Stop and smell the fragrance of Russian River Rose Co.
California’s only rose oil producer is in Healdsburg. Its owners are taking ABC10’s John Bartell on a flower-to-perfume tour.
HEALDSBURG, CA – In the heart of Sonoma County wine country, a floral scent wafts through the air in Healdsburg. Spring is harvest time at the Russian River Rose Company, and owners Michael and Jan Tolmasoff work hard to pick bright pink flowers.
Roses here will not be sold in a flower shop or displayed at a wedding. These roses are harvested for their fragrance.
“The botanical name is Rosa Trigintipetala,” says Michael. “These are to produce rose oil, and in the process we make rose water.”
Rose oil is one of the primary ingredients in fine fragrances and the Russian River Rose Company is the only producer of rose oil in California for good reason.
“You only get a drop of rose oil for a pound of roses. It’s probably a pound and I’ll be lucky to get a drop of oil out of it,” says Michael Tolmasoff, holding a small basket of flowers.
Rose oil is extremely laborious and expensive to produce. Most rose oil is produced in Bulgaria where labor is cheap, but by the time it reaches the United States the wholesale price increases dramatically.
“It’s between $600 and $2,200 an ounce,” says Michael Tolmasoff.
Michael and Jan cut costs by making their own contribution, supplementing the business by organizing garden tours and selling specialist garden roses on the side.
“More and more roses have arrived and we now have up to 650 varieties,” explains Jan Tolmasoff.
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To extract the precious rose oil, Michael uses a copper still. On his tour, Michael delves into the science of perfume making and explains the importance of rose oil as an ingredient.
“85% of fine perfumes will contain rose oil,” says Michael Tolmasoff, who also talks about lesser-known ingredients such as ambergris, which is basically old, dried whale poop.
“It’s well-aged whale poop after being in the ocean for 5 years,” he says.
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At the end of the demonstration, guests will be able to taste Michael’s famous rose water sorbet. Just to be clear, ambergris is not one of the ingredients. And of course, a visit to the perfumery would not be complete without an olfactory test.
Fun fact: All perfumes create a different smell when they land on different skin.
“Skin is different, and why some skin is dry or oily,” says Michael Tolmasoff.
The perfume industry is complex and scientific, but when you come to the Russian River Rose Company, the experience is simple, delicious and…well, pink.
If you want to visit the garden, make a reservation on the Russian River Rose Company website.
DISCOVER THE ROUTES: Summer is almost here! Plan your ultimate road trip with John Bartell’s list of the top 10 California destinations to visit.