I’m not sure I’ve ever met a mushroom I didn’t like.
They rank up there as one of my favorite “vegetables”. I put quotes around vegetables because mushrooms are really part of the fungi world, though many put them in the vegetable category at least in a grocery store.
A variety of mushrooms can be found in the wild, but only eat them if you know what you are doing. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
All mushrooms are fungi, but not all fungi are mushrooms.
Mushrooms are so incredibly versatile. With so many varieties, they can be used in a multitude of ways. They are good by themselves, as an entrée, side dish, a small part of a bigger dish, in soups, as a pizza topping, you name it.
Not only are they tasty, but they are good for you. They are high in protein, have vitamins B and C, calcium, potassium and zinc.
They are such a wonderful specimen that Oct. 15 has been deemed National Mushroom Day. After all, there are more than 10,000 known types of mushrooms in the world.
According to GroCycle, the most popular mushrooms are: button, cremini, Portobello, oyster, and king oyster. This is probably because these are what most people see in their grocery store.
I don’t know when my infatuation with mushrooms began. Sometime as an adult, as a vegetarian. I’m guessing my mom has eaten more mushrooms in the last seven months than she might have had in the last decade. Hopefully, she grows to love them like I do.
I realize not all mushrooms are edible. In fact, some are deadly if consumed.
But there are some that are easy to pluck from the ground if you know where to look. While California still smolders from fires started this summer, this could be a good thing for those who like morel mushrooms. They are often found in areas that have recently burned. At least I found this to be true in Tahoe. I’m hoping to see next spring if any sprout up near areas that burned in the Dixie Fire.
Vegetarian burgers are co-mingled with animal burgers in a freezer section at Costco. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
No longer is it like a scavenger hunt to find vegetarian and vegan foods in a grocery store. While that is good news for the producers and consumers of these products, the traditional meat and dairy industries are less than thrilled with this reality.
Industry experts say the change is driven by two main factors. One is people wanting alternatives to animal products for health and environmental reasons. The other driving force is greater variety of non-meat choices, with flavors and textures often mimicking animal products.
“Our most recent data that covered the 2020 grocery year shows plant based food sales were up another 27 percent. That has been the way it has been year-over-year for the last six or seven years with tremendous double digit growth,” said Michael Robbins, who handles policy for the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA). “It’s outpacing all other sectors of the grocery store.”
PBFA reports that in 2020 plant-based yogurt grew 20%, almost seven times the rate of conventional yogurt; plant-based cheese grew 42%, almost twice the rate of conventional cheese; and plant-based eggs grew 168%, almost 10 times the rate of conventional eggs. The plant-based egg category grew more than 700% from 2018, 100 times the rate of conventional eggs.
Businesses are feeling the effects of this cultural shift. For the makers of vegan and vegetarian foods, they see a bright future. For area dairy farmers, they are facing the reality things are changing.
Amy’s has been a leader in the vegetarian/vegan world, and now has drive-through restaurants. The company plans to add 25-30 locations throughout the West Coast in the next five years. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Companies providing alternatives
Plant-based food manufacturers are constantly trying to grab a larger share of the market by creating new products and improving on what is currently on the market.
Petaluma headquartered Amy’s Kitchen is a leader in this industry, having been around since 1988.
“We never could have predicted that one-day vegetarian and vegan would become mainstream and on track to surpass animal protein alternatives someday,” Andy Berliner, Amy’s co-founder and CEO, said. “Consumers are more educated about food choices and the impact diet has on their health and the health of our planet. They’re seeing the data that a plant-based diet can improve personal and planet health. Now our biggest challenge is keeping up with the demand.”
He said demand for Amy’s products “surged 100% in 2020.” Berliner attributes this to people stockpiling during the pandemic and wanting to eat healthier. Revenues in 2020 were about $600 million.
“We expect a record year in 2022 because of investments we’ve made in more production facilities—new locations in San Jose and Goshen (in Tulare County)—and people,” Berliner said.
