Monday, December 17, 2007

Happy Holidays!

Our best to you and yours this holiday season, from all of us at The Wine Country Inn.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Things I didn’t squeeze into the newsletter.

First off I want to say that our hearts go out to those in Southern California who have lost their homes or been displaced by the fires. It is hard for me to wrap my brain around the fact that Northern California is having such a sparkling Fall, while Southern California is experiencing one of the greatest disasters in its history. If it would be of any help for the next month or so, and you need a place to stay or just want to get out of the smoke, come stay with us. I will give you any room I’ve got for our cost of servicing the room, say $75 for a standard room and $125 for a suite or cottage.

Secondly I can’t stress enough how important your comments are. At the end of every month I sit down and read through the comment sheets left behind in the rooms. Not only do I get a great insight as to what you want or how we could have done something better, I also get very warm encouragement that I truly cherish, as well as pass onto my staff to encourage and motivate them. Plus we have a staff bonus program where, on a good month of comments, they can earn a bonus just as big as their normal two-week check. It is huge for them. I have struggled, however, in responding to comments that I thought deserved my response. If you were expecting a response and did not get one, I apologize. Occasionally I am lazy and don’t get around to it, but mostly I can’t tell who the comment came from. Many comments are not signed in a way I can read them and many put a date that could either be your check-out date or check-in date so I don’t know who to send the response to. In the future (I just thought of this as I was writing) I will put a little box on the Comment Sheet to check if you want a response, along with a line to print your name. In the mean time, if you still have something that you feel needs a response, please e-mail me at .

Along the lines of comments, if you would really like to help The Wine Country Inn thrive (and help put my kids through college) you could go to Trip Advisor, Yahoo Travel or any of a bunch of other sites and post your comment there. That would be really cool.

The not-so-cool thing about blogs is that the older entries get buried down below. If you want to see what else I have had to say, please scroll down.

See ya soon Jim

Monday, October 1, 2007

Nooks and Crannies

It's Tim, the Inn's Marketing Manager, subbing for Jim who's on vacation. (Only a Napa Valley resident LEAVES the Napa Valley for a week in October, right!) Anyway, I just wanted to share some photos that I find of interest regarding the Inn's grounds. We try to make every part of your stay as quiet and relaxing---and romantic---as possible, and that includes strategically placing "out of the way" tables and chairs around the Inn's grounds for quiet reflection or, even better often (!) sipping a glass of Napa Valley wine while nibbling on some cheese and crackers. Here's one example of what I call on the Inn's grounds the "nooks and crannies" that allow you to enjoy the wonderful Napa Valley weather, yet still feel secluded and private with your special partner:

And while the Northeast and Midwest get most of the press for their amazing fall colors, ours aren't too bad either (in places):

We hope to see you at The Wine Country Inn and Gardens soon.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Farmers and Alchemists

Man, it must have been 20º this morning! OK, maybe 30º… or 40-something. I don’t know, but it was cold. Then it will heat up to a lovely 80º by this afternoon. That’s Napa Valley at harvest time. The most glorious weather you can imagine (at least that’s what the grapes think). And they are thinking life is pretty good this year. They got to come out early in the spring, hang around through a mild summer (what global warming?), then slowly start storing up for winter by tucking away all that wonderful sugar.

I haven’t talked to a winemaker yet that isn’t excited about this harvest. They like a medium-sized crop, with lots of ‘hang time’ and almost, but not quite, bursting with sugars. Well, they got it this year. As of today, September 19th, the white grapes are mostly in and the red grapes are mostly still hanging around, waiting for that last little blast of heat we always seem to get in October.

The thing about wine is that you can always learn something new if you keep your ears peeled. To be honest, even though I live here, I spend most of my time running the Inn or writing on my next novel. I don’t peruse The Wine Spectator or hang on Robert Parker’s latest words, so sometimes I am a bit behind the times. But a couple years ago I started hearing about brown seeds as an indicator of when red grapes should be harvested. I have lived in the Napa Valley for forty three years and the only real determining factor I ever heard about was Brix, the percentage of sugar in the juice of the grape. Brix was king.

Well, for some winemakers, brix is nowhere as important as the ripeness of the fruit. And this is determined by the color of the seeds and flesh of the grape. Try this; buy some seeded red grapes at the store. Bust one open. Chances are you are going to see a flesh that is slightly reddish close to the skin, then turns quickly to a light green closer to the seeds. The seeds will almost certainly be green. Now, this is ok for eating grapes, but the word is that for world-class, full, layered red wines, the green has got to go.

