Cuttings Wharf Road may not be on every visitor's itinerary for Napa Valley, but on a recent excursion, I discovered the charms of Charsaw Farms.
Opened to the public for the first time this spring, the farm boasts a variety of products made from lavender. It's a family operation sure to please and entertain any guest.
The location is 1210 Cuttings Wharf Road, next to Etude Winery. You're in luck if you get a greeting in the parking lot by the farm mascot, Gemma, a friendly black lab.
Julie and Doug Thompson are long-time Napa residents. Julie had a career as a teacher and was principal of Holy Spirit School in Fairfield until her retirement in 2019. Doug, "the farmer," is an environmental consultant who works in risk management. His passion for landscape architecture since he was a young man led to a desire to create something beautiful in Napa Valley.
In 2006, the Thompsons purchased their three and a half acres and began a long discussion of what they might like to grow. When they acquired it, the land had only a few pear trees and a small building used for processing prunes. While planning and constructing a home and office on their property, they considered berries, lemons, and walnuts. On a chance visit to Sequim, on the Olympic peninsula in Washington, they fell in love with lavender. Doug's landscape vision filled with fragrant purple flowers.
Two of the Thompsons' four children are involved in Charsaw Farms. Elizabeth, the family baker, incorporates lavender into delicious cookies, and Mollie, who studied agricultural business, works with her father on sales and marketing. The farm is named after granddaughters, Charley and Sawyer.
The best time of year to see lavender in bloom is mid-May through July; however, there is always something interesting taking place. A visit to the farm can be an educational experience and a fun shopping trip. The Thompsons grow 23 different lavender cultivars in neat, labeled rows, a total of 3,000 plants.
Charsaw Farms is an all-organic enterprise. The clay soil is rich in nutrients, but the plants require good drainage, so are planted in mounds. The only fertilizer they have used came from horses across the road at Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch.
They have been recently harvesting and drying their crop and extracting oil. They use an alembic copper still to produce essential oil for making a variety of products. One batch of Grosso lavender, the flowers from three plants, produces just 50 ml of essential oil. No wonder essential oils are so expensive! The stronger smelling lavenders are used for oil, while the milder blooms are best for culinary use.
The Thompsons are not yet selling lavender oil, but they use it to make their other products. In their shop, you can buy dried lavender, sachets, soap, hand sanitizer, salve, lip balm, cookies, and jam. Julie has put assorted products into attractive gift baskets -- a perfect way to sample Charsaw's offerings or surprise someone with a unique gift.
Lavender has been used since ancient times to treat a variety of maladies and is known to have a calming effect. It is frequently used in aromatherapy as a sleep aid and stress reducer. Lavender can be used to scent whipped cream or ice cream, or, mixed with sugar, in butter cookies. It is also a standard ingredient in Herbes de Provence, so works for savory dishes in rubs and marinades.
Julie is a beekeeper, delighted to provide blossoms for the bees and to make lavender honey from her hives. Ever the educator, she also offers classes in season for those who would like to make lavender wreaths.
The Thompsons converted the prune-processing building into a two-bedroom cottage, which is available for rent by the month. It makes a unique wine country get-away. They also have installed bocce and pickleball courts and lively games take place on a regular basis.
You can drive by anytime to see the lavender. Signs direct visitors on parking and browsing. Please do not disturb the rows of lavender. High heels and four-legged visitors are not appropriate, as this is a working farm. I recommend a visit when the shop is open so you can meet this friendly family. They are currently open Thursdays to Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Check the website for details: www.charsawfarms.com.
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