One thing the company isn’t trying to do is mimic or replicate the meat-eating experience.
“Amy’s is unique in that everything is made from whole, organic ingredients and cooked in real kitchens much the way you would at home with a lot of love,” Berliner said.
The company has 136 products on the market, and in a normal year launches six to 12 new items.
Wildbrine and WildCreamery in Santa Rosa are also always looking at new products to bring to market, just not as many as Amy’s. The 10-year-old company just released an oat butter and soon will have a quinoa based sour cream.
“We have made cultures for plant based items that are derived from the same byproducts by fermenting plants,” co-owner Chris Glab said.
Glad said in the United States in the 12 months ending Jan. 24, 2021, compared to the previous 12 months:
Plant-based cream cheese grew 2.3 times faster than traditional dairy cream cheese (45.1% vs 19.7%)
Plant-based sour cream grew 3.8 times faster than traditional dairy sour cream (53.8% vs 14.8%)
Plant-based butter grew 6.6 times faster than traditional dairy butter (133.3% vs 20.3%).
While Renegade Foods has only had plant-based products on the market since 2020, research and design was a decade-long process. The company is headquartered in Berkeley, with production taking place in Petaluma.
The company produces non-meat salami. It’s all plant-based, with no intention of using cell-created meat.
“Renegade is tailored to the flexitarian; the consumer who is looking to consume less meat,” Kalie Marder, the company’s co-owner, said. “We have the same mouth feel and flavors of the meat analogue.”
The pandemic forced owners to shift to online sales. Today retail is about 30% of the business, with growth in that area expected to increase.
Marder would not reveal what future products will be, but said to expect something from Renegade in 2022 that could be found in the deli section.
“I think it’s important to showcase plant-based options to an audience who may not be seeking them,” Marder said. “We are mission driven, to effect change. One way to normalize vegan food is to put it in the grocery store where you will find its animal counterpart. Consumers need to be presented with a meat-free option that still meets their expectations.”
The dairy industry lost a fight about what words could be used by the vegan/vegetarian food producers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The dairy struggle
As one food segment grows, it often means another is declining. That is what dairy farmers are worried about—losing market share.
The number of dairy farmers is on the decline. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, “Since 2003, the U.S. has lost more than half of its licensed dairy operations, now just shy of 32,000 dairy operations.”
Even so, the agency reports milk production in the U.S. in 2020 was 223 billion pounds, an increase of just more than 2% from 2019. Butter production increased in 2020 with so many people at home baking during the pandemic.
Some North Bay dairy farmers backed the lawsuit the California Department of Food and Agriculture filed against Miyoko’s Creamery of Petaluma. Miyoko’s won that fight in U.S. District Court in San Francisco in August, thus allowing it to use dairy-centric phrases in its advertising.
“Any time there is a shift in technology or industry, there will be a battle between the old way and the new. However, dairy farmers, too, are waking up to the truth behind some of their woes—consolidation. It wasn’t the plant-based industry or veganism that put over 30 farmers out of business in the Northeast, it was Danone consolidating,” Miyoko Schinner, owner of the creamery, said. “My hope is that we can convince farmers that participating in a compassionate future of food will allow them to stay connected to the land and even evolve the relationship they have with their cows.”
Scott Dicker, marketing analyst for the wellness-focused data company SPINS, believes consumers wanting more plant-based foods is having a ripple effect.
“It is causing the meat and dairy industries to be more cognizant so they are claiming more sustainability by saying they are certified humane and organic,” he said.
Consumer demand and feed prices all play a role in the business side of dairy farming. What steps individual farmers will take to remain viable remains to be seen.
For Schinner, she is ready for the next battle, believing those who raise and sell animal products for a living are on the attack.
“The battle at the legislative level will become heated as subsidies for animal agriculture start to become challenged by not only activists, but lobbyists for the alt-protein industry as well as some legislators themselves. We are headed for some interesting times when we unravel unfair practices that prop up certain industries while suffocating innovative new technologies,” Schinner said. “These battles will cover everything from nomenclature to subsidies to ag-gag laws that actually protect the incumbent industries and stifle free speech that aims to expose some of those harmful practices.”
