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Aug 06, 2009

In Napa Valley, one all-organic ranch is proving that wine country is fertile ground for a whole lot more than grapes.

By Drew Stoga

Napa Valley’s Long Meadow Ranch is a sprawling 650-acre family owned and operated ranch and vineyard perched high above the picturesque wine country.

As far back as the 1870s, the land was being used to cultivate grapes as well as a variety of other produce and livestock. During Prohibition, the property’s owner abandoned the ranch, leaving it to spend much of the 20th century in slow decline.

That fallow period ended in 1989 when Ted Hall, a successful businessman and amateur viticulturist who had grown up on a family farm in western Pennsylvania, purchased the land to start a full-blown winemaking operation.

Today, rows upon rows of flourishing grapevines cover the rolling hills of Long Meadow Ranch. But that is only part of the story.

 

Branching Out

 

Widely regarded as North America’s best area for growing grapes and producing wine—on par with some of the premier winemaking regions in France, Italy and Spain—Napa Valley is a wine lover’s paradise. But the region’s reputation doesn’t extend much beyond grapes, and many of Napa’s best restaurants rely on trucked-in ingredients.

Long Meadow is trying to change that. In addition to their bold cabernets and crisp sauvignon blancs, Long Meadow produces world-class extra virgin olive oil, fresh eggs and a wide variety of organically grown herbs and produce, ranging from artichokes to watermelons.

The ranch also is home to more than 350 Scottish Highland cattle—a heritage breed known for its tender, flavorful beef—which the Halls feed a 100 percent grass diet to ensure they remain healthy, lean and chemical-free.

 

All Natural

 

Of the more than 300 vineyards in Napa County, Long Meadow is one of only 30 that truly can call themselves organic.

“Everything we do here is certified organic by CCOF [California Certified Organic Farmers],” explains Chris Hall, the vineyard’s national sales manager and son of owners Ted and Laddie Hall. “We’ve been practicing organic agriculture since before it could be certified—before the USDA enacted its rules.

“My grandfather and grandmother actually were organic farmers in the early ’50s, when they were growing produce on their farm for the general store of their parents,” continues Hall. “My dad had grown up on the same family farm and had all of that influence in him. So he thought, ‘why do it any other way?’”

No herbicides or pesticides are used at Long Meadow, and the only fertilizer for its orchards and gardens comes from the horses, cattle and pigs that live on the land.

In addition, all of the farming equipment is fueled with biodiesel and biofuels, and all of the facilities Long Meadow uses to make wine, olive oil and other products are powered exclusively by solar panels.

The winery itself was made from recycled wood, and the fermentation caves that sit below were built using the low-impact construction method of rammed earth. Using this ancient building technique, the caves were fashioned from a mixture of 99 percent dirt and just 1 percent cement.

The ranch’s efficiency and ability to create its own electricity actually results in an energy surplus. “We produce more on an annual basis than we consume,” Hall proudly reports—an impressive feat for an operation Long Meadow’s size.

 

One-Stop Farming

 

You would be right to think that Long Meadow produces everything that’s needed to create a full, delicious meal. In fact, that’s precisely the idea.

In addition to LMR Rutherford Gardens—a seasonal farm stand the ranch runs in the neighboring town of Rutherford—the Halls will soon be opening the Long Meadow Ranch Winery and Farmstead. Chris explains that this new facility will contain a tasting room, featuring Long Meadow’s award-winning wines, and a “farm-to-table” restaurant. This means just about everything served on site will come directly from their operation.

“We can actually have a meal that’s produced from all of our own products, whether it be beautiful greens from the garden drizzled with a little bit of our extra virgin olive oil, or grass-fed beef and summer vegetables on the grill, or eggs from our heritage-breed chickens for breakfast with bacon from the pigs that we raise here on the ranch,” says Hall.

Call it Long Meadow’s vision of the future—or maybe the past. In a nation raised on fast food that tastes the same regardless of when or where it’s eaten, the local food movement may seem downright revolutionary. But along with like-minded farmers across the country, Long Meadow is betting it’s the best way to Americans’ hearts.


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