Q+A with Bardessono: Napa’s Epicenter of Eco-Chic

One of only three LEED-Platinum hotels presently operating in the world, the 62-suite Bardessono in Yountville, Napa Valley is also a contemporary take on modern luxury on par with the best hotels in America.

We were particularly interested in this property because it represents the pinnacle of eco-chic meetings and the future of the hotel industry where sustainability blends in seamlessly with the highest level of pampered guest experiences.

To learn more, we talked with General Manager Jim Treadway about farm-to-fork food, wine pairing dinners with boutique winemakers, and where you can go to get a good massage. Turns out, you don’t have to go very far.

Prevue: How important is the meetings/incentive market to Bardessono?

Jim Treadway: It’s very important to us but it’s highly segmented in that our price point is really geared for corporate meetings that revolve around rewarding customers or employees, which would be either internal or external incentives. We are small, we’re 62 rooms and we only have 4,000 sf of meeting/banquet space. We have some outdoor meeting space as well, so the optimal size for us is between 10 and 30 rooms. Most of the time it’s couples, so 20 to 60 people is our sweet spot.

Prevue: How would you describe the overall vibe?

JT: It’s contemporary with a lot of recycled wood, stone and tile. The tufa stone, which is indigenous to the valley, was recycled from the original residence that sat on this site, the Bardessono family home. The wood is cypress, but it was all wood that was down. No trees were cut down to build this. And then there is some iron work on the exterior, but the overall effect is very contemporary, predominately wood and stone.

There are some elements to our design that are interesting and not very visible, like 972 solar panels on the roof structure and 72 geothermal wells, which enables us to heat and chill a lot of our domestic water supply, as well as the swimming pool. The solar panels provide about half of our electricity needs…. That upfront investment in sustainability is what enables our LEED Platinum certification, which is the highest certification from the US Green Building Council.

But the vibe is modern, it has a little bit of hipness to it, it’s chic, the landscaping is lush but more natural than many landscaped lawns. There are a number of a water features also. There are four clusters of guestrooms, we call them Groves, ranging in size from 21 rooms down to 12 rooms. And those groves are named after the indigenous trees that are in them: The Magnolia Grove, the Olive Grove, the Cypress Grove and the Birch Grove.

Prevue: What effect does the appreciation of nature and layout at Bardessono have on the group experience?

JT: The feeling then is very private and inwardly focused around the landscaping, central water features and exterior stone sculptures. Since we’re in the town of Yountville and we are actually in a neighborhood, our whole design is focused to give our guests the feeling of exclusivity and remoteness, even though they can walk out our front drive to the best restaurants in Napa Valley, if not the world.

And I’m referring to The French Laundry. And Bouchon, ad hoc and REDD, just to name a few.

Prevue: So it sounds like, even though your guests are tucked away in this magnificent, private little enclave, it’s not like they’re cut off from the world. Actually the opposite, the guest feels like they’re very much connected to nature and the environment due to the low impact construction and landscaping?

JT: Very much so. That’s exactly correct.

Prevue: But just how important is the LEED certification in attracting group business?

JT: It can be important, it has been in the past. Groups, corporations, businesses that have values around sustainability, they are automatically attracted to us because we have shared values. They don’t want to spend money anywhere that isn’t extremely environmentally focused, and our LEED Platinum certification is the ultimate in environmental commitment.

That said, probably 10 to 15 percent of the meetings and incentive business we’ve done here has been influenced in our direction by our extraordinary commitment to the environment. And the other, say, 85% is here because we’re just an incredibly beautiful hotel—that’s luxurious and in a great location.

Prevue: If groups are interested in how all the various LEED components work together, do you offer behind-the-scenes tours?

JT: Oh, yes we do. You bet. We’re very proud of where we are with respect to our sustainability as an operation and as a series of structures. So we like to show it off, but we also don’t flaunt it. We don’t put it in the face of our customers, because very frankly, some of our customers, both group and individual, they don’t care. They just want a really nice hotel.

So we have to succeed first on that platform: A luxury hotel competing with Calistoga Ranch, Meadowood, you know, competing with the top hotels in Napa Valley, which are also the top hotels in the US.

Prevue: Do you have groups who are going to the local farms and sourcing their own foodstuffs and bringing them back to do a cooking program, or anything like that?