Robbins with the Plant Based Foods Association said the push back is from ranchers, pig farmers and dairy ranchers.
“Rather than try to compete on a level playing field, they are constantly trying to undermine the plant-based food industry,” he said. He pointed to the First Amendment struggles like what Miyoko’s Creamery went through. (Miyoko Schinner is a founding board member of PBFA.) “It plays out in courts, in state legislatures, with Congress and the FDA. It is something we are very engaged in.”
Robbins said companies like Tyson, Nestle and Cargill “are our allies.” He added, “They see consumers moving toward plant based and they are looking to diversify their lineups.”
Non-dairy milk does not have to be refrigerated before it’s opened, thus freeing up display case space at retailers. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
The future of non-meat products
When vegetarian burgers first hit the market in the 1980s they tasted like cardboard. Today it’s possible to get a plant-based burger that closely resembles hamburger in taste and texture.
“It used to be one freezer door with veggie burgers. You did not really see them incorporated into the burger segment,” said Dicker with SPINS. “Today they are merchandised with the beef and turkey burgers. It’s not just vegans eating them now.”
SPINS’ research shows growth in plant-based snacks, cheeses and dressings.
“It doesn’t mean we think meat and dairy are going to go away. It means where plant-based has not had a share it is going to have a share,” Dicker said.
However, no longer are the options solely plant based. Lab meat or cultured meat is available for consumption—though only in Singapore. San Francisco-based Eat Just in 2020 received authorization for its “cultured meat” to be sold there. Singapore is the only country to approve the sale of this type of meat.
Lab meat is when cells are taken from an animal and then reproduced in a laboratory. A positive in this approach is that no animals were slaughtered.
“It is no more fake food than other processes which is what most people in the United States and increasingly around the world are used to,” Nina Gheihman, a
postdoctoral scholar with the Sustainable Food Initiative at UC Berkeley Haas, said. “When people say it is lab food, that is what most people eat. When people are eating cereal, that is lab food. Hamburger is not just meat; it contains antibiotics. Red meat is highly processed. Chickens in particular are genetically modified. If you buy a conventional chicken at a grocery store, that is not real food.”
Gheihman earned her doctorate last year from Harvard, with her dissertation focused on the vegan movement.
Andrew Gravelle, an assistant professor with the UC Davis Department of Food Science & Technology, is doing his own lab experiments. They pertain to fats and how they can be used in plant-based foods to create products that are similar to what happens when meat is cooked.
His focus is on alternative ways of restructuring fat. The role fat has in texture is another component of his research.
Coconut oil is a main ingredient in a lot of vegetarian/vegan foods. Gravelle is looking at how other oils—like avocado and palm—could be used.
“We are structuring oil to behave like a fat so it is solid,” Gravelle explained.
He believes the creation of oleogels with specific applications is the future of plant-based foods to have greater resemblance to their meat counterparts.
Those tracking sales of non-meat products say people who don’t identify as vegan or vegetarian are not eating more, it’s the “flexitarians” who are moving the needle. These are people who still eat meat, but are consuming less each week by eating plant-based foods. They are using soy or some other milk instead of cow milk.
“Veganism is transforming from something that was about the animal rights movement into what is becoming more of a lifestyle movement. Now it is more consumer driven,” Gheihman said.
Gheihman already sees a cultural change in the works, believing there will be a generational transformation in the next 30 years.
“We know it is environmentally unsustainable to do things how we are doing
them,” she said. “One day it may be strange to think we raised animals, had factory farms and slaughtered them when we are eating slaughter free animals. We are moving in that direction because it is inevitable.”
Demographics plays a significant role—at least age—when it comes to who is eating what.
Glab with Wildbrine and WildCreamery reports 38% of those in Gen Z prefer plant based foods, compared to 32% of millennials, 26% of Gen X, and 22% of boomers.
