The Shenandoah Valley is beginning to rival its better-known counterparts–in terms of its wines and its architecture. See how one family is contributing to both.
By Katrina Paz
Photography Courtesy of Grand Reserve Inn
Sitting on a knoll on the outskirts of the tiny town of Plymouth is a modestly elegant Tuscan inn. Its presence amid acres of vineyards, olive trees and towering oaks makes it easy to imagine you’ve stumbled across a villa in the Italian countryside, as opposed to a newly built property in the lush landscape of the Shenandoah Valley.
The Grand Reserve Inn opened just before the new year and was a dream project for owners Maggie and Jay Wilderotter, who’ve owned the surrounding vineyards since 1990. The location of the inn is just as important as the foundation it was recently built on: the spot where the Wilderotters’ personal home once stood. The site was vital to capture the essence of being in a vineyard, with open skies, vast landscapes and a creek murmuring nearby.
The couple collaborated with architect Mark Becker to design the inn, which Maggie calls a hacienda floor plan with a Tuscan style. The front of the building and entryway are adorned with cuts of stone, creating an Old World air, accented by copper downspouts and forest green shutters. The main hallway leads to a 2,600-square-foot courtyard with trickling fountains and lemon and lime trees. The fragrance of the setting is equally important to any experience, Jay says, and the scents of jasmine, roses or citrus are always lingering.
The courtyard leads into the great room, which then opens up to an expansive patio via accordion doors, so that the entire one-story inn breathes in the surrounding countryside. Each of the five suites, named after wine regions, has its own patio with a private seating area, and the main patio deliberately faces southwest for sunset views. It also features built-in heaters, ceiling fans and fire pits, as well as rocking chairs and clusters of comfy seating. Located worlds away from big city lights, one of the inn’s most valuable amenities is its view of the sky. Often the Milky Way, Maggie says, is quietly on display.
Connie Freese, who worked on the interior design, notes that her favorite element is the simple touch of the rocking chairs on the back veranda. “The rockers were one of the first things Maggie and Jay had me purchase,” she says. “They have had rockers in all of their homes and wanted their guests to experience these special moments that take you a step back in time.”
Serenity and privacy were also carefully integrated into the inn’s design. For example, its single level is intentional, eliminating the possibility of loud footsteps overhead, while the soundproofing and sturdy doors cultivate a calm and peaceful atmosphere.
“With all these (recent) storms, you just close the door and have no idea,” Jay says. “It’s that well-built.”
Jay and Becker have worked on several projects together, including the nearby tasting room and the Wilderotters’ Bay Area home. “I like open, airy places, instead of confined places,” Jay says. “He (Becker) has a good eye for dimensions and balance.”
The great room, with its travertine floors, ample windows, glass doors and wood-burning fireplace, exemplifies the attention to space. High ceilings feature a chandelier and ceiling fan without inhibiting the natural light. The great room is anchored by a granite bar and kitchen area used for breakfasts, wine tastings and cooking classes. A larger catering kitchen used for events sits just beyond and is easily concealed by a rustic barn door.
When it came time to infuse the design with color, furnishings and personality, Maggie and her sister, Colleen Bastkowski, did diligent research by visiting some of their favorite resorts, including Pebble Beach and Montage Laguna Beach. The goal was to design a five-star experience—the perfect combination of luxury, seclusion and comfort. The result was an understated, elegant and somewhat modern collection of furnishings with a calming, neutral palette.
Freese, who has also worked with the Wilderotters on several projects, including their private homes in Lake Tahoe and the Bay Area, produced a sophisticated, boutique-spa feel in the bedroom suites. “The soft gray hues were selected to create an atmosphere of complete relaxation and comfort,” she says.
The decor is tranquil with subdued and limited artwork. Bastkowski, who oversees the day-to-day operations of the inn, emphasizes the views of the surrounding vineyards are the true works of art. Tall, arched windows frame the picturesque views, a nod to Becker’s affinity for curves rather than straight edges.
The chairs in the sitting areas were selected for comfort as much as style; similarly, the beds showcase swaths of subtle patterns, as well as a selection of distinctly different pillows to accommodate each guest’s preference. Luxuriously practical amenities include the suites’ private patios, as well as fireplaces and expansive closets. Sconces, pillar candles, and a perfectly placed orchid or topiary round out the thoughtful touches.
