The Perfect Day

After five years of drought, rain finally blessed the Santa Ynez Valley.  Long dormant fields burst overnight with green grasses.  Wild flowers soon followed.  And the land was happy.  Dovecote Ranch, our little piece of heaven, beckoned us to come out and play.

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Play we did.  An oak shaded picnic, a dog taking a swim in the pond, a little BB gun target practice, a little fishing, and a lot of getting dirty.  While the kids fished, I cruised around the ranch to snap a few photos.  All of the scenic photos here were taken from the view atop my ATV.

I still can’t believe we live here.

 

The Fiesta

We’ve been settling into our new life in the country.  As you can expect, things move a little slower here, and I find myself moving slower too.  This may explain my posting hiatus (although laziness might be the more accurate explanation).

We’re well into another season on the vineyard.  Pruning is in progress and warm weather has already woken the vines from their winter slumber (bud break came early!).

The Santa Ynez Valley is beautifully verdant thanks to a few well needed rain storms.  And as we welcomed our crew back from their winter break in Mexico I was reminded how much we enjoy having them on the ranch.  So I thought I’d post a few pictures from the fiesta we threw to celebrate the end of harvest last November.

A fiesta really is the best word for it .  We hired a full Mariachi band and grilled carne asada and sipped wine and Coors Light (our crew’s favorite) next to the pond.

Our family and friends celebrated the end of a wonderful season in harmony with the extended family of the crew that has been caring for the land here for two generations (and moving onto a third).

With one full successful season under our belts, we hope to make the harvest fiesta an annual tradition.

The Pond

One of our favorite places to be on the ranch is next to our pond.  On its bank sits a majestic 150 year old oak that provides the perfect cover to picnic, fish, or partake in an afternoon nap.

Recently the pond served as host for Jaffurs Wine Cellars.  An annual event open to wine club members, they come to enjoy stone fired pizzas, all the Jaffurs wine they can drink (including the beautiful Thompson Vineyard Syrah and Grenache Blanc), tours of the vineyard given by the winemaker, and of course, the beautiful scenery.

Patron's FishFor El Patron, the pond became one of the ranch’s biggest selling points. (The world class vineyard was just a bonus!)  A fisherman at heart, I knew he was sold on the ranch the first time he caught a huge bass within a few minutes of dropping his line in the pond.

And because those big bass eat all the little guys, this week we stocked the pond to keep the aquaculture healthy and thriving.  Into our pond went exactly 81 largemouth bass, 400-500 bluegill, and about 7000-9000 mosquito fish.  Go little guys!

The pond is also good for a few other things too: playing with boats, riding on paddle boats, picnics, and of course, photo bombing.

The Name

It’s official: our ranch has a new name! Now that the trademarks are in place (always the attorney…), I can share it with you!

Head on over to our new website:

http://thompsonvineyard.com/

My husband deserves all the credit for singlehandedly designing and coding our new site.  Isn’t it amazing?!?

While the name of the vineyard will remain “Thompson” because of the incredible reputation it has for producing world class Rhone varietals, the ranch on which the vineyard sits will now and forever be known as………… Ok, so I’m not going to tell you.  You have to read about it on the blog. Click HERE!

FYI: you can also find an article I wrote on my philosophy about wine HERE.  Enjoy.

Ranch 1

The Wild Game

We had our first true “you’re in the country now” experience.  The other day Roberto, our ranch hand, generously offered us a cooler full of meat.  Wild boar meat, to be specific.  The boar in question was shot the night before.  By the time the cooler reached us the hog had been gutted, skinned, and fabricated into manageable but gigantic pieces.  And while I wasn’t exactly prepared to cook an entire wild boar, I graciously accepted the gift.

For a couple of weeks now on the ranch we had noticed the result of these destructive animals coming through.  Their presence can be both dangerous and a major threat to farmland and our vineyard so when they pass through the ranch hands sometimes hunt them at night.  It’s part of life out here.  But at least they don’t go to waste.

So what’s a girl with about 60 pounds of boar meat to do?  Cook carnitas, and ribs. Lots of it.   (Had I been prepared I would have made sausage too but alas, I didn’t have the proper supplies.)  Until now, I had cooked boar just once previously.  This was quite a different experience.  I cooked the ribs and carnitas simultaneously and my entire house smelled RIPE!  Picture yourself standing in the middle of a butcher shop that is itself in the middle of a hog factory.  Funky.  Though the smell was off-putting, dinner itself turned out pretty good.  We had boar carnitas with all the fixins’: queso fresco, salsa verde, chilis, pickled radishes (picked fresh from our garden), cilantro, red cabbage, and Cacique crema.  We invited friends over for taco night because we had enough meat to feed at least 50. We celebrated our score by having dinner al fresco overlooking our baby vineyard.

The ribs, on the other hand, I couldn’t manage.  A bit too off-putting.  I dry rubbed and roasted them low and slow the way I usually do with spare ribs, then added my homemade barbecue sauce. But all that work couldn’t mask their funky boariness.  I think we’ll try goat meat next.

The Ranch Pets

Along with the wild animals: boars, birds of prey, lizards, raccoons, skunks, and the occasional mountain lion, our ranch had two very cool working ranch cats– Suzy and Chucky.  The prior owners also had the happiest dog I’ve ever seen: a yellow lab named Lily that liked to jump in the pond to chase, but never catch, the ducks.  While Lily moved to her new home with her owners, Suzy and Chucky stayed on our ranch to continue their work culling birds, ground squirrels, and vermin, and displaying their kills to prove they were earning their keep.  They were both estimated to be over 20 years old but still fierce hunters.

