Texas-sized dreams are coming to the Applewood Inn in the Russian River Wine Country with the arrival of new owner Carlos Pippa, who purchased Applewood in December and has taken up residence as of this spring. With his friendly, lively girlfriend Sylvia Ranyak, Pippa has embarked on a series of tweaks both big and small to bring the woodsy hideaway up to contemporary standards of sustainable luxury.
First step: to green the hotel by installing solar panels, which will sit on the hill just behind the newly expanded garden and provide the bulk of the hotel’s energy, making it almost entirely self-sufficient. Then there’s the garden I mentioned. It’s always seemed a bit frustrating to me that Applewood didn’t invite guests to explore the entirety of the expansive six-acre property, which includes a wonderful orchard full of gnarled old apple, cherry and fig trees. Pippa is rectifying that immediately, putting in a large chef’s garden to supply the restaurant with organic seasonal produce grown on premises.
There will be picnic tables and possibly even a bocce ball court too, opening this lovely bowl-shaped area at the foot of the property to guests’ enjoyment. Along the driveway you can see a new kitchen garden, planned to provide fresh herbs the chefs can just step outside to pick. The grassy hilltop above the inn, also previously off limits, has been opened up with a good mowing and now makes for a nice stroll to the top, from which there’s a gorgeous view of the inn and the valley.
Pippa and Ranyak hail from Plano, Texas, where Pippa invented a new industrial process for spray-painting cars. He sold that company, then founded another that imported specialty Italian food products like olive oil and truffles, the running of which allowed the couple to travel around Italy sampling gastronomic fare. Both are originally of Italian heritage, though Pippa actually grew up in Ecuador and Ranyak here in the states. That passion for all things Italian shows in their enthusiastic embrace of Applewood’s Tuscan hideaway vibe.
The restaurant at Applewood, already Zagat-rated and Michelin-starred, doesn’t need much in the way of upgrading, and in fact long-time fans might be dismayed by too many changes. But Pippa has brought in a fresh-faced new manager and sommelier, Christopher John, whose enthusiasm for pairing exactly the right wine with the right dish is infectious and makes the dining experience that much more fun. Russian River Valley and Sonoma vintages are the highlights of the wine list, of course, but John doesn’t hesitate to recommend a wonderful Italian Riesling when I ask for something light and low alcohol to go with my fish.
While they don’t plan many changes to chef Bruce Frieseke’s California-visits-Provence-via-Umbria menu, Pippa and Ranyak do have enthusiastic plans to take advantage of the inn’s glorious central courtyard, with its splashing fountain and European ambiance, to serve dinner under the stars and feature live music on weekend nights.
The list of upgrades Pippa and Ranyak have embarked on is as wide-ranging as their enthusiasm. This historic Belden House, the centerpiece of the Inn, is going to house check in, a business center, and a kitchen where they plan to hold cooking classes. What’s currently the office is slated to become a spa, a welcome addition that will make Applewood a complete wine country destination in this spa-obsessed writer’s opinion. The pool and hot tub were being resurfaced when I visited, but I didn’t mind because again the upgrades promise to make this area even more beautiful and luxurious than it already is.
I can’t wait to come back in the summer and see it all. Meanwhile, I heartily recommend an off-season visit and a chance to meet Pippa and Ranyak, whose warmth, friendliness, and attention to every guest’s experience makes for a memorable visit.