Amy’s Kitchen is also well aware of who is buying what.
“As younger consumers, millennials and Gen Z, get older and make more spending decisions, they’re reaching for plant-based and vegetarian products. But they’re not just going for vegetarian, they’re looking for more from companies,” CEO Berliner said. “They’re aware of their spending power and are seeking out companies that are sustainably minded and doing good in the world. That will become a big differentiator as the vegetarian/vegan market grows.”
Seven varietals come with a $10 tasting at Nascere Vineyards in Durham. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
When I would think of California wine Butte County was never one of the regions that came to mind. I’ve been convinced it needs to be added.
It was such a delight to spend a few relaxed hours sipping varietals one Sunday afternoon with my mom and two friends. We were at Nascere Vineyards in Durham.
Instead of bellying up to the inside bar, we chose one of the shade covered tables that overlooked the vineyard. This is where the grapes for the Pinot Grigio, Barbera and Sangiovese are grown. The rest of the grapes come from other parts of Butte County, as well as Sutter County and the Sierra foothills.
With a tasting sheet, wines and glasses placed before us, in many ways it was a self-tasting. The workers came by on occasion to check on us and dispel tidbits about what we were imbibing, as well as answer questions. It was so non-pretentious, so low key, so enjoyable, so what wine tasting everywhere should be like.
The seven wines came in a carrying case of sorts, with each varietal in an easy to pour glass dispenser.
Nascere Vinyards has plenty of outdoor area for tastings. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
I was most impressed with the estate grown 2015 Barbera ($28). The tasting sheet says, “The boldness and acidity of the grape creates an inviting aroma of sweet red fruit and fresh toasted bread Aged three years in French Oak. Enticing flavors of cherry and raspberries cot the palate, and polished tannins boast an elegant round finish.”
My taste buds won’t allow me to ever write industry accepted tasting notes, but I can tell you this was a fabulous wine. I’m sure I’ll regret only getting one bottle. Good thing the winery is only 15 minutes or so down the road.
The other wine that made me want more was the 2014 Merlot ($24) from the Sierra foothills. Winery description says, “This Merlot immediately captures attention with its perfumed black cherry, red plum and blackberry aromas, which are nicely complemented by hints of mineral and dried herbs.”
The other wines we tasted were the 2018 Pinot Grigio, 2018 Sauvignon Blanc, 2018 Ridge Rose, 2014 Super Tuscan, and 2016 Cabernet Franc.
Vanessa and Jess Pitney bought the property in 2009, with the first vintage being in 2011 with the Barbera grown on site.
The winery’s website says, “Our grapes are grown organically and in a sustainable manner, and we only apply certified organic products when needed. Since we live on the estate, our grapes get the utmost attention. We are present to watch them year-round and assure they are in optimal health and are picked at the prime time to produce only the highest quality wines. Our grapes are also hand-picked and sorted, assuring only the best fruit goes into our wine.”
What a great find. Now I know I can taste good wine without having to travel.
Kunde’s mountaintop tasting is worthy of a special occasion. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Climbing mountains and drinking wine are two of my favorite activities. It’s not often I enjoy them at the same time. But birthdays can have a way of making the unexpected come true.
As an early gift to myself I splurged ($80 plus tax) on the mountain top tasting at Kunde Family Winery earlier this month. What views, what good wines. I have to admit, though, the climbing part of the outing was not human powered.
A van shuttled eight of us to 1,400 feet above the Sonoma Valley floor where we were greeted with panoramic views of the surrounding area. With Kunde comprising 1,850 acres, the immediate landscape was owned by the winery. Even with a tinge of smoke on the far corners of the sky, it was still a sight to behold.
Louis Kunde bought the first 600 acres in 1904 for $40,000. When the fourth generation came along in the 1980s they said it was time to make their own wine instead of selling all of the grapes to others; grapes that were being turned into award winning wines. The first vintage with a Kunde label was in 1990.
