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Which Comes First – the Winery or the Farm?

on 13/03/12 at 11:22 am


How many of us haven’t, at some point, fantasized about leaving it all to go run a winery? This dream always seems to entail lunch shared with friends and family, a light dish accompanied by a bottle of one’s own red wine, eaten al fresco and overlooking breathtaking views of one’s own vineyards. A labor of love? Yes.  An idyllic life? Maybe.

There seems to be an innate tendency to idealize farm life. This author’s own father moved his family from urban Chicago to a working Wisconsin dairy in pursuit of the pastoral. In spite of coming to learn how misplaced this dream was for her family, thirty years later the author conveniently found herself in ignorance of the fact that wineries are farms, too.  And while they must live in the day-to-day reality of working a farm, many of these winery owners are finding clever ways to seek the idyllic life.

Julie Johnson, winemaker and owner of Tres Sabores in Napa Valley, recently shared how she has integrated the vineyards into their larger farm business. “All I’m really looking for is an authentic Napa Valley reality that resonates for my family and our guests and works for us in an earth-wise and financially viable way,” she comments. She established the winery in 1999, she adds, “as a natural offshoot of wanting to explore the dynamics of the land. Establishing a winery helped to keep the energy on site, especially since we live here as well.” It also helped pay homage to history; as the story goes, her lands were used to grow petite sirah as far back as pre-prohibition times.

Johnson’s is just one in a growing number of vineyards across the country who call themselves farms and who are producing more than wine as part of a more integrated approach to farming. Chris Hall, General Manager of Napa’s Long Meadow Ranch, relates: “Our integrated organic farming system includes world class estate-produced olive oil, a substantial herd of grass-fed Highland cattle, an organic vegetable garden, and an egg-producing poultry flock. We even breed and work our own Appaloosa and POA (Pony of America) horses and keep two teams of Haflinger draft horses.” The aim, according to Hall, is to create a modern, commercially successful version of the family farm, while at the same time being acknowledged as a purveyor of fine food.


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