Samantha Dorsey, Farm Manager and Recently Promoted to General Manager
Olives ~ the fruit
Jill Lee, Events & Community Relations Manager
Award-winning olive oil and tasting
Blake Yarger, Winemaker
Lisa Finch, Sales Director for 80 Acres
80 Acres Oil-Infused Beauty Product Skin Collection
5935 Red Hill Road
Petaluma, CA 94952
Biography and Photos by Ben Davidson:
Tucked in the verdant hills near the Marin-Sonoma border, is one of West Marin's rural gems, the McEvoy Ranch. The legacy of San Francisco Chronicle heir Nan Tucker McEvoy, this 550-acre ranch produces some of the finest organic, extra virgin olive oil in California, cold-processed by their state-of-the-art Rapanelli frantoio (olive press). Taking advantage of its location in the Petaluma Gap, the ranch also grows Pinot Noir, Syrah, Montepulciano, Refosco, Grenache and Viognier grapes to produce acclaimed estate-produced red and rosé wines.
Back in the late 1980s, McEvoy embarked on a quest for a place where her grandchildren could fully experience the distinct beauty of Northern California. She fell in love with this ranch in Petaluma, previously a dairy farm and strictly zoned for agriculture. She purchased the ranch in 1989 and almost immediately started its conversion into an organic farm. Inspired by her love of Tuscan olive oil and The Feast of the Olive by Maggie Klein (a book given to her by her son, Nion, the ranch's current CEO), McEvoy met with one of Italy’s foremost experts on the subject, Dr. Maurizio Castelli, an agronomist and enologist originally from Pistoia, to foster a plan to grow olive trees on the ranch. Despite the challenges involved in producing olive oil in Marin County, and against the advice of many, McEvoy imported 3,000 seedlings from Tuscany. Today McEvoy ranch has some 18,000 trees, all propagated from the original Tuscan collection.
Samantha Dorsey, the farming manager at McEvoy, and just recently promoted to General Manager, shepherds the production on 80 acres of organically-grown olive trees and 10 acres of organically-grown grapes. Maintaining a sizeable organic ranch is a challenge for Dorsey. "We have a farming team, gardening/landscape team, and then, of course, the winery and mill to process all the fruit we produce on the land. “Our main focus is managing our resources astutely, whether it's soil, water labor, or capital." "We've worked very hard to grow products that thrive here in Marin County and process them into products that are appealing to our customers: extra virgin olive oil from our olive trees, an array of wines that we produce from grapes that we grow, and flowers and produce well sell at our Ferry Building shop on Market street in San Francisco." "We also have an entire body care line (called 80 Acres) that was inspired from our oil production, so it's an olive oil-based body care line."
"The pleasure about working with olive trees" Dorsey adds, "is their incredible historic value." "Olive trees have been part of agriculture for thousands of years and the product, olive oil, is a part of many major religions. It's a tough, tenacious tree, and it produces this extraordinary liquid gold at the end of the season." "Working with the trees is very humbling because I know I am a farmer following thousands of years of other farmers also working with these trees."
Jill Lee, the ranch's events and community relations manager, says "Nan was quite an interesting personality; she has a very colorful history with her family, as she was the granddaughter of M.H. DeYoung, the founder of The San Francisco Chronicle and the DeYoung Museum, so the love of art has continued on for generations in the family. We have some beautiful art pieces and sculptures here at the ranch." "What Nan created at the ranch has been a springboard of opportunity for new growth, new products, new ventures and opportunities and a place to really come out and just enjoy nature."
Blake Yarger, McEvoy's winemaker, is in charge of the ancient process of turning grapes into wine. He says the ranch's 25-acres of grapes are mostly Pinot Noir. "We also grow Syrah and, one of the things that makes us unique in this part of California, we also grow a number of Italian varietals like Montepulciano and Refosco." "We are dedicated to the environment and sustainable agriculture and our vineyards are certified organic." "The terroir here in the Petaluma Gap (an area of low lying coastal hills) is quite distinct and is known for being quite foggy, windy, very cool with a long growing season suited to developing complex flavors in varietals like Syrah and Pinot."
Lisa Finch, sales director for McEvoy Ranch's 80 Acres beauty product collection, says her olive-oil infused collection offers "every way to hydrate using olive oil, from body balms, body butters, lotions, washes, even olive oil shampoos and conditioners." "We started off making olive oil soaps the old fashioned way," says Finch. "It takes nine weeks to cure and make a really dense, hydrating and healing bars of soap." "We use not only McEvoy Ranch olive oil but also nutrient rich botanicals. We are quite famous for our body balms which are about 86 percent organic olive oil."
McEvoy Ranch is a private residence and welcomes guests at scheduled events and by appointment only. Appointments for wine tasting are available by calling (707) 769-4100. Scheduled events include ranch tours, botanical design workshops, wreath design workshops, wellness retreats and garden walks. For a current list of events and further information, including online wine, body care and specialty food sales, see the ranch's website: www.mcevoyranch.com.