Today, Kunde uses 30 percent of the grapes grown on the land for its wine. This equates to 65,000 cases. The rest is sold to wineries like Duckhorn, Sebastiani and others.
While 19 varietals grow on the Kunde estate, Pinot Noir is not one of them. This grape is too fragile for the climate in Kenwood. Those are the only grapes the winery buys.
The caves at Kunde (entrance on left) are below the vineyards. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
What makes an outing like this special is the intimacy and exclusivity. At check in we were handed a glass of rosé bubbly—a great way to start any occasion. This is the first vintage of sparkling wine from Kunde.
The three parties (a group of four, and two groups of two) first assembled in a private room where Mara poured us the 2019 Chardonnay-Wildwood. It paled in comparison to the 2018 Reserve Chardonnay that we sipped on the mountaintop. She said the 2018 is the staff’s favorite; calling it not buttery, but silky on the palate. (All wines we tasted are only available at the winery, thus adding to the uniqueness.)
With only eight in our group, we were able to ask as many questions as we wanted, and linger seemingly forever. The experience lasts two hours, which was plenty of time to not feel hurried along.
Before taking a van up to the mountain we had a quick tour of one of Kunde’s wine caves. The one we were in was finished in 1990, is one-half mile long, 30 feet underground and can hold 6,000 barrels.
Our tour was brief, but tastings can be booked in the caves as well.
Row upon row of wine barrels in the Kunde caves wait to be bottled. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Throughout the tour Mara dispensed interesting facts and tidbits. For instance, 60 percent of the 2008 movie “Bottle Shock” was filmed at Kunde. The boxing ring is still there, but will be removed soon. The TV show “Falcon’s Crest” was also shot at the winery.
The 2017 fires in the Wine Country saw flames on the ridges at Kunde, but most of the harvest was finished. Last year, though, was a different story. Because of the smoke taint, Mara said, there won’t be any Viogner from Kunde for a few years.
Our tasting continued with the 2018 Pinot Noir, Russian River. Then it was onto my favorite, the 2018 Reserve Century Vines Zinfandel.
On our ride to the top we passed some of the Zin grapes that were planted in 1883. Their roots can be 30 feet below the soil where they tap into the aquifer, thus not needing any irrigation. The vines are not manicured in any way, which means they produce 1 to 1½ tons of grapes per acre.
Guests enjoy tasting wines at the top of the Kunde estate in Kenwood. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
This compares to the grapes on the other side of the road that are neat and kept tidy along a trellis. Those vineyards can produce 5 to 9 tons. This is because they are getting more consistent sun, moisture and humidity.
A cheese plate was shared by two people at a table, which helped absorb some of the alcohol, but also complemented the wines.
We finished our mountaintop tasting with the 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon-Drummond and Red Dirt Red. One last pour back in our private room was the Moon Mountain Blend.
It was a great experience. And while I didn’t leave with any bottles, I will keep buying Kunde in the grocery store—where I can afford it.
While Champagne is always a good go-to for special occasions, sometimes it’s fun to drink something more creative. A cocktail can be so much more festive than bubbly or a glass of wine.
The Honey Deuce was the ideal beverage for enjoying some great tennis. Mom and I indulged in a glass for the each of the U.S. Open tennis finals this past weekend.
We were going to be happy no matter which teenager won the women’s final. The stories of both of these young women are wonderful. Both deserved to win. The men’s final turned out better than I could have expected with it ending in straight sets.
The Honey Deuce is the U.S. Open tennis tournament’s official drink. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
There was plenty to toast.
I’m not sure where I’ve been for the last 15 years because that’s how long the Honey Deuce has been the tournament’s official drink. I only found out about it near the end of this year’s tournament.
The blend of tart lemonade with sweet raspberry Chambord is perfect with a shot or more of vodka. It was so refreshing. It went down a little too easily; but we only had one each day.
