Frontier ranching in Paso: Rangeland Wines and Laird Foshay, Part II

Read the Aug. 5, 2012, Part I of Rangeland Wines and Angus beef: Get to know Laird Foshay. After two decades living in the Silicon Valley, media entrepreneur Laird Foshay ignored the nay-sayers and criticism and moved his three children to the hills west of Paso Robles in 2000. In a bold career shift, he transferred from cutting edge Internet-based businesses to farming.

“I was starved for a natural life–a connection with the physical world,” Paso Robles rancher Laird Foshay said. “I had put in 20 years in the business world with all its perks, and I thought I was involved in changing the world through software. However I was starved for things I didn’t understand but recognized.”

After ten years in computer magazine publishing and ten years as the founder of an investment news service, Laird Foshay needed a change. So in the late ’90s, Laird and his wife, Lisa, started doing something to create a new vision for their family. But curiously, the change didn’t seem to be that difficult for him to make.

After 20 years in the Silicon Valley, media entrepreneur Laird Foshay moved his family to the hills west of Paso Robles, establishing Rangeland Wines and Adelaida Springs Ranch.

“Lisa and I drove through Paso ‘window shopping’ rural properties for a destination, looking at working ranches,” Foshay said. The land near the old Dodd Ranch and adjacent to the historic Klau and Buena Vista Mines was available. This place was the commercial hub of the area as early as 1870. The ranch was a part of the old frontier. So we bought it and now are a part of that history.”

Foshay was careful to emphasize he would never put himself in the same rancher category like a Doug Filipponi (Santa Margarita Ranch and Ancient Peaks fame); yet he wanted to get back to nature and ranching just the same. So when the Adelaida Springs Ranch was for sale, the Foshays, jumped at the chance and became hands-on ranchers, despite their initial tag as “raw beginners.”

Laird Foshay runs a 1,500-acre ranch with 80 Angus beef cattle and 40 acres of vineyards.

The Adelaida Springs Ranch (ASR) needed a lot of updating and Foshay had the time to drive in posts and redo the water lines. He built his “dream house”: a sprawling two-story ranch house complete with outbuildings and pool nestled into the hillside 12 miles west of Paso Robles, overlooking the Santa Lucia Range (VIDEO). And he planted most of his vineyard stock by 2002: a 40-acre ASR estate vineyard. It is surrounded by over 1,500 acres of oak woodlands on a pristine mountain valley.

“Now, this wasn’t without sleepless nights,” Foshay said, “but then marriage, business, career and children aren’t without them either. But these are all worth while.”

The winemaking community made fun of them early on, but Foshay and Lisa did almost all of the work themselves. They investigated the process, read, asked a lot of questions plus worked for others in the industry. The made mistakes along the way but gained valuable experience. In fact, the ranch “became the center of his life.” Instead of socializing with the business crowd of the Bay Area, Foshay and Lisa became involved with Paso Robles social events, including the Farm Bureau, meeting area growers, farmers and ranchers.

With his Polo shirts retired to the closet, Foshay now often wears a plaid shirt, fleece or down vest and a straw cowboy hat. The risk-taker can be found in the vineyards, fixing fences, splitting wood or in the grasslands, riding horses and moving cattle with Silver, his crossbred 10-year-old Australian cattle dog. Silver whines when not working and helps keeps Foshay’s herd in check. Foshay will drink a Coors or Sam Adams beer because, when cold, are refreshing and consistent. He favors L’Aventure Estate Cuvee when he wants another wine on his table.

Foshay hired Fresno State grad, Shannon Gustafson, as his Rangeland winemaker in 2009. She studied in Bordeaux, France, in 2001 for four months at Château du Grand Mouëys and has worked for other local wineries, including Talley Vineyards and Zoller Wine Styling.

Foshay hired Shaver Lake, California-born, Shannon Gustafson as his Rangeland winemaker in 2009. She graduated from Fresno State and received her Enology degree in 2003. Gustafson studied in Bordeaux, France, in 2001 for four months at Château du Grand Mouëys and made a trip to Burgundy, France, to study in 2007. She formally worked at Zoller Wine Styling (2008-09) and Talley Vineyards (2006-08). Together, they guide the fruit from the ground up: planting, irrigating, training vines, fruit drop to harvest. They make fine wines in the vineyard as a team. They do not add enzymes or acid and only allow native yeast fermentation. Rangeland Wines are unique, soft with more acidity from the limestone soils. These are sound, refined wines, European in style but not over-the-top. They are approachable that have longevity and do not fall apart in the glass.

