@LMR (the ranch blog)
The secret is out. Until today we were sworn to secrecy - and we still can't disclose the details.
Watch "Top Chef: Season Finale, Part I" tonight on Bravo TV at 10 PM (9 PM Central). Check your local listings for time and cable channel.
Top Chef brought its finale to the Napa Valley and made LMR Rutherford Gardens a featured location. Finalists Jennifer Carroll, Kevin Gillespie, Michael Voltaggio, and Bryan Voltaggio were given a tough challenge, but we can't tell you what it was.
To learn more you'll have to watch the show tonight.
I'll tell more of the story tomorrow.
We started harvesting olives at sunrise on Monday morning, but we are likely to have the smallest harvest on record.
Thanksgiving Day is the calendar marker for our olive harvest each year. Sometimes we start during the short week prior to the holiday and sometimes right after. So, the harvest is right on time this year.
But, our challenge - and for everyone else in Northern California - is that we have a very small crop. The weather at bloom (in late May) could not have been worse for setting the crop.
Usually we worry about enough moisture content in the soil to help keep the fragile blossoms hydrated. This year we had about two inches of rain on May 15th and we thought we were going to have wonderful conditions. We even skipped our usual pre-bloom irrigation.
But, of course, this is farming. Just as the blossoms opened we had an extraordinary heat spell. Temperatures reached the high 90s (in May!) for more than two days. Then, as often happens when we have an early heat spell caused by a high pressure system to the Northeast, we had very high winds. The so-called "perfect storm" hit us hard: high heat, low humidity, and very strong sustained winds (30-50 mph). The blossoms were gone - except in a few protected locations.
No blossoms; no fruit. There is almost no fruit in the entire region.
We'll see how the harvest volumes go for the rest of the week. However, yesterday afternoon Jason Moulton (our olive oil maker) and I were very pleased with the first oil off the press: fresh, clean, and very agreeably pungent!
So, maybe the good news will be in this vintage's quality. Let's hope so.
More at the end of the week.
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
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
The beauty - and the madness - of our integrated farming operation is that we move seamlessly from one activity to another. Although we have just completed our grape (and potato) harvest, we held the fall roundup of our Shorthorn cattle herd on Thursday.
We pressed our last red wine on Wednesday afternoon, which means we have completed the initial fermentation of all of our wines. The 2009 red wines are already in the barrel in our cave and the grape crusher and press have been cleaned, sanitized, and stored not to be used again until next year.
But, on Thursday we were already off to our 500-acre property at Tomales Farm & Dairy to conduct our fall roundup of the Shorthorn cattle herd. We brought in our entire herd of heritage breed Shorthorn mother cows (about 75) and their calves. This is an important event as we examine every animal for its health status, take important steps to protect each animal against disease or nutrition problems, and remove the weakest animals from the herd.
We vaccinated every cow and calf and applied wormer to eliminate parasites, flies, and mites. We also placed two boluses (one selenium and one copper) in the first stomach of every animal to ensure proper mineral balance - because grasslands in Northern California are notoriously deficient of these critical micro-nutrients.
Since early July the cows have been exposed to our three outstanding Shorthorn bulls. At the fall roundup we remove the bulls from the herd and check every cow for pregnancy. Our vet, Dr. Nathan Keefer, palpates every animal ("the long reach of the arm") and gives us an estimate as to how far along the cow is in her preganancy. We record this information and use it for monitoring the cows in the spring. Our target calving date is April 15th (gestation is 284 days or 9 months and 10 days) and we want to know which cows might be early or late.
If a cow is not pregnant, we evaluate her age, body condition, and bloodline to determine whether she should remain in our herd.
At this roundup we decided to cull (or remove) 9 cows from our herd. This reduction is offset by 11 new cows ("first calf heifers") that we added to the herd in July.
We also weaned the calves, which means we separated the calves from their mothers. Our target is to wean the calves at about 200 days of age. At this stage they are very strong and independent and we want their mothers to focus their energy on the next calf - since they are already pregnant and at the end of their first trimester.
After a long day of handling almost 140 animals, we returned to Long Meadow Ranch with the bulls (where they are maintained for the winter). We were pleased with health status of the herd and also with the progress we are making in creating a first-class grass-fed beef program.