I’m notorious for making cocktails that are super strong, so I usually have someone else make them. I think I figured this one out right away. The first day I put in 1½ shots of vodka in my drink, which is what was called for in one of the recipes I had found. The second match I used 1 ounce. It was better with less vodka. But vodka also isn’t my favorite liquor.
I know this will be a drink I’ll be making more often than just when tennis is on the tube.
Definitely have a chilled glass and chill the melon balls. The melon balls, if you use three, are equal to the number of tennis balls in a can. They certainly are optional, but they add to the festiveness even if tennis has nothing to do with why you are serving the drink.
1 to 1½ ounces vodka
3 ounces lemonade
½ ounce Chambord
Honeydew melon ball skewer
Chill glass in freezer.
Fill glass with ice. Pour in vodka, lemonade, then Chambord. Garnish with three honeydew melon balls on skewer.
While Spanish missionaries planted the first orange trees in California in 1769, the oldest orange tree in the state resides in Oroville. She arrived in the state as a sapling from Mazatlan, Mexico, in the 1850s.
Known as Mother Orange Tree, she is a California Historical Landmark.
The oldest orange tree in California is in Oroville. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
She has been moved a few times, has survived floods and freezes, and been nursed back to health. A nearby sign says, “Today, with the help of a greenhouse, warming lamps and water mister, the Mother Orange Tree continues to thrive and remains a beloved symbol of the Golden State.”
Those accessories were not visible on a recent visit. Nonetheless, Mother Orange Tree looks healthy, with lush green leaves covering her multitude of branches. Today her fruit is not for picking, but oranges that fall to the ground are fair game.
Information at the site says, “Imported from Mazatlan, Mexico, the Mother Orange Tree was purchased on the streets of Sacramento when it was only a 2 to 3-year-old seedling in a tub. She was planted in 1856 and quickly grew into a California legend. Early-day miners traveled from far and wide to eat her sweet oranges, gather the seeds, and plant them in the yards of their homes.”
Her “children” are scattered about the North State.
A sign on Glen Drive in Oroville points to Mother Orange Tree’s location. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
It was Judge Joseph Lewis who brought the tree from Sacramento to Butte County. He planted the tree near the toll bridge at Bidwell’s Bar in 1856. Mother Orange was relocated in 1964 so she wouldn’t be drowned with the building of Oroville Dam.
Today, she resides at the entrance to the California State Parks office in Oroville. A fence around her keeps people ample distance away, but doesn’t distract from taking a good look at this specimen of citrus lore.
From such humble beginnings, oranges are now big business in California. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 2021 will be the first time the state has surpassed Florida in orange production.
Oranges also continue to thrive in Mexico. It’s the No. 1 citrus crop in terms of acreage planted. About 50 percent of the trees can be found in the state of Veracruz on the mainland.
The USDA reports, “Mexico imports oranges from only the United States. These are mostly for consumption in the border regions. Mexico has a price-sensitive fruit market. Prices of imported American oranges are high compared to domestic prices. Most of the imported oranges are sold along the border or in high-end supermarkets.”
Water is a basic necessity for any being to survive. Why then isn’t drinkable water available to everyone?
Money and lack of willpower would be the two easy answers.
Richard Jolly, chairman of the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, sponsored by the W.H.O., told the Associated Press it would cost $10 billion a year to bring water and sanitation to the places that don’t have it today. He added, that amount is ”one-tenth of what Europe spends on alcoholic drinks each year, about the same as Europe spends on ice cream and half of what the United States spends each year on pet food.”
Another question: Why when good drinking water is available do people buy bottled water?
Answer: Ignorance, stupidity, laziness. All guesses on my part.
I have lived where the water isn’t drinkable, though purification systems are available in Mexico. In the San Joaquin Valley in the 1990s I had bottled water delivered to my house because the water was so horrid. I understand not being able to or willing to drink what comes out of the tap.
Some of the best water I have ever drank out of a faucet was in Tahoe. Tahoe tap water comes from rain or snowmelt. Some agencies in the Lake Tahoe Basin take water directly from the lake, while others use wells. Each water agency decides how to treat it before it reaches spigots.
