“Never stop playing the game.”
Sir Peter Michael

Home Away From Home

Paul and Emily make the winery’s refurbished cabin their home when they visit from Berkshire. They have reimagined the scene, added the pétanque games court, wigwams for the very young, the tall totem pole, and a deck BBQ. It is now their friends and families who hope to be invited sometime to be part of life on this famous working ranch, to run and walk the trails, to climb the hills, and explore this wild, primitive land that we have only partially tamed with neat rows of vines. They have created the beach at the lake where summer parties continue to the strains of music into the early morning hours whilst the energetic younger group dives and swims with screams of delight and laughter.

When we are there, we live in a wildlife safari park with coyotes, a family of bears, and peregrine falcons to egrets. The fish jump from the lake, and the turtles climb onto the warm rocks, basking in the sun. Some go fishing whilst others gallop around the vineyards on polo ponies before wading across the lake. Not so friendly, the occasional rattlesnake and black widow spider have been spotted. We have adopted as many natural corridors as we can, maintained the creek banks, and planted a wonderful garden—now replanting to drought-resistant varieties.

It’s a wild, rugged place a long way from normal urban civilisation, so far that we use satellites to get Wi-Fi. The vectors of disease, insect, virus, or yeast are challenging to control, but with the new natural remedies, our footprint is minimal. Fifteen years ago, we built one of the early solar farms that reduced our power requirement by 90 per cent, and we have just taken delivery of our first electric SUV from Rivian to tour the property. The Monarch electric tractor has arrived and is on trial, so our carbon trail is getting smaller and smaller.

Pete and Tucker watch the comings and goings of the family.

None of this would have happened without Herb Westfall, ranch manager and general factotum, who makes things happen for the ranch and winery, as well as organising life for all those who stay. Herb was born and brought up on the next-door property and, as a result, knows everything that has ever happened in the locale over the last fifty years.

My father had always wanted a vineyard in France and, in the 1960s, set off with a partner to see what could be available in Burgundy. He returned empty-handed and said that the French didn’t want foreigners, particularly English, to own their vineyards and that Code Napoleon proscribed inheritance law in a way that destroyed vineyard integrity. But here was I, just twenty years on, creating vineyards in California, somewhere he would never have thought of. I was pleased that, although not too fit, he managed to visit us and saw what he could never have imagined in his wildest dreams.

Paul en route for wine travels for the family wine business—now in its fourth decade.

We love this estate, with its rugged and primitive land, so much that within the family we have agreed upon a long-term strategy, our 100 × 100 plan, that is, 100 per cent owned by the family for 100 years. Now that responsibility has passed to Paul and Emily, who have three wonderful offspring, each of whom have said that eventually they would want to run the ranch. One of them may well get the chance.

Mylo enjoys the summer sun on the property’s small lake.

Every year the family spends time on this land. Anna can often be found with her paintbox.

Elliot, Paul, and Emily outside the cabin, our home away from home.

“We love this estate, with its rugged and primitive land, so much that within the family we have agreed upon a long-term strategy.”

Pete in his element, tinkering with electronics and enjoying a glass of red wine, summer 2023.

Dedicated Stewardship

Sugarloaf Ranch was to be the future home to Peter Michael Winery, the next monumental task was to find the best people to care for the land and begin the arduous feat of planting vineyards—this was met with much skepticism. Spanning over 750 acres (303 hectares) up the steep slopes of Mount Saint Helena, many thought it would be impossible, let alone prove to produce a world-class claret. We were very fortunate. Scott Rodde, our president, had discovered Helen Turley as our first winemaker and Alan Peirson as the estate manager. While I coerced my young boys to participate in the first planting of Les Pavots vineyard, many talented individuals contributed to the founding of the winery and bringing the vision to reality, but several caretakers have worked the land and vineyards for over twenty years and continue to do so today.

Maintaining the ranch with so many moving parts is no small undertaking. Herb Westfall has been the man for over the last twenty years. No regular hours, no routine jobs. Things going wrong in the small hours whilst a storm is in full spate or fire breaking out somewhere are met with a resolute “we’ll fix it” attitude, and sure enough, it is. The family and business often depend upon Herb; it’s been like that since he was a boy.

Herb, pictured here as a child, is a native of Knights Valley. His family home was adjacent to the Knights Valley Ranch, and his father mined cinnabar on the property in the ’60s.

For over twenty years, Herb and his team manage all aspects of the ranch, from forestry to the engineering of Côte Deux Mille.

Over thirty years ago a young vineyard manager arrived and instantly started reorganising the vine layout on the mountain. He hasn’t stopped. Javier Aviña decided he was going to stay and build some of the most astonishing vineyards in the world. The extraordinary thing is that he doesn’t look any older than he did those years ago, but the vines do.

Javier worked in vineyards for a short time before joining the team over thirty years ago. Since his arrival, he engineered and manages all vineyard sites alongside his dedicated teams.