Farming is a complex endeavor. So much more than cultivating the soil and growing crops, we know it as a weaving of scientific, ecological, social and spiritual dimensions. From the time 43 years ago when we adopted this beautiful land in Dry Creek Valley we have become part of that tapestry, both making it our own and indeed becoming one of its crops.
When you look at this farm you will see both chaos and order. There are the vineyards and fruit trees side by side. Native and exotic hedgerows guarding vegetable-growing areas and pastured livestock, small fields of grain hiding birds, squirrels and coyotes, and rushing creeks protecting spawning salmon. Wines inspired by our Italian antecedents and the more recently adopted Rhone-style blends lend breadth to our practice of farming. Having a variety of crops reduces our land’s exposure to disease and pests common to monoculture farming, and it insures the balance of nature that makes organic techniques work.
The job we take most seriously is soil building, with the regular planting of cover crops and the addition of Biodynamic composts to stimulate life under the soil surface. We honor the coexistence of both cultivated and wild areas through the restoration of native habitat along our creeks and by keeping pockets of our acreage rugged and untamed. We utilize the integrative contribution of livestock when it can replace human interference. Philosophically and practically our approach is that less is more: less disturbance, less cultivation, fewer “inputs” or imported materials, and less intrusive procedures.
We began our Dry Creek farming enterprise with an emphasis on vineyards. This singular focus changed over time to include food crops that complemented the wines we made and conversed with the soils and climate of the local region. There were examples galore on our property when we arrived: the apple trees along the road next to the barn, walnut trees throwing shade on the hot south-facing side of the house, olive trees overgrown behind the chicken coop. Today our farm sports 25 varieties of heirloom apples for eating and cider, peach trees, pears, figs, plums, pomegranates, quince and more. Newer varieties of walnut join the 100 year old heritage trees, 3 acres of annual row crops dance in rotation with 15 acres of pasture, and 1500 olive trees feed the on-site olive mill. Visitors perambulating our grounds will discover the known, the exotic, the tasty and the fragrant. And there is always a happy abundance of food to be enjoyed and purchased in our farm store.
Susan introduced Lou to the family food traditions of her Italian ancestors which included her Nonna baking in a brick forno. Unsurprisingly, Lou took on the art of bread baking in the 1990s the way he tackled winemaking in the 70s. Beginning with yeasted loaves, he soon moved on to the fermentation challenge of sourdough, fueled by inspiration from contemporary artisans and authors. A simple adobe oven in the winery gardens led eventually to a meeting with the legendary Alan Scott, who built an authentic old-world wood-fired brick oven on the premises.
We first became known for our “Country White,” a holey sourdough loaf that blends whole grains from the farm with organic white flour from an equally obsessed provisioner, Keith Giusto’s Flours. In more recent years we have begun growing grain ourselves, so that our breads will also express the terroir of the farm. Each year we test different heirloom wheats, ryes and barleys. Our bread is available daily in the Tasting Room for visitors to sample and purchase.
An impromptu visit in the late 1980s to a wine and oil exhibition in Modena, Italy, jumpstarted an olive oil project that has since become an important feature of the farm. In his suitcase Lou brought back a handful of nursery trees that started it all: Leccino, Pendolino, Casaliva and Grignano. Today our scattered orchards include 1500 trees and 10 different varieties, all farmed organically and biodynamically. We produce an Extra Virgin Olive Oil; gastronomic pundits liken it to a spicy, fruity Tuscan olive oil. We celebrate it as a natural complement to the other foods we grow here on the farm, and as the perfect dipper for our freshly baked breads. It is for sale in our Tasting Room and occasionally finds its way onto local restaurant menus.
Following the example of the Cavallo family whose home we gained as our own in the early 70s, we raised backyard hens when our girls were young. But it wasn’t until we began the commitment to organic management in the early 2000s that we made the shift to species diversity. With the presence of sheep, chickens and occasionally pigs, our land has taken on the glow of life that these creatures bring to it. Our livestock nurture our soil, provide us with sustenance and help us to further understand the vital importance of a holistically unified farm. And of course it gives us an additional crop! You will find pastured eggs in our farm store along with ground lamb and sausage when available, and when you visit Healdsburg you will no doubt find our lamb on local menus.
Growing food is a collaborative project. Carlo Petrini, founder of Slow Food, referred to the patrons of a farm as “co-producers,” alluding to the mutual support, sharing and conviviality of thoughtful farming. We are also influenced by Rudolf Steiner, the founder of the Biodynamic movement, who believed the mutual interdependence of a farm with its surrounding community is essential to the success and security of both.
Our community is multi-faceted. It includes fellow farmers with whom we exchange challenges and techniques, successes and failures. Locals who share a common township bond. Food enthusiasts who never miss the local farmer’s market, who come to trade stories as much as to buy strawberries. City folk longing for a time-tested connection with the land. And of course the local chefs, artistic wizards of taste who conjure up dreams from our fruits and vegetables. We reach out to all of these as collaborators, supporters and partners.
Our produce can be found at local restaurants, the Healdsburg Farmer’s Market and the Cloverdale Farmer’s Market. Our Farmstore is open daily from 11 to 4:30 and also features our produce along with our pasture-laid eggs and pasture-raised ground lamb.