Outstanding in his Field CEO and head gardener Christopher Adjani says Noci will offer u-pick fruit
and vegetables as well as activities like volleyball and movie nights.
Noci Sonoma interrupts the parade of vineyards stretching the length of Dry Creek Valley with a 24-acre patch of dirt that’s growing something new and quite different from its neighbors.
They call it an “edible garden adventure club,” which, if that isn’t perfectly clear, roughly translates as, “u-pick gone wild.” Heavily Instagrammable.
All that’s required to experience Noci is a membership or a tour, a handy set of clippers and a basket—both of which can be bought at the modishly minimalist, black-painted farm stand—and a pair of sensible walking shoes. And also, for now, a bit of an imagination.
Noci CEO and head gardener Christopher Adjani describes the work in progress as he leads visitors from the farm stand, past a noisy welding operation that will soon yield metal tables set around an outdoor cooking fire pit, down a boardwalk made of Brazilian teak and into lush, green avenues of clover and grass.
Where I see a large, muddy puddle, he sees a cascading series of ponds filled with water-purifying plants and capped with a 10-foot, functional waterfall. Where I see steel wire strung between a repeating theme of archways of rusty metal, he sees living walls composed of blackberries, raspberries, kiwis and wisteria, 12 feet high and hundreds of feet long. As Adjani describes gardens in terms of rooms, as private spaces for not only fruit picking and lettuce clipping, but also for hanging out and relaxing in—and Instagramming, natch—my mind begins to wrap around the concept like a vine tendril gripping a trellis wire, climbing for the sky.
Adjani leads the design-focused garden tours, while his wife and Noci cofounder Aria Alpert Adjani leads tours focused on culinary applications. The land was in a state of neglect when they purchased the property five years ago, Adjani says. The existing vineyard had been bulldozed, trellis and all, into the dirt. The couple spent the first year cleaning up the ground, which isn’t much good for wine grapes anyway, according to Adjani. Saturated for much of the year, the land is situated at the confluence of Dry Creek and a former waterway which was re-routed years ago. Instead of adding more asphalt for the parking lot, they put down circular pavers made from recycled plastic and set in gravel. Grass grows on top of the pavers, and drainage pipes underneath move rainwater toward the ponds where it filters through lily pads and other water plants.
We arrive at the back of the garden, which was planted earlier than the rest, and has more mature trees and beds of asparagus gone to ferns. Adjani points out a row of blueberry bushes, the first planting of all, which got him to thinking about the whole plan.
And what’s this, nearby, a rioting trellis of grapevines after all? They’re Concord grapes, good for making jam, and the tent-like structure that holds them would make a fun tunnel for kids to run through. The membership model, Adjani hopes, allows people to feel more at home in the gardens than simply stopping and shopping. “We’re not a farmers market,” Adjani says. Members can find out if their favorite fruit tree, of some 900 fruit trees, is in season from the “train station” styled schedule in the main farm stand, and then picnic at one of 18 black-painted, luxury resort-styled shade decks spread around the acreage. Activities will also be scheduled—jam-making classes, movie nights, volleyball on the lawn. “If we just had the garden, I don’t think people would use it.”
Also still to come is an architecturally striking root cellar that may or may not become an actual root cellar, but the partially grass-roofed structure will definitely include Noci offices on the second level and more space for…something. “Until we actually do something,” Adjani explains, “we don’t know how we’re going to use it.”
In the distance across the pond basin, I can barely make out two unmoving, silent sentry-like objects, but I get the feeling they’re watching us. They are—they’re big, shaggy sheep dogs. The Adjanis tried out a flock of sheep, but decided that pastoralism wasn’t going to work for them. Instead, the grassed pathways are mowed with a $10,000 electric mower that saves $10,000 a year on gasoline, Adjani says.
Doing a quick calculation on a Mac terminal at the farm stand, Adjani comes up with a figure of $6 per pound. That’s about how much the u-pick produce will cost members at any of the membership levels, at $150 to $400 monthly, if they pick the maximum pounds they’re allotted on each visit. Memberships are available now. Picnics and fun, shareable pictures aside, that’s on the dear side for, say, potatoes. But price-conscious pickers, Adjani notes, will get a real deal if they stick to the high-value items and load up to their heart’s content on cane berries, fresh flowers and herbs. Go wild.
2836 Dry Creek Rd., Healdsburg. Tours and picnicking open to the public by appointment, Friday–Sunday 10am–4pm. $25. 707.800.9806. nocisonoma.com.