Next on our agenda, during the first week in November, we will be holding our fall roundup of Highland cattle at our leases at Ferndale in Humboldt County.
And then, of course, there is the olive harvest . . . in the meantime there is the planting of cover crops at LMR Rutherford Gardens, completing the winterizing ("erosion control") of all of our vineyards, and . . .
Posted by Ted Hall
The 2009 Harvest is "in the barn" at Long Meadow Ranch.
And, just in time for the seaon's first major rainstorm. As I write this note, we are expecting to receive 3 to 5 inches of rain on the ranch. We are very much looking forward to the rain to help refresh our vines and replenish the water table. (Our pastures could really use the rain, too.)
We have enjoyed a remarkable harvest at Long Meadow Ranch in terms of appropriate yields and grape quality. The 2009 Vintage should be very good - as best Ashley, Frank, and I can tell at this early stage. We had a long cool growing season with no notable problems from frost, rain, mildew, excessive heat or wind.
LMR passed a new milestone this season as we were involved in the harvest of about 350 tons of grapes!
With our new San Mateo Vineyard (located adjacent to LMR Rutherford Gardens in Rutherford) providing about 2/3 of our harvest total, we were a seller of Sauvignon Blanc grapes for the first time to several ultra premium wineries in addition to providing grapes for our own production.
With about 85 tons of red grapes "in the barn" we are looking forward to the next two weeks of fermentation. The first block to be harvested was our Merlot (about three weeks ago) and the last blocks picked were the middle and lower blocks of the historic Church vineyard, which we picked yesterday. Because of the somewhat compressed time period for the red harvest, every tank in the winery is full. And, the work pace will be very busy for the next few weeks as we "punch down" the caps and rack each tank before transferring the new wines to barrels in the cave.
In most of our vineyards we have already spread compost and reseeded our cover crops, so the rain will help us get an early start to refreshing our soils for the next season.
Soon we will be turning our attention to the olive harvest. There is an interesting story to be told about this year's olive harvest. More later.
Posted by Ted Hall
The Root of It All, our Mom, died last Saturday. Yesterday I spoke at her services. Here is what I had to say:
Today is the day to celebrate the root of it all: Mom.
As you have heard from others, she was a force of nature. She always told me that I could do anything; that I could be President of the United States – most of the time I believed her.
She shaped the everyday life of my immediate family, too. As many of you know, we (Laddie, Chris, and I) live and work on our ranch, Long Meadow Ranch, in the Napa Valley.
Anybody who has been on a tour of the ranch has heard me start the narrative with: "My mother was an organic gardening pioneer in the 1940s."
On Mother’s Day I spent the day with the source, Mom. Although our small family farm in Potter Township is long gone (we left in 1961), Mom was still going strong (at least in terms of her ability to tell me what to do about farming and everything else).
On Mother’s Day we reminisced about her early start with "organic" gardening. Her father and mother (my grandparents), Frank and Rose DeHass, operated a small grocery store in Beaver. It was a neighborhood store with a confectionary and sandwich shop. Mom isn't sure about its proper name because everyone called it "the little store." But, we think it was officially known as DeHass Grocery.
The family provided fresh produce for the store from its own gardens just a few blocks away. As children, my mother and her two brothers and sister worked in that garden. There was always a compost pile and my grandfather mixed a variety of potions, including soapy water and tobacco juice (my favorite), for pest control.
Sadly, my grandfather lost the store to bankruptcy in 1936 when he could no longer pay his own bills after providing credit to so many of his customers. Mom still cried when she talked about it. I think this may have been at the root of her enduring generosity. But, even with the store gone, the traditions and skills of growing for the market were already in place.
When my mother and father were married, they soon acquired a small rural property and, as they say, the rest is history. The bible, according to Mom, was "Five Acres and Independence," a book first published in 1935 which became popular with young couples following World War II. And, independent she was. One of my most prized possessions is my mother and father's copy of the book, which Mom presented to me a few years ago.
Mom reminded me that afternoon that I turned a compost pile for the first time when I was five years old.
Thank you, Mom.
Posted by Ted Hall