The Story of Applewood Inn a Romantic Russian River Wine Country Bed and Breakfast Established in 1985
Penned by Jim Caron and Darryl Notter Applewood Founders and First Owners 1985 - 2009
In the spring of 1985 Jim Caron and Darryl Notter drove up from San Francisco to spend a relaxing weekend at the Russian River, blissfully unaware of what fate was holding in store for them. On the last day of their stay they decided to hit some of the open houses around the Northwood Golf Course. One of the open houses was being held by a real-estate agent that Darryl had known in the city. Thinking of possibly purchasing a small weekend get-away, they asked the agent to keep his eyes open for something. The rest is history… the history of Applewood Inn.
The following June, the two made an offer on a eleven bedroom, seven-thousand square foot bed and breakfast inn on six acres christened “The Estate” by the real-estate consortium which had lavishly restored the historic Mission-Revival home built in 1922 by Ralph “Rooster” Belden for his wife Gretchen “Pet” and their son John “Bunny” Belden. The offer was accepted and on a drizzly “Russian River Jazz Festival” weekend in September 1985 they moved into the inn and opened a brave new chapter in their lives.
The inn’s first, for guests only, dinner was served on Thanksgiving Day 1985. Christmas and New Year’s Day dinners followed in quick succession and the inn’s reputation as a place to dine as well as stay rapidly began to take form. Soon private dinner parties were taking place in the inn’s elegant dining room and small business conferences were requesting and being provided with breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s hard to imagine today with Sonoma County’s international reputation as a gourmet dining destination, but at the time “The Estate” was one of only a handful of establishments offering fine dining in the county.
The Restaurant at Applewood Opens to the General Public
Up to this point meals had been a fixed-price affair with a set ever-changing and seasonal menu. Jimmy and Darryl had opened the dining to the general public and were cooking for around twenty-five guests three nights a week. Things continued in this manner for several years until, needing to concentrate their energy on an ambitious new expansion project and wishing to extend dinner service to five nights a week, the two hung-up their aprons and turned the kitchen over to a series of young and competent chefs.
During this time, the inn continued to garner acclaim and was listed in every guidebook (this was pre-Internet) and had received glowing reviews in almost all the newspapers and magazines, both for comfort of accommodations and excellence in dining. In 1995 the first phase of expansion saw the addition of seven new luxurious guest suites housed in a “Piccola Casa” designed to mirror the Mission-Revival architecture of the original Belden mansion.
Jimmy and Darryl Hang their Aprons
In 1997 David Frakes was hired as the inn’s executive chef. David had previously worked in the city under the legendary Gary Danko and was ready to assume the Chef’s responsibility and “toque” in his very own kitchen. David immediately took the kitchen and dining room experience at the newly baptized “Applewood Inn” to a whole new culinary level and was responsible, along with Jim Caron, for the design and construction of the inn’s new restaurant to be included in the second phase of expansion in 1998-1999. This phase also included the addition of the “Gate House” which had three new guest suites and a reception area.
The New Restaurant is Built to Resemble a Barn
The free-standing restaurant building, inspired by a previously existing barn on the property, was a nod to the estate’s history as an apple orchard (there are still a handful of the nearly century old “Gravenstein” apple trees in the inn’s gardens and orchards,) and Applewood’s award winning wine cellar.
The “Buona Forchetta” cooking school in the “Belden House” kitchen was also inaugurated during this period. The school accommodated up to twelve students and classes were taught by several Applewood chefs as well as visiting guest chefs from Italy.
Jimmy and Darryl’s managerial philosophy regarding the restaurant (developed in tandem with marketing and PR Consultant, Nyna Cox,) was to find talented and innovative young chefs who were primed to burst upon the culinary stage and then stand-back and let them blossom.
Extraordinary Young and Talented Chefs and Applewood's First Michelin Star
David Frakes left the kitchen at Applewood, after overseeing a seamless transition into the inn’s new restaurant facility, to assume control of the executive dining rooms at Napa Valley’s historic Beringer Winery. David was followed by a series of exceptional young chefs who all deserve to be recognized. Gabrielle “Gabby” Dery took over from David and went on to the Whole Foods Test Kitchens in Florida. Brian Gerritsen now heads the hospitality division at a large San Francisco Bay Area Insurance Company. Brian Anderson opened the delightful “Bistro 29” in Santa Rosa along with his lovely wife Françoise and Bruce Frieseke earned Applewood’s first Michelin Star in 2010 before moving on to be the chef at Dry Creek Valley’s amazing Bella Vineyards.
A New Chapter for Applewood and its New Owners
In late 2009, Jimmy and Darryl closed their twenty-five year chapter of Applewood’s history and entrusted the care and running of one of the Wine Country’s premier inns to the capable and caring hands of new owner Carlos Pippa who is now writing his own chapter of the history of Applewood Inn.