First off, as several reviewers have expressed dissatisfaction with the cellular coverage at Blackberry Farm, depending on one’s carrier, it might be limited, or might not even exist. The three cellular “hot spots” that we have found for Verizon are: the patio outside of the Main House, and especially toward Teensy’s Dining Room, the top of a boulder in front of Speckled Sussex (Singing Brook Cottages), and the patio in front of The Barn. Good WiFi connections can be found in most cottages, and other buildings on the property. This is to alert others that their cell phone will probably not function well, over most of the property.
Now, this is a review of our most recent trip to Blackberry Farm. It was specifically to attend their Wine Geek event, but the review is for the stay, and not that event, where possible. Our previous trip, in April, was for their Hospice du Rhöne Wine event.
We are fortunate to get to Blackberry Farm about twice per year - sometimes for an event, but sometimes just for a stay. From our portfolio, this was our 15th visit, and the second of 2013. The previous being in April, also for another culinary/wine event. This was our first visit to Blackberry Farm in the month of December - have visited most other months.
As per normal, we stayed in the Singing Brook Cottages, and in our favorite, Speckled Sussex. The cottage, like most of the Singing Brook Cottage is quite roomy. There is a bedroom/living room, a full bath with walk-in shower and tub, plus dual sinks. In a small hallway, that can connect to the adjoining cottage (Oxheart in our case), is a refrigerator (pretty well stocked) and the coffee maker w/ mini-bar items, some glassware and wine/bottle openers. The closet is quite large, and we have never run out of space, even when we had luggage from a business trip into different climates. There is also a safe in the closet, as well as an iron and ironing board. The cottage has a nice working fireplace, with a wide-screen TV (attached to a DVD player, located in the closet) above it. We have never wanted for anything, including more room. The Singing Brook Cottages come with their own golf carts, and all have a porch w/ usually two chairs and a small table.
There are several lodging arrangements on-property, with more coming. One can choose a smaller “lodge room,” in the Main House, or the Lodge, next door. There are also larger rooms in both buildings, and we finally toured many. In those, there is a “common room,” for the coffee, etc., and just relaxing. All were lovely, and many had been recently renovated, with the others scheduled soon. Not sure when those renovations will be 100% complete, but from our survey, most are already.
Just down from the Main House and Lodge are the Holly Glade Cottages. We have only toured two, and they all appeared to be larger than the largest room in either the Lodge, or the Main House.
Across W. Miller’s Cove Road, there are the Singing Brook Cottages, which are mostly duplexes, with the individual units attaching at their backs. Noise has almost been totally non-existent, whether in the Speckled Sussex w/ Oxheart being the other half, or in Nubian, with Washday as the other half. There are a few exceptions, but not many.
Blackberry Farm also has the Homestead for larger groups, and did have the Joe Pye Cottage, but I am not sure of its availability, as that property was recently sold. New accommodations are under construction now, as is a new Spa, close to the Main House.
Three meals per day are included, with breakfast and most lunches served in the Main House, or on the patio/lawn area, outside the Dogwood Bar. Dinners are almost always served in The Barn, across the property, except for meals associated with events, which are often served in the Main House.
While the menus for breakfast might seem small, it’s almost always possible to have a few other options chosen, if requested. I have done so, when I found a real favorite on one day’s breakfast menu, and wanted to revisit that. I just make the request the day before, and it materialized. We have learned to share most breakfast dishes, and especially if we plan on doing lunch.
Lunch is varied each day, and except when they are doing self-serve, we have trained most of the servers as to what a “small portion” really is. Blackberry Farm will also accommodate guests with box lunches, if they are going to be unable to attend lunch, for say a drive into GSMNP in one of the property’s Lexus vehicles - just book a day in advance (they tend to book up on the day of use). We had “spa day,” and found that two box lunches were delivered to the Spa, awaiting us. I have also requested a favorite dish - the Smoked Trout Sandwich, and though it was not on the menu, it appeared in our box lunch.
Some others have complained about small portions at Blackberry Farm. Well, we have never been able to eat a full breakfast, a full lunch AND a full dinner. It has taken us years to “train” the servers to REDUCE the portions.
