There is nothing like driving up North, leaving the city behind and mellowing out for a bit. Plans called for apple picking, cider drinking, cooking in the outdoors, canoeing and well you just CAN NOT travel North without stopping to drink some local wine. My favorite part. I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I wanted to, I needed this time to put the devices down and just breathe for a bit. I have and will always be torn between city life and country life. Free as bird, walking barefoot in the grass, eating and drinking under a tree, lazy days watching the sun set and doing yoga while the sun rises… that’s the life.
You might not know Sally and Don Schmitt by name. But you know of them by their legacy. They were the original owners of the French Laundry in Yountville. They transformed what was once a bar, laundry, brothel, then run-down rooming house into a destination restaurant with a prix fixe menu even back then that attracted wide acclaim and visits from the likes of Julia Child and Marion Cunningham. Opened in 1978, Don was the maitre d’ and Sally was the cook, serving up five French-comfort-style courses that topped out at $46 per person.
After selling the French Laundry, they went on to refurbish yet another run-down property — a 30-acre swath in Philo in Mendocino County near the Navarro River. They turned what was once a decrepit sharecroppers farm into a thriving biodynamic farm specializing in heirloom apples. The Philo Apple Farm is so picturesque now that it’s a favorite setting for retailer Pottery Barn to do its catalog shoots and numerous events and weddings throughout the year.
I’ve known of Philo Apple Farm for awhile and was beyond excited to finally get a chance to check it out on our way up north. Now run by one of the Schmitt’s daughters, Karen, and her husband, Tim Bates; the farm supports 80 varieties of apples, chickens, horses and 90- year old trees. The Apple Farm also hosts cooking classes throughout the year to accompany your stay in one of the four charming cottages. Karen also owns Farmhouse Mercantile in Boonville; a beautifully curated “modern day general store” with a mix of tabletop finds, linens, furniture and jewelry. Well worth a visit.
Sebastopol is known as Gravenstein country but Philo is Golden Delicious land. Over the years, Golden Delicious has gotten a bad rap as the bimbo of apples — all looks, no substance. Standard supermarket ones are usually kept in cold storage so long that they lose flavor and turn mushy. But the Golden Delicious at the Philo Farm are picked ripe. The crisp air also results in thinner skins. They have crunch and a delicate perfume. They’re the apples that you’ll find gracing the tarte tatin at Bouchon Bistro in Yountville.
Since it’s a working farm with many chores to be attended to, there’s not always someone around manning the open-air farm stand at the entrance. So, it’s all done on the honor system. Bins of apples are marked by variety and price. There’s even a cut apple with a knife at each one in case you want to try a taste beforehand. Weigh your bag of apples, mark it down in a ledger, then leave the money in a box on the counter. It’s that simple.
And it’s the kind of old-fashioned integrity this farm and its founders are all about.