Long Meadow Ranch
 

How Does Your Garden Grow? Long Meadow Ranch Diversifies

The Napa Valley Register Sunday, September 22, 2002

By PAUL FRANSON
Register Correspondent

Most people who live on vineyard estates grow a few vegetables and fruit on their land, likely a few olive trees. Few, however, have embraced diversified farming like Ted and Laddie Hall of Long Meadow Ranch.

At their mountaintop estate in the Mayacamas range above Rutherford, and now at their property on the valley floor, they raise animals, vegetables and fruit alongside their vineyards and olive groves. Their goal is to create an economically, as well as environmentally, sustainable estate, and what they're doing should inspire every grower in Napa Valley.

Instead of the grape monoculture that fills Napa Valley, Long Meadow Ranch uses an integrated farming system that encompasses the whole property. The vineyards and winemaking and the olive orchards and olive oil processing complement horse and cattle raising and poultry and vegetable gardens, all farmed organically.
 

Ted with the Cattle
Photo by Andrea Roth/ Napa Register


The herd, also known as a fold, of Highland cattle at Long Meadow Ranch is particularly tame because of the way they are treated, according to owner Ted Hall.

The Halls produce their own fertilizers by composting organic material from all these sources, while soil erosion is controlled and new soils built with permanent cover crops of grasses, clover and legumes. The ranch does not use herbicides or pesticides and all its crops meet the California Organic Foods Act of 1990.

Just a farm boy

The ranch was a natural move for the Halls. Ted was raised in rural Pennsylvania, where his mother was an organic farmer; that was considered suspect in those days, in fact Ted's father, who invented artificial rubber at a secret plant during World War II, almost lost his security clearance because of her suspicious leanings.

Far from the tie-dyed ex-hippies that might be imagined, Ted went on to Princeton to study engineering, then to Stanford for an MBA and a career that led to a high level post as a partner managing the San Francisco office of respected management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. But he never lost his touch with the earth.

He began making wine for fun in 1971 and by the late 1980s decided to pursue it seriously.

The big step

In 1989, the Halls acquired the lower third of what is now their property. Long Meadow Ranch, named for a large mountain meadow, was known by that name before 1900.

The land was granted to E.J. Church in 1872; the original deed was signed by President Ulysses Grant. Church and others farmed, raised grapes and planted olive trees, and the Hassenmeier Winery was on the western part of the property. All farming ended at the start of Prohibition.


Photo by Andrea Roth/ Napa Register
Laddie Hall prepares sunflowers from the Long Meadow Ranch garden for a flower arrangement for an employee's going away party at the winery.

Laddie with Sun Flowers
Photo by Andrea Roth/ Napa Register

 

Laddie Hall prepares sunflowers from the
Long Meadow Ranch garden for a flower arrangement for an employee's going
away party at the winery.

In 1990, vineyard manager Laurie Wood planted the new Halls' first vines, and the vineyards are now managed by organic farming pioneer Frank Leeds. The farm uses cabernet sauvignon budwood from the Bella Oaks Vineyard in Rutherford and the Jordan Vineyard in Alexander Valley.

The Halls have also planted small amounts of cabernet franc, merlot and sangiovese, much in the original vineyard sites. Unusual for Napa, many of the vineyards have hillside southwestern exposure, so receive more sunlight than spots shaded by the western mountains.

The Halls now have 25 acres of vineyards in key spots among their 600 acres of mountain property, almost half dedicated to the land trust. They harvested their first vintage of wine in 1994. An intense cabernet made by Cathy Corison, it features black cherry components. It has received kudos ever since.

Spending every summer at the ranch starting in 1990, the Halls moved there full time in late 1998. Ted resigned his full-time position, but still consults with some old clients.

A revelation

The Halls made many interesting discoveries on their land. One was extensive olive orchards completely overgrown since the 1920s.

Knowing it's difficult to maintain an organic farm with only one crop, they investigated the possibility of making olive oil and soon embraced that craft.

