How Sustainable Design Lend This Napa Resort Its Perfect Charm

While Carneros Resort and Spa in California’s Napa Valley is undoubtedly a luxury resort, first impressions suggest something different: a wilder, less manicured version of luxury, perhaps, different from other Napa properties of its ilk. While everything certainly is perfect, it doesn’t necessarily look perfect. The gardens, at first, appear overgrown, for example; lavender and herbs grow side by side amid the cottage-style accommodations; and the footpaths are strewn with wildflowers. The effect of this is nothing short of charming—as if one were suddenly transported to the English countryside in the middle of the Californian wine country.

All of this is, of course, intentional. Carneros Resort and Spa is designed to be as self-sufficient as possible by drawing what it can from the earth and sky, and in doing so, creating a little pocket of pure bliss tucked between Napa’s sprawling vineyards. Situated on 28 acres, the resort’s 100 cottages, suites, and yes, private homes, are inspired by simple country living (or “elevated farmhouse,” you could say.) Each cottage has 420 square feet of living space and up to 800 square feet of outdoor living space (with most including an outdoor bathtub). Inside, the cottages feature modernized furnishings and lighter color palettes to match the resort’s sun-washed, farm-style architecture.

The building structures have all been designed from a perspective of connection with their natural setting and utilize natural light, natural ventilation, and natural materials wherever possible. For example, the roofs are made of galvanized sheet metal, which reflects heat, reducing cooling loads. Cedar siding and porch framing are from predominantly managed forests. The housekeeping team uses wagons and electric vehicles; discarded soaps in the rooms are collected and donated to Clean the World, where the soap is sanitized and repurposed across the globe in areas where soap is hard to come by. And, perhaps my favorite: the rocking chairs on all porches are made from recycled milk cartons.

Outside, the resort’s plants, gardens, and various patches of wilderness feature plants that have been carefully selected for their suitability to the area’s unique soil and water conditions, including native and naturalized species that reduce water consumption. In April last year, Carneros Resort and Spa became a member of Beyond Green, an initiative that seeks to connect travelers to sustainable properties. (To be considered, a property must meet more than 50 sustainability indicators that align with global sustainable tourism standards and must abide by the three pillars of sustainable tourism: environmentally-friendly practices that go beyond the basics; protection of natural and cultural heritage; and contribution to the social and economic wellbeing of local communities.)

The dedication to sustainable design extends to its food & beverage program, which features locally grown, organic produce from its eight raised-bed culinary gardens. Located on the property and directly in front of the resort’s signature restaurant, FARM at Carneros, the new gardens feature 50 varieties of organic herbs and vegetables as well as fresh eggs from the resort’s chicken coop. The garden’s fennel makes an appearance as an accompaniment to the crispy pig ears, while the farm harvest entree features braised radishes, turnips, tomato confit, and crispy artichokes.

Aside from feeding guests, the gardens themselves also offer entertainment: the resort hosts cooking demonstrations, private gardening sessions, and an introduction to beekeeping, hosted by the resident beekeepers who work on-site. A fascinating insight into the busy lives of working bees, the tour includes getting up close and personal with the resort’s apiary, which is home to five log hives, learning about the role bees play in sustainable farming practices, and, of course, a honey tasting.

To learn more about Carneros’s sustainability practices and innovative design, I spoke with Ed Costa, managing director of Carneros Resort and Spa.

In your own words, what do you think makes Carneros different from other Napa resorts?

The resort’s unique experience is noticeable right away, from the warm service from staff members who go above and beyond to the property’s natural beauty that creates the kind of secluded atmosphere travelers crave for a getaway. Guests feel instantly at home with our cottages’ farm-style architecture and modern interior design with deluxe in-room amenities, including fireplaces, indoor-outdoor showers, gas fire pits, individual hot tubs, and Plum wine dispensers for contactless on-demand wine service. The luxe, adults-only Hilltop Pool offers one-of-a-kind, sweeping views of Napa Valley’s iconic vineyards and rolling hills. Our culinary gardens are also a standout feature, allowing us to source the freshest produce for our dining venues year-round.

Families are also catered to at the resort with nostalgic pastimes like s’mores and cozy movie nights in a cottage’s spacious backyard, the family-friendly Otto’s Pool, and fun activities such as exploring the culinary gardens and onsite chicken coop or starting the visit with a scavenger hunt and our signature Carneros Coloring Book. There’s truly something for everyone.

