Secret Gardens of The French Laundry and Bardessono

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By Deirdre Bourdet

frenchLaundryGardens1.jpgWho doesn't love being let in on a secret? Particularly a secret that involves the magical stuff that The French Laundry puts on its dinner plates. Summer is the perfect time to discover Jacobsen Orchards and Hill Family Farm, the tiny, family-owned, organic farms that sell only to The French Laundry and Bardessono Restaurant.
You can walk the Jacobsen Orchard rows, taste and smell the organic peaches, plums, herbs, and esoteric vegetables that are inspiring Thomas Keller this season, and hear all about the history of this farm connection and its golden wares from the godson of the Jacobsens: Ryan Hill.  Ryan will regale you with tales of the Jacobsen Orchard's humble beginnings in the 1970s, when San Franciscans Peter and Gwenny purchased the Yountville land and tiny wooden shack as a country getaway, complete with outdoor shower/garden hose. Their cabin is still there, just across from the larger barn residence brought in several years later, and the fabulous outdoor kitchen that now looks out on the farm rows themselves.
frenchLaundryGardens2.jpgWith Ryan's enthusiastic guidance, you will learn about how The French Laundry turns peach tree leaves into exotically almond-scented ice cream, ogle the herb beds that supply the amazing flavor of the chefs' menus, and sample edible flowers that taste like cucumbers or arugula. Examine Persian limes, Korean mint, greengage plums, rose geranium (according to Ryan, the leaves are fantastic infused into simple syrup for summertime cocktails), thornless blackberries, pale pink mulberries, fiçoide glaciale (a delicate, lemony succulent), English walnuts, caper bushes, petit gris snails eating their final meal, lemon verbena, and wormwood--the infamous botanical inspiration for absinthe, Green Purl beer from Sonoma Springs Brewery, and soon, something delicious from the French Laundry kitchens.

In addition to tips on gardening and mixology, Ryan will also let you in on some of The Laundry's latest creations from the garden...such as the dessert of citrusy Alpine white strawberries paired with whipped mascarpone cheese and chiffonade of chocolate mint leaves... or unappealing looking cardoons (think artichoke stems) cooked sous vide as a tender and delicate accompaniment to seafood. Put your palate and your botanical knowledge to the test with the countless herbs and leaves growing there; if anyone can identify lovage without prompting, I want to meet you.

frenchLaundryGardens3.jpgAfter the tour and grazing, head inside to the Hill's house for a flight of the family's delicate and delightful wines, paired with irresistible San Daniele prosciutto, rich burrata drizzled with pungent Hill Family olive oil, and fresh Bouchon Bakery baguette. Tasting the snacks with each of the wines brings out different characteristics in every wine, so be sure to mix and match for maximum effect. When the raw materials are this good, there are no bad pairings.

Secret Garden tours are designed for groups of 6 or fewer, and are offered at three different times per day at $45 per person, from June through October. Call the Hill Family Estate Tasting Room for information and bookings. (707) 944.9580.

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