JT: No, not really. We buy from local farms and farmer markets but we also have a culinary garden which is almost an acre. So we grow our own produce and vegetables, and herbs and spices, and then we pair our produce with an appropriate entrée item, a protein item. For example, we grow eggplant, and we dig it right out of the ground that day and pair it with something like a nice lamb preparation. Everybody does food and wine pairings, but we do produce and entrée parings as well, which is really interesting. So it truly is a farm-to-table or garden-to-table experience.

We can do events where the group goes out with one of our chefs to participate in the process. You know, just the other night I saw our chef walking out to the garden with a big basket, and I wanted to say to someone, ‘Come out with me and take a look at what we do here.’ But yes, definitely, we’re more than happy to put something like that together.

Prevue: What can you tell us about wine education for groups?

JT: We do tastings every Friday which are open to our guests only, where a top local winemaker and their sommelier–there are 3,000 wineries in Napa and Sonoma Valley—will come in and they’ll educate while you taste, and our guests love that. We can do that for groups and have a private tasting. We do wine pairing dinners for groups. There are all sorts of things we can do because we’re in the heart of the food and wine capital of the world.

Prevue: There are probably some amazing boutique winemakers who are known mostly only by those in the valley?

JT: We have relationships with a lot of wineries but some of them are pretty private…. I’ll give you one example. Fleury Wines, there’s Brian and Claudia Fleury, they’re friends of ours, and they have a little winery where they produce some extraordinary high-end red wines. They ship direct to a number of celebrities; they have a very exclusive wine club. And Brian and Claudia will come here and work with our guests.

Because of our status in Napa Valley, we can call any number of winery owners and say, ‘Look, we have a group and they would like to have a private, very exclusive dinner with you and your winemaker.’ We can make that happen.

Prevue: If your family or close friends were coming to visit, where would you take them to dinner?

JT: Bardessono. Our restaurant.

Prevue: Okay. How about the second night?

JT: Well I think The French Laundry. Everybody in their lifetime should have one dinner there. It’s exquisite, it really is. Thomas Keller is wonderful. He’s the world’s best chef; he’s also a friend of mine and a friend of our hotel. If you want a less formal dining experience, say, California cuisine with a French influence, then Bouchon, which is also one of Keller’s restaurants. And then for Italian, you have to go see Michael Chiarello at Botega. Or for very eclectic American fusion cuisine, something casual, Richard Reddington at REDD is the place to go.

Prevue: If the group has the budget and they prepare far enough in advance, can planners organize a private dinner at The French Laundry with Chef Keller?

JT: Yes. But no more than 20 people.

Prevue: What other group experiences are available outside the wining and dining?

JT: We’re in such a popular destination that most of the group experiences are off-property, such as hot air ballooning, golf, fishing, river rafting, horseback riding—all of that exists within a 30-mile radius. There’s also the Infineon Raceway as well, with classic car races and really high-end vintage sports cars, and that’s about a 25-minute drive.

Prevue: Is there anything else you want to touch on, Jim?

JT: There is another thing we do for groups that’s very popular. Every guest bathroom here is designed as a spa treatment room. Each is over 325 square feet, which is larger than a lot of hotel rooms. They have wood floors, two sinks opposite each other and a soak tub with air jets built for two. The showers are also steam rooms, and they’re amazing. You can walk into a shower and then walk out the back door of the shower into an outdoor shower in your private garden, where you can soak up a little sun.

Then there’s a very large open space in the middle of the bathroom. Built into one wall of cabinetry there’s a massage table and massage linens. And groups love this. This is by far the most popular group activity we have on-property—the in-room spa treatments. And because we have 62 spa treatment rooms, we can do a lot at the same time.

So if you’re in our hotel and you book a spa treatment, which most of our guests do, we will send first a spa butler. And the spa butler will unlock the cabinetry, set up the table, put out the linens, set up the candles, fill the tub, offer you a choice of organic bubble bath or salts, put rose petals in the tub. Then there’s a music system in the bathroom where you can play your own iPod music or we can provide our music for you. And after the treatment is over, you can go into the steam room or the soak tub or the garden. Or you just can get into bed. But basically the entire room has been transformed into a spa treatment room.

Prevue: Wow. When our publisher reads this, she’s booking a plane ticket.

JT: Greg, it’s an extraordinarily luxurious and very personal experience that we can deliver. And groups—almost every single group we have here will book 12 or 15 spa treatments roughly at the same time, in-room.

Prevue: And then you could probably have someone come by with a nice bottle of Krug Grande Cuvée sparkling wine and a plate of fresh picked strawberries from the garden. With some artisanal brie from one of the farms just down the road?

JT: Yes, we probably could.