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Whimsical, Winsome Winvian Now Cooks

Rural Intelligence Road Trips
By Kathryn Matthews
“Ninety-five percent of our guests never leave the property—until they head home,” says Maggie Smith (below), owner of Winvian, a private resort tucked amid the rolling Litchfield Hills in northwest Connecticut.
Rural Intelligence Road Trips Famously discreet, Winvian reflects the spirit of its former owners—Winthrop Smith, a founding partner of Merrill Lynch, and his wife Vivian—who, in 1948, bought the 113-acre Morris, CT estate, which included the pre-revolutionary “Seth Bird House,” a well-appointed, three-story 1775 farmhouse.  Combining their first names, they christened it Winvian, and when their son Win, Jr. inherited the property, he and his then-wife, Maggie, decided to expand the original farmhouse and add 18 cottages to the property.  It was a six-year undertaking that, in the fall of 2006, begat “Winvian,” the high-end destination getaway.  Although Win Jr. is no longer involved, Winvian remains a family-run affair with Maggie now its sole proprietor; daughter Heather is managing director, and son Win, III is sales and marketing director.
Rural Intelligence Road TripsLike its sister property, The Pitcher Inn in Warren, Vermont, Winvian is a quirky, luxurious, boutique hotel to which no fewer than 15 architects have contributed.  Little wonder one of the most popular activities at Winvian is checking out the whimsical, free-standing cottages that pepper the property.  They range from 950 to 1,250 square-feet and each has a theme—Stone Cottage (right), Beaver Lodge, Industry, Helicopter.  Some are relatively subdued—the “Artist’s Cottage,” a 1920s-style bungalow with vibrant yellow-and-chartreuse interior, is rich in decorative detail—stained glass windows, a ceramic shard-sculpted fireplace.  Adjoining the living room is a sitting area, where a sketchbook and a blank French easel with watercolors and oil paints invite guests to express themselves.  This is Winvian’s version of Rural Intelligence Road Tripsrestraint.
Other cottages are more over-the-top—the two-level, “Treehouse Cottage” (left) is suspended between three trees 35 feet above the ground.  A spiral staircase leads to a funky, modern interior with a bedroom, fireplace, Jacuzzi, walk-in steam shower, and fully-stocked wet bar.

In addition to ogling the cottages, there is plenty to do—a games room for pool, tabletop shuffleboard and foosball—and outdoor games, including croquet, badminton, horseshoes, bocce, and tennis—as well as a spa and indoor games, such as pool and foosball.  Winvian borders the White Memorial Foundation, a 4,000-acre nature preserve with 35 miles of trails—ideal for hiking and biking in summer, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter—to which guests have free and direct access.

Rural Intelligence Road Trips Another on-site diversion, introduced earlier this month, promises to further inspire guests’ tendency to stay put.  In fact, the new Cooking School at Winvian is likely to also attract area residents to this Relais & Château property.  Its focus: the fundamentals of classic French cooking.  Think lobster bisque, an herb and spinach omelet, a warm lentil salad, coq au vin.

Located in the Gordon Brown House, a renovated barn, the 550-square-foot teaching kitchen is outfitted with spanking new Viking appliances.  During a recent session, as a tomato fondue bubbled on the stove, executive chef Chris Eddy (right, rolling pasta) showed students how to hand crank freshly made pasta dough through an Imperia pasta machine and how to blanch basil.  Classes are intimate—12 students, maximum—and geared toward couples and small groups.  Three main programs are offered: a two-hour, hands-on class on weekends throughout the year; a three-day class (Thursday-Saturday) on select weeks; and an “intensive” program, held on six consecutive Wednesdays, twice a year (March-April and November-December).  For all three, students have the option of coming for the day or staying overnight at Winvian, where rooms range from $400 to $800 per night (breakfast included). 

In addition to the fundamentals of French cuisine, “I also want students to understand how to use seasonal and local ingredients as much as possible,” says Eddy, who arrived at Winvian in 2006 with a high French culinary pedigree. An alumnus of the French Culinary Institute, he has worked—as a sous chef—in the kitchens of Daniel Boulud (Daniel and Café Boulud in NYC and Palm Beach) and Alain Ducasse (Mix in Las Vegas).  Under Eddy’s guidance, Winvian garnered a AAA Five Diamond Award last fall for its farm-to-table-inspired menu.  The restaurant, which seats 40 - 50, includes a main dining room, private dining room, patio and terrace.  It is open to the public, though it is recommended that reservations be made a week or two in advance.  Eddy’s three-course prix fixe menu ($90 per person) showcases the best of the season: marinated green-and-white asaparagus and and proscuitto drizzled with 25-year-old balsamic, house-made squid-ink-and-saffron nochette, warm roasted pigeon, roasted local lamb chop with raita. 

Rural Intelligence Road TripsEddy’s passion for food starts with the seed—not surprising for a chef who declares food activist Michael Pollan his “hero,” and who has become an advocate of sustainable, organic gardening practices.  He also oversees Winvian’s garden, a three-quarter acre plot, planted with herbs and a range of common vegetables, including cabbage, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, peas and carrots.  From late spring through December, Eddy uses what’s harvested from the garden in his classes. 

The new cooking school is a coup for Eddy, who says: “By exposing people through our restaurant or the cooking school to the food we do here, I hope to help them understand—and taste—the difference that sustainable, locally grown food makes on your plate—and for the planet.” 

155 Alain White Road, Morris, CT
A la carte, from $650/night for two, including breakfast, plus tax and gratuities.
Inclusive, from $1,250 for two, including all meals, plus snacks, afternoon tea, cocktails and room service, plus tax and gratuities.
The Cooking School at Winvian
*Prices are per person and include aprons, knives, equipment, and recipes. 

Classic Classes:  $150
2-hour pasta or pastry class
Offered on weekends throughout the year

3-day class (15 hours instruction):  $1,100 + tax
Overnight rooms (a la carte): $400 to $800 per night, excluding tax and service charge
Offered on select weeks during the year

6-week intensive program (48 hours instruction): $2,400 + tax
Overnight rooms (a la carte): $400 to $800 per night, excluding tax and service charge
Offered twice a year (April-May and November-December)

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Posted by Marilyn Bethany on 04/20/11 at 10:03 AM • Permalink