Dinner at The Barn is a bit more of a formal affair, in that gentlemen must wear jackets. At breakfast and lunch, one will see guests dressed for equestrian activities, hiking, shooting, fly-fishing, etc., but the men will wear their jackets to dinner. The menu changes nightly, with full-rotation on about a weekly basis. Besides the a la carte selections, there is usually a Chef’s Tasting Menu. It also rotates about weekly. The Chef’s Tasting Menu usually has a supplemental charge, as there are more courses and some of the main courses might also have a supplemental charge, all clearly marked on the menu. With the exception of the Amuse Bouche, all portions have been more than adequate for us. Depending on whether we had any lunch, we will often do the Chef’s Tasting Menu, but might also go a la carte. On this trip, my wife did two apps, in lieu of a main course, with zero problems. I often will do a cheese course, whether specifically offered, or not, in lieu of a dessert. We have never been able to eat a full breakfast, full lunch and then dinner, even a la carte. The closest that I have ever had to a complaint regarding the food, is that though Blackberry Farm has a cheese maker, and also source several cheeses locally, having a cheese cave with a formagier would be a welcomed addition - having a full, world-class cheese selection would be a bonus. Executive Chef for The Barn, Joseph Lenn, was just awarded the James Beard House’s Best Chef: Southeast. Chef Lenn’s cuisine can best be described as Southern, with a strong emphasis on both fresh produce from the Blackberry Farm garden, just a dozen yards from The Barn, or locally-sourced. Yes, Blackberry Farm IS a farm, with a Master Gardener, a Master Agronomist, a Forager, a Cheese Maker, a Sausage Maker and a Brewmaster. Even most of the mushrooms served are grown on logs, in the Blackberry Farm garden, with Black Truffles about to be harvested from inoculated hazelnut trees in their “Black Truffle Orchard.” To help harvest those, when they come of age, Blackberry Farm is raising Italian Truffle Dogs, but it will remain to be seen how well Alba, and her pack function - hope they do not eat them all...
I could not review Blackberry Farm, without making mention of the wines, and wine service. In an earlier review, and even in a video that I did on Blackberry Farm, I was wrong on the number of bottles. After a recent count, the number is ONLY 180,000 bottles! OK, I was using older figures, before they counted all the bottles that we had consumed. The wines represent almost every spot on earth, where fine wines are produced. The wine list is now about 236 pages long! The list is both deep, and broad, with many notable verticals and horizontals of some great wines. Even with the emphasis on “great wines,” the list includes many “deals,” and the staff of sommeliers do a wonderful job of helping a guest choose just the right wine, within their budget, whatever that might be. Blackberry Farm has 5 sommeliers, and the owner, Sam Beall, is also a sommelier, though he is not seen that often working in the dining room. Most of the Head Sommelier duties are performed by Andy Chabot, but Keith, Jason, Andrew and the rest of the crew, are about as good as we have found anywhere on the globe. Appropriate stemware is a must at Blackberry Farm, and all wine-service is top-notch. If one has a question, all they have to do is ask. While one might not find many of “the usual suspects” on that excellent list, it is filled with wonderful wines - many that one will not likely see, in all but the best restaurants in the US, Europe/UK and Asia. While we love many domestic (US) wines, and also Bordeaux, we delight in their Burgundies (red & white), plus their Rhönes (red & white), plus offerings from some rather more obscure Regions. On this visit, we enjoyed many Burgs, some excellent Rhönes and even a lovely, highly-allocated CA Pinot Noir. If one cannot finish a bottle (or bottles), that/those can be saved for the next night, delivered to their room/cottage, or even to lunch/brunch at the Main House - we had the second half of a lovely Puligny-Montrachet at Sunday Brunch, before we left. Unless someone is looking for Yellow Tail, or Two-buck Chuck, they would be hard-pressed to NOT find a bottle of wine on this list. Also, they can handle almost any special request for wines, about which leather-bound books have been written. While I have seen bigger lists (Bern’s Steakhouse, Tampa, FL), or lists more specialized to maybe rare Bordeaux, or Burgundies, I have never seen one that is better.
As usual, check-in was flawless, though we arrived late in the afternoon. We were ushered to our cottage quickly, hung up our clothes, and rushed to our table at The Barn. The whole process took but about 30 mins. (including hanging the clothing) and the short drive in our golf cart, to The Barn.
As per our portfolio, the normal Aveda bath products (wife has a problem with those) were replaced by a full compliment of Kiehl’s. The Barn knew of my wife’s bi-valve issue, and had other options for any dish containing oysters, clams, mussels or scallops - already noted to our servers. Each knew the full prep of every dish, including broths.
Our dinners were pretty evenly split between the event, and the free nights, and all were excellent.
Check-out was the only issue that we encountered. Due to heavy rain, we had called for a Lexus to take us to the office, but it was taking too long. We drove the golf cart to the office, where our limo was waiting (booked through Blackberry Farm with Chariots For Hire), and we even had our regular driver. Actual check-out went flawlessly. Other than that one glitch, everything else was perfect, just as we have come to expect at Blackberry Farm.
Heading back next November, and just for a regular stay - no culinary, or wine events.
Photos added for Singing Brook Cottage, both exterior and interior, The Barn, The Dogwood Bar, The Main House, The Gambrel Kitchen, BBQ Lunch, The Wine Room & Wine Cellar.