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Old World Inn

Old World Inn Exemplifies the Art of Hospitality

“Give me a golden pen, and let me lean on heaped-up flowers, in regions clear, and far …”   Yes, give me a golden pen to write about this moment. It’s early morning and I’m taking tea in a little sitting room where an antique wedding bench from Southeast Asia wants to take center stage. But I am drawn to the timeworn books on the fireplace mantle and find myself reading the poems of John Keats, “Give me a golden pen…”  A bouquet of daisies bids me a good day on a nearby table.  No one else is stirring at this early hour as I wrap myself in an overwhelming peace.  After a while, Ryan comes in to make a fire. Old World Inn, Main House

Welcome to the Old World Inn, a lovely bed and breakfast in Napa, California. It was our first morning in wine country, a trip that Dan and I had planned for 10 years. We had arrived mid-afternoon the day before to a plate of warm chocolate chip cookies and an even warmer welcome by innkeeper Ryan Geoghegan. He showed us to our quarters on the upper floor, a spacious room with a king size featherbed, fireplace and quaint sitting area, and a huge bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub and shower for two.

My eyes fixed on a black and white sketch of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” Memory colored in the anguish and passion of the swirling blue sky, the bright stars and the village below. It took me back to the afternoon Dan and I spent at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris gazing at Van Gogh’s tormented soul, through his "Self Portrait," circa 1889 – 15 years after the B&B was built!

The 19th century home is graced with native growth redwood throughout. But it is the grand hallway, where an array of decadent chocolate desserts are set out for guests each evening, that I remember most. A pitcher of water, laced with grapes and honeydew melon, was on the buffet. And a little coffee nook was lined with French coffee presses, pre-measured for a three-minute brew-- available around the clock! We noticed this meticulous attention to detail in subtle ways throughout our stay.  Ryan recommended a few places for dinner and mentioned the inn’s wine and cheese reception held at 5:30 each evening. What a great way to meet and mingle with other guests!

When searching for a B&B, we were drawn to the Old World Inn by Marti Mayne’s bedandbeakfast.com site and the glowing reviews about the inn’s extraordinary hospitality and gourmet breakfasts – something, we, too, experienced. The inn is managed by Russ Herschelmann and Sharon Fry and includes six historic buildings -- the original inn, with a private cottage out back and several suites in an historic building next door, and across the street, the main house, and two other cottages with three guest rooms apiece – 33 rooms in all, including two that are handicapped accessible. We stayed in the main house where Ryan graciously redefined the art of hospitality.

One morning over coffee, we met with the Russ and Sharon who shared with us the Old World Inn’s history. The Original Inn was built in 1906 by local craftsman E. W. Doughty and opened as Napa’s first  B&B 30 years ago. They purchased it in 2003 and over the next few years bought the other nearby properties.

TRyan serving breakfast in the wine cellarhe Main House, which has 12 guest rooms and is solid redwood throughout, was built in 1874 as a dormitory for ladies attending Napa College. At the turn of the century it served as a health resort and later became a boarding house, and then apartments that eventually suffered from years of neglect.  Russ and Sharon worked with an investors group to purchase the property in 2005 and spent a few years updating the infrastructure and restoring its architectural charm, including their greatest challenge – removing the paint from 5000 feet of redwood wainscoting. “The beautiful thing about the  architecture in this house is that all of the "bones" were still there -- it had tons of neglect but could still be restored," Russ said. Meanwhile, the investors also purchased and refurbished two cottages behind the main house.

Prior to purchasing The Old World Inn, Russ was a specialist in designing home theater screening rooms and Sharon was a disaster grants management specialist working with FEMA and various cities/municipalities. The couple lived in nearby St. Helena where they had successful practices that involved extensive travel. When they were ready to start a family, they decided to pursue something they could do together. “Russ enjoys cooking and I love to entertain.  A bed and breakfast seemed like a perfect fit for us. We thought it would be like having a party every day. Sure, there’s a lot of prep and cleanup, but it all comes with fun,” Sharon said.  Fun, yes, but also a lot of work, often involving large projects, according to Russ. “There’s always something to do, but we complement each other well. I have a lot of vision, but she’s the rubber-meets-the road person who makes it all happen,” he said.

