BY LINDA MURPHY
The business world knows Ted Hall as a Stanford MBA, senior partner at the global consulting firm McKinsey & Co., and former chairman of Robert Mondavi Corporation, which was sold to Constellation Brands in 2004.
The music world knows Hall as founder of Monarch Records, a jazz-centric production and distribution company that is part of Tambourine, Inc. Ted is also a professional trombonist in jazz and big bands. He’s won a yacht race or two in his time, as well.
Yet today, Hall would rather be recognized as a vintner, farmer and rancher, one committed to organic and sustainable practices. Whether it’s making elegant, food-friendly Cabernet Sauvignons and Sauvignon Blancs at his Long Meadow Ranch winery in Napa Valley, breeding Highlands cattle and horses on the same property, producing worldclass olive oil, or growing and selling produce at his family’s Rutherford Gardens farmstand, Hall recalls that his youth in rural Beaver County, Pennsylvania, where his grandparents and mother taught him how to grow and enjoy fresh produce in his own back yard, drives this passion.
Hall picked up his farm-to-table sensibilities from his grandparents who ran a small grocery store in Beaver County that sold the produce they grew in their garden. His mother was an early organics adopter, using composts and no chemicals to grow fruits and vegetables. His family raised sheep for meat, chickens for eggs, and canned the produce they grew. Ted’s family moved La Porte, Texas, on Galveston Bay, when he was in high school. It was there that he met his wife, Laddie.
Ted went off to Princeton (“playing trombone in bands paid my tuition,” he says), Laddie to the University of Massachusetts. They continued to see each other, eventually marrying, and while living in graduate student housing at Stanford, they convinced the university to establish a community garden.
By the early 1970s, Ted was making wine as well as music, growing fruits and vegetables, and building a business career that would eventually give him the means to buy Long Meadow Ranch.
Today, Ted Hall has a pretty big back yard — Long Meadow Ranch and its extensions — and it allows him to do something he could not do as a high-powered business executive: educate consumers on the value of growing, buying and consuming organically and sustainably produced foods.
“My message is that sustainable and organic practices are not a belief system, nor are they evangelical,” he says. “Organic farming is politically neutral; it’s simply a way of producing healthy food of higher quality and at a lower cost. Our efforts at Long Meadow Ranch are directed toward producing healthy foods, and educating people about them.”
Hall, 60, (he turns 61 on September 22) does this via an extraordinarily diversified, integrated organic farming system in which each part of the ranch contributes to the health of the whole. Compost is turned into fertilizer. Permanent cover crops, mostly legumes, clovers and grasses, control erosion and harbor beneficial insects. As California Certified Organic Farmers, Ted and Laddie, together with their son, Chris, 29, use no pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers on their properties.
Their Long Meadow Ranch, high atop the Mayacamas Mountains overlooking Rutherford, is home to the winery, vineyards, olive trees, olive oil press, Laddie’s egg-laying chickens and pastureland for grazing grass-fed Highlands cattle. Down on the valley floor, the family farms Rutherford Gardens, where they grow nearly every type of produce on the planet—tomatoes, melons, beans, peppers, garlic, herbs, pumpkins, squashes, tree fruits, potatoes, berries and figs grown on an enormous, century-old tree —which they sell at their farmstand on Highway 29 in Rutherford, and at the seasonal Friday St. Helena farmers’ market.
In their most ambitious move yet, the Halls will open Long Meadow Ranch Winery & Farmstead in downtown St. Helena this fall. They are in the process of restoring the 125-year-old Logan/Ives gothic farmhouse, on the corner of Main Street and Charter Oak as a wine and olive oil tasting center (scheduled to open October 15). Behind the center, in a barn previously used by Whiting Nursery, they’ll open the Farmstead restaurant in November, with former Rutherford Grill chef Sheamus Feely behind the stoves.
The farmhouse, a historical building, will be re-built using 92 percent reclaimed materials and solar energy will power the tasting room and restaurant. Feely will create fresh, seasonal dishes using Long Meadow Ranch’s own beef, eggs, olive oil, fruits and vegetables—truly a farm-to-table operation.
“What we can’t grow, we’ll develop from other organic and sustainable sources,” says Chris, who became famous in St. Helena when he began selling LMR tomatoes at the farmers’ market when he was 11 years old. “We’ll have a full-time forager. The restaurant is a natural extension of what we do, and the menu will be family-friendly.”
The three-acre St. Helena property will be landscaped with edible gardens, including a demonstration vineyard and openair market selling Long Meadow Ranch products. Their partner, Kevin Twohey, owner of Whiting Nursery, will operate a business selling organic feed and preparations, and seeds and plants that customers can take home and plant in their own gardens.
“The Farmstead will introduce people to fresh, healthy food and our wines,” Hall says. “They can see the product being grown in the garden at the restaurant and have an educational experience. They can buy seeds and plant their own produce. It’s a rich opportunity to learn where food comes from and how good it can taste. “It’s important for us to have an authoritative way to build relationships with the public. Rutherford Gardens is not in a location where a lot of people stop and where we can tell our part of the story; the beauty of the Farmstead location is it gives us a platform to build a broad-based consumer following.”
Hall says that the success of LMR wines, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc currently made by Ashley Heisey, has allowed them to expand their farming realm to the gardens, Farmstead site, and additional open space and pastureland for their 500 head of cattle in Humboldt County and Tomales in west Marin County. “At the end of the day, we can’t be successful unless we’re successful with the wines,” Ted says. “We treat wine as a food, growing and making it organically and responsibly. The wine must always come first.”
LMR wines are a typical of so many made in Napa Valley today. They are lean, elegant and have low alcohol levels—12.5 percent for the Sauvignon Blanc, 13.1 percent for the Cabernet Sauvignon. When the Farmstead restaurant opens, it will have a wine list that carries not only LMR wines, but others produced sustainably and/or organically from around the world.
To work the vineyard, gardens and pastureland, three years ago Ted Hall purchased two Haflinger draft horses, Bill and Bob (yes, they know their names). He uses the horses because they can reach areas of the ranch where there are no roads, and they leave a smaller carbon footprint than machinery.
Ted recently caused some excitement by driving Bill and Bob to a Napa Valley organics/sustainability conference. “Some folks thought I was trying to steal the show,” he says, “but I just wanted to demonstrate that horses can replace tractors.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, Ted Hall’s next excellent adventure is to become a dairyman and make artisanal cheese near Tomales. He and his business partner, fellow organics devotee John Williams, proprietor of Frog’s Leap Winery in Rutherford, acquired the 505-acre Cerini Ranch in 2005 as the site for their Tomales Farm & Dairy. Hall’s shaggy Highlands cattle will munch on the seasonal grasses there, and, after they build a creamery, Williams will put his fermentation science degree to a second use by making cheese.
It’s one more stanza in Ted Hall’s score, and one has to think he’s not yet done with his composition.
Linda Murphy is a Healdsburg-based wine, food and travel writer and a 20-year resident of Sonoma County. She is the West Coast editor for jancisrobinson.com, West Coast correspondent for Decanter magazine and a regular columnist for WineReviewOnline.com and California Homes magazine. Her writing has also appeared in Food & Wine magazine, The Wine News, Sommelier Journal, epicurious.com and The San Francisco Chronicle, where she was the wine section editor from 2003 through 2006 and won two James Beard Awards.