What Zooey Deschanel Discovered on a Trip to California Wine Country
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One of the most popular destinations for oenophiles in the world, California wine country comprises the neighboring regions of Napa Valley and Sonoma County. It's a section of the Golden State that brings to mind rolling, vineyard-covered hills, upscale resorts and extraordinary food. Oh, and you guessed it, wine.
Located north of San Francisco, people who visit the area tend to spend most of their time sipping on Cabernet Sauvignons and Chardonnays. For many travelers, a trip to Napa and Sonoma is about seeking out unforgettable culinary experiences.
But when actress, musician and food activist Zooey Deschanel and travel photographer (and former "Top Chef" contestant) Alejandro Toro visited the famous wine region to film the Purpose Project series created by Capital One and Tastemade, they discovered a resilient destination that is as much about people and sustainability as it is about food and wine.
See the full episode on Tastemade Watch
Eating What You Grow
Long Meadow Ranch, a family-owned agricultural business since 1989, is a triple threat in the Napa Valley. Known for their farm-to-table ethos, Farmstead is at once a winery, restaurant and (as the name suggests) a fully operational farm.
Upon arrival, Deschanel and Toro met with Farmstead's owner and operator, Laddie Hall, and farm-to-table and sous chef Kipp Ramsey. They discussed how farm-to-table dining can enhance your eating experience. “When you are able to eat right next to where you grow, you just understand your food so much better and have a better appreciation for that food,” Deschanel observed.
“And it tastes better,” Hall agreed.
After the trip, Deschanel told TPG that the ranch and its "amazing food" was her favorite experience from the trip. "[Bring] a big group and try everything,” she suggested.
Napa may be best known for its acclaimed upscale dining spots, but it is first and foremost an agricultural region; and one that cultivates much more than just grapes.
That's why Deschanel and Toro were put to work planting kale and gardening. Touring the grounds with Ramsay, they collected crops and learned about some of Long Meadow Ranch's sustainable practices.
"What Long Meadow Ranch represents is an opportunity to have organic full-circle farming. It's not just a monoculture," Hall said.
It's a bit risky to focus on vegetable crops — instead of just grapes — in the Napa area, as the latter are considered extremely valuable throughout the region. However, Hall emphasized that a farm with variety affords a more healthy, well-rounded lifestyle. And with the no-waste policy employed at the ranch, it's far more sustainable.
When Deschanel and Toro got to sit down and eat, they were literally tasting the fruits of their labor (a fresh tomato and basil salad; creamy squash rice topped with roasted beets and kale). Nearly every ingredient was sourced from the ranch, just hours before it was prepared.
"When [my husband and I] sit down for dinner, everything on our plate is something that we grew, we raised. And then, what do we have in our glass? A beautiful wine that we made," Hall said.
Healing in the Valleys
But it hasn't always been an easy ride for Long Meadow Ranch. They, like many in the Napa Valley and Sonoma region, were affected by the wildfires that raged in October of 2017.
While fortunate to have no human or livestock loss or injuries during the natural disaster, for Long Meadow Ranch, the scare was real.
As the Nuns fire was expanding and getting closer to the ranch, the family and team worked together to seal and secure the winery buildings and home; to evacuate all livestock and employees; and to secure barrels and tanks filled with wine in the winery.
Hundreds of firefighters gathered on the property to fight a long, hard battle that was eventually won. The flames reached right up to the firebreak and some of the vineyards, which acted like a natural obstacle to the blaze. It was intense. And Long Meadow Ranch was more fortunate than others.
“Back in October 2017, it did take a lot of work in the days, weeks and months after the fires to communicate that Napa and Sonoma [were] open for business, and that it is safe and beautiful. We had to push through the sensationalist reporting and share with the world how incredible — and safe — this magical place is,” Jeff Meisel, the vice president of brand marketing at Long Meadow Ranch told TPG.
“I recall the first outdoor wedding we had at Farmstead on Nov. 4. It was a beautiful, clear day and an incredible celebration. On a community level, Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch opened our doors as soon as power was restored.”
The early re-opening of Farmstead is just one example of how community members in Napa supported each other during the recovery.
After Toro parted from Deschanel and kept traveling across the region, he met folks all around the neighboring valleys who are continuing to help each other heal. In the aftermath of the devastation, they shared their crops and provided each other shelter. Years later, they’re still offering endless emotional support.
"A lot of people had to rebuild,” Deschanel told TPG. “The community is really strong here. The reason people move here is [they] love it so much. The passion for the land is so inspiring. The people who live here aren’t here for a job — they’re here because they love this place," she added. "It’s really wonderful to see a community pull together."