Some Mendocino County folks are gasping about the possibility of the shuttered Valley Oaks food and wine center in Hopland, once known globally for its magnificent organic gardens, becoming an RV park.
Valley Oaks is located one mile east of Highway 101 at Hopland in southern Mendocino County.
Representatives for Brown-Forman Corp., the Kentucky-based liquor conglomerate that owns Valley Oaks and the nearby Fetzer Vineyards winery, are insisting there’s no done deal for the showplace facility.
But there are widespread reports within local wine and real estate circles that escrow will soon close on a sales agreement reached between Brown-Forman and Meaghan and Carl Bertram of Kentfield. The Bertrams are members of a family that for three generations have operated RV parks in the North Bay.
Maggie Peak, a Brown-Forman spokeswoman in Louisville, said Friday that Valley Oaks “is still up for sale, and we are continuing to market it.”
Family members said the Bertrams are vacationing in Hawaii and could not be reached for comment.
If the Valley Oaks deal goes it’s unclear whether the Bertrams plan to transform the entire 50-acre Valley Oaks site into a version of a “luxury” RV park they already own in Vacaville, or use some of the property for their own personal wine country retreat.
The Bertrams’ Vacaville business is called “Vineyard RV Park,” and features a 60-foot swimming pool, off-leash dog walking areas, covered gazebos and barbecue areas, and meeting facilities. Similar amenities already exist at Valley Oaks.
Meaghan Bertram was recently credited by a travel industry association for “greening” the RV industry one park at a time. She has helped the family business secure green business certifications for two of its RV parks, including the Vacaville location.
Valley Oaks until its closure in 2006 had been a mecca for garden enthusiasts and food lovers from around the world. The showcase center, which also features a lakeside cooking pavilion, was developed by the Fetzer family before Brown-Forman bought the Mendocino County winery in the early 1990s.
Visitors were attracted by beautifully landscaped grounds, a collection of restored barns converted into tasting rooms, shops and meeting facilities, and its five-acre organic garden. The garden was developed by organic horticulturist Michael Malta and later expanded and maintained by acclaimed gardener Kate Frey. Frey recreated an award-winning version of the Valley Oaks garden at the famed Chelsea Flower Show in London.
Valley Oaks for two decades was the premier wine and social venue in Mendocino County. It was the scene of lively community fundraisers, wine auctions, and Wine Country weddings.
Few then could imagine the showplace center shuttered, and sold off as a potential RV park.
Even Brown-Forman still had ambitious plans for the center as recently as six years ago.
In September, 2004 Brown-Forman said it was going to refurbish rooms, expand vineyard tours and make Valley Oaks the centerpiece of its wine marketing efforts worldwide. But only two years later, Brown-Forman announced it was closing the gates to the local landmark.
Since then a few charity events have been held at Valley Oaks, but it has largely remained off-limits to the public. The gardens and extensive landscaping are unkempt, and weed infested. Paint on buildings is peeling, and once colorful awnings faded and ripped.
Brown-Forman at the time of the Valley Oaks closure said it planned to shift operating expenses of the center to help cover expanded wine marketing efforts.