In 1911 after a “wind fall gain” in the hops market, a dream became reality and the Bartolomei Family legacy was born. Orchards, vineyards, gardens and livestock; lifetimes of celebrations, in the vineyards, under the olive trees and around the kitchen table. One hundred years and five generations later, great-great grandchildren and siblings Joe and Catherine Bartolomei, took that passion, born and nurtured in the heart of the Russian River Valley and created Farmhouse Inn. An Inn, Restaurant and Spa, but more importantly, an invitation to slow down, engage and experience the extraordinary bounty of Sonoma County.
My brother, Joe, and I, purchased the, then, very run down Farmhouse Inn in the fall of 2000. We opened officially on Valentine’s Day, 2001. Farmhouse is the realization or our long-held dream of creating a haven from everyday life, where we could share our extraordinary upbringing and sense of place and hospitality with guests seeking an authentic Russian River Wine Country experience.
Joe and I were raised here, in the Russian River Valley, and spent weekends and summers on our great grandparents’ ranch, located just three miles from Farmhouse. Italian immigrants, and inherently charming and hospitable, Domenic and Kate Giovanetti were the kind of people who altered the lives of the people they encountered. That 100 acre ranch was an absolute home-away-from-home for friends and family seeking the charm and culture of “the old country” and respite from the challenges of the new lives they’d forged. Each weekend the lovely little house (which our great grandfather crafted by hand, and where I live now with my family) was filled to overflowing with laughing, happy people. They stayed in the attic, on the screened porch, in tents and under the stars, just to share in the joy and camaraderie that Kate and Domenic fostered. Kate cooked, bandaged knees and elbows and lent a sympathetic ear from her post at the old wood stove. Domenic farmed, cured meats and made wine and played the concertina. Domenic’s father, our great-great grandfather held a post of special significance in his private cottage by the creek (no, we never met him, but the stories of “Dolly” abound).
With this sense of family and of place, Joe and I left for college, lived and traveled abroad and in various cities in the US, and, ultimately returned to Sonoma County with the goal of pursuing our dreams. I’d been in the wine industry, holding positions in marketing, public relations, culinary management, hospitality and finally general management. Joe was living in Baltimore, working as a structural engineer- but all the while plotting to come home to Forestville and build our dream.
And, when we least expected it, Farmhouse found us. Run down and sadly mis-managed, Farmhouse had a fantastic Russian River location, great potential, and most importantly, our current – and we hope forever- chef, Steve Litke, in the kitchen. Steve had left a post at Bistro Ralph, in Healdsburg, and had come down to Farmhouse as a place to wait for the next “big move”. Joe and I, upon finding out that Farmhouse was for sale, decided to come in for dinner. The room was atrocious. The service was ghastly. The food was divine. Locally sourced, perfectly and simply prepared. Everything we loved and appreciated about the best food from our region. And, the rest, as they say, is history.
“In California's picturesque Sonoma County, where hillsides are embroidered with grapevines and meadows are woven woven with apple trees, two siblings returned to the land their great-grandparents lived on and loved. Here, they created a new life and livelihood that prove they haven't fallen far from the family tree.”