Captivated by their graceful forms and intoxicating fragrances. Jan Tolmasoff began cultivating roses decades ago. Today, visitors to her family’s Northern California vineyard experience serenity amid the blooms.
Jan Tolmasoff—proprietress of the Russian River Rose Company, in Healdsburg, California—rises before dawn to admire her prized blossoms. At daybreak, the horticulturist begins tending the more than 650 varieties of heirloom roses that grow throughout Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapevines, as well as an additional eight hundred plants that blanket fields of perfume roses. These quiet hours provide treasured moments of introspection. Jan says she is often reminded that small steps can lead to grand results when carried out faithfully over time.
She and her husband, Michael, aspired to become diligent stewards of this 15-acre property when they moved to Sonoma County forty years ago to pursue wine making. During a subsequent trip to France, the vintners noticed rows of grapes punctuated with roses. Back home, Jan discovered a local entrepreneur propagating heritage varieties and immediately bought dozens. “I couldn’t resist,” she recalls. “I became immersed in the history, diversity, and beauty of these amazing flowers.”
Selling bouquets at farmers’ markets expanded to offering cuttings and, eventually, to opening a nursery. Michael, a chemical engineer, became enthralled with the process of steam distillation used to collect rose oil—a resource he says that at times has exceeded the value of gold. Gathering 1 ton of petals per year yields a scant 3 ounces of the substance, Jan notes. This essential oil is used to scent Rose Embrace, a limited-edition eau de toilette produced on-site. “I wear it every day over my heart to breathe in springtime,” she says.
Ultimately, labors that begin in solitude bring the world to the vineyard. Hundreds of visitors attend special events featuring performances by Bulgarian singers or a dance ensemble founded by the Tolmasoffs’ daughter, Tanya. Among the cherished customs observed during the blooming season, visitors are encouraged to add their sentiments to a beribboned ‘Fuyu’ persimmon tree during the Memorial Day weekend. “Remembrances, wishes, and words of hope hang from the boughs for a month,” Jan explains. “Then we bury the tags so those thoughts become part of the tree.” Whatever draws patrons to the Russian River Rose Company—shopping for plants, participating in a workshop or garden tour, or savoring tea infused with rose hips during a weekend celebration—all who enter this oasis take with them a little of its beauty.
Text Melissa Lester
Photography Stephanie Welbourne
To read more about the Russian River Rose Company, see “Petals Flourishing Among the Grapes” on page 69 of the March/April 2016 issue of Victoria.