I recently had the sincere pleasure of leading a yoga retreat at a very special place with some very special people. From the moment I stepped foot on Blackberry Farm I thought I had died and gone to heaven — if heaven had a 160,000 bottle wine collection and bred its own Italian truffle hunting dogs to sniff out what would later be shaved onto your dinner plate, which I’m pretty sure it does.
So like I said, heaven.
There were so many things I loved about Blackberry Farm — that the obvious focus on luxury was never ostentatious, but rather an expression of understated simplicity; that the sprawling 4,200 acre property felt untouched, almost wild, despite its quiet paths and endless miles of white fence; that the food was beyond words, although I will try my best to do it justice. What I really loved, though, were the people. Much like my beloved Jungle Bay in Dominica, the people who work at Blackberry Farm seem like they’re part of one big family. Each member of the staff, from the waiters to the farmers to the artisans, treat Blackberry Farm as if it were their own property; they each display a genuine joy in welcoming you into what feels like their home. This is rare, and it’s what makes Blackberry Farm so special. You feel like you’re a part of the family.
But let’s talk about the food for just a second. Oh my God. Where do I start? Billy and I arrived late our first night, and the front desk so kindly made us a reservation for dinner “at the Barn, so you can start your trip off right!” We were driven to our room, a cabin in the woods (complete with a fireplace and the largest bathtub I’ve ever seen) where we quickly freshened up, threw on some pretty clothes, and jumped in our very own golf cart in search of the Barn. (We hadn’t even seen the property in daylight, but we had fun navigating the path to dinner in the dark!) We walked into the Barn and I think I yelped with joy. A huge fireplace was ablaze, rustic chandeliers hung from the soaring post and beam ceiling, an open kitchen showcased the chef at work, her staff of white coats bustling against a backdrop of shiny copper pots and le Crueset ware whose classic orange enamel was barely recognizable under the blackened layers of use.
Oh, but the food! We ordered the tasting menu and wine pairing, an eight course meal that blew my mind. A thin slice of eggplant topped with sunflower tahini, a slow-poached egg in tomato sauce, a crab salad with celery root and radishes, a slice of guinea hen in broth whose skin was crisp to perfection, and three perfect pieces of filet that were outdone only by the purée of smoked potatoes they sat on. Billy, who as you know eats only carrots, potatoes and meat (“No greens!”), couldn’t stop raving about the celery root. I vowed at that moment to pay close attention to how simple ingredients from the garden could be elevated to a caliber worthy of Billy’s approval. The sommelier explained each wine, not only its personality and why it was paired with each dish, but where it came from and the story behind the friendships they cherished with the craftsmen who cared for each vineyard. (Note: after six glasses of wine, which is six glasses more than Billy has ever enjoyed, we were driven back to our cabin in a Lexus, and our golf cart miraculously found its way back by morning).
Our yoga practices took place on a wooden platform in the middle of the forrest. It was breathtaking. I didn’t know any of the students, but I surrendered (as I always do) to the part of myself that seems to understand how to make people feel at h(om)e — that by being myself I give others permission to be themselves. And what an awesome group of people they were! I fell in love with each and every one of them. What surprised me most about this retreat was the genuine love and caring that this group cultivated for each other — that even though they all came from different walks of life, different levels of practice, and different relationships with yoga, they were able to meet each other exactly where they were. It was such a great example of what it means to embody loving kindness.
One of the highlights of the retreat was our wine and cheese tasting. Our sommelier, the amazing Jason Drotar, was joy personified. His passion for the art of wine was contagious (he even managed to turn Billy into a wine lover)! After Jason gave us a tour and history of each wine — where it came from, who cultivated the vineyard, how it was made — he invited us to taste. He taught us how to look at the color and how to trust our sense of smell and the flavors and memories it churned up within us. Then we learned about each cheese, tasting a little bite with a sip of its soulmate. The event was a masterclass in mindfulness. That we gathered together around the table to not only savor an experience, but to fully appreciate the craftsmanship, the dedication, and the passion that went into the process of making the fruits we were so priveleged to enjoy, to me, epitomized the art of mindful living.
On the last night of our retreat we had a group dinner in the wine cellar. Did I mention that they have 160,000 bottles of wine in their collection? Jason gave us a passionate tour of the cellar, and then we all sat down to a beautiful table for an incredible dinner together. More amazing food. More unbelievable wine. More laughter than I can remember in a long time. It was the perfect way to end our retreat.
Blackberry Farm not only refilled my well (with wine, among other delicious things), it inspired me to recommit to an integrated life, one that asks me to slow down and immerse myself in the totality of living. Our retreat reminded me to savor the present moment. I will hold my new friends — my Blackberry Farm family — close to my heart as I try to bring the spirit of our retreat into my daily life. I’m so grateful to Blackberry Farm for the invitation to live life with an open heart and an empty stomach.