In 2009 world-renowned gallerists Iwan and Manuela Wirth (with art spaces in Los Angeles, New York City, Hong Kong, Zurich, and London) stumbled upon the ruins of an 18th-century farm in Bruton, a small town two hours west of London.
Enveloped by England’s Somerset countryside, the land known as Durslade Farm (Durslade meaning “deer’s glade” in ancient English) was once carved from the thickets of Selwood Forest and used by Augustinian monks during the Middle Ages. For thousands of years the working farm provided nourishment to the community, until decades of neglect left its remains in complete disrepair.
When the Wirths acquired the property, a gentle restoration transformed the preexisting structures into a wonderland of culture: The six-bedroom farmhouse is now a boutique hotel, the threshing barn a renowned gallery, and the milking parlor a restaurant, Roth Bar & Grill. While it may surprise some that the gallerists behind Hauser & Wirth added such a curious assemblage to their portfolio, it is their love for the outdoors and sustainability, as well as a sense of community, that drove them to rehabilitate this storybook setting.
Cultivating a thriving ecosystem
A thousand acres of sprawling pastures and woodlands, the main property included, are tended by estate and farm manager Paul Dovey, once a groundkeeper for Sting and Trudie Styler’s Wiltshire estate. Over the past decade, Dovey rejuvenated the previously derelict farmland to cultivate a range of livestock, flora, fauna, and crops. The thriving ecosystem now comprises ewes and rams; Hereford, Angus, and Wagyu cattle breeds; a piggery and an apiary; a preserved forest of ancient trees and rare butterflies; and a vineyard. “Conservation management will increase the biodiversity of the farm overall, the mammals, birds, insects, soil life, and flora,” says Dovey. “Hopefully this will lead to increased production and a better environment to farm in the future.”
The ongoing harvest yields an array of edible and drinkable provisions. Fruit from newly planted apple and pear orchards is pressed for apple juice and cider making. A vineyard of 8,500 planted vines provides Bacchus, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier grapes for sparkling and still wines barreled at its Sheephouse Farm winery. Approximately 7,500 bottles are corked every year.
While excavating and fostering the land, Dovey is constantly unearthing pastoral relics along the way. “An ancient Roman vineyard and preexisting terracing remains were discovered, but no roots as the Romans left Somerset 1,600 years ago,” he says, reflecting on a particularly memorable discovery.
Animal husbandry on the farm is conducted with care and respect, and cuts from the on-site abattoir supply The Bull Inn, Roth Bar & Grill, and nearby establishments. Roth Bar & Grill features a display case of dry-aged beef tenderized in a “salt room” amid 500 hand-cut Himalayan salt bricks. A quote on the glass reads “This is not artwork, this is the art of food” as a reminder that beyond the gallery is a carefully considered food ecosystem that transitions from farm to table. The restaurant also pickles and preserves vegetation to extend the longevity and sustainability of the farm.
A pebbled road guides visitors into Durslade Farm’s main property, where whispers of its past mingle effortlessly with accents of the Wirths’ artful influence. Aside from a daily wander around the gallery or its perennial garden, ongoing events bring art, culture, and community together to celebrate the farm’s revival and the good earth on which it thrives.
Immersive farm activities also invigorate the agricultural experience. Butchery courses take guests into the field to explore different animal breeds, animal welfare and grading, as well as the farming practices of Durslade. Back in the kitchen, chefs impart butchering skills on four-legged or feathered animals. Depending on the season, a cooking class might send guests foraging for wild mushrooms or hunting for truffles.
“We also join the annual U.K. initiative called Open Farm Sunday, which is a joint event between the gallery and the restaurant,” says Dovey of the annual June jubilee. “The working farm is brought to Durslade, and the community can learn about our farming and watch sheep shearing and other demonstrations and activities.”
Guests can book a room at Durslade Farmhouse, where remnants of the original building are seen in fixtures and other decor. The antiquity of the structure is strongly evident, but Hauser & Wirth brings its signature touch, adorning the house with murals and other artwork.
As for the future, Dovey will to continue to engage the ecosystem, aiming to make the farm carbon-neutral in the next two decades. And one day, he hopes to have his own farm shop, enabling visitors to carry a part of Durslade back home.
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