When I saw the event show up in my Facebook stream, I could hardly believe my eyes: afternoon tea at one of Napa’s beautiful Victorian homes followed by a tour of said home! Seriously? I was so excited I started jumping up and down: two of my absolute favorite things all in one package! I e-mailed right away to make a reservation, hoping I would still be in time. Of course, I also asked if I could take photos for the blog, because how could I not?! The response was not just positive, it was enthusiastic, and genuinely so. And that is how I had the pleasure of meeting the dynamic, all-women team behind the scenes of this event and of so much more: Lauren Ackerman, Kristie Fondario and Molly Towey. With all the many, many photos I have taken of this place and event, I can’t believe I did not take one of the three of them.
Lauren Ackerman, of Ackerman Family Vineyards in the Coombsville area of Napa, purchased this 1888 Queen Anne Victorian in 2010. She then devoted the next five years to painstakingly restoring it to its original splendor with the care and attention to detail that is rarely seen. As I walked in and moved around I could tell this was a true labor of love. On top of that, Lauren, Molly and Kristie had just spent the previous two days decorating it for the Holidays, which made the space even more magical.
Kristie Fondario is the Brand Marketing Manager for Ackerman Family Vineyards, and, when she is not out running business-related errands, she is the one who gets to spend the most time at Ackerman House as this is her office base. Molly Towey is the very enthusiastic fairy organizing and hosting the afternoon tea events. She is also the one who responded with such enthusiasm to my first contact, first via e-mail, and then over the phone. Of our very energetic and enthusiastic telephone conversation, the one thing that really stayed with me and made me realize I was about to meet a group of extraordinary women was something Molly said about Lauren: “We all love her!” Doesn’t that just tell you everything?
There is one more female team member in all of this: the house herself, which is a vibrant entity of her own. Stepping inside Ackerman Heritage House is like passing a time-warp portal and accessing another era, or possibly the movie set for Meet Me in Saint Louis, but where everything is real. I did not want to be in everyone’s way taking photos with my big camera and tripod during the tour, so I was allowed to take my time and photograph the house a few days before (and actually finished the day after) the first tea event, which was Sunday, December 3rd. Then, on the day, the living areas and dining room were further transformed by the addition of little round tables and chairs ready for the tea. Thus, I have two sets of images for the downstairs rooms: one set featuring the rooms as they usually are (plus the Christmas decorations), and one with the rooms ready for afternoon tea.
The Holiday decorations are also Victorian in style, from the greenery draped over the banister by the entrance, to the ornaments on the tree. Lauren told me that the ornaments are mostly Victorian recreations, found on-line from various suppliers, but a few are actually vintage.
The main dining room was laid out for two groups, and a beautiful floral centerpiece acted both as decoration and divider on the big table.
As you can see in these images, we were also treated to an exquisite assortment of vintage English bone china tea sets, plates and pots, all arranged on lovely embroidered place mats. The menu was printed on monogrammed cards and personalized with the names of the guests, while another card was placed on each table telling the story of afternoon tea.
Having met the team beforehand, and having access to the kitchen, I find myself inevitably telling the story from both points of view: that of the guest and that of the organizers. A lot of work went into this Holiday afternoon tea, and as guests began to arrive, excitement grew. Lauren and Kristie welcomed the guests and moved around talking to everyone and answering questions, while Molly got the tea service started. I loved how the ladies helping with the tea service were all wearing white embroidered aprons. I kept expecting Mrs. Hughes or Carson to step out of the kitchen door.
As expected, there were mostly women, but I was surprised to see also a couple of men. Ohhhs and aaahs punctuated the photo taking (how can you not), and when my friends arrived we sat at one of the tables by the window and began by selecting our teas. We all wanted to try the Lady Gray, which we were unfamiliar with, and then went for the beloved Earl Grey (which I am sipping right now as I type) as our second choice. Lady Gray is a spin off Earl Grey that is lighter in flavor and, besides the bergamot, also contains orange and lemon peel. The beautiful teapot above and the one in the image at the top of the post were our pots, and they got refilled several times.
Then the goodies arrived, arranged on lovely tiered serving plates: mini Quiche Lorraines, Tarragon Chicken Salad in a Phyllo cup and Smoked Salmon and Cucumber Sandwiches were the savories on the bottom tier along with freshly baked Scones. The top tier featured more deliciousness: Caramel-filled Shortbread Cookies, Vanilla Eclairs topped with Chocolate, and Chocolate Macarons. It was all rounded out by individual Gingerbread Cakes. Everything was delicious!
Once we all had enjoyed our “tea and gossip” (though not at the vicarage like in an Agatha Christie movie), we all gathered around Lauren Ackerman, who began the fascinating tour of the house in the entry hall and ended it in the old carriage house, now wine tasting room, which is just outside the main building. You will enjoy the full house tour in a separate post as there are a lot of images and a lot more story to tell, including several synchronicities and… a friendly ghost. From the delighted comments I kept hearing, it was clear everyone enjoyed the whole experience of tea and tour immensely. I most certainly did, and I am looking forward to more.
Before leaving, we were gifted with yet another treat: little bags of white truffle caramel popcorn. Seriously addictive!
Afternoon tea + house tour at Ackerman Heritage House was featured twice as a special Holiday tea this month. The second set happened this past Sunday (December 17), but as of January, the afternoon tea will have a regular occurrence once a month.
By the way, tea is not the only special event happening at this beautiful place: wine tastings, private dinners and events, special wine-pairing dinners, and even weddings are forecasted. I am not planning to get married again for several lifetimes, but I am certainly looking forward to the rest.
New afternoon tea & tour dates coming up: Sunday, March 18; Sunday, April 22; Sunday, May 13th. You can get your tickets/reservations in through Cellarpass at this link; $67 per person, tax & gratuity included.
608 Randolph Street, Napa, Ca 94559 | website
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