell’s efforts have paid off, apparently, at least to nab him (and the county) first place at the California Travel Industry Association’s YouTube Video Contest.
The inevitable question, of course, is whether there’s more to this movable feast than a free meal ticket and 15 minutes of fame. So we asked him.
This lifestyle ambassador gig. What’s up with that?
It was the county’s tourism PR director, Tim Zahner, who decided, “behind my back, that I was the guy who embodied a kind of bon vivantism with a native son’s natural affinity for Sonoma, an appreciation for epicurea and a certain kind of ethos somewhere between Bohemia and something more high-falutin.”
Or, to put it more bluntly, “I am Sonoma County,” says Howell. “They took the kid out of Sonoma County and thank God he made it back.”
Howell grew up in Petaluma and worked for various Bay Area news media before making the predictable pilgrimage to Hollywood. He didn’t last. A Lala Land epiphany, and his lovely then-future wife, brought him back.
So why Hollywood, and why all the self-promotion?
“It’s not so much self-promotional as differentiating, and it’s necessary these days. When I was in Hollywood, I was a clone.”
Howell’s epiphany took place at some conference or other for the Writers Guild of America, where, sitting with others not unlike himself, “I realized that my high-concept buddy comedy was not too different than the guy sitting next to me.”
Loathe to remain among the anonymous hoards of journalistic shoe-gazers, “I decided to let my personality be my calling card—to be myself and to be different...There are a thousand other guys out there (doing the same thing), and none have the same cockeyed take on things as I do.” Too often, he says, writers don’t realize “their bylines are their brand names.”
So you and Sonoma are brands?
“There’s an international window of awareness of Sonoma right now, and we who live here can benefit by advocating that lifestyle. Sonoma is a platform not just for me but for anyone who wants to contribute to it.
“My main goal is to reclaim the brand identity of Sonoma from the truck and the pack of cigarettes and the gated community in Florida and the eau de toilette made by Crabtree & Evelyn. There’s a certain equity that Sonoma has, and it’s our right as Sonomans to embrace and advocate what Sonoma really is.”
Who benefits more, you or Sonoma County?
Ahh, but the nature of such limelight, says Howell, is symbiotic.
“Ultimately, Sonoma is a state of mind, but (my purpose) is to live the embodiment of that. And does all the imbibing and savoring require some level of self-parody and abhorrent bon vivantism? Can I flourish personally? Can I benefit from this? Absolutely I can.”
That conviction bespeaks a genuine and evangelistic affection. He loves his origins so much, “I don’t have to pimp it as much as just write what I feel.”
Does Napa have a lifestyle ambassador?
“I met that guy. He’s tweedy and affected and that accent is not for real.” (But no, there isn’t one.)
What’s the difference between Napa and Sonoma?
“Sonoma lends itself to a natural narrative. Whereas Napa seemed to land from outer space, Sonoma sprouted organically. Napa is definitely more agribusiness and big business. They’re Costco, we’re the farmers market.”
What’s the ideal day of a lifestyle ambassador?
“After a night of carousing, waking up in your car in the parking lot, the sun streaming through the windshield, looking and feeling like utter crap, feeling so glad you live in Sonoma County. Then you go to Goodwill and buy a new shirt, and then you go winetasting the rest of the day.
From the spring 2009 issue of SONOMA