When their daughter KT was born in 2006, the couple moved into a cottage across the street and now have two live-in inkeepers at the inns. They call their inkeepers (Vic, Ryan, Janie, and Tom) “the dream team that makes it all happen for our guests." Guests occasionally get to meet KT, especially on chilly nights when she tags along with her daddy to light the fire pits. “Taking care of the inn and our guests, we don't have time to travel the world. But now the world comes to us. We love that KT is exposed to all of these different people and cultures," Russ said.Wine Cellar

The inn has a unique vibe with minimal décor, according to Russ.  “Our philosophy is to make the inn a place where we’d like to spend time -- something restful, almost Zen like. Some B&Bs are like time machines or Victorian museums. We wanted to create a comfortable, unique environment where our guests could clear their heads, unwind and relax with nothing to distract them except their own thoughts and experiences.” he said. Originally they decided not to put TVs in the guest rooms. “Within a month, we realized we were taking the wrong approach. We’re constantly asking our guests for feedback, and they’ve given us literally thousands of suggestions. Surprisingly, they want a TV, so now we have TVs. It’s not about us, it’s about our guests. The inn has become a reflection of what they want,” Russ said.

It was a telling moment because I realized that our stay at the Main House house really was about us. I recalled that first morning in the parlor, and how I was drawn to the book of poetry. If the room had been filled with the typical bric-a-brac seen in 19th century homes, my mind would wondered to conch shells, figurines and peacock feathers – whose hands did these lovely gems pass through before reaching my eyes? The inn has the kind of vibe that lends itself to the simplicity of the soul, and I wanted to absorb it all. But I must admit that I’ve also enjoyed the fussy B&B experience that transports me out of  myself and into simpler times where I imagine wearing puffs of lace and plumage while sipping tea in the garden.
The couple talked about the subtle details, like the black and white sketches throughout the inn. Russ said, “The artwork in the guest rooms was inspired by a trip to Paris. I wanted to bring back some of the feelings I had when looking at the artwork but found that photos in books just fell short of the real thing. Then, when browsing books at the Louvre gift shop, I found a copy of Van Gogh's original pen and ink sketches. These simple black and white drawings are often done first, when composing a painting. I love the simplicity of this. If you are familiar with the paintings, these sketches are like peering into the artist's soul. The detail is there -- if you want to see it. Our whole inn is like that -- detail if you want it, otherwise, it's in the background."

Another example can be seen in the beautifully carved wedding bench in the sitting room, a traditional gift for brides in Southeast Asia. Russ said, “The men in the family plant a tree when a girl is born and then harvest it when she comes of age. They work together to turn it into a piece of furniture, like a hope chest. A lot of love goes into it. The women weave cloth and make pottery which is stored in the bench. It’s the first piece of furniture the bride takes into her new married life.”Antique Wedding Bench

Dan and I planned to visit three of our favorite wineries that day – White Oak, Cakebread and Silver Oak, and asked Russ and Sharon for some other recommendations. Although the large corporate wineries are popular with visitors, Russ said, “There’s so much more to Napa Valley.” He suggested that we take in a few small family wineries, like Goosecross Cellars. “Many of the small wineries are hidden treasures that you may never read about. They don’t get a lot of visitors and the families love to share their stories and tastings. Some of the wines aren’t even available outside the tasting room,” he said. This proved to be an excellent tip!

Ryan, who was born and raised in Napa, also shared a wealth of information about wineries.  Knowing we have a budding interest in Pinot Noirs, he suggested a trip to Ancien, a winery that produces small lots of some pretty expressive Pinots. In conversation, it’s easy to see that Ryan enjoys being somewhat of a Napa ambassador.  Last year, he and a friend launched Lexacon Tours, providing visitors with affordable, customized tours during their stay in wine country.

BOriginal Old World Innefore we headed out for the day, Sharon gave us a tour of the original inn, suites, and private cottages which echo the architectural charm and classic feel of the main house. Orange and grapefruit trees grow in the garden along with Cabernet, Malbec, Merlot and Petit Verdot grapevies that produce fruit for the Bordeaux blend grape jelly available at the inn's gift shop. It was here, in the parlor, that I was introduced to Edith Piaf whose ballads filled the room. So I am not surprised to learn that this romantic inn has been recognized as one of the "Best Places to Kiss.“ And the rooms, with names like “Night in Paris” echo that romance.”  Yes, we would have been happy here too.

Our days were spent exploring Napa Valley wineries, mostly along the scenic Silverado Trail and its counterpart SR-29 which have stunning views of lush landscapes and vineyards, often enhanced with tangerine poppies and pink roses. At first, we were overwhelmed with the hundreds of wineries that seemed to go on forever. We visited several that were familiar to us and many that we’d never heard of  like V. Sattui, Castello di Amorosa, and Black Stallion. Following Russ and Sharon’s suggestion, we visited Goosecross Cellars in Yountville where Jose Garcia was eager to share several tastings, including Howell Mountain Cabernet, one of the best wines we had while in Napa Valley. We bought a bottle, and though it would have aged well in our cellar, we couldn’t wait and savored it a few days later at dinner.  Also, we took Ryan’s advice and visited Ancien where Curtis Strohl, marketing director, took us for a leisurely stroll through the vineyard. He talked passionately about Pinot Noir grapes and nurturing their unique qualities. It reminded us of our favorite scene in “Sideways.” (Read more about our wine tastings and adventures in Dan’s features under the "Kindred Spirits" and "Wineries"  sections on this site.

