Insider's Guide to Spas

Napa Rises from the Ashes

The Napa and Sonoma Valleys’ spa communities want you to know that, yes, the fires of October 2017 left physical... Read the full article »

Perry Garfinkel


The Napa and Sonoma Valleys’ spa communities want you to know that, yes, the fires of October 2017 left physical and emotional scars, but that by November they were welcoming guests back with strong, able, open arms and warm, open hearts. To that end, they offer this insider’s tip: through April it’s Cabernet Season, considered the shoulder season, when the pace slows down and rates drop.

While the fires cost the valley communities dearly in homes and buildings burned or damaged, bookings dropped, revenues lost, even some 40 to 50 lives lost, the majority of the damage occurred in the hills between the two valleys, so the floors, where the hotels, spas, restaurants, and wineries are located, were not physically burned for the most part. You can drive through the valley floors and never know there was the kind of devastation many saw on TV that showed areas reminiscent of war zones you see in other parts of the world. Smoke damage was one of the major problems; the cloud of smoke and falling ash covered the entire state of California for several weeks.

The timing of the fires was all the more unfortunate as they happened at the height of the region’s busiest tourist season, on the edge of the grape harvest. By December, business had picked up, though many report revenues are 20 percent behind the same time a year ago.

Who heals the hardworking healers? They heal themselves—then they go out and heal the community.

The fires had one relatively positive outcome that no one would have expected. It brought together the community. The spa professionals in particular answered a question that often comes up in healing circles: Who heals the hard-working healers? The answer, in this case: they heal themselves—then they go out and heal the community. After all, it’s in the DNA of spa professionals to provide TLC to anyone in need. Much was in need; much was delivered.

Getting Back to What They Love to Do: Taking Care of People

Even spa management companies got involved—for example, Francis & Alexander Spas, whose clients include the Mount View Hotel and Spa, Calistoga; Farmhouse Inn & Spa, Forestville; Harvest Inn, Saint Helena; Napa Valley Lodge and North Block Hotel & Spa, Yountville, and Senza, Napa. Cynthia Reilly, the company’s Director of Operations, explained that one of their therapists, Tumi Lee, organized on-site treatments for first responders, emergency technicians and firefighters in a program they called Operations Healing Hands.

“Our owners, Loma Francis and Peggy Alexander, and I thought Tumi’s Operations Healing Hands would be a good thing to continue to do in the months after the fires,” she said. “We started by getting our massage therapist and reservations teams together for good food and ‘Healing Circles’ to allow our team members a chance to share their personal stories, and have an outlet for emotional support. We then shared how to give back to the spa staff and the hotel team members who worked so hard during the fires. Our spa team members were open to this idea, to give volunteer spa services, starting with each other. We wanted to also give a forum for our team to get back to what they love to do, take care of people. This program is elevating our team relationships and strengthening our connection with the community.”

Now, she added, the company plans to also coordinate with local officials to reach out and support families that lost homes: “We know it takes time to get these programs going, but one massage at a time will make a difference. And our Napa and Sonoma community will need this type of service and support for many months and even years to come.”

A Community Comes Together

In interview after interview for this story, executives were amazed at the community’s cohesive and quick response.

“It was unbelievable,” said Karen Ray, Corporate Spa Director for the Auberge Resorts Collection, which has three properties in the Calistoga region of Napa Valley. “Firefighters who we gave free massages to said they’d never seen such a response. Our healing community is very strong.”

“People came together to help each other way beyond the call of duty,” added Percy Brandon, general manager at Vintner’s Inn and Spa in Santa Rosa.

“In twenty-five years working here, I’ve never seen the Sonoma community come together like it did,” said Michelle Heston, Regional PR Director for the four Fairmont Hotels, who works based at the Sonoma Mission Inn. “Even before the Red Cross and other first responders showed up, everyone was watching out for each other.”

“There was a tremendous outpouring,” said Alain Negueloua, General Manager at Las Alcobas in St. Helena, which had just opened in June of 2017. Mr. Negueloua himself had joined the hotel in St. Helena from Meadowood, also in St. Helena.

In turn, Meadowood’s Spa Director Michael Conte gave props to the hotel’s executive committee. “Everyone pitched in,” he said. “Our Director of Operations grabbed an apron and was cooking—whatever was needed, people jumped in regardless of their role or rank.”