Personally I tasted 11 different Rangeland Wines. I loved the 2010 Mistletoe Blend. This is a non-traditional blend of Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Merlot grown in vineyards at the 1,700 ft. level. The wine already had a softness about it that surprised me. While it will be better in a year or two, the Mistletoe is a great pizza wine or it can be drunk by itself. It is easy going but hedonistic, rustic and has earthy notes. The Cab Franc gave off a subtle ‘green’ hint of coffee and dark cherry.

My favorite was the 2009 Rangeland Limestone Reserve. This Cabernet is age-worthy and wowed me with its floral aromatics, immediately upon opening.

Yet my favorite was the 2009 Rangeland Limestone Reserve. This Cabernet is age-worthy and wowed me with its floral aromatics, immediately upon opening. With two years in 75% new oak barrels, this fruit-forward mountain Cab is not racked until blending. It’s tart acidity and stiff tannins were nicely hid amongst the black cherry. And while the wine was not chewy, the Limestone Reserve had a lovely finish. This is a good food pairing wine than should age well.

These two, and all of Rangeland Wines, can be purchased through their website and club list. Additionally, the wines can be tasted at the ranch by appointment or purchased through a select few local retail outlets.

However, Foshay wanted to create more than just critically acclaimed fine estate wines; over time his vision morphed to include the natural meat business.

“While we weren’t initially interested in taking on cattle, our family seasonally raised heifers for our kids who became involved in the local 4H program,” Foshay said. “In fact, we would buy them back at auction and they became the seed stock of our land.”

Foshay manages his Rangeland Wines and beef from their inception until a customer buys them for their table. The meats, estate wines and honey products are unique where they are grown and express their environment.

Foshay’s ranch experience came through the local 4-H program, but also included helping neighbors with branding and working with the vet, administering medicines to animals. He also has a strong opinion of overcoming modern practices of grain-fed beef and has built a USDA approved natural and sustainable pasture-feed beef program. His rangeland consists of high-mineral soils of limestone and calcium that are perfect for his 80 head of Angus beef. Foshay regularly rotates his animals through standing thick yellow grasslands and forbs, like wild rye, clover, vetch and filaree. These conditions fatten up the beef to be smaller, but healthier and more muscular than their grain-feed counterparts. The beef are not feed supplements that are the staple of commercial feedlots, never receiving hormone supplements or antibiotics.

Foshay regularly rotates his animals through standing thick yellow grasslands and forbs, like wild rye, clover, vetch and filaree. These conditions fatten up the beef to be smaller, but healthier and more muscular than their grain-feed counterparts.

“I am in the meat and wine business and have complete control of both,” Foshay said. “I learned a lot about estate branding and the food business from Art Mondavi, relying on common sense in the vineyard and in the pasture and do not rely on chemicals.” He went on to say Rangelands Wines and the Adelaida Springs Ranch’s reputation are built on sustainable farming that are natural and healthy for the environment and human consumption.

Today Laird Foshay is making a name for himself as a winegrower and rancher. Yet he also manages a custom meat processing facility: J&R Natural Meat and Sausage in Paso Robles and Templeton.

“I have hands-on boutique control of Rangeland Wines and the animals from birth to your meat counter,” Foshay said. “The products I manage are unique where they are grown and all express their environment. I am happy with the curve of our development. The beef and the wines are authentic, natural and simple. I like our progress but not yet satisfied. I continue to talk to the consumer directly and react to their feedback and improvement ideas.”

From their dry farmed (no irrigation) Petite Sirah, to the Limestone Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and estate blends, Rangeland Wines are available through club purchase, local retail outlets and tastings at the Adelaida Springs Ranch.

Laird Foshay can be reached at the Adelaida Springs Ranch via the web site. Visitors are also encouraged to Ranch Stay and tour the vineyards, ranch and historic homestead.

For previous TalesoftheCork stories, please use the menu bar at the TOP of the page or check out my personal essay celebrating my daughter’s first wedding anniversary: Her Mother and I.

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