We are stewards of a family farm and vineyard just north of Santa Rosa, California, on the east side of the Russian River Valley. A century ago, it had vines as well as other crops. Some oak trees on the property have redwood stakes buried in their trunks, because crows sat on the grape stakes and dropped the acorn seed. After Prohibition, the farm went into egg and chicken production, dairy and prune orchards.
It was quite run-down when Ken’s grandparents, Henry and Elizabeth, bought the farm in 1956. For many years, Henry pastured sheep on the property and and also rented farm equipment to farmers all over Sonoma County. When the soil conservation co-op sold off its equipment he purchased all of the implements and rented seed drills and tillage equipment and land planes and manure spreaders and the like. He spread the word that a diverse planting of different grasses, clovers and other plants made for a healthier and more productive pasture, one that was resistant to erosion. As farmers began to plant vineyards again he encouraged people to plant cover crops in their vineyards, and of course rented them the equipment. As trellis spacing became narrower he got narrow seeders that would still fit the new spacing.
When he was 80, Henry decided it was time to plant grapes again on the property. He had the idea for a long time and had considered it carefully. Sheep production was not profitable any more and he wanted to make sure that he left a sustainable farm to his children and grandchildren. He dug a large reservoir pond and laid out his vineyards, planting one block a year. He knew what he wanted because he had been in so many vineyards delivering and consulting on equipment and tillage. He planted only half of the property, leaving the rest for the farmstead, for sheep pasture and for natural areas and woodland.
Our family vineyard, planted by Henry with such deliberate care, is 15 acres of Pinot Noir planted on a hillside site with south and west exposure, in the heart of the Russian River Valley. The sloped site helps protect the vines from frost. The mostly “Arbuckle” soils, volcanic in origin with lots of stones interspersed in the clayey loam, support a balanced vine that has proper nutrients but not excessive vigor. The vines are Pommard 4 clone grown on 5C and 110R rootstock. We use careful drip irrigation once the soil dries out in late summer, from a well and our pond.