We have bittersweet feelings today. The man who destroyed our entire wine inventory in 2005 is going to stay in jail.
Mark Anderson pleaded guilty on Monday afternoon in federal court in Sacramento to 18 counts ranging from arson to wire fraud to income tax evasion. After more than four years of our anxious waiting, he admitted to all of the alleged crimes. In a plea bargain, he agreed to exchange a guilty plea for a sentence of about 15 years in jail instead of the possibility of life in prison following a trial.
On October 13, 2005, Anderson changed our lives forever. He set a warehouse fire to cover up a Ponzi scheme in which he was stealing wines from clients who had entrusted their collections to him for safekeeping. He lived a fancy lifestyle in tony Sausalito using the proceeds of wines stolen from collections belonging to his clients.
He has now admitted that he torched the Wine Central Warehouse where we and 90+ other wineries had recently moved our bottled wine inventories. (We thought the former Navy submarine torpedo repair facility represented the securest possible location to store our wine prior to shipment to our distributors.)
The total losses are estimated to be between $250 and $450 million. Luckily, no one died in the fire, but this event forever changed the lives of many people in the Napa Valley wine industry, including our own.
We lost our entire wine library, from our first vintage in 1994 through 2002, and every bottle of wine we held in inventory (with the exception of a few large format bottles). Only wines aging in barrel in our cave were left.
We lost millions of dollars (even with an insurance settlement) from our small family business.
We also were left without any product to sell for many months (the 2001 and 2002 vintages of LMR Cabernet Sauvignon were totally lost). At that riveting moment, we had 19 employees and had lost our principal source of revenue, our wines. (While we had some revenue from beef and olive oil sales, we had not yet fully developed these components of our business.)
Everyone was stunned – including me. Despite a long, successful professional career, I feared that we would be overwhelmed financially.
In the face of adversity, my father used to say: “When you have lemons, make lemonade.” So, we did.
Looking for ways to keep our identity in the marketplace, we introduced two new products. We used nine tons of Cabernet Sauvignon pomace remaining in the last fermentation tank of the vintage to make grappa - with the gracious help of the folks at St. George Spirits in Alameda.
Next, we took advantage of four small experimental lots of Sauvignon Blanc wine that we had in the winery. We blended these lots, bottled the resulting cuvee, and then released our first commercial white wine - even though it was only about 500 cases.
These steps helped us sustain a dialogue with some of our most important customers. Nevertheless, we were not able to return to the market until the early release of our 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon - more than a year after the fire.
As a result, we lost many placements with restaurants and retailers that we had spent more than 7 years developing. Buyers come and go and our identity was often lost in the transition: no wine, no visits, no listings on wine lists.
Thankfully, today, we are on the verge of recovering our momentum. “Lemonade is flowing,” as my father would say.
We took advantage of the hiatus to trim our distributor network to the focus on the most attractive markets and on distributors with whom we had truly productive relationships. We fired more than 10 distributors - and we are better off as a result.
In addition, we acquired (with the help of family and friends investors) the 42-acre San Mateo Vineyard and now have a rapidly growing Sauvignon Blanc wine offering. At the same time, we built meaningful grass-fed beef and olive oil businesses and successfully introduced our first reserve wine, 2005 E.J. Church Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve.
We also repositioned our wines to more attractive prices, which has helped us significantly in the current economic climate. (For example, we reduced our Cabernet Sauvignon bottle price from $55 to $39 to aid the reintroduction of our brand).
Most significantly, we have created the new destination location in St. Helena, Long Meadow Ranch Winery & Farmstead, which will open soon. Ironically, we probably would not have taken on this major challenge had it not been for the fire.
Nevertheless, we plan to testify at Anderson’s sentencing hearing. His actions destroyed our winemaking history, severely impaired us financially, and put at risk the livelihood of nearly two-dozen employees who had given significant portions of their lives to create our wines.
For others in the industry, sadly, the negative impact was even greater. Many will not recover.
Bernie Madoff has made international headlines because of the far-reaching impact of his Ponzi scheme. Anderson’s version has had equally devastating impact on our Napa Valley community. These men have stolen the fruits of the labor of countless workers.
Sadly, the wines - which contain the prideful efforts of so many - can never be recovered.
We will be sure that the judge understands.
The Full Circle Farming episode of Emeril Green, which features Laddie, Chris, and me with celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, will air again this weekend on the Planet Green Network. The show times are Saturday at 6-6:30 PM EASTERN Time and Sunday at 2-2:30 AM and 10-10:30 AM EASTERN Time. Click here for a channel finder.
We were thrilled with the debut airing of the show on Monday night. We had a viewing party with our staff in the Bunk House at the ranch. We were very pleased with the way the show presented our story - especially given the complexity of what we do. And, the commentary was almost entirely accurate. We could not have asked for a more complete telling of our story if we have tried to do so ourselves.