They also started raising chickens and sheep for their sons in 4-H. "We recognized that we could build a fully integrated farming system," says Ted Hall.

They have since restored more than eight acres of olives with nearly 1,000 mature trees, which provide the olives for Prato Lungo estate-produced extra virgin olive oil. They've also planted new olive trees and may someday sell plantings from the ancient trees.

One special attraction of growing olives is that winemaking and olive oil processing are complementary. Although they use similar skills and some of the same equipment, their key processes occur at different times; this allowed the Halls to maintain a year-round staff.

Committed to the goal, they built a remarkable building that combines winemaking and olive oil processing, a "frantoio" in Italian. It's the largest rammed earth building in North America, made using recycled and natural materials, many from the ranch. "It's the first modern winery built without mechanical heating or cooling," Ted notes.

More and more ventures

Over time, the Halls acquired adjoining property and started raising Appaloosa horses and POA (Pony of America) ponies and, in 1998, bought their first Scottish Highland calves. That put them in five businesses: producing wine, olive oil, organic vegetables, herbs and eggs, raising Highland cattle for beef and selling calves, and breeding and selling ponies and Appaloosa horses

They recently started selling beef from the cattle; it's available at Sunshine Market in St. Helena, but is in short supply.
 

Their most recent step was buying the highly visible 5.8 acre Rutherford Gardens property on highway 29 across from Grgich Hills Winery. Although the land would be very valuable for growing grapes, being in the Rutherford American Viticultural Area, Hall has opted to grow vegetables, fruit and cattle instead. He feels his mountaintop sites are superior for growing fine cabernet to the rich, deep soil of the valley floor.

So they're grazing cattle on the property and have planted heritage tomatoes, herbs and pumpkins with more to come. They intend to sell produce from the site at the existing roadside stand, to local restaurants and at the St. Helena Farmers Market, which they've attended since 1991. Interestingly, Hall says he can make as much money per acre growing tomatoes as grapes.

"We are committed to making our diversified farming operations commercially viable -- and visible to the public," says Ted. "We want people to learn how quality food is grown by seeing a little bit of the gardens when they stop by to make a purchase."

Come October, the property will host a public pumpkin patch, a local tradition beloved by families in the past. For now, Rutherford Gardens will be open Thursday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. when produce is available. It's located at 1796 South St. Helena Highway.

Gardener
Photo by Andrea Roth/ Napa Register
 

Sandy Cox, resident manager
of Rutherford Gardens, a new
organic farm owned by
Long Meadow Ranch,
picks heirloom tomatoes to
sell at the roadside stand on Highway 29.

The Halls just released their 2001 Prato Lungo estate olive oil, which exhibits exceptionally low acidity. It's rated one of the six best in the world by expert Anne Dolamore and sells for $45 per 500 ml bottle.
 
Ted and Laddie at Farmers MarketThe Halls also press olives from other organic farmers such as Napa Valley Select, selling for $18 for a 375 ml bottle. Their wine sells for $57.50, and all are available through upscale local markets, their comprehensive Web site (www.longmeadowranch.com) or 877-NAPA-OIL.

 

Even better, Laddie Hall is at the St. Helena Farmers Market Fridays selling her produce, eggs, oil and wine. Both Ted and Laddie are friendly and unpretentious and happy to talk about their work. You can even sample the oil, though she can't offer the wine for tasting.  How to get the beef

Long Meadow Ranch Highland beef patties have been featured at Sunshine Foods and as "Special Sandwiches" at Taylor's Refresher in St. Helena. Todd Humphries will include the ground beef on the lunch menu at Martini House during the coming week. It will be six to eight weeks before prime cuts of beef available, but limited quantities of the frozen ground beef is available for $3 per lb. in 5 lb. bags. Call the ranch office at 963-4555 to arrange a pick-up or a delivery.

The beef is lean and best cooked medium rare. The Halls suggest lightly basting the patties with some of their own Napa Valley Select olive oil or a suitable equivalent.
 

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