Once upon a time, long long ago, I was living in Southern California, commuting the freeways and working in the corporate world.
Somebody told me about a place called the Napa Valley and something called a bed & breakfast. A place with blue skies, no freeway, inn keepers who treated you like a guest in their home and always had something delicious baking in the oven.
My first experience soon transformed into an annual ritual, which became a semi-annual experience that morphed into getaways every long weekend.
There was something about this place that made romance more romantic, food taste better, everyday stresses disappear and wine a fascination.
On one return trip I heard a terrible noise in the car. Upon investigation I realized it was me whining about leaving this haven.
That was that. The following year I sold my house and thanked the corporation for the opportunities. My friends wished me well and my family understood as I took a leap of faith and headed north.
My school-aged daughter eventually forgave me for taking her away from her friends. She has since married a great guy whose family roots in Napa go way back.
Being Italian I was, of course, always cooking and welcoming folks into our home. I just had not yet realized that this joy of sharing could become a career.
If I cooked for four, there was enough for 10. Heaven forbid someone should go hungry. When I came home from the office, having survived yet another commute, cooking was my way to relax. So, it just made sense that my hobby and passions became my livihood.
I immediately began searching for a property I could turn into a haven for others visiting this beautiful valley. In the interim, I had the privilege and good luck to have had the opportunity to manage one of the first and most well-respected inns in the Napa Valley, the Wine Country Inn. The owners, the Smith family, became my mentors, and I benefitted from their vast experience and attention to every hospitality detail when it came to the needs of their guests.
Their generosity allowed me to share ideas and work with them in adding new concepts to their repertoire, such as full hot breakfasts and a wine and appetizer hospitality hour featuring visiting vintners from across the valley. Such wine tastings are plentiful now, but when we began, it was an entirely new concept.
Fast forward several years, and I finally discovered just the right property for venturing out on my own. I became the proud owner of the historic Ink House, a classic Victorian beauty built in 1884 and listed on the Historic Register. A stay at the Ink House was like stepping back in time into a bygone era. For 12 years, this was the home-away-from-home for guests from all over the world, many of whom I am proud to still call my friends.
I was the one who experienced so many joyful moments, given to me by my guests — while I baked scones and muffins for them, offered wine and appetizers by the fireplace, arranged daily itineraries for them to explore the many offerings of the Napa Valley and assisted them in finding just the right restaurant for dinner.
Each guest had a different wish list and each experience was created individually for them, based on what they hoped to enjoy. This was, after all, their special experience and was never about what I felt they should do while they were in the valley.
I was very proud that the Ink House was considered one of the premier lodgings in the Napa Valley, and for those 12 years I enjoyed each and every day as its owner and Innkeeper. The Ink House was featured in both the Wine Spectator, the Los Angeles Times and a number of other national publications.
I share all this bit of history with you so that you will know that I understand how important your visit is to you and the many special moments you hope it will include.
It’s been eight years now since I called Ink House “home.” When it became time to step away from my dream come true, I wondered what I would do next. What I did know was that it would involve wearing my hospitality hat.
My hospitality hat rack has expanded and will continue to expand.
If I have learned nothing else along this journey, I do know that seemingly small choices can become a career.
I knew that I would consult for other hopeful hoteliers, and this has been an absolute pleasure. Being a small part of someone else’s dream is a terrific feeling.
My first big adventure after innkeeping was to create “Let’s Go Cook Italian,” culinary trips to Tuscany where my guests and I stay at an ancient illa in the Tuscan hills outside of Florence. You can learn about this hospitality hat at LetsGoCookItalian.com
You might say that I took my hospitality show on the road. “Let’s Go Cook Italian”, and now “Let’s Go Cook le Bon Cuisine” are both featured as Grand Prizes on the number one game show in the U.S., “The Price is Right” on CBS, as were stays at the Ink House. In 2014 my cooking classes will also be part of a Napa Valley prize package.
Here in the valley, I now wear many different hospitality hats.
As the private concierge for such boutique wineries as Goosecross Cellars and Ilsley Vineyards I enjoy assisting their VIP Wine Club members in finding just the right lodging, spa treatment, balloon company, restaurant or other wineries to enjoy during their visits.
I offer the same personalized services to you, as a visitor to your valley.