If you’re feeling a little frazzled, reaching for a sachet of lavender might be a good idea, according to science. A study published in 2018 found that sniffing linalool, an alcohol component of lavender odor, had a similar effect to popping a Valium. But stressful times may sometimes require stronger remedies. We found one in Sonoma’s West County.
Monte-Bellaria, a nine-acre farm in Sebastopol, offers visitors an opportunity to breathe fresh fall air and soothing lavender — replacing sniffing sachets with a more immersive experience. “Monte Bellaria” means “mountain of beautiful air” in Italian and the bucolic hillside property lives up to its name. Even as the lavender fields shift in color from purple to brown in fall, the landscape remains beautiful and fragrant.
“When we trim back for the fall, the essential oil is very present,” said Dr. Bill MacElroy, founder of Monte-Bellaria.
MacElroy, a statistician and former product development lecturer at UC Berkeley, MIT, Penn State, University of San Francisco and Notre Dame, experimented with different types of lavender before settling on the fragrant and hardy Grosso variety that makes up most of the property’s 35,000 plants. He was recently awarded a silver medal by the international judging association Lavender Sommelier.
After the lavender is harvested between July and the first rains, MacElroy gets to work distilling and infusing the essential oil into products which are sold until supplies run out. The farm also cultivates olives and does beekeeping — its products make for perfect holiday gifts. The Monte-Bellaria moisturizing balm, for example, combines beeswax, olive oil and lavender. Hydrosols offer a sweet spritz of lavender to linens and laundered clothing. The farm’s olive oils are grassy and peppery, and the lavender-infused honey has fantastic flavor and consistency. An added bonus: the shopping experience is far more blissful than a visit to the mall.
Resident beekeeper Eric Sias manages the Monte-Bellaria fields and leads farm tours and gives informative workshops. In a recent class on propagation, he talked about the idiosyncrasies of Grosso lavender, saying it’s the kind of plant you should “forget to water and then overwater.”
Testing, measuring and tweaking for improvement is a central part of the process at Monte-Bellaria. The farm recently troubleshooted an erosion problem by creating a drainage system that routes rainwater down the hill and into a creek that runs under the property’s footbridge and into the forest. Combining a scientific approach with creativity seems to be the secret to the farm’s success — that, and the beauty of the property.
Open weekends 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monte-Bellaria di California, 3518 Bloomfield Rd, Sebastopol, 707-829-2645, monte-bellaria.com