After days filled with swirling, sniffing, sipping, we always looked forward to returning to the inn where guests shared their wine country adventures over complimentary wine and specialty cheeses. One night, the inn hosted a private pouring by Madonna Estate, owned by the Bartolucci family that has been handcrafting wine in Napa’s Carneros Region since 1922. Tom Inlay, winery representative, poured some nice Reisling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Our favorite was the delicate Pinot Noir, but the whites were fantastic with Ryan’s tasty array of cheeses and other finger foods.

Napa dining options range from peasant food to gourmet cuisine, with the common link being the use of fresh ingredients from local producers whenever available -- and of course an extensive ist of California wines. Dress code is surprisingly casual -- almost every restaurant in the entire Napa Valley welcomes diners with casual attire. After wining and dining, we always looked forward to the evening chocolate buffet waiting in the inn’s grand hallway – luscious treats that we devoured in our room, one of the Acqua rooms. Guest rooms are unfussy with understated décor that nurtures a warm, restful environment, with Italian names like Acqua for water, Terra for earth, Aria for air, and Sole for sun. “When naming the rooms, we were looking for elements that evoke a spa-like feeling, and it transmographied into the elements necessary for growing grapes,” Sharon explained, adding that the same elements nourish the body.

Dan and I are early risers and often took a walk before breakfast. The downtown area is within easy walking distance and has a nice promenade along the Napa River where most of the buildings survived the 1906 earthquake. The riverfront was once a thriving wharf lined with warehouses, a hay barn, grain mill and giant silos. An historic preservation was completed in 1999, and today the Napa Mill is an upscale complex of restaurants, art galleries, boutique shops, an inn, and a colorful mosaic fountain that tells the story of Napa Valley – the “glories and tradgedies,” according to artist Alan Shepp.

Napa Riverfront PromenadeWe were always back in time for the bountiful breakfasts that were served in the inn’s wine cellar where glass-top tables incorporate champagne riddling racks. Fresh fruit and muffins introduced a gourmet hot dish, sure to please the palate of connoisseurs. My favorite was the elegant Caramel French Toast, a culinary journey served with homemade cinnamon-maple syrup and garnished with banana slices. Most memorable to Dan was the tasty Hakuna Frittata and a side of warm, crumbly apple crisp.

Since returning home, our minds often wander back to the Old World Inn and the genuine hospitality we experienced there. We think about the wineries we visited and the “good life” memories that will surely ripen like fruit on a vine -- memories that lean on heaped-up flowers, the wild poppies dotting the countryside, the scent of roses growing along the vineyards in regions clear and far.

Other Napa Highlights

Pub grub with truffle-dusted fries at Norman Rose Tavern in Napa’s West End district (Ryan’s suggestion), which actually has 99 bottles of beer on the wall, including root beer. Dan said his beefburger with triple Cambazola cheese was the best burger he’s ever had, and my buttermilk-crusted chicken sandwich with peppercorn mayo was fantastic. We washed it down with a bottle of Peter Franus Zinfindel.  Our server, Brandon, gave us such a warm welcome we felt like locals. www.normanrosenapa.com

A romantic, candlelit dinner at Ristorante Allegria which showcases Italian favorites. We enjoyed a great dinner highlighted with nice bottle of Zinfandel from the Milat Vineyards. www.ristoranteallegria.com

A lovely alfresco lunch at Napa General Store, a casual riverside café that serves eclectcic California cuisine with an Asian twist. www.napageneralstore.com

A trip to the Oxbow Public Market which sits downtown along the Napa River. The market embraces the concept of sustainable agriculture and features a bounty of local harvest at is restaurants and specialty shops. We spent most of our time chatting with Ricardo Huijon, the cheesemonger at Oxbow Cheese Merchant, where we tasted several new cheeses, including a fantastic creamy Lingot l’ Argental from the Lyon region of France. He also introduced us to regional specialties. Most memorable was a wheel of goat cheese embellished with a chive blossom. It was simply called “Lilly” and came from a doe by that name who lives on the hillsides of Goat Leap Farm in St. Helena. www.oxbowmarket.com, www.oxbowcheese.com

A challenging hike at Skyline Wilderness Park which took us through woodlands and meadows, nestled in the lap of nature, and then up rocky terrain where we were rewarded with vistas of Sugarloaf Mountain and Napa Valley. www.skylinepark.org

For more information:

Old World Inn  – 707-257-0112, www.oldworldinn.com

Lexicon Tours - 707-256-9592, www.lexacontours.com


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