I would always be amazed when I would see tourists (sure hope they weren’t locals) loading up on bottled water in the grocery store. I told them they didn’t need to, that what comes out of the faucet is soooo good. They looked at me like I was crazy. I never saw anyone put a case of water back on the shelf.
Where did they come from that bottled water was the norm for them? The people I spoke with all seemed to be from the United States. Is their hometown water really that bad?
The irony about bottled water is that it is less regulated than tap water. The Environmental Protection Agency oversees tap water, and mandates individual agency’s annual reports be made available to the public. The Food and Drug Administration oversees bottled water. The FDA doesn’t require bottlers to reveal water sources.
Besides not knowing what’s in that bottle of water, there is the whole issue of the bottle itself. That’s a whole lot of plastic; and we know it’s not all being recycled.
It’s time to think about the water you are drinking and why.
McEvoy Ranch has been producing high-end olive oil for decades. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Swirl, smell, gargle, swallow. That’s how you truly taste olive oil.
Gargling isn’t the term Sam Dorsey used, but it was essentially the action she told us to take. She may have said slurp. The point was to have the liquid linger in the back of the throat.
Dorsey is president of McEvoy Ranch, having started with the company 20 years ago as a gardener.
What an experience the ranch has created. Most of the tasting, though, was traditional with bread dipped in the oils. I left with a new appreciation for what olive oil should taste like.
In 1990, Nan McEvoy founded the 550-acre ranch located in the Petaluma Gap that divides Marin and Sonoma counties. Only 15 percent of the acreage is planted. More wine grapes used to be grown there, but the current philosophy is to focus more on olives. They are grown, harvested, milled, blended, and bottled on site.
Sam Dorsey, president of McEvoy Ranch, explains the intricacies of making olive oil. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
If it weren’t for the San Francisco Chronicle, there would be no McEvoy Ranch.
This is because the founder of the ranch, McEvoy (née Phyllis Ann Tucker), was the granddaughter of M.H. de Young. He along with his brother founded the Chronicle in 1865. McEvoy in 1981 became chairwoman of the parent company of the Chronicle.
She was living in Georgetown on the East Coast at the time. That was a place she called home for 36 years. In 1989 she returned to the West Coast to better manage the family’s publishing enterprises. At the time she and her son, Nion, owned one-third of the holdings, with nearly two dozen family members controlling the remainder of the enterprise. McEvoy died in 2015 at age 95, 14 years after the newspaper was sold to the paper’s rival Hearst Corporation for $660 million. Prior to that, family discord forced her out as chairwoman by implementing a bylaw stating no one could be on the board over age 72. McEvoy was 75 then.
Today, Nion McEvoy owns the ranch. It is because of him and his management team that the ranch has been turned into a tourist haven and a force in the industry.
Dorsey is involved in the industry as a whole, including backing California legislation that would change labeling practices. She is an advocate of a bill that would mandate labels could only say “California Olive Oil” if 100 percent of the olives are grown in California.
At McEvoy Ranch the organic traditional blend is the most popular. It is a combination of seven Italian varietals. Absolutely delicious. But so were the flavored oils—like garlic, lemon and basil. One that isn’t often seen is jalapeno. Also great.
A small fraction of the 550-ranch is planted with olive trees and wine grapes. (Image: Kathryn Reed)
Dorsey said new blends are always in the works. The latest to be bottled is ginger turmeric. It would be best as a finishing oil. I’ve used it on a roasted vegetable green salad. Loved it.
The setting is completely serene. It’s a perfect place for tasting oils and wines. It’s off the beaten trail, doesn’t feel like you are in the Wine Country, and seems so civilized. They aren’t into high pressure sales of product or joining their clubs—though there is plenty of product to buy and more than one club to join if you choose.
This is a destination I highly recommend. Fantastic experience. We left with wine and olive oil.