The last Range Rover I owned, albeit briefly, was a somewhat uncooperative 1991 3.9L Vogue SE. Everywhere it went, It was guaranteed affectionate nods and facial expressions conveying staunch approval. Not to mention being chased Eastbound on the M4 by ‘90s hat botherer Jay Kay in his Gelandewagen. His reasoning? So that he could give me a solid thumbs up and convey that he too possessed the infamous Vogue SE… or so it seemed from the gesticulation and open window dialogue at over 80mph. That sort of speed feels a lot more real commanding a 90’s greenhouse on wheels I can assure you.
The new 5th gen Range Rover is, perhaps unsurprisingly, an altogether different beast; one that comes with the benefit of 50 years of refinement and technological advancement. As North America now represents JLR’s biggest market, where better to reconnect with the iconic model than Napa Valley and Sonoma County?
The last time I landed in San Francisco was in 2019 with a small film crew in tow. Fresh from the Grammy afterparty in LA, we were a little worse for wear to say the least. On arrival, the weather was miserable (to put it bluntly), with the Golden Gate and the infamous Alcatraz shrouded in fog and very little time on the ground to take in the gateway to Wine Country. Luckily, this time around there wasn’t a cloud in the sky as we touched down at SFO.
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My earliest memories of San Francisco stem from regular screenings of the classic A View to a Kill. Bond Villain Max Zorin, played by Christopher Walken, circles high above SF in his personal airship. In addition to a flight deck and board room, the Skyship came complete with a defenestration hatch to dispatch any unwanted members of Zorin’s microchip cartel – arguably a worthwhile addition to any vehicle for the international winery owner or family office fleet.
There are those of you who will consider the 5th generation Range Rover and think nothing of switching out your existing 4th gen fleet or daily driver. Many of you will do so without even looking at a brochure or visiting a dealership. For those of us who like to take a more engaged approach, there’s a lot to consider. The first Range Rover prototype broke cover in 1969, code named: Velar. Its appeal was instant, combining permanent 4 wheel drive, a split tailgate and elegant modern design. Whilst I would have preferred to have owned the original three door Range, the four door iteration released in 1981 boasted all the nostalgia I craved. Perhaps with a little more foresight I would have kept my 1991 Vogue SE on the drive.
As the heat vapour emanated from the tarmac, a small fleet of Range Rover Autobiography LWB emerged from the haze outside SFO. I say ‘small’ with respect to only the size of the herd. At 5252MMm the long wheelbase can’t really claim to be diminutive in stature, but it’s immediately handsome in the flesh. My god, it’s clean – I might go so far as to say it’s almost timeless in its reductive design. The floating roof and falling roofline are still present, though unashamedly confirming that this is an evolution that’s sympathetic to its 50 year heritage.
It’s strange how for some of us, engaging with a new marque can be such an all-encompassing affair. Indeed, I find myself instantly taken by its sleek and near seamless silhouette. The somewhat tapered rear in itself is a beautiful example of design restraint, but behind the tastefully self-disciplined panelling choices lies consistent technological advancement. For one, the new Range Rover boasts vertical tail lights that display a gloss black graphic before illuminating into vivid red.
Luggage loaded, I was cocooned in the rear seat of the Autobiography LWB for the short ride to the St. Regis hotel. The Range Rover’s cabin clearly rivals that of most 1st class airlines; I’m almost fully reclined, glass in hand, before I realise that the soundtrack of America’s hastily tarmaced highways has been silenced. The Range Rover was never a slouch when it came to passenger comfort and cockpit design, but the 5th gen doubles down on that with aplomb. A series of accelerometeres and microphones placed around the exterior of the car monitor wheel vibration, tyre noise and engine notes, and produce a noise-cancelling signal played through the Meridian sound systems 35 main speakers.
It’s a 15-20 minute ride to the St Regis in SoMa, which takes pride of place next to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and beautiful Yerba Buena Gardens. You’ll also find the Museum of the African Diaspora within the hotel, accessed from the lobby – a Smithsonian affiliate that hosts rotating exhibitions. It’s a prime address, and anywhere that observes a nightly Sabrage hour has my instant vote of approval. The rooms are light and bright with natural hues and calming tones, providing welcome sanctuary from the lengthy journey. Naturally, I unpacked, ordered myself a drink at the bar and slowly made my way out into the city.
Dinner that night was a haze amidst the cocktails and my attempts at staving off jet lag at the Black Cat, hunched in the heart of San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighbourhood. Grammy award-winning bassist, composer and vocalist Ben Williams led a live recording at the aforementioned jazz lounge with Marcus Strickland on Sax, David Rosenthal on guitar, Jharis Yokley on drums and Brandon Coleman on piano. The addition of vocals from Syndee Winters made for an incredible evening of live music; one you can luckily listen back to. (LINK)
The following morning, after an early breakfast in bed, we headed north toward the Golden Gate bridge in formation, bound for Sonoma. As we flew over the 101, I could see light cloud cover hovering above the two main towers, the sun just low enough to illuminate the bridge in all its iconic glory.
We criss-crossed over wine country as the morning dew started to evaporate beneath us, flanked by two other Bell 407s; a beautiful way to see just some of California’s 637,000 acres of vines. As the world’s fourth largest wine producer, California has climbed from 0.1 to 7.9% in terms of its share of the total fine wine market on Liv-ex (by value) over the last decade. This comfortably makes it the fourth most traded fine wine region after Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne. However, to be honest, if you’re flying over the famed valleys of Sonoma and Napa thinking of your portfolio, you might want to try being a little less avaricious – it’s good for the soul, or so I’m told.