Sheamus made pulled pork sandwiches and chili (in a kind of faux Frito pie) and we toasted Emeril and the entire production team with the wines of Long Meadow Ranch.
Snippets of the show (showing single topics and recipes) are already available on the Planet Green website and the entire episode will be available soon.
Posted by Ted Hall
LMR is featured on celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse's Emeril Green television show on the Planet Green Network (a Discovery Network channel) this coming Monday night.
Be sure to watch Laddie, Chris, and me. We work in the kitchen together with Emeril to prepare an "all-Long Meadow Ranch" meal. Our olive oil, vinegar, honey, fruits, vegetables, eggs, grass-fed beef, and wine are all featured in scrumptious easy-to-prepare recipes.
Episode 119: Full Farming Circle
Monday, November 9 at 5pm PST on the Planet Green Network
Click here for a channel finder.
We'll be shown at least six times, so if you miss us on Monday there are more chances. Click here for a complete broadcast schedule.
We have been blessed over the years to have developed relationships with a number of terrific chefs and we have appeared on television with several, including Joey Altman and Michael Chiarello. Visit our Menu Hall of Fame to see some of these fantastic menus by our favorite chefs. We are very proud to add Emeril to the group.
Emeril visited the Napa Valley for four weeks this summer and set up his studio at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) right here in St. Helena.
Early in his visit, Emeril and his culinary team thoroughly enjoyed a shopping visit to the LMR Rutherford Gardens. Our own farm production manager, Courtney Delello, got to show off the "fruits & vegetables" of her labor and he raved about all of our products.
We were thrilled when Emeril selected Long Meadow Ranch to be the only local wine or food producer to be featured on a full episode of his show. Emeril's production team filmed extensively at the main ranch - in the field and at the winery - and at LMR Rutherford Gardens.
Emeril even visited Laddie at the St. Helena Farmers Market. We know that Laddie is already a celebrity in our community, but when Emeril made a beeline to visit her at our market stand, you can be sure that she became even more famous.
The entire adventure was capped with a live filming of the three of us cooking with Emeril in his studio at the CIA. We then ate what we cooked (no fake, styled, or "pretty" food on Emeril's shows) - and enjoyed the LMR wines in delightful pairings with Emeril's recipes.
* * *
The growing recognition of our products is very gratifying. Moreover, our motto of "Excellence through Responsible Farming" is beginning to ring true to an ever larger audience. Emeril's endorsement can't hurt.
Twenty years of quiet commitment is all it took. . .
Posted by Ted Hall
We completed our Highland cattle roundup yesterday near Ferndale.
We gathered our herd of 60+ Highland mother cows for our annual fall roundup at the Morrison Ranch along the picturesque Bear River in remote Humboldt County.
We have leased the Morrison Ranch from Peggy Morrison Fox for the past seven years, which has provided ideal conditions for our Highland herd. From the top of the property at nearly 1500 feet elevation, one can gaze out across lush coastal grasslands to the Pacific Ocean below. "Tough" duty if you are a cow. . .
The roundup scene could have been a Hollywood movie. The cattle were gathered on horseback from across the 2000-acre ranch, which has been in the Morrison family since the 1850s (now owned by sisters Kay and Peggy).
Cattle dogs, beautiful working Quarter Horses and Appaloosas, and wranglers wearing chaps were all part of the scene. We brought the herd down from the hills to corrals and barns that were first constructed in 1854.
Our workday team included our longstanding part-time wrangler, Adam Tait, and LMR horse trainer/stable manager, Sarah Bertoli, plus four local friends of Peggy Morrison.
We gathered all of the cows and their calves and "worked" them. The mother cows were given their vaccinations, boluses (two big pills containing selenium and copper), and a treatment for parasites. The calves received a similar regimen.
We were very pleased with the health status of the herd. Ninety-six percent of the cows were pregnant (a very impressive result for our three bulls) and all but one was in perfect health. The calves were vigorous, bright-eyed, and fleshy.
We separated the calves from their mothers ("weaning"). The calves were kept together in the barn for the first two nights (there is comfort in numbers after losing mom) and then were put out onto a nearby pasture along the river where they could be watched and fed supplemental hay.
Sadly, because of a change in direction by the two Morrison sisters, we are leaving the ranch this fall. Our beautiful herd of Highland cows was moved south yesterday by truck to our property in Tomales. The Tomales location will now become our primary location for our cow-calf operation.
We'll continue to send our calves north from Tomales to Ferndale each spring as part of our overall integrated production system. There we will finish our steers and beef heifers using an intensive rotational grazing system followed by a short low-stress trip to the abattoir at Redwood Meats. More about this later. . .
In the meantime, we are entering winter feeling confident about the health status of our herd and already looking forward to calving season in April.
Posted by Ted Hall