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Gold Keys for Sonoma Mission Inn’s concierge

FAIRMONT SONOMA MISSION INN’S Chief Concierge Jim Anderson is now a member of Les Clefs d’Or. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

FAIRMONT SONOMA MISSION INN’S Chief Concierge Jim Anderson is now a member of Les Clefs d’Or. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

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Life is golden for the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn’s Chief Concierge Jim Anderson, who just earned his membership in Les Clefs d’Or, the elite organization of the finest concierges in the world.

Impressively, Anderson has an answer for just about every question asked by any hotel guest. His job, after all, is to help people fulfill their every desire. Sadly, most of the requests he hears, he won’t share. And if he did, of course, he probably wouldn’t be wearing the crossed gold keys he now displays on his jacket lapels, assuring guests at the inn that they are dealing with a seasoned professional.

He had to pass challenging written and service-oriented tests to gain his 18-karat keys and he is elated that he’s reached his longtime goal.

Less than 10 percent of all concierges in the world are admitted to Les Clefs d’Or. “People get turned down all the time,” Anderson said, explaining that he was a little worried when he received his acceptance letter, which came in a thin envelope. He’d been told the keys would be sent along with the acceptance, but they weren’t there.

Instead, the keys were presented to him in person by his mentor and fellow Les Clefs d’Or member, Eric Edenfield, chief concierge at the Kenwood Inn, at a surprise ceremony where his colleagues honored him with a champagne toast. “Being a concierge is Jimmy’s passion, not his paycheck,” Edenfield said.

The keys are considered a Ph.D. in the hotel world, and in his congratulatory words, Sonoma Mission Inn General Manager Rick Corcoran teased, “Should we call you doctor now?”

Anderson aims for all guests to be happy at all times, and tries to accommodate any request. The questions he hears most often, and he’s very adept at answering: “What wineries should I visit?” and “What restaurant do you recommend?” He always asks the guests questions to get an idea of what they like and what they’re looking for, and then answers accordingly.

He is also a sommelier, working two nights a week at the inn’s Michelin-starred Santé, and he’s extremely knowledgeable about wine. His three favorite wineries are Flanagan, Kamen and Repris. A second-generation Sonoman, he began studying wines seriously about 10 years ago. “Being born and raised here, I’ve always been interested in wine,” he said.

While he hears lots of repeat questions in the course of his career, once in a while he’ll get an odd inquiry. “I had a woman ask me if we had any activities at the hotel for a 6-month-old,” and without missing a beat he told her his daughters enjoyed the duck pond on the Plaza and gave her directions.

Anderson, 32, has been married to Becky Anderson for five years and they have two daughters, Lucy Bleaux, 18 months, and Lola Jane, 3.

He’s worked at the inn for eight years, starting as a server at the pool. “I was out by the pool wearing sunglasses and shorts and it was perfect.” Working his way up he became a bartender, valet, valet supervisor, doorman and then for the past four years, concierge.

“I always try to meet people’s needs,” he said, but there is one wish neither he, nor anyone, can grant. “People want to get reservations for the French Laundry that night,” he said, adding, “That’s pretty far fetched.” Unless there is the remote chance of a cancellation, Thomas Keller’s restaurant in Yountville is booked two months in advance within 10 minutes after the phone lines open.

The Sonoma Mission Inn gets a fair share of rich and famous guests, and Anderson said his favorite among them all was Tony Bennett. “He was very pleasant and he checked in under his own name. He was very polite and he had no entourage. He was just such a nice man.”

Anderson’s greatest satisfaction is when he sends people out with an itinerary for their day and they come back and tell him what a wonderful time they had. He said almost all guests are appreciative and cordial, and on the rare chance someone is rude, he doesn’t let it get him down. “If someone is mean it makes me thankful that I’m not.”

Having earned the honor of being in Les Clefs d’Or makes him a highly marketable concierge, but Anderson has no interest in leaving the inn. “Sonoma is a great place to raise a family,” he insists. “This is a beautiful little piece of the world we’ve got here.”