Recently, I spent the day with Ted Hall who I think is among the top ten game-changers advancing the culture of wine and food in America. Hall, a Stanford MBA and longtime McKinsey executive, owns Long Meadow Ranch, a culinary-vinosphere kind of project he started with his family 25 years ago.
I caught up with Hall in his offices above the LMR winery/olive oil facility. Behind him on the bookshelf were two hefty volumes. Alas, not Robert Parker’s The World’s Greatest Wine Estates, but rather: Practical Stock Doctor (not a Wall St. term) and Keeping Livestock Healthy. The books speak volumes, for Hall is at the epicenter of a new way of thinking about food, wine, and our connection to the earth.
Hall not only walks the Farm-to-Table talk, but he’s created a completely integrated loop. It includes several hundred head of cattle and sheep who feed on grasses that grow on Hall’s lands that aren’t perfect for wine grapes or olive orchards. The vineyards are 100% organic, and the vines are part of an integrated system with thousands of olive trees. Both crops share the same tractors and production facilities (made of rammed earth), and both benefit from the ranch’s extensive composting system. Nitrogen-fixing cover crops are extensive and vegetable gardens are everywhere.
And what to do with all this bounty? In 2010 Hall opened Farmstead—a restaurant that is now so packed that virtually every bit of the ranch’s grass-fed beef and organic vegetables go to support it.
Sitting in Farmstead last week, I watched as many people ordered the sensational steak tartare—raw, knife-chopped beef with capers, mustard, and a raw egg. This is a dish I used to eat in Paris 30 years ago but would not usually think of eating anywhere in the U.S. today because our food now travels too far through too many chemical and bacterial worlds before it gets to us.
But I had just seen the bulls wandering near the vines at Long Meadow Ranch, and just watched the chickens in their large coops near the vegetable garden. It was like Europe a century ago, when there was no fear that what gave you life could also make you sick. And so, at Farmstead, steak tartare has come back to us and in that coming back is a whole new future. (Yes, it’s delicious).