My brother makes a Cabernet called Hourglass with a winemaker by the name of Bob Foley. My mother grows the grapes for this cultish wine. Bob is a very sharp guy and one of the best winemakers in the Valley. That doesn’t mean he is the most popular guy around. We can look out over my mother’s vineyard in September and marvel at the beautiful crop. But we worry about the rain, an early frost, mildew, not enough heat and a bunch of other things that can still go wrong. Then Bob comes out and says, “Let’m hang”. October comes, with mild days and cold nights, dark clouds looming in the forecast and Bob says, “Let’m hang.” Late October arrives and other vineyardists are scurrying to pull their fruit, having lost the gamble of letting their crop fully ripen before the first big rain, and Bob says, “Let’m hang.” My mother is imagining no income for the year and my brother is fretting about an entire vintage missing from his sales chain, and Bob says, oh, you know what he says.

Now half the fruit is shriveled and ugly, the rest is near falling from its stems and Bob comes out to check the fruit. He breaks open eight or ten berries from different parts of this incredibly small vineyard and says, “OK, you can pick the grapes on the flat, but the hillside plants need a little more time. MORE TIME!!! It is early November and every other grape in the Valley has been picked! In 2005 they picked the last of the grapes around the 15th of November. There is still no way of knowing what this year will bring. The fruit looks beautiful right now.

Such is the life of a few people trying to make the best wine they possibly can (and trying not to go broke in the process).

Monday, August 13, 2007

Slow Food for Slow Times

I just started writing/researching my second novel (the first is languishing on an editor’s desk somewhere in New York City). The topic of this new novel is global warming. It is set in 2045, so like my first story, it will be classified as Science Fiction.

This weekend I had a great birthday party where Lorinda and I invited four couples over to brainstorm what the Napa Valley might look like in forty or so years. We invited a couple that is involved in solar energy, one that has an energy-medicine business, one that has a retail photography shop here in town and one that is involved in internet promotions. Unfortunately, Father Mac from our local Episcopal Church was not able to attend.

We had a very lively discussion. The invitees were all across the board when it came to predicting the future problems and solutions we might face. From apocalyptic destruction to brave new worlds of technological amazement, the discussions bounced around the room. The only conclusion we all agreed upon was that our consciousness as consumers needs to include the ‘true cost’ of the foods and other products we consume.

That brings me, this Monday morning, to the topic of this entry. The tomato. Over the last three years the Inn has developed some pretty impressive vegetable and herb gardens. We are mostly growing tomatoes and peppers since I love making salsas for wine service in the afternoon and to slather over the egg dishes the next morning. This time of year I even make a V-8 type juice for breakfast from these vine-ripened fruits and veges that have never even seen a refrigerator. This year we are also harvesting cucumbers, zucchini, melons, pumpkins, mint, and various other herbs.

So, what is the ‘true cost’ of a vine-ripened, organically and locally grown, never refrigerated tomato in comparison to a machine-picked, chemically grown and ripened, refrigerator-stored, tomato that could have been packed and trucked hundreds or thousands of miles? Tastewise there is no comparison. So, being a devout hedonist, that is a huge cost to me. But what of the other costs? Storing and moving the water for corporate farming is a big deal. Manufacturing and transporting pesticides and fertilizers cannot be very pleasant to our world. Building, maintaining and running cultivating and harvesting machinery have similar costs. The processing, packaging and transporting the fruit adds to the impact. What happens to the irrigation water, laden with chemicals as it leaches into the ground? Then there are the nutritional and health costs of the choices we make for our bodies.

Don’t even get me started on the horror stories I have heard about the production of cotton. They make me want to run around naked, screaming.

I certainly don’t have answers to any of these questions, and I am not going to immediately stop shopping at Costco, but as a very small cog in an unbelievably large machine, I am continuing to burrow, looking for a way to leave my children with a better world than I currently envision.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Why not and others

Occasionally a guest will ask me why they were not able to find The Inn or book The Inn on or some similar site. The answer is quite simple. The vast majority of booking sites charge a minimum of 30% commission on the rooms they book. THIRTY PERCENT. Travel Agents only charge 10%.

How can a hotel survive by giving 30% of their Gross Income away? They can't. Our profit margins are just not designed that way.

Or are they? Obviously the hotels using these services are not going out of business. So how do they do it? I don't know exactly, but let me make some educated guesses.

The first hotels to sign up for these services probably did quite nicely. Especially if they were in a highly competitive market and they had no other way to distinguish themselves from their competitors. These booking sites drove ample new business to their doors. Business that they would not have gotten through any other means. Cool! So what happened when their competitor next door started using these new booking sites. The original hotel's share went down, but they were already committed to this new model so they held the course. As more and more hotels joined the fray, everyone's profit margin started to plummet.

