Over the span of a remarkable 50 year career, Ted Hall has been a cattle rancher, organic farmer, music executive, restaurateur, winery owner, sailor, and philanthropist. He is the President & CEO of Napa Valley’s Long Meadow Ranch (LMR), founded with his wife Laddie in 1989. The Ranch, a leading entity in organic agriculture, includes three wine estates in Napa and Mendocino counties, Farmstead restaurant in Napa Valley, and over 2000 acres on which is farmed olives, fruits and vegetables, as well as grass-fed beef and lamb. Hall graduated from Princeton University with a degree in electrical engineering and received his MBA from Stanford University. After joining the global consulting firm McKinsey & Company, Hall went on to become the youngest senior, then managing, partner, over the course of 28 years with the firm. He has been a director of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers since 2014. He is the recipient of the 2017 Grower of the Year Award from the Napa Valley Grapegrowers and the 2013 Acre by Acre Award from the Land Trust of Napa Valley.
Read more about Ted in the written interview below:
Karen MacNeil: Long Meadow Ranch is among the pioneers in California of organic viticultural practices and I understand the company’s motto is “Excellence through Responsible Farming.” How do you exercise that responsibility?
Ted Hall: We are committed to employing sustainable, diversified, organic farming practices. My mother and grandfather were pioneers in the organic farming/gardening movement in western Pennsylvania beginning in the 1940s. We view “organic” as designing farming systems and addressing farming issues in a holistic, total-system fashion. We look at the performance of the total system over time, across all inputs and outputs (including by-products). While a broad array of science-based organic protocols has emerged, we think the greatest power is in the organic concept’s application as a systems-oriented problem-solving method.
KM: Long Meadow Ranch is also a family business. Your wife Laddie and son Chris are both heavily involved. What’s it like working so closely with your wife and son?
TH: Working with the family every day is a wonderful experience. It does require firm rules, however. Like no business talk at dinner. Importantly, I can be completely confident that a decision will be made consistent with our values. If there is a thorny question, it will get raised. As a business leader, that provides great comfort.
KM: Napa Valley has a long history of remarkable successes, but the valley has also been criticized as a haven for vintners with big wines and big egos. If you could oversee the course of the valley’s next 20 years, what direction would you take it in? What does the valley need to do more of? And what does it need to do less of?
TH: We need more diversified farming and more real farmers. Not all soils and microclimates are perfect for cabernet sauvignon. We do a disservice to the land and our environment when we try to grow crops ill-suited for the location. Some places simply shouldn’t grow grapes. Others should have different varieties. We have the opportunity to grow wonderful, healthy crops of the highest quality (and make better wines) and to build a viable local food system for our families, employees, and neighbors.
KM: You’ve served as a board member for dozens of major corporations, arts and education organizations, and agricultural governing bodies from Peets Coffee and Williams Sonoma to Dolby Laboratories and the American Highland Cattle Association. Which have been the most fulfilling for you?
TH: Virtually all have had fulfilling aspects. Serving as a steward is a high calling. I am proudest of helping make SFJAZZ a significant national and international cultural institution, one that nurtures America’s own original music.
“We need more diversified farming and more real farmers. Not all soils and microclimates are perfect for cabernet sauvignon. We do a disservice to the land and our environment when we try to grow crops ill-suited for the location. Some places simply shouldn’t grow grapes. Others should have different varieties.”
KM: As already addressed in our video interview, you’re a cattle rancher, organic farmer, music executive, restaurateur, winery owner, sailor, and philanthropist. How many hours of sleep a night do you typically get?
TH: Funny question. During most of my career I slept 5 to 6 hours a night. The real point is that I have been doing mostly the same things over 50 years. That fundamental focus has made juggling my portfolio of activities much more manageable than it appears from afar. One brick at a time stacked consistently over 50 years builds a pretty tall wall. (Some people have said that I put in my “10,000 hours,” which is probably true in several arenas.)
KM: With which historical figure do you most identify?
TH: Thomas Jefferson. A true polymath, Jefferson, is inspiring as a life-long student with diverse talents and interests, including wine. I have always been impressed by his ingenuity. I attended the University of Virginia, which he founded and designed as architect, for a program in 1964. He wrote the key words in the Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal. . . endowed by the Creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I believe in those fundamental values. Yet, I have found it very, very hard to reconcile his ownership of slaves.
KM: If your house were on fire, what would you save?
TH: Easy. My trombone. In 2017 when we fought the fires on our ranch, we loaded my car with all of the musical instruments (trombones, saxophones, guitars, etc.) and my piano music. We then started looking for the family heirlooms to put into [my wife] Laddie’s car. (We just repeated the process in August 2020 for the Hennessy Fire, though we didn’t need to evacuate.)
[Update: Ted and his family were again forced to evacuate their home during the Glass Fire on Sunday, September 27th. About 50% of their ranch burned but the firefighting team was able to save all structures. No vineyards, orchards or livestock were lost. We are especially grateful to the Rutherford Volunteer Fire Department and the St. Helen Fire Department who provided critical leadership to the Cal Fire teams.
KM: I understand you grew up in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania. A member of my staff is from Pittsburgh and her father is from New Castle—both big football fans. She’d like to know if you knew Joe Namath?
TH: Joe and I were born in the same hospital, but five years apart. I remember seeing his photo as a high school football star in the local newspapers that I delivered. We never met. He was renowned for the size of his hands.
KM: This interview is being conducted during a bleak time. The Covid pandemic in the U.S. has devastated restaurants and closed many winery tasting rooms. Food and wine are your business. Are you optimistic about the future?
TH: You have to be optimistic about the future. First, people will always crave the experience of high-quality, healthy food and wine. So, fundamental demand is not going away. Second, adversity is the mother of invention. I know we will find better ways to produce and distribute our products for the enjoyment of others. Have lemons; make lemonade.