I am a huge fan of the “Today” show. Before I joined Sonoma Magazine and became editor in chief, I was an at-home parent working harvest as a side gig. And for all those years at home with my two boys, the “Today” show was my constant morning companion, kicking off the day with a sunny positivity and sense of community.
So attending the taping of the Sonoma County edition of the show at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards, right in my hometown of Kenwood, was a true full-circle kind of moment. I loved the window into how the show comes together and did more than my fair share of whooping and cheering for the cameras.
Here’s some of what you might not have seen if you watched the show on TV the following morning:
A huge team behind the scenes
The team behind the scenes was huge — more than a few dozen, including producers, assistants, camera people, and security — all wearing special Today show lanyards. My press badge made me feel extra included in all the action. Funny story: More than a few times, fellow audience members approached me to ask about this or that on the show, maybe because I had a badge. But of course, I didn’t know any more than they did!
Local chefs in action
I was relieved to run into a couple of familiar faces right away. In the parking lot at St. Francis, I saw Ari Weiswasser of Glen Ellen Star, who was there for the food segment that closed the broadcast. (Glen Ellen Star has been on every Best Restaurants list we’ve done at the magazine since the restaurant opened.) Once inside, I spent a bunch of time with the charming Stéphane Saint Louis from Table Culture Provisions in Petaluma, who was a part of the same food segment. I saw later on Instagram that Al Roker ate at Glen Ellen Star the night before the taping — great call!
Reporters and TV hosts taking selfies and goofing around
Press people and audience members were shepherded through metal detectors and then out onto the lawn next to the St. Francis vineyards. I was there with Sara Edwards and Dan Taylor from our sister publication, The Press Democrat, and we were next to Brent Alan from KZST Radio, and Kari Hall and Marcus Washington, morning show hosts from NBC Bay Area’s Today in the Bay. Lots of people recognized Kari and Marcus and approached them for selfies, which they were super gracious about. Kari said how happy she was to be out of the studio on such a gorgeous day, and we all laughed when Marcus did a Golden State Warriors rally dance with a woman all decked out in Warriors gear.
An impressive set
The set was impressive. The main table where the hosts sat for the intro was set up on a raised stone patio just off the tasting room, with several cameras and big white scrims overhead to filter the sun and avoid harsh shadows in the bright midday light. There was a separate area on another patio set up for the cooking segment, and the walking interview with track star Allyson Felix circled the lawn where we all gathered. The vineyards were a little on the bare side given that it’s still so early in the growth season, but I heard the hosts remark several times how lush the setups and scenery looked on camera.
A pre-show warm-up
Stephanie Mansour, one of the Today show contributors, arrived about 15 minutes before taping began to warm folks up with a stretching and cheering practice. Stephanie chatted people up about the signs they’d brought from home and asked people where they were from. Several people shouted out that they were from out of town — Arizona, Seattle, Atlanta. The producers asked us to cheer and wave our arms in the air, whooping it up with lots of enthusiasm to welcome the team. And when host Dylan Dreyer came out to shake hands and say hello, we knew the main event was about to happen.
TV pros in action, with only a couple of retakes
Taping took about two hours, which included the intro with wine sabering, the cooking segment, the walk with Allyson Felix, the chat with the Garcia Twins, and the small business shopping segment, plus lots of waving and cheering and a few separate little intros and throwbacks. For logistical reasons, including the time difference with the East Coast, the show wasn’t taped in real time. They did the “buddy up” segment at Bricoleur Vineyards in Windsor on Wednesday — that’s where the hosts did the wine blending seminar, the olive grove bathing, and the hot air balloon ride. The main taping at St. Francis was on Thursday from about 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and it aired here in Sonoma County on Friday at 9 a.m. Because it was being taped in advance, there were one or two times when we heard the crew stop and ask to do something over again. At the very beginning, for example, Al Roker stopped the intro because he said his teleprompter was lagging a bit behind. In general, it’s impressive how utterly unflappable the hosts are, just rolling with it every time!
Amazing audience costumes, great signs, lots of enthusiasm
If you ever get to go to the Today show, by all means wear a costume! If you’re going to do it, you might as well go all in. There was a woman dressed up as a bunch of grapes to fit the Sonoma County theme, and she got to be on camera a ton! People who had clever signs or who were extra enthusiastic in the crowd also got lots of attention from the hosts and camera operators — a group of school nurses with a sign about healthy living got a callout, as did a woman with a sign about how she’d made her husband into a Today show fan!
Gracious hosts and guests
I loved that the hosts and guests were extremely generous with their time. Sheinelle, Craig, Dylan, and Al (look at me, calling people by their first names, haha!) each approached the crowd at breaks in the taping to chat and shake hands. Al Roker was kind enough to take a moment with an older woman sitting near me, one of the few who needed a chair to rest in, who was attending with her two grown daughters. You could tell she was over the moon at the attention!
I had been prepped the week before to be a backup host for the Shop Today segment with Sonoma County small businesses. Evidently, they weren’t sure if regular contributor Jill Martin’s flight was going to land in time for her to make it to the taping, and so they asked me to be ready to go on backup. But then she did indeed make it to the winery with plenty of time, so I didn’t have to — and to be honest, it was so much more fun to be able to enjoy Jill’s banter with the hosts. She is a pro! (A shoutout to the very kind — and remarkably organized — Today show producers Kayiu Wong and Phoebe Curran, who reached out to me at the magazine and took time to chat in the middle of a super busy production. I’m happy you had such a good time here.)
A behind-the-scenes interview
I got to spend a few minutes interviewing the hosts after taping was finished, and they came across just as warm, natural and genuinely friendly as they appear on TV.
Dylan Dreyer reflected on the beauty of driving over the Golden Gate Bridge from the airport the night before, and how, waking up in Sonoma County the next morning, everything looked “more and more beautiful as it all lit up.”
Al Roker picked up on something we all appreciate about Sonoma County when he remarked on how beautiful, accessible and family-friendly Sonoma County feels to him.
Sheinelle Jones said everything in Sonoma County had been “absolutely delightful” — and joked with me about my old-school habit of recording interviews on my laptop.
Craig Melvin talked about his dad, who worked in the postal service for more than four decades, and how that reminds him of the long-term commitment of many of his NBC family.
And Al Roker also called out the Today show staffers. “It is really a team,” he said. “We are literally the tip of the iceberg, but underneath, supporting what you see at the top, is this massive cohesive team.”
Thank you so much to the Today Show and to Sonoma County Tourism for making Friday’s show possible. Sheinelle, Al, Craig, and Dylan: Please do come back – we’d love to share even more with you about this beautiful place we call home!
Written by Abigail Peterson