We landed 45 minutes or so later at Charles M. Schulz, Sonoma County Airport, named after “Sparky” Schulz, the creator of Peanuts and Snoopy, and widely regarded as one of the most influential cartoonists of all time.
On arrival, ten Sunset Gold Satin Range Rover First Edition’s were neatly parked in a line outside the hangar for our journey into Bond Winery. It was shaping up to be a pretty strong morning by anyone’s standard. Perlino leather and natural ecru walnut veneer cosset me as I make my way past boutique tasting rooms, dairy feed warehouses, bright red barns, big-name wineries and mile after mile of sun-drenched vines. You can choose from a range of wool-bends and ultrafabrics, and from leather and ceramics if you get near to optioning it yourself and don’t staff it out. The new Range Rover takes the region’s rolling hills in its stride – of course, partly due to the new firmer, lighter and more rigid MLA-Flex body architecture. A 0-60 time of 4.4 seconds is impressive given the kirb weight, and it’s an acceleration that’s achieved rather elegantly.
You can still get your particular preferred flavour of Range Rover in both diesel and the immensely popular P530 twin-turbocharged V8 petrol. However, if you’re on your way to B Corp status, you could opt to wait till 2024 for the fully electric model: BEV. It’s perhaps worth noting that the 5th gen also comes with a 510PS PHEV and a 350PS MHEV option. The usual suspects are there in terms of infotainment, allowing you to bark at your Range Rover in Apple or Android. The 13.7 inch instrument cluster can also be configured in an array of setups… but given the scenery, I wasn’t all that focused on the foreground.
A few hours later we arrived at Bond, a private winery that only produces Grand Cru quality Cabernet Sauvignon wines. Bond, at present, curates five wines that represent vines extending beyond the mid-slopes of western Oakville; Pluribus comes from St. Helena’s Spring Mountain and Melbury from the easter side of the valley on Pritchard Hill. The winery takes after Burgundy in many ways, creating wines from diverse ranges of small, varied parcels to really showcase the terroir at a micro-level. Bond’s negociant approach sees it source from roughly 100 vineyards, but over the last 30 some years, only five have ever passed the bar with one vineyard still on trial after 11 years. Max Kast, Master Sommelier and Bond’s Estate Director was good enough to host a tasting over lunch taking in the Pluribus, Quella, St Eden and rather spectacular Vecina – tight, rich and ruggedly constructed with a medium to full body. Over a farm to table lunch of sea salt chicken and grilled brokaw avocado, I looked out over the sun drenched vines, glass in hand. Sweet serenity.
After a swift cellar tour and uncorking of certain vintages which shall remain nameless, we made for the Montage Healdsburg in Sonoma. Given the abv and the need to not squander the experience, I opted to arrive at our next destination in the four seat suite of the Range Rover SV. It would be an expensive transfer vehicle for film set logistics, but by god it would be worth it. Its party piece – at least for me – is the deployable club table, which would make it the perfect vehicle for a cross country jaunt, well, such as this one.
Having arrived at the Montage Healdsburg, I had little time to take in the vista or the beautifully appointed eco-conscious cabins. I made my way to the 11,500-square-foot spa for a much needed massage and sauna. If you’re thinking of visiting, take the Guest House. It’s a three-bedroom affair with a wrap-around balcony and views of Jordan Winery and Mount St. Helena, and offers no shortage of solace and relaxation for those in need of some serious unwinding.
That evening, after a salubrious pre-dinner tasting and a handful of cocktails, we made our way to the Matheson in charming Healdsburg. In many ways, Chef Matt Brimer’s formidable menu is a modern ode to Healdsburg’s micro-seasonal ingredients. Conversation flowed over many a fine wine as we swapped thoughts and findings from the day’s driving, savouring flavours with every anecdote and gathered experience.
Despite calling it a night shortly before the final round of Espresso Martinis arrived, I was awake at 0700 hrs for an early-morning yoga session with wellness guru Nora Tobin. If you’re still on the fence about the rewards to mind, body and spirit that yoga can offer, take note. Nora’s already coaching a handful of Fortune 500 companies, a bonafide star on a decidedly elite scene.
Even with a bracing early morning solo swim in the perfectly still pool, by the time we arrived at the Robert Young Winery, I wasn’t considering returning to the wagon. So with a deft hand, Daryl, my ever gifted concierge, guided me to a Range Rover SV P530 long wheel base. This would be the last opportunity to trial the 5th gen amongst the Robert Young Winerys 448-acre ranch. In this instance, the terroir was as important to the 23-inch alloys as it was to my palate, although the hot stone massage function quickly spirited away any thoughts of going properly off-road.
Despite being introduced in 1970, the first alliteration of the brand was highly off-road capable and of course agricultural, described by the Louvre as an “exemplary work of industrial design.” Whilst there are those of you that might never dip a corner in anything other than the freshly cut grass at a point to point, it’s reassuring to know that the new Range Rover still lives up to the off-road institution that forms the basis of its renown.
On my return to the winery, there was just enough time for one glass before our White Gloss cavalcade crossed the winery, bound for a trinity of waiting choppers. “The property owner to the West has asked if you can take a different route out East on take off”, one of the winery hands requested patiently. “Negative, our flight plan is fixed and logged” the pilot responded. And with that, we soared into the sky high above the valley below, bound for San Francisco once more.