Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine “In Our Own Backyard” October 2006.
In Our Own Backyard – Long Medow Ranch
By Kathleen Dreessen
In Our Own Backyard is a new series of things to do around the valley. Napa county residents enjoy fabulous weather, picturesque vista and abundant natural resources – so, when was the last time you got out and became a tourist in your own backyard.
The first excursion for Our Own Backyard was a clear-cut choice. I’d been a fan of Long Meadow Ranch olive oil since winning a bottle in a raffle a couple of years ago and had heard great things about their wines and organic farming methods. But their remote location in the Mayacamas Mountains means they’re not accessible to the public by conventional means.
They do, however, offer tours, or, to use their term, excursions. By pre-paid reservation only, the Wine & Olive Oil excursion leaves on Saturday morning, 10:30 a.m. sharp, from Rutherford Gardens in Rutherford (across from Grgich Hills Cellar). The cost is $35, but Long Meadow Ranch participates in the Napa Neighbor Program and offers a $25 discount for locals. The $10 cost is a great value for what you get.
First is Rutherford Gardens, a pretty gathering place with fragrant basil and flowers growing along paths leading to six acres of organically grown strawberries, peppers, corn and other vegetables. These are sold inside the Garden’s pole-barn pavilion on Saturdays through Thanksgiving. A massive oak dominates the space but 100-year-old fig trees also provide shade and interest, along with a secret room.
You know you’re in for a unique experience when a 10-passenger Swiss Army, all terrain Pinzgauer pulls into the parking lot. After everyone is loaded in, the open-air vehicle chugs down Highway 29 and up Whitehall Lane. There’s a lot of fine scenery, including the site of a former airstrip (with the hanger still in use but the former runway now covered in Pine Ridge grape vines), on the 15-minute trip up the mountain.
You arrive at the rammed earth winery, made from the spoils dug when the caves were under construction, and are met by a host/director. In our case, it was Lydia Darnian, who has managed special events at Long Meadow for three years.
“Long Meadow Ranch is an all organic, integrated farming system,” says Darnian. “Everything here is used. Ted and Laddie Hall originally bought 109 acres and their land now encompasses 650 acres. We have 25 acres planted to vines, and we only produce red fruit.”
It is, indeed, a ranch, where they breed and work appaloosa horses and have a herd, or “fold,” of 350 grass-fed Highland cattle.
“The cattle originated in Scotland and are excellent foragers,” explains Darnian. “We use them for fire protection. They produce lean beef that is sold to restaurants and in specialty markets, along with Rutherford Gardens. We also have Ameraucana and Black Australorp chickens, which lay black/blue/green and brown eggs. We sell the eggs and compost the chicken manure, which is an excellent nitrogen source.”
The winery itself was designed by award-winning architect William Turnbull and is one of the largest rammed earth structures in North America. Because of its thermally efficient thick walls, the winery needs no mechanical heating or cooling devices.
We pile back into the Pinzgauer and head to higher ground. As we bounce along dirt roads, Darnian explains that most of the acreage is in a land trust and will remain as it is in perpetuity. We stop at a vineyard at an 1100-foot elevation. The tallest spot on the ranch is 1800 feet.
“We’re overlooking Bear Canyon,” says Darnian. “This property abuts the Coppola property (to the south). The ranch encourages a diverse species population. We manage the vineyard; we don’t control it. For example, clover is used as a cover crop, which attracts ladybugs. The ladybugs take care of any aphids. We have red-tail hawk perches throughout the property, and the hawks help manage rodents. We don’t kill rattlesnakes, either, because they also control rodents. Long Meadow Ranch uses organic methods not because of theology, but because we feel it provides higher quality at lower cost. All our methods are grounded in scientific principle.”
Heading down the hill, we pass one of the sites where an old olive orchard was discovered when the parcel was purchased in 1992. In one site, 250 mature trees had been completely hidden from view by pine and fir trees growing around them. It is estimated that he olive trees were planted in the 1870s. Currently, the ranch has more than eight acres of olives with nearly 1000 mature trees. These trees provide the olives for their estate-produced extra virgin olive oil, Prato Lungo. Additional orchards are being developed using the traditional Italian cultivars of Frantoio, Leccino, Pendolino, and Moraiolo olive varieties. During the past five years, Long Meadow Ranch has planted more than 1500 new trees.
When we return to the winery, the first stop is the Frantoio, or olive pressing room.
“To be considered extra virgin olive oil, the olives must be harvested and pressed within 24 hours,” says Darnian. “We are able to do that because our Frantoio is on the property. The olives are hand picked, loaded into the same bins we use for grape harvest, and brought here.”
Pink granite stones crush the olives and the resulting oil is hand bottled and hand labeled. Last year, Long Meadow Ranch produced 600 bottles of olive oil.
Finally, we are escorted into the tasting room where we get to sip olive oil and note its characteristics. After cleansing our palates with water and bread sticks, we try the four varieties of Long Meadow Wine. Darnian has prepared for us carpaccio made from the Highland cattle, and offers us tastes of beef jerky in two flavors, Cabernet and teriyaki.
In the background a Long Meadow Ranch CD plays themes from westerns and TV themes such as Bonanza and Gunsmoke.
The Pinzgauer heads back to Rutherford Gardens after the hour and a half excursion, carrying happy visitors who won’t soon forget the self-sustained Long Meadow Ranch. We’re feeling happy and hungry from our wine tasting and samples of food. Fortunately, it’s lunchtime and the Rutherford Grill is only a couple of minutes away.
If you go… Customized visits, including a Long Meadow Ranch hike, a Pinzgauer adventure and a chef-inspired lunch, can be arranged. All trips, including the Wine and Olive Oil Tour, must be reserved in advance. Contact Lydia Damian at (707) 963-4555, ex. 161. For further information, visit longmeadowranch.com.
If you have any suggestions for future In Our Backyard adventures, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.