A dinner with the winemaking, leek-growing, cattle-raising visionaries behind Long Meadow Ranch.
Last year, for the Napa Valley wine auction, the Bugatti automotive company shipped over a Veyron. At a cost of $1.7 million, it represented a kind of over-the-top luxury not unheard of in Napa Valley. That car was on my mind when I stopped by a Napa Valley farm stand and purchased a gorgeous organic tomato for about $2. A luxury item, too, but a lot less ostentatious.
The Hall family, who grew my tomato along with 16 other heirloom varieties at their Long Meadow Ranch, sees Napa Valley not as a place to show off fancy cars but as a farming community with deep roots in tradition. The Halls also grow grapes for wine; farm organic artichokes, cardoons and watermelons; raise chickens for eggs; and produce grass-fed beef from 350 heads of cattle. They even breed horses, which are about the only things Long Meadow produces that people aren't allowed to eat. And in January, they opened Long Meadow Ranch Winery & Farmstead. If one thinks of Long Meadow as a kind of iceberg, then this complex is the 10 percent poking above the waterthe water in this case being Highway 29, just as it rolls into St. Helena.
Centered around the 19th-century Gothic Revival house that contains the wine-tasting room, the property is home to a terrific restaurant called Farmstead, a seasonal farm stand and a nursery. As owner Ted Hall says, you can try the wine in the tasting room and pair it with heirloom tomatoes from the garden. Then you can go to the restaurant and have a salad made with those tomatoes, or walk over to the nursery and buy seeds to grow the tomatoes yourself.
Everything Long Meadow produces is either sustainable or organic. "My mother was an organic-farming pioneer in the 1940s," Hall says. "It's been a motivating part of what we've done here at Long Meadow since the beginning. But this isn't philanthropy for foodies. I farm organically because it results in higher quality and lower cost."
Long Meadow's wines, like the 2005 Napa Valley Cabernet ($42), are made to complement food. "We're not producing gladiator wines for spit-bucket contests," Hall says wrylya good thing, since overwhelming chef Sheamus Feeley's cooking at Farmstead would be a shame. Feeley uses everything Long Meadow has to offer in dishes like potato salad with chive blossoms and roasted zucchini with pequin-chile flakes.
The food at Farmstead tastes great, but that's true of a lot of top restaurants. What's different here is that each ingredient on the fork comes from the same place. Or almost every ingredient. Feeley admits: The creamy Bellwether Farms ricotta he serves with the zucchini is shipped in, from a far-off land called Sonoma.