California Wine Country hotels invest millions in relaxation-focused resort experiences

The Vintners Inn in Santa Rosa has become the latest luxury hotel to add what in many ways has become a Wine Country must – a spa.

The Vintners Inn this month will unveil its completed $17 million master renovation, a 2-year-long project of which $4.2 million went to a newly constructed, 5,000-square-foot full-service spa called Vi La Vita, set to open on Oct. 22, according to Rhonda Carano, owner of Vintners Inn.

The project also included another 34 guest rooms and exterior refurbishment.

“The addition of the new spa at Vintners Inn has been part of the overall program for the property since we purchased it in 2000,” said Carano, who bought Vintners Inn with her husband, Don, who passed away last year. “To experience Wine Country, it is not only about tasting wines and indulging in the area’s restaurants; it’s about creating touch points for your customers to engage in while they are visiting. … In the luxury hotel segment, the role of the spa has become an expected amenity.”

Vi La Vita Spa includes 3,000 square feet of indoor space, with five treatment rooms, a retail store and other amenities, according to Alison Abbott, Vi La Vita’s spa and retail director. There also is a steam sauna, indoor soaking pool, and an outdoor pool and lounge area where healthy bites and tea are available.

“Every finite detail of Vi La Vita Spa - from the style and intimacy of our spa treatments, to our custom-mixed scents and carefully selected color palettes - is designed with the intention to provide our guests with an unrivaled relaxation experience,” said Abbott, whose 16-year career includes overseeing spas at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn and The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay, as well as the Coldwater Creek Spa in Santa Rosa.

The addition of Vi La Vita Spa also gives Vintners Inn a chance to widen its demographic, said Percy Brandon, general manager.

“The majority of the inn’s clientele has always been a mature 45-plus guest,” Brandon said. “With the addition of the spa, we expect to improve our reach to the millennial crowd -especially in the pre-wedding entertainment segment.”

Vi La Vita Spa will present an opportunity for Vintners Inn to enhance its brand, Carano said.

“The spa adds a new story line to the Vintners Inn brand by bringing new, refreshing products and treatments, and creating spa packages and offers to our guests and in our local community,” Carano said. “On the business side, generating increased revenue for the property is important as well.”

The new spa at Vintners Inn puts it in close proximity - 7.2 miles to be exact-to the spa at the Farmhouse Inn in Forestville, but Carano doesn’t see the two spas competing with each other.

“Each property has their unique environment for visitors to experience,” Carano said about the vineyard-situated inn. “I don’t see guests booking a hotel just because they offer a spa amenity. It’s about the total ambience and feeling of each property.”

The Farmhouse Inn’s co-owner, Catherine Bartolomei, agrees.

“The Vintners Inn spa is wonderful, but their property is different from ours,” said Bartolomei, who co-owns the Farmhouse Inn with her brother, Joe Bartolomei. “We knew they were adding a spa and pool; they’re always upping their game.”

In 2001, the siblings, a fifth-generation farming family with roots in Forestville, purchased the Farmhouse Inn, which had an existing spa.

But in 2015, when the Bartolomei’s invested several-million dollars into expanding and renovating the renowned inn, they designated $1 million of the funding toward transforming the spa into what today is the Spa at Farmhouse by Francis & Alexander. The spa continues to be owned the Bartolomei’s, but is operated by Napa-based spa consultants Peggy Francis and Loma Alexander.

“The concept behind the spa is that it’s a renovated stable,” Bartolomei said. “The treatment rooms are the stalls, so to speak.”

The Farmhouse Inn’s spa treatments include honey, heirloom cider apples and herbs harvested on-site, keeping in tune with the farm-inspired experience of the hotel.

“The experience we’re offering our guests is ‘come stay in our home, relax, unwind, rejuvenate,’” Bartolomei said.

Reinventing the spa meant “keeping a promise that we make to the people that choose the Farmhouse Inn over properties in Napa,” Bartolomei said. “Playing in that world market, a true world-class spa was integral to that promise we’re making.”

Nearly 70 percent of its overnight guests visit the spa, she said.

Bartolomei said she considers luxury resorts in Napa like Auberge du Soleil, Auberge Solage and Meadowood Napa Valley as direct competition to the Farmhouse Inn.

But that doesn’t mean the competition can’t sometimes be friendly.

“We actually have partnered with Farmhouse before,” said Michael Conte, director of spa and wellness at Meadowood Napa Valley. The two hotels have collaborated on packages that offer visitors to Wine Country a taste of both Sonoma and Napa counties, including overnight stays at both properties and a variety of wellness options around relaxation, revitalization and energy, he said.

In November 2015, Meadowood opened its luxury all-suite spa, a $14 million investment that was part of the resort’s $60 million renovation, which also upgraded its nine-hole golf course and redesigned guest rooms, according to Conte.

“One of the very interesting things about our spa is we’re an all-suite concept,” Conte said, explaining that treatments are carried out in a private suite so the guest doesn’t have to move around throughout the spa day.

“People can come here and have a very active and well-being type of vacation, or they can have a spa or facial to pamper themselves,” Conte said. “We really can tailor what our guests are looking for so they can have a great stay while they’re here.”

And it looks like the trend will continue to gain traction.

The Westin Verasa Napa is in the planning stages with the city of Napa to move forward on what is likely to be a more than $15 million expansion project that adds dozens of guestrooms, a 30-seat restaurant, and a 15,000-square-foot, full-service spa, according to Troy Crosby, managing director of HCV Pacific Partners LLC / VYTC Investors LLC, which owns the property.

“Wellness is a core part of our mission and is a consistent request of visitors,” Crosby said. “The Westin currently provides a limited menu of spa services en-suite and at the pool cabanas. However, the addition of an on-site full-service spa will allow us to offer more comprehensive wellness services.”

Staff Writer Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. Reach her at or 707-521-4259.

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