As I said earlier, profit margins for a hotel are not designed for a 30% rake off the top. But now everyone was knee-deep in this new system. What would give? In a strong hotel market the answer was quite simple. Now that everyone was in the same boat, it was time to raise rates. If the public was so determined to book hotels in this way, let them pay for it. Everything will even out, the booking sites can have their 30% and we can get our profit margin back.

However, in a weak or even moderate hotel market that may not be an option. The only option these hotels have is to cut costs. The first cost to go is usually preventative maintenance, then staff services, then capital improvements. Though the price doesn't go down, the overall experience for the guest does.

Fortunately the Napa Valley has not yet fallen into this trap. I would much rather spend my time thinking up new, cool things I can do for my guests, what new improvements they will like, what added staffing I can put in to make things run smoother, than trying to figure out where to cut something so the guests won't notice, who to lay off or how to get by two more years with some falling apart air-conditioner or some such.

What do you think? Is booking on that much more fun than picking up a phone and talking to a nice helpful, real person that will help you pick the best room for your needs (oops, did I kinda backload that question with the answer I want you to give me)?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Comfort, the constant quest

This is my first real post. The first one was done by my PR guy to get me off the stick and blogging.
So, let's dive right into it. I am a hedonist. I love comfort and pleasure. So, I guess I am living in one of the perfect spots of the world. The Napa Valley has great weather, great people, great foods, great wines, great beauty... pretty much everything I need for an extremely pleasurable life.
So, why would I travel? The answer is obvious (adventure, new sights, romance) but it leads me to another question. What comforts am I leaving behind when I travel and how can I take comforts with me? The answer is; without eight suitcases, a butler, a maid and a valet, it just isn't going to happen. It turns out traveling is anywhere from a hassle to a major pain.
As a hedonistic Innkeeper, can I change the world? One of the great pleasures I get out of life is providing a comfortable, relaxing, sexy place for couples to reconnect and rejuvenate. My intent is to make this blog (at least in part) a forum for new and creative ways to chip away at the hassles of travel. I would like to talk about subjects as broad as general tips for comfortable travel, down to specific suggestions on what I as an Innkeeper can do at The Wine Country Inn to help you relax and get in the mood to give or receive pleasure (that may sound overly suggestive, but it was not meant to be. I find pleasure can come from the smallest thing if I am in the mood to receive).
What do you think. Anybody out there want to play 'Innkeeper For The Day' and ask questions like: I always wonder why a hotel couldn't...? or Wouldn't it be great if The Wine Country Inn would...? or Why don't the airlines...?

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Wine Country Inn Experience

Oh yes, the Napa Valley at summer…
Daytime temperatures are a blissful 80 to 90 degrees and the blue skies are crystal clear. The vineyards and rolling hillside are equipped with hues of green and yellow, and hints of beige. You spend your day having a spa treatment and your evening eating a delicious meal while tasting wine as you think to yourself, “Can it really get much better than this?”
I am here to tell you that it can. Your experience in the Napa Valley can be made even more spectacular depending on the place you choose to lodge. I believe your trip to Napa should be extraordinary, and that this can only be accomplished by staying at The Wine Country Inn and Gardens. My name is Jim Smith, and I am and have been the Innkeeper of The Wine Country Inn for the last 25 years.
The Wine Country Inn was founded by Ned and Marge Smith, my parents, in 1975. They had a simple vision: to recreate the look and atmosphere of a traditional New England-style bed and breakfast Inn in the heart of the Napa Valley. Now more than 30 years later, their dream remains as vibrant and as strong as ever.
Our family owned and operated Inn holds 24 unique and comfortable rooms, and five luxury cottages; many include fireplaces, jetted two-person tubs, patios or balconies, and vineyards views making this the perfect place for romance and relaxation. In addition, guests receive a complimentary afternoon wine service usually hosted by a local Napa Valley winery, a complimentary shuttle service to nearby restaurants, a gourmet breakfast, afternoon appetizers, and complimentary concierge services offered by the Inn’s knowledgeable and friendly staff.
At The Wine Country Inn, it’s all about SERVICE and COMFORT. Come take advantage of the amenities we have designed to pamper our visitors.
Consisting of, but not limited to:

*Our complimentary restaurant shuttle:
*Our expanded Day-Tour service:
*Our ‘Learn to be an Innkeeper’ Internship Program:
*Our expanded Pool Service:
*Our new Self-Guided garden tour:
*Our cool Arrival Gift with lots of Tasting Passes for the nearby wineries
*And don’t for get your 15% Return Guest Thank You

So, where is the road to paradise, you ask? We’ll tell you how to get here.
Call Toll Free: 888-465-4608 or
You can also book your stay online: