Think you can’t have your wine and drink it, too?
The brother and sister team of Joe and Catherine Bartolomei would have you believe otherwise. As fifth-generation members of an Italian immigrant farming and vintner family in Sonoma County, they have been going to great lengths to extend a cordial red carpet to every guest from the moment of stepping foot on the grounds of the Farmhouse Inn, a boutique hotel in Forestville near the Russian River.
Do not be misled by the name. Nestled in the heart of Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, surrounded by the constant flow of wineries, the internationally-acclaimed Farmhouse Inn is about as far away from a rustic retreat as one might get. And once entering this wooded six acre luxury hideaway merging the rural with the contemporary, you’ll also feel about as far off the grid as you can possibly be during a wine country getaway.
“It took us awhile to figure what we were doing, but our attitude has always been about providing outstanding service and all we want is for our guests to feel like they’re staying in our home,” says Joe.
Although neither sibling had experience operating a hotel at any level, the combination of their previous careers has proven to be a successful formula. Prior to opening the Farmhouse Inn, Joe was a construction engineer and had a passion for building. To compliment his skills, Catherine had previous training in the hospitality world as the General Manager of Alderbrook Winery in Healdsburg and is infatuated with interior design.
“We always joke that I build the box and she fills the box,” Joe pointed out in reference to their achievements that are clearly on display throughout the 25 rooms, suites and cottages.
The foundation of the Farmhouse Inn dates back to 1873, and has been going through a metamorphosis ever since, beginning when the original building served as a residence for two separate generations until the 1940s. It then became a campground with the existing cottages (initially used by farm workers) being rented to vacationers relaxing and playing in the redwoods along the Russian River. Then came a period during which the property was a bath house, then a bed and breakfast. Joe and Catherine bought the estate in 2001, and have been renovating ever since with a series of expansions and upgrades in collaboration with the San Francisco based firm SB Architects.
“The site, regional vernacular, culture and traditions come first. The place where these inherent factors come together with the needs of the client and the project program forms the starting point for our design process.” declares Scott Lee, President of SB Architects. “Creating an authentic experience of place is always our primary goal.”
True to form of passionate boutique hotel proprietors, Joe and Catherine have placed considerable attention to details and it begins in the lobby where guests are invited to pick up samples of scented soaps and scrubs to take to their spacious rooms, the newer ones being equipped with jetted tubs and steam showers.
If so inclined, the guest pampering carries over to the new opulent spa located in a repurposed building designed along the lines of iconic horse barns. Here, three treatments rooms, each of which opens to a private garden and outdoor shower, is available to hotel guests, as well as for day use by non-overnighters hoping to unwind.
Perhaps, the hallmark of the Farmhouse Inn is the Michelin starred farm-to-table restaurant exhibiting a casual yet, elegant atmosphere run by Executive Chef, Steve Litke. Here, gastronomic feasts have been served up since the Farmhouse Inn first opened. Sourcing most of his ingredients from local farmers, plus a huge garden on Catherine’s property at the family ranch, Litke’s menu changes daily, except for a dish called “Rabbit Rabbit Rabbit.” (Just in case you didn’t know you’re eating rabbit). Regardless what you gorge on, it’ll be a dining adventure to savor. Be forewarned, however: save some room in your stomach and head over to the lobby for marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers to heat up s’mores around the fire pits near to the pool. Or you can just slow-walk back to your room to find some cookies. Once again, details!
“Both Catherine and I are suckers for nostalgia so, we try to work as much of that in around here as we can and we like to inundate guests with sweets. It’s wine country. Indulge!” exalts Joe. “We come from a big Italian family. Food has always been a primary focus of my family for generations, so we want to make sure everyone here is well fed.”
Not lost in what is probably the main reason people venture to the Farmhouse Inn, is wine. Within minutes of the property there is a plethora of wine stops. But as a guest of Farmhouse you’ll be able to enjoy complimentary wine tasting at any of their twelve winery partners such as Arista Winery, Gary Farrell, Iron Horse, J Vineyards and Quivira. In addition, every Thursday evening one of the local vintners brings their wines to the property for tastings. As Joe sees it, “It’s a great social lubricant to get guests interacting.”
At the end of the day, the Farmhouse Inn does everything to help exceed people’s expectations so, the next time you want to rough it in luxury along the Russian River this is the perfect locale to slow the pace. NVL