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Chateau St. Jean unlocks the Valley’s first 'escape room'

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Earlier this summer, Chateau St. Jean Winery in Kenwood quietly opened the doors to Sonoma Valley’s first escape room.

A growing fad over the past decade, escape rooms are also known as escape games. These are physical adventure games in which players solve a series of puzzles and riddles using clues and hints to unlock a series of rooms. The early escype rooms were inspired by “escape-the-room”–style video games. These imaginative rooms are set in a variety of fictional locations, such as prison cells, dungeons and space stations – in this case, a chateau.

There are only three other escape room businesses operating in Sonoma County, two in Rohnert Park and one in Windsor. The first, Game the Room, opened in June of 2017 and the second, Reed Between the Lines, opened a month later.

Down the road, the Windsor Bowling Center added two themed escape rooms earlier this year.

At St. Jean, the winery has branded its escape room experience “Unlock the Chateau.” Designed for groups of six or more, visitors have an hour to solve a variety of puzzles and riddles relating to wine and to the Chateau.

“It’s both a unique experience and directly related to wine education,” said Shawna Hernandez, the senior event manager at St. Jean. She worked with a consultant to build the escape room from scratch, tailored specifically to the winery.

The Unlock the Chateau experience starts with a glass of sparkling wine, and visitors get a second glass of wine when they unlock the second room, and a wine flight after they escape. The experience takes around 90 minutes and the cost is $60 per person, about double the cost of the other local escape room options – but this one does include the wine.

“It is all about experiences now, and wineries here are always looking for new, fun ways to host wine lovers,” said Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Executive Director Maureen Cottingham. “The spirit of innovation in our Valley has always been high.”

Cottingham was able to quickly rattle off a long list of other unique experiences introduced by local wineries in recent months, including yoga, comedy nights, outdoor movies, oyster schucking classes and horseback riding among others. The list went on.

While Chateau St. Jean is the first winery in the North Bay to introduce an escape room, over the past two years a handful of wineries elsewhere around the country have led the way by repurposing their vat rooms and event spaces into escape rooms.

“The response from the people who have done it so far has been unbelievable,” said Chateau St. Jean General manager Mike McNeil. “They have had so much fun with it and said that it’s an experience they will remember forever.”

Bookings are available online, from Friday through Monday, for groups of six to 12 people.

Hernandez said that the first groups to come through have tended to be mixed ages.

“The group that just left was a bunch of young adult siblings who have loved doing escape rooms in other cities. They came with their parents who were excited to try it,” said Hernandez.

“Sonoma Valley’s target audience for wine lovers is adventure seekers,” said Cottingham. “So something like this is perfect.”

Email Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.