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Stop and smell the perfume at Russian River Rose Co.

California's only rose oil producer is in Healdsburg. Its owners take ABC10's John Bartell on a tour from bloom to perfume.

HEALDSBURG, Calif. — In the heart of Sonoma County’s wine country, there’s a floral fragrance wafting through the air in Healdsburg. Springtime is harvest time at Russian River Rose Company, and owners Michael and Jan Tolmasoff are hard at work picking bright pink flowers.

The roses here won’t be sold at a flower shop or displayed at a wedding. These roses are harvested for their fragrance. 

“The botanical name is Rosa Trigintipetala,” Michael says. “These are for producing rose oil, and in the process, we make rose water.”

Rose oil is one of the main ingredients in fine perfumes and the Russian River Rose Company is the only rose oil producer in California for good reason. 

“You only get one drop of rose oil for a pound of roses. This is probably a pound and I will be lucky to get a drop of oil from it,” says Michael Tolmasoff as he holds up a small basket of blooms.

Credit: ABC10 / Rory Vincent Ward
"This is probably a pound and I will be lucky to get a drop of oil from it,” says Michael Tolmasoff of Russian River Rose Co.

Rose oil is extremely labor-intensive and expensive to produce. Most rose oil is produced in Bulgaria where labor is cheap, but by the time it makes it to the U.S. the wholesale price goes way up. 

“It's anywhere from $600 to $2,200 an ounce,” Michael Tolmasoff says.

Michael and Jan keep the cost down by putting in their own sweat equity, supplementing the business by giving tours of the garden, and selling specialty garden roses on the side. 

“More and more roses came along and now we up to 650 varieties,” Jan Tolmasoff says.

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To extract the valuable rose oil, Michael uses a copper still. On his tour, Michael goes into depth about the science of perfume making and explains the importance of rose oil as an ingredient. 

“85% of fine perfumes will have rose oil in it,” says Michael Tolmasoff, who also talks about the lesser-known ingredients such as ambergris, which is essentially old dried-up whale poop. 

“It’s well-aged whale poop after spending 5 years in the ocean,” he says.

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At the end of the demonstration, guests can taste-test Michael's famous rose water sorbet. Just to be clear, ambergris is not one of the ingredients. And of course, a trip to the perfume shop would not be complete without a smell test.

Fun fact: all perfumes create a different smell when it lands on different skin. 

“Skin is different, and the reason why is some skin is dry or oily,” Michael Tolmasoff says.

The perfume industry is complex and scientific but when you come to the Russian River Rose Company the experience is simple, delightful, and--well, rosy. 

If you would like to tour the garden, make a reservation on the Russian River Rose Company’s website

HIT THE BACKROADS:  Summer is almost here! Plan your ultimate road trip with John Bartell's list of California's top 10 destinations to visit.

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