Many things in life are unearned and that’s no good. I didn’t know that yet on my first morning at Farmhouse Inn in Sonoma County, where I’ve come to hone my farming chops.
You see, around late fall every year, I get an intense craving to be close to the earth. My magic potion is time on a farm. The act of moving soil. Savoring the simple life without the extras. I disclose here that the Farmhouse Inn has tons of extras, and that I’m on my way to farming grapes at the inn’s Soil to Table wine workshop. Pinot Noir. Hardly a basic need.
(Soil to Table―A Wine Workshop is free with a two-night stay. Steal Master Sommelier Geoff Kruth’s wine savvy at Saturday tasting classes, then hit the bath bar, s’mores bar, and hot cocoa–tasting bar. Considering the extras and the usual price of Sonoma lodging), it’s worth the $275 starting rate (breakfast included; farmhouseinn or 800/464-6642.)
A day at the Farmhouse Inn
The inn’s owners, fifth-generation Sonoma County farmers (and siblings) Catherine and Joe Bartolomei, know that you can’t start a day of hard work without a good breakfast. So I begin the day with apple sweetened ever so lightly with autumn honey.
Sunny-side-up huevos rancheros with avocado salsa on a crispy homemade tortilla. A flaky baked-with-love scone, compliments of the kitchen. After fueling up, I’m whisked down the winding two-lane country road to Barlow Lane to the Bartolomeis’ neighbor, Paul Sloan, and his Small Vines Viticulture farm.
After assigning gloves and shears, Sloan talks a bit about the elements of his biodynamic system. I get nicked. I inhale earth. My sweat falls into the soil. Yet I’m positive that any trueblood would describe this experience as “soft-core farm,” because, let’s face it, within an hour I’m eating again (lunchtime!), and within a few hours more, I’m underneath a smattering of Sonoma stars, melting my Valrhona chocolate and marshmallow over the inn’s firepit.
Shortly, I’ll be in the built-in sauna in my cottage. Even before that, I’ll take a hard-earned pull on a glass of Pinot. Despite the amenities I enjoy, I do understand the basic need of soft-core farm: I’ve been useful, and what I drank and ate is pretty well-earned. I feel good.
9 MORE GREAT FARMS TO VISIT
1 Best for … lovers of wine and cheese
Rinconada Dairy Jim and Christine Maguire’s sheep and goat ranch is set outside quaintly dusty Santa Margarita, California. Try your hand at milking a goat, then taste one of the dairy’s three award-winning cheeses. Whatever you do, get up in time to have breakfast: Everything, from eggs to bacon to plum jam, comes off the Maguires’ 92 acres. The farm makes a good base for touring San Luis Obispo County wine country too. From $150, including breakfast and cheese tasting; cash or check only; two-night minimum; rinconadadairy.com or 805/438-5667. –Samantha Schoech
2 Best for … ocean-view hiking
The Old Point Reyes Schoolhouse A stay at the Barn Loft means easy access to the hiking trails in Northern California’s Point Reyes National Seashore. At the end of the day, pad through the tiny kitchen and upstairs to the loft, just big enough for a bed and dreams of country living. From $185; two-night minimum; oldpointreyesschoolhouse.com or 415/ 663-1166. –Amy Wolf
3 Best for … autumn pleasures
Springbrook Hazelnut Farm In Oregon’s Willamette Valley, Springbrook offers acres of lawn, a pond, and two restored-to-perfection cottages set against the russet-leafed lanes of hazelnut groves. From $225, including breakfast; two-night minimum; nutfarm.com or 800/793-8528. –Lucy Burningham
4 Best for … a tropical escape
Holualoa Inn This working 30-acre coffee farm on Hawaii’s Big Island doubles as a luxurious Southeast Asian–style B&B. Sip the inn’s estate coffee at breakfast, then take the farm manager’s tour of the orchards and roasting mill. From $290, including breakfast; two-night minimum; tours by appointment; holualoainn.com or 800/392-1812. –Bill Harby
5 Best for … eating well
Fresh & Wyld Farmhouse Inn First, chef Dava Parr renovated her 1908 farmhouse in Paonia, Colorado, into a colorful seven-room B&B.Then she began cultivating her land to supply food for her organic breakfasts. Now Parr also hosts a weekly Friday Night Dinner (from $15), pairing local grub with local wines. From $95; freshandwyldinn.com or 970/527-4374. –Cheryl Meyers
6 Best for … a city splurge with country charm
Simpson House Inn This elegant Santa Barbara inn is known for winning over even B&B-phobes. The restored 1876 barn out back has four suites with fireplaces and decks overlooking the manicured garden. The minimum $595 a night is an eye-popper, but considering local real estate prices, it starts to look like a miser’s way to taste the charmed life. Watch for winter midweek $395 rates. From $595, including breakfast; two-night minimum; simpsonhouseinn.com or 800/676-1280. –Lisa Trottier
7 Best for … Like Water for Chocolate fantasies
Hacienda Corona de Guevavi In southern Arizona’s Santa Cruz River Valley, the former Guevavi cattle ranch is now a rustic, chic retreat where your room may have a stone fire-place or hot tub. Ranch pastimes include horseback riding, stargazing, bird-watching, or floating around the pool. From $189, including breakfast and wine and cheese; haciendacorona.com or 888/287-6502. –Edie Jarolim
8 Best for … city slickers
Artists’ Inn Greater L.A. has grown up around it, but South Pasadena’s Artists’ Inn Bed & Breakfast has held onto its farmhouse atmosphere. Built in 1895 as the home for an egg-and-poultry farm, the house has a cobblestone porch that looks out over a garden filled with roses and citrus. Balancing connections to the past is the inn’s access to contemporary Southern California. A quick walk leads to boutiques and restaurants on South Pasadena’s Mission Street. And you can catch the Metro Gold Line light rail a few blocks away to reach downtown L.A. and Old Town Pasadena, making this spot the perfect Los Angeles day trip. From $140, including breakfast; artistsinns.com or 888/799-5668.
9 Best for … the simple life
The Apple Farm In Northern California’s Anderson Valley, the Apple Farm’s appealing cottages are plunked in the middle of a Mendocino County orchard. The farmstand will keep you supplied with apples, jams, and chutneys; nearby is the valley’s prime collection of wineries. Book midweek here ($175); on weekends, cottages are often reserved for cooking classes. From $250, including breakfast; two-night minimum; philoapplefarm.com or 707/895-2333. –A.W.