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“What I stand for is what I stand on.”

Wendell Berry

Contemplations on Farming

By Will Bucklin

My stewardship of Old Hill Ranch follows in the footsteps of my stepfather Otto Teller, a renowned conservationist who started farming in Sonoma Valley in the late 1950s. Otto was an ardent organic farmer decades before the notion caught hold. A disciple of Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring," Otto refused what he called the treadmill of agricultural chemicals. He believed in dry farming because he knew it produced better wine, but also because he was a fisherman who had fished the Sonoma Creeks. His lament: “All these goddamn vineyards are sucking up all our ground water!”

Otto, or “Mose” as we called him, was somebody I greatly admired. He instilled in me a passion for the value of conservation and the protection of land. I learned a lot from Otto, but he was no teacher. Instead, he would just give me the tools and expect me to figure things out. His idea of teaching me to fly fish was to buy me some hooks, feathers and a vice.

I think it fair to say that, as farmers go, both Otto and I are curmudgeonly, cantankerous contrarians who believe strongly in progressive agrarian principles. But the farming similarities stop there. Otto’s farming style was described by my brother Ted, who took over managing Old Hill in the late ‘90s, as “benign neglect.” It is no coincidence that under Otto’s system, Old Hill produced the most revered and ; he was a great farmer, and he knew quality. But for Otto, Old Hill was more a source of pride than of income, and the vineyard was not very productive.

Robert Parker called Ravenswood Old Hill “the quintessential Zinfandel.” Of the sixteen vintages between 1984 and 2000, fourteen received ratings from Robert Parker of 90 or higher. The “Quarterly Review of Wine” rated the 1999 Ravenswood Old Hill as Best of Show out of 100 Zinfandels. Of the 10 vintages in the 1990s, half received ratings of above 90 points from Wine Spectator.

Otto, a self-described “country slicker,” lived on his other, much larger property, Oak Hill Farm, with many other pursuits in addition to Old Hill. In comparison, my livelihood is tied directly to Old Hill where I live with my wife and a community of other people who are all part and parcel to the ranch’s success.

Today, the farming ethos on Old Hill Ranch is to grow the best quality grapes we can using the most ecologically benign methods, while sustaining our community and maintaining the values that Otto instilled in us.


Dry farming: Growing grapes without irrigation

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes minutes

Soil health and the three Cs: carbon, cover crops and compost

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes minutes

Plant Biome, Soil biology and plant Microflora

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes minutes

Wildlife on the vineyard

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes minutes

Head Training

Estimated reading time: 2 minutes minutes

The romance of field blending

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes minutes


Estimated reading time: 2 minutes minutes

Looking to the future

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes minutes