Bathrooms are furnished with dual marble sinks, palatial rain showers and soaking tubs. Small details can be found everywhere, including the dark makeup towels the sisters were determined to supply.
The neutral color scheme continues through the great room, with small pops of color and the occasional vintage flair. Two sturdy tables made of Italian wood add a sense of grandeur to the airy room. Jay, a retired military pilot, feels if there’s anything in the decor he identifies with, it’s these tables. “The chairs are comfortable,” he says, “but the tables are old school, old Italian, massive pieces of wood; strong, sturdy. They’re going to last.”
Freese worked closely with the family on everything from silverware and sinks to lamps and flooring. The majority of the accessories and furnishings were found at HomeGoods and Restoration Hardware.
The end result is a little piece of luxury in a region still making its mark in the wine world. Jay acknowledges that when he first bought the vineyard, nearly 30 years ago, tasting rooms were merely offering a glass of red or white, and lodging was limited. Now the region produces award-winning barberas, zins, sirahs, viogniers and tempranillos, to name a few. He hopes the region and local wine scene will continue to grow.
“This is our little way of giving back to the valley,” he says. “This valley deserves better than ‘do you want a glass of white or a glass of red?’”
FROM FORTUNE 500 to the Foothills
When Maggie Wilderotter left her position as CEO and executive chairperson of Frontier Communications, she did not set sail around the world or take up golf. She focused her attention and business acumen on her family’s legacy and personal enterprise.
Wilderotter Vineyards was founded in 1990, when Maggie and her husband Jay purchased 40 acres of fecund land in Shenandoah Valley. But while Jay pursued his lifelong dream of becoming a premier grape grower, Maggie continued to excel in her glass-ceiling-shattering career.
In fact, business was a way of life for Maggie and her three sisters. They left their imprint on the corporate world in 2011 when Maggie and sister Denise Morrison became two of only 24 women running Fortune 500 companies (Maggie had been CEO at Frontier since 2004; Morrison is CEO of Campbell Soup). Younger sisters Colleen Bastkowski and Andrea Doelling paved equally industrious and successful career paths.
Their achievements may be illustrious, but they attribute their success to a grounded and pragmatic upbringing. Their father worked for the Bell System and integrated life lessons into everything they did: Bastkowski recalls wanting a 10-speed bike and being required to give a presentation about why she needed the seven extra speeds. The girls were also encouraged to develop a strategy, a “plan of attack,” to boost Girl Scout cookie sales.
“He took us to work before it was cool to do that—in the ’60s and ’70s,” Maggie says. “He would tell us about his day at the dinner table. He took the mystery out of business, made it not hard.”
Similarly, Maggie notes her mother was a successful real estate agent, and both parents instilled a great deal of confidence into their daughters. “We could make mistakes, and not ever feel like we’re failures. A lot of women don’t have that opportunity,” she says. “Denise and I failed at a lot of things. We just picked ourselves up and moved on.”
That philosophy came into play when Maggie and Bastkowski set about opening the inn. Jay attended University of California, Davis, for viticulture classes before starting the vineyard, but the sisters had limited hotel management experience. “We just don’t think about the ‘Oh my gosh, we don’t know how,’” says Bastkowski. “We just moved forward and figured it out. Failure’s not an option. You just put your best foot forward.”
Expanding the vineyard to include an inn was always the plan, but Maggie was optimistically cautious in bringing Bastkowski on as general manager.
“Working with family is not for the faint of heart,” Maggie says. “We sat down, made sure it was a good fit for all of us. If it gets in the way of family relationships, it’s not worth it.”
But Bastkowski was a vice president at Expedia and knew hospitality. Happily, Maggie says, she’s exceeded all expectations: “She sees things differently than we do. She brings a different point of view to the table.”
Bastkowski isn’t the only sister contributing to the success of the Wilderotter estate. Morrison and Doelling, previously a senior VP at AT&T and a champion horse jumper, are referring corporate and leisure guests to the inn. Neither has visited yet personally, but Maggie knows they will be their toughest critics. She refers to the sisters as a network, however. “We speak weekly. We keep each other informed on what is happening in our lives and it is natural that we all help each other constantly with challenges and opportunities,” she says. “We are sisters, but also best friends.”