Sonoma Bitch: The Kenwood Inn, California
Sometimes the headline writes itself, regardless of taste or appropriateness.
Sonoma. When you hear talk of wine country, you tend to think of the French set-up: rolling hills and / or endless fields of vines, long windy roads, charming little chateaux dotting the way… You’d expect the same thing from Sonoma. And you’d be wrong.
Well, yes, it’s all there in a manner of speaking and, understandably, on a smaller scale than, er, all of France. But in a relatively small space, there’s some 14 recognised sub-regions of this wine county – wine suburbs, perhaps? – some recognisable (Russian River Valley, Carneros), some obscure (Chalk Hill, Knights Valley), and mostly along the same stretch of road.
It’s easy to get your bearings – it’s all in a pretty straight line – but somehow hard to get a fix on. My suggestion? Get a map, get a room at The Kenwood Inn, ask staff and fellow guests for their vineyard recommendations… and if I’m honest I’d be flexible on the map and the staff / fellow guests recommendations bits.
Like the region, there’s a contained-yet-sprawling quality to the Kenwood Inn, and as befits the name, there’s a lot been thrown into the mix. Design wise, it’s a Mediterranean Villa dropped into northern Californian, a style that extends to the rooms – with variations called Stanze Nel Giardino and Le Stanze Del Re to name but two. There is, however, a healthy dash of Californian laid back charm to it all, with almost every green space within the walls serving as a garden for the chef. And just to complete the apparently random nature of it all, the chef in question is a young Brit called Steven Snook. He looks like he should be doing a paper round but his CV is impressive, having survived six years under Gordon Ramsay, in London and New York. As a kid, Steven cooked and grew vegetables with his grandmother, as he’ll happily tell you if your paths cross while he’s looking for a fresh avocado or a pepper or two for the mostly Italian-influenced menu. He looks pretty content. It’s not hard to see why, when he tells you that the most stressful problem he faced the previous year was a persimmon tree providing so much fruit they had to pick them before they fell on guests’ heads.
Somehow though, the somewhat eccentric and ramshackle approach of this American/British/European co-production works. The gardens may not be organic but the continuing evolution of the hotel certainly is and the resulting whole is remarkably soothing. The Kenwood Inn just feels, well, right, to the extent that, even as you leave its embrace for the laid back charms of Sonoma, it’ll take you a few minutes to get up to even Sonoma speed. There are only 29 rooms, under 18s aren’t allowed, pets have been declared “inappropriate” and there’s not a TV in sight. It’s odd how many hotels are rejecting TVs at the moment, but the appeal is obvious. The news will wait. Take your map (optional), a glass of something local and red, enjoy the stars (or the firelight in your room) and let nature do the rest.