Where and how did Carneros’s journey toward sustainability begin? What prompted the change or sparked the idea for a move toward sustainable practices in all aspects of the resort?

Carneros Resort and Spa is fortunate enough to be located among the iconic hills and vineyards of Napa Valley, and we don’t take that for granted. With more environmentally friendly technologies available in recent years, we’ve made significant advances with our sustainability practices to match our commitment to enhancing the resort’s operations and the overall guest experience. Maintaining the magic of this extraordinary region will always be a priority for us.

What is your personal favorite sustainability initiative at Carneros and why does it resonate with you?

Our use of water is my favorite sustainability initiative. Unlike many luxury properties, we have a full wastewater treatment plant on site that captures everything, from rainwater to all the water guests use. We then treat and use the water for irrigation on property, which allows us to conserve a significant amount of water.

Water has become such a coveted commodity, especially in Napa Valley and California in general, so it’s essential for everyone to limit their water usage as much as possible.

Why do you think we’ve seen such a huge shift in sustainable travel in the last five years, with consumers seeking out experiences that focus on sustainable practices?

With information about climate change and its drastic effects circulating the news in the last five years, travelers have become much more motivated to make sustainable travel choices. They’re more conscious about how tourism can play a role in preserving the environment and understand the time to make a change is now. When choosing accommodations or experiences, guests want to know their time and money is being spent with a property or brand that shares their principles when it comes to making a positive impact and protecting the landscape of their favorite destinations.

How do you think Napa as a region compares in this regard? Is there a long way to go, or is the region getting up to speed on sustainability?

I’m proud of how Napa Valley has prioritized sustainability and embraced conservation. The valley has more than 90 Napa Green Certified Wineries and is home to 40% of all certified sustainable wineries in California. Our neighboring properties, wineries and restaurants, and retail shops implement eco-friendly practices, adding another reason travelers can feel good about exploring the region.

Can you tell me a bit more about the beekeeping program and why you felt it was an important part of Carneros’s sustainability journey? And is it true you had the property updated to place enough gardens so the bees could keep busy?

Bees play a critical role in our environment and impact both animal and human food systems, but their populations continue to decline around the world. This program allows us to emphasize their importance to ecosystems in a fun, immersive way. The bees enhance our culinary garden, which allows us to source fresh produce for our dining venues, and we’re currently working on producing our own honey for the resort.

And yes—part of our beekeeping initiative included adding additional landscaping in the gardens to allow our bee population to thrive given the tremendous impact they make. If bees don’t have access to the right vegetation or space, they will leave to find somewhere more suitable.

I love FARM at Carneros, it was such a delicious meal! How much of the garden produce is used, and are the specials/menu dependent on what’s growing at the time? What’s been your particular FARM favorite that’s utilized the on-site produce?

Yes, 100% of the garden produce is used on property, and it dictates FARM’s specials and menus. Our chef receives a daily list of what is available in the garden, which is tended by two full-time gardeners, and then uses the ingredients to craft the restaurant’s flavorful food.

My favorite menu item that incorporates the produce is our beet salad, which features fresh strawberries and a several different types of beets sourced from the gardens to make a refreshing, delicious dish.

What has been the guest response to the sustainability practices at Carneros? Any particularly insightful or interesting feedback you can share? Do you have a favorite story or anecdote in this area?

Guests are paying closer attention and asking more questions regarding our sustainability practices. For example, they see several on-site pools filled with water for our irrigation system and are immediately curious to know more. They find it very exciting that we’re doing more to preserve the environment as much as possible.

Visitors are especially intrigued by the beekeeping program. Some are intimidated by the five hives we have at our apiary at first, but they quickly learn the chances of getting stung are very low and leave with a deeper understanding of the benefits bees provide.

What does future sustainability planning look like for Carneros? What will your focus area be in 2023 and beyond and are there any new initiatives in sustainability you can share with us?

We’re constantly looking for new ways for Carneros Resort and Spa to be more sustainable. For 2023 and beyond, one of our focuses will be overall energy usage and how we can reduce it. Every guest room already uses LED lights, but we’re exploring where we can implement solar energy throughout the property. We’re aiming to find more sustainable practices that won’t negatively affect guests’ experiences but will have a major impact on protecting the environment.

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