Unfortunately, Suzy recently succumbed to cancer from her long days in the sun, and karma finally caught up with Chucky.  After years of slaying birds, our best guess is that an owl found Chucky prowling in the night and took his revenge.  We buried them in the quiet shade of an oak tree, explaining to the kids as best we can about the “circle of life” and the harsher realities of life on a ranch.  Yet without our two hunters, the vermin were having a field day (literally) and we needed to keep the population in check.

So when one of our vineyard employees mentioned he had a litter of seven kittens he found who knows where, we decided to take them all off his hands.  We invited our ranch manager’s children over so that his two children and our two could each choose their own special kitty.  As the kids were getting to know their kitties, the mobile vet got to work de-flea-ing, de-worming, and administering their shots.  We have Diamond, Rascal, Grave Digger (my son’s choice), and Chloe, among others.  The kittens have been getting used to their nighttime quarters in the barn, slowly exploring their surroundings until they feel confident enough to hunt.  Hopefully the kittens will grow to be as sweet but fierce as their predecessors.

On the canine front, we recently adopted a rescue pup.  At 14 weeks, Auggie is a little love muffin, showing strong signs of being a wonderful ranch dog.  His mommy we know is a cattle dog, and judging by the looks of his tail and his litter mates, we suspect his daddy was a German Shepherd.  Auggie has become my little buddy, following me everywhere.  It’s been about 20 years since I’ve owned a dog and I’d forgotten how sweet (but all-consuming) they are.  He plays well with the kids (though showing some signs of trying to “herd” my rambunctious daughter), and spends most of his day following me around and trying unsuccessfully to sleep at my feet when he thinks I’ll be stationary, though I never am.

Our new puppy Auggie

For now our expanded ranch family feels complete, until of course Auggie needs a playmate!

The Inspiration

The plan for our Los Angeles exodus began to take shape about four years ago. El Patron (the husband) started down the grueling path of selling the Company he founded sixteen years ago, a process that would occupy more time and mental acuity than either of us expected. I was pregnant with our first child and planning to take a breather from my Downtown law firm. We both had always loved the Central Coast and would pop up for weekend minibreaks to taste wine and indulge in the lifestyle, if only for a moment. This, of course, predated kids, who put a full stop to our DINK-infused bliss.

On the car ride home from these weekend jaunts, we’d inevitably wax eloquent about what our post-Company semi-retired lives would look like and the type of environment we wanted our children to grow up in (you can be an idealist before kids enter the picture). Since he was a boy, El Patron dreamed of owning an expansive ranch, preferably fronting a river on which he’d catch six-pound trout with nothing but a fly rod and a smile. And though my younger self never envisioned a similar future, the more these discussions took place the more his dream manifested into my own.

Over time our weekend wine tasting trips naturally developed another purpose: ranch hunting. In four years time we looked at close to five dozen ranch properties, from gigantic 2000+ acre beasts to “tiny” 20 acre lots in gated ranch communities. But our ranch was actually one of the first that we visited. From the moment we drove through the entrance and stepped onto the land we were smitten. Wandering through the vines, sitting under a massive oak tree overlooking the pond, and watching horses calmly graze in the pasture, we were transported through time for a brief moment with a glimpse of what it would feel like to raise a family there. And for the first time in my life, I felt a connection to the land itself. I can only describe it as if the land’s spirit (Qi) touched my own.

Unfortunately, we were so early in our exploration process we weren’t yet ready to make the big move. This ranch became the one that we compared all others to, none of which held that same connection for us. Subsequent visits only increased our desire to make this place our home and it took all that time for the pieces of the puzzle to finally fit into place. Quite unbelievably, our ranch patiently waited for us. Four years and two children later, the existing owners graciously accepted our offer. Later we learned that they too were waiting to pass this land onto us as its new stewards. Though they had shown the ranch to dozens of interested parties over the years, they remembered our first visit and our reaction to the place they had lived for over thirty years, and hoped that we would be the family that would breathe new life into their dearly loved ranch.

Card InspirationThis year on my 37th birthday, my husband surprised me with a weekend getaway. My present was a gift he picked up from a store called “Back at the Ranch” in the Santa Ynez Valley.  It was a gorgeous buttery soft distressed leather jacket with leather stitching and studs – the type of jacket you want to wear when you’re riding your horse in the chilly evening air.  This was the accompanying card.  We entered escrow on our ranch that week and have never looked back.

The Plunge

It’s a done deal.

We might just be crazy, but we’ve gone and bought 150 acres of heaven in the Santa Ynez Valley.  The Husband (who will henceforth be referred to as “El Patron,” because that is what the farmers who live on our ranch lovingly call the owner) and I recently decided that we’re over city life.  Los Angeles – Pasadena – to be more specific, has been great to us but it’s time we move on to greener pastures, literally. (HA!)  Now that our family is complete (the lad, age 3 1/2, and the lassie, age 2),  we’re ready to take the plunge.  This city girl is going….going…….you get the idea.

Ranch 1

Our soon-to-be-named ranch offers 150 acres of rolling hills, 40+ acres of grape vines growing some of the most amazing Syrah the Central Coast has to offer, 30 acres of crop land, and no neighbors as far as the eye can see.

Ranch 2

What will this land offer? No clue. But I have visions of learning viticulture and winemaking (maybe I’ll be the next Merry Edwards), milking a goat or two, riding some horses, and driving around our ranch on an ATV (mission accomplished on the ATV).  I want my kids to know what fresh air smells like, what a country breeze feels like, what hard work looks like, and what it means to live off the land.  Will reality live up to my vision? Probably not, but I’m determined to see this through.  And it’s likely to be an interesting ride.

Wanna join me?
ATV