Their stories are heart-wrenching and heartwarming. Here’s a roundup, not comprehensive by any measure, of vignettes showing how hotel and spa teams responded in the face of one of the region’s worst natural disasters, all a great tribute to how healers heal when the chips are really down.

Sonoma Mission Inn

At Sonoma County’s second largest employer, the hotel reduced the cost of treatments down to $99. Of that, $10 went to fire victims, said Alison Abbot, Spa Director. “We threw support to the community through Sonoma County Tourism’s Sonoma Strong Movement, where dozens of Sonoma companies like us could cluster services.”

Being part of a major hotel group, the Inn drew backup from its three sister hotels in the region, the Fairmonts in San Jose, Berkeley (the Claremont) and the flagship on Nob Hill in San Francisco.

The response to the needs of the community “was like synchronized swimming,” said General Manager Rick Corcoran. “No one had to be told exactly what to do; it was like everyone had trained for this all their lives and jumped to action.” Without any kind of encouragement, several spa professionals reported to the Santa Rosa command front lines to offer first responders massages.” Being one of the few buildings with power, the hotel offered free showers to locals and also hosted a buffet breakfast for 400. Yes, 400.

After the fires were contained, the Sonoma Mission Inn gave insurance company teams “dirt-cheap packages, just to get people working again. We didn’t make a penny, but that was not the point.”

The Sonoma Mission Inn, located at 100 Boyes Blvd., Sonoma, can be reached by phone at (707) 938-9000, or online at

sonomacounty.com/sonomastrong

Meadowood Resort

The 5-star resort on Silverado Trail, on the east side of the Napa Valley in St. Helena, offered temporary housing to four hotel employees’ families whose home were destroyed in the fires. Spa Director Michael Conte added: “We also provided free counseling for those who needed it.” The spa also offered half priced treatments—the usual $200 for an hour-long massage was knocked down to $100. For the 10 days the hotel was closed, the hotel offered food to firefighters and other first responders. Though the spa is ordinarily open only to hotel guests and private club members, it was opened for all Napa residents.

Meadowood Resort, located at 900 Meadowood Lane, St. Helena, can be reached at (707) 531-4788 or online at meadowood.com

Silverado Resort and Spa

Julie Maurer, Vice President of Marketing for Silverado Resort and Spa, reported that five team members who’d lost their homes were offered a place to live without cost for three months, with Go Fund Me accounts established for them. The resort offered long-term stays for 17 Silverado community families while their homes are being rebuilt. Ms. Maurer added: “We had just finished the last day of the Safeway Open PGA Tournament on the day the fires broke out. There was a ton of food left over, all of which was donated to the local Salvation Army serving meals to the evacuees, as well as the National Guard. The resort even held a memorial service honoring pets and livestock that perished in the fires.”

The Silverado Resort and Spa, located at 1600 Atlas Peak Road, Napa, can be reached by phone at (707) 257-0200, or online at silveradoresort.com

Auberge Resorts

The three Auberge Resorts’ jewels in Napa—the flagship Auberge du Soleil, Solage and Calistoga Ranch—all closed for two weeks, mostly to rid the properties of smoke smell and residue ashes, according to the company’s Corporate Spa Director Karen Ray. During that time, she said, she and other spa professionals volunteered at shelters and worked on first responders and firefighters.

“The firemen said they’d never seen such an overwhelming response,” said Ms. Ray. “We are a community of healers so this came naturally to us.”

She reported that many longtime guests, understanding the effect of the fires on business, have shown their support and compassion by coming back even sooner than they might have previously. “You can’t imagine how grateful that makes us feel,” she added.

For the local community, she said, the Napa hotels of Auberge were offering deeply discounted “friends and family” packages, simply to encourage them to “come and relax after the fires.”

For information and to reach the three Auberge properties in Napa, see:

aubergedusoleil.aubergeresorts.com

calistogaranch.aubergeresorts.com

solage.aubergeresorts.com

Indian Springs, Calistoga

“Our beloved Wine Country has endured an unimaginable tragedy, but we are extremely fortunate that Indian Springs remained unscathed and workers have a place of business to return to where they can focus on rebuilding and moving forward,” said John Merchant, owner along with his wife Pat, of this historic Calistoga resort. “We strive to take care of our community and our neighbors in surrounding communities, and are so thankful that our occupancy continues well, and that our loyal guests book reservations which support the economy of Napa Valley.” The Merchants helped an employee with temporary housing who’d lost her home.

