I just spent the day with Ted Hall who I think is among the top ten game-changers who are advancing the culture of wine and food in America. Hall, a Stanford MBA and longtime McKinsey executive, owns Long Meadow Ranch, a project he started with his family 25 years ago. Project is the only word I can think of but culio-vinosphere is probably better.
I caught up with Hall in his offices above the LMR winery/olive oil facility. Behind him on the bookshelf were two hefty volumes. Alas, not Robert Parker’s The World’s Greatest Wine Estates, but rather: Practical Stock Doctor (not a Wall St. term) and Keeping Livestock Healthy. The books speak volumes for Hall is at the epicenter of a new way of thinking about food, wine, and our connection to the earth. This idea is sometimes called Farm to Table, but it’s rarely executed with complete integrity. (No chef, you can’t put tomatoes on your hamburgers in January if you’re really a Farm to Table advocate). Hall not only walks the talk, but he’s created a completely integrated loop. His friend Peter McCrae, owner of Stony Hill Winery, calls the Long Meadow Ranch universe an “Organic Conglomerate.” It includes several hundred head of cattle (and lambs) who feed on grasses that grow on Hall’s lands that aren’t perfect for wine grapes or olive orchards. The vineyards are 100% organic and have been since the late 1980s, and the vines are part of an integrated system with thousands of olive trees. Both crops share the same tractors and production facilities (made of rammed earth), and both benefit from the ranch’s extensive composting system. Nitrogen-fixing cover crops are extensive and vegetable gardens are everywhere. And what to do with all this bounty? In 2010 Hall opened Farmstead restaurant—a restaurant that is now so packed that virtually every bit of the ranches’ grass fed beef and organic vegetables go to support it.
Sitting in Farmstead today, I watched as many people (including me) enjoyed the sensational steak tartare—raw, knife-chopped beef with capers, mustard, and a raw egg. This is a dish I used to eat in the French countryside 30 years ago but would not think of eating anywhere in the U.S. today because our food now travels too far through too many chemical and bacterial worlds before it gets to us.
But I had just seen the bulls wandering near the vines at Long Meadow Ranch, and just watched the chickens in their large coops near the vegetable garden. It was like Europe a century ago, when food and wine were fulfilling and satisfying… when there was no fear that what gave you life could also make you sick. And so, at Farmstead, steak tartare has come back to us and in that coming back is a whole new future.