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.

Rangeland Wines and Angus beef: Get to know Laird Foshay

Born in Nova Scotia, Canada, with Sottish and French heritage, Paso Robles raised Laird Foshay, complete with a cowboy hat and boots, intrigued me before I even arrived at the sprawling Rangeland Wines’ home base. I previously read Laird had been a Silicon Valley-type for half his adult life. However, I couldn’t believe for the life of me that, after ten years in computer magazine publishing and ten years as the founder of an investment news service business, he wanted to be a winemaker and rancher in the hills west of Paso Robles.

Once a web publisher for and the founder of, an investment news service, Laird Foshay gave up his office job for wide open spaces at Rangeland Wines and the 1,500-acre Adelaida Springs Ranch in 2000.

Boy was I wrong. This Central Coast  winemaker not only has kept his ‘shirt and tie’ business savvy, but for the last 11 years has also added plaid, down-to-earth, unpretentiousness to his forté. His wife, Lisa, and him now operate both a winery, and the 1,500-acre  Adelaida Springs Ranch, including all-natural grass-fed 80 Angus beef cattle.

My trip to the Rangeland ranch house came after a visit with Mike Sinor of  Ancient Peaks Winery and Sinor-LaVallee. Despite my late arrival, Laird offered me a ranch guest room. We then talked well into the night, then picked up where we left off in the morning.

But before he shared his story, Laird was keen on giving me a circle tour of the ranch. We jumped into his white pick-up,  tossed the rifles in the back seat and proceeded to give me a personal tour.

The late, July sun seemed to illuminate the golden pasture grasses. The Angus beef grazing in the pastures were smaller than I had seen on other ranches, but the muscular build of the cattle stood out. The high mineral limestone soils created high-standing yellow grass and the animals looked fattened and sturdy after two years. He said the practice of rotational grazing, never allowing the animals more than 30 days in a pasture, kept them fit. The truck traveled down worn paths for almost two hours, and I never saw evidence of overgrazing. In fact, we passed by a few 1,300-pound specimens which Laird said were scheduled to be harvested in the days/weeks to come.

Through the hills, dozens of remarkable, natural springs gravity-fed the ranch’s needs and actually have been doing so since the Salinan Nation and the Chumash native peoples lived in and near this area hundreds of years ago. The many species of oak trees dotted the pastures, rocky outcroppings and at the edges of the vineyards. The laurel oak, live oak, blue oak and valley oak are all common to Paso Robles and the Adelaida Springs Ranch.

Rangeland owner Laird Foshay traded unstable high Internet dollars for fair/bargin-priced land in the oak-covered hills west of Paso Robles and a chance to be an Angus beef rancher and winemaker. He wanted a rural lifestyle and was willing to be a beginner to do it.

As we continued around the ranch, Laird shared his love for the land and the native peoples. We talked about the history of the old Adelaide and the Klau and Buena Vista Mines and mid-1800 homesteaders. Laird spoke as though his family had homesteaded the place, not like someone who had moved there from the City of Palo Alto, just 11 years before. Later, he even pulled out a 1992 copy of J. Fraser MacGillivray’s coffee table book, Adelaida. It is fabulous, self-published book on the history of the region, including manuscripts, photos, and newspaper clippings.

During our drive through golden pastureland, 40 acres of vineyards, past ponds, posts and ranch machinery, we talked about raw beginnings, watering holes, golden eagles and putting up with new visitors to the area: 250-700 pound wild feral hogs or even and maybe even a 200-pound  wild black Russian boar.

“This is a new wild frontier,” Foshay said. “The ranch is a place of opportunity and freedom for me and for our young winemaker, Shannon Gustafson. It’s about a new place. I’m reshaping my history.”

My thoughts turned to a, July 2012 article, which published Steve Ballmer’s comments of reshaping  Microsoft, despite its past success. Ballmer’s drive reminded me of Foshay’s confidence about reformatting his life. Laird’s courage and conviction was gripping.

“Hey, I’ve changed careers twice already,” Foshsay said. “I’ve taken a lot of criticism but few things are rocket science and this [ranching] isn’t one of them.”

The 2009 The Watershed (Cabernet, Merlot and Cabernet Franc blend) is one of nine Rangeland wines produced on an annual basis. Rangeland wines are offered through club membership on their web site or through over 20 area wine shops and restaurants.

As dusk fell, the California quail and hares skittered under twigs and piles of dead vine stock. The talk in the truck of  abundant wildlife, including wild turkey, deer, bobcat, mountain lion and bear, red-tailed hawk and a pair of bald eagles, seemed to give evidence of a healthy ecosystem beyond what Foshay was creating with his cattle. Laird added he brought on one other full-time employee in 2011: Nathan Stuart. Since last summer, Paso Robles-born Stuart has managed the vineyards, introduced grazing sheep in the vineyard and also kept the bees busy with the ranch’s honey-making venture.

Our drive ended back at the ranch house with talks of dinner before our conversation would turn to winemaking. Laird offered me a couple of Angus beef hamburgers. No take out or maid service here. The patties sizzled and the fat rendered like juice in a pan: simple western food that smelled of the land. He poured a glass of 2009 Rangeland Syrah Mourvedre. The Rhône varietals grow well in Rangeland limestone and sandstone soils. The Syrah’s robust gaminess and smokey characteristics are complimented by the fresh fruity Mourvedre bouquet, including hints of blueberry and blackberry and flavors of leather, clove, and vanilla. The super fine tannins and smooth texture heightened the organic, mineral-like depth taste of the burgers.

Over his home-grown dinner offerings, talk turned to the interior decor of ranch house. So much of it reflected the land we had just meandered through. The natural limestone and sandstone fireplaces, the huge picture windows overlooking the Santa Lucia Range, pastures and vineyards. Native artifacts found on the property were displayed carefully as if in a museum. Foshay’s crossbred 10-year-old Australian cattle dog, Silver, was welcome inside and out.

Laird wanted to talk about the original Dodd Ranch and Frank Sawyer’s homestead; Sawyer was the physician at the Paso Robles Inn 100 years ago. His son Marshall later bought the ranch land in the 1970s. The area’s history seemed far more important than his successful 20 years as one of Palo Alto’s “bit players” (his humble quotations) of Internet and finance. Heck we even talked about the Paso Mennonites who settled the area in the 1890s.

After planting his first Bordeaux vineyard in 2002 and Rhône varietals in 2008-09, former Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Laird Foshay, harvests vineyards growing at 1,700 feet among oaks, grasslands and Angus beef.

So then who is this University of California, Santa Barbara, history major? I kept telling Laird, “I am still having trouble figuring out how a guy who met Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in the early years of personal computer and Internet development, turned to ranching and winemaking? It just seems crazy.”

One thing for sure, Foshay no longer wears Polo shirts and has no intention of going back.

Please read the Sept. 14 post and the second part of this series: Frontier ranching in Paso: Rangeland Wines and Laird Foshay, Part II. Read as Laird put aside criticism and raw beginnings to produce wines worthy of acclaim. Laird lives on his Adelaida Springs Ranch with his wife Lisa. They have two college-age boys: Sam and Jackson and a high school senior, Angeline.