Indian Springs Calistoga, located at 1712 Lincoln Ave. in Calistoga, can be reached by phone at (707) 942-4913 or visited online at indianspringscalistoga.com

Vintner’s Inn and Spa

General manager Percy Brandon noted that the property is in the geographic center of Sonoma County at the crossroads of Highway 101 and River Road, basically in the crosshairs of the fire. The fire in fact came as close as across the street. The spa, which is still under construction (it will open in July), was not affected, though, again, there was smoke damage, and the fires delayed some work. Six employees lost their homes.

He went on: “When we found that the food in our kitchen was not ruined, and knowing things would perish quickly without electricity, we gave the food and our space over to a group called Sonoma Family Meal, whose team cooked something like ten thousand meals a day for evacuees at the Sonoma Fairgrounds. We and other vendors donated food; others donated supplies, blankets, etcetera.”

The hotel gave discounts on rooms for locals and neighbors. For their own employees, they have Visa credit cards to use for food and clothing and “whatever they needed,” he added. “Though we had to close for two weeks, we continued to pay salaries and all their benefits.”

 Vintner’s Inn, located at 4350 Barnes Road, Santa Rosa, can be reached at (800) 421-2584, or online at vintnersinn.com

 Las Alcobas Napa Valley

 Adjacent to and literally overlooking the storied Beringer Vineyards, this boutique property (68 rooms), built from a former farmhouse and includes the spa center called atrio, had just opened June 1. General Manager Alain Negueloua had himself been through the Boston bombings of 2013, when he was General Manager of the city’s Mandarin Oriental. “Through that experience,” he said, “I knew the best thing I could do psychologically for my staff was to bring them back to work as soon as possible to give them a sense of normalcy.” Though the hotel closed for two weeks, he brought back his team within days of the closing to clear the ash and smoke. He guided his team to set up meals for first responders, eventually serving more than 1,000 meals. He opened rooms for the responders to get spa treatments, steam, shower, eat, and get back to work.

Las Alcobas Napa Valley, located at 1915 Main St, St Helena, can be reached by phone at (707) 963-7000 or online at lasalcobasnapavalley.com

Vintage House

Terry Prager, who is the Spa Director for Vintage House in Yountville, reported the hotel offered firefighters rest and respite with showers and more—for example, a free opportunity to chill out in a stress-reducing O2Chair. Employees shared potluck lunches and local residents who lost homes were offered deeply reduced rates for rooms (from about $600 down to $150). “We never officially closed,” she noted, “but things were not business-as-usual either. We worked hard not to lay off people.”

Vintage House is part of Estate Yountville, and it will have a sister property very nearby this coming spring or summer, called Hotel Villagio. Though completion was somewhat delayed, neither property experienced any damage.

Vintage House, located at 6541 Washington St., Yountville, can be reached by phone
(707) 944-1112 or online at vintagehouse.com

 Bardessono Hotel & Spa

 Rita Pelican, the Spa Director, who lives in Sebastopol, first heard about the fires via text from her team relaying that they were not going to make it to work due to the fires. “Throughout the days that followed, I made sure to stay in touch with my thirty-five therapists,” she said. “They needed my attention—not only were they in danger, but there was added stress that they would be losing pay days and especially cash tips. Our HR department followed up counseling everyone.” Personally, Rita opened her home to an elderly woman who lost her own home.

“This experience was a wake-up call to us all,” she said. “It brought those of us in the health, wellness, and spa business back to and reinforced our core value. This is what we do; we take care. As a team, it has made us stronger.”

One recent sign Ms. Pelican has drawn inspiration from is, ironically, Nature Herself: she noticed new grass was already growing back to areas that had been charred down to the brown earth. “We regenerate, we re-create,” she said.

“We all have the possibility of new growth.”

 Bardessono, located at 6526 Yount St., Yountville, may be reached by calling (707) 204-6000 or online at bardessono.com

 

 

 

Perry Garfinkel

Perry Garfinkel

Perry Garfinkel, who has been covering cutting-edge health and psychology trends for almost 40 years, is the author of the national bestseller "Buddha or Bust." A longtime contributor to The New York Times, currently regularly to the Vocations column in Sunday Business, he has also written for the National Geographic Magazine, the AARP magazine, the L.A. Times mind/body section, and many others. The author of "Travel Writing for Profit and Pleasure," he leads writing workshops around the world, at hotels and other venues.