New York transplants plan upscale retreat on Spring Mountain
New Yorkers Jared and Velisa Pickard traveled to Napa Valley for wine tasting in 2008 and found themselves transfixed by Spring Mountain, a rugged, high-end grape growing region on the eastern slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains that straddles Napa and Sonoma counties.
In 2012 they returned, intent on opening an exclusive resort on that mountain, complete with spa facilities and farm-to-table dining.
The young newlyweds soon found and settled onto a 150-acre Spring Mountain parcel located in Sonoma County, west of St. Helena off Langtry Road, and began to build the Be Here Farm and Nature Sanctuary, an upscale farm stay program modeled after Italy’s agriturismos.
The multi-million dollar project is fully funded with family financing. When it is completed in 2017, it will include a luxury guest lodge and secluded cabins, all of which will house up to 18 guests who are willing to pay up to $2,400 a night for the chance to practice yoga in the woody evergreens, trek along newly-rehabilitated hiking trails, have a spa treatment or meditate beside the property’s spring-fed lake.
“The last five years of our lives together have led us here,” said Jared Pickard, 30, a former stock trader, and his wife Velisa, 31, a former advertising executive.
The Pickards said their transformation from urbanites to organic farmers began with that fateful vacation.
“When we went back home to New York, we realized that vacation created a huge shift, specifically in Jared,” said Velisa. “We just knew that the city was not where we wanted to be.”
Unlike other proposed developments in secluded areas, their project has met with widespread support from neighbors along the hilly, twisting roads that lead to their property at the crest of Spring Mountain. In June, the Pickards received unanimous approval from the county’s Board of Supervisors to build three hillside guest cottages, alongside the primary guest house.
Construction is already underway. The couple has cleared 15 miles of hiking trails on the former logging property and is in the process of securing building permits and other required approvals to construct their main living quarters, as well as a barn and guest lodging with adjoining spa, yoga and dining facilities.
The entire resort — which comprises 167 acres of the 300 acres on the mountain owned by the Pickard family — is planned within the existing development footprint created by the previous owner, Marilyn Johnson of Berkeley, who had used the property as a weekend getaway. The Pickards are living in the main house, which they are converting to the central guest house while they build their new home on the property. Then they will convert it into Be Here’s headquarters, housing three guest rooms, the spa, commercial kitchen and administrative offices.
The couple began to envision their farm and nature sanctuary shortly after their Napa vacation while sharing Velisa’s upscale Brooklyn Heights studio.
“Be Here is the next step in our personal transformation,” Jared said. “We came up with it before our vision had totally crystallized, but we’ve always thought of the name as a celebration of being present in the moment.”
The Pickards purchased the property for their retreat three years ago for $1.5 million. Jared’s father, Mark Pickard, bought the adjacent 133 acres for an additional $1.5 million. The Pickards said they were drawn to the parcel’s 100-foot waterfall, cliffs that set the stage for breathtaking views, crystal clear springs, a mountain lake and the natural flora and fauna.