Rusty Gate Farm grows Albarino winegrapes, several varieties of peaches, apples, citrus, and various vegetables. Our primary cash crops are grapes and peaches.
Our 2 acre vineyard is planted exclusively to Albariño. Albariño is a cool weather, late ripening white variety grown most commonly on the Iberian Peninsula. It results in a complex, crisp, and fruit forward white wine somewhat like a dry Reisling. We became enamored with Albariño while traveling in Spain where it is very popular. Upon returning to California we found it was popping up on wine lists here as well. We had just bought our property and concluded that the Russian River Valley’s climate was ideal for the grape.
After extensive clearing and land preparation, our vineyard was planted in 2011 by our vineyard manager, Phil Marcucci, and his crew. The rootstock is S04, and the cultivar clone is 01. Spacing is 5 feet between vines and 7 feet between rows with a north/south orientation.
The 2018 vintage marked our fourth commercial harvest, and we had a yield of 7 ton. The crop was purchased by Picayune Cellars of Calistoga which produces a delicious single-vineyard Albariño under their prestige label with a “Rusty Gate Farm” vineyard designation.
Rusty Gate Farm is among a very small number of Albariño growers in California and the only standalone grower in the Russian River Valley AVA. (There are two winery estate vineyards in our AVA growing excellent Albariño fruit for their own winery production.) In 2017 statewide there were only 269 bearing acres of Albariño compare to 171,000 acres of all white wine grapes.
Who doesn’t like a sweet, juicy perfectly ripe peach? Well, Rusty Gate Farm has 90 trees of them. Our orchard has 10 different varieties chosen to ripen at different times throughout the summer. Our first variety is usually ripe in mid-June, and the harvest continues into mid-September.
We sell our peaches to local restaurants located between Santa Rosa and Bodega Bay, and we also sell to individuals by appointment. We are one of only a few producers of peaches in West County. What makes our peaches special is that we pick every piece of fruit by hand at perfect ripeness with all harvesting done by ourselves and a few peach-crazy friends. We typically pick from a given tree multiple times over the course of a week or more. Our obsession for ripeness requires frequent field tasting, a tough job, but one we gladly do for our customers.
To ensure freshness and quality, just-picked peaches are moved from the orchard to our walk-in cold room (built into an old pump house by Rich and a friend) within an hour of being harvested. There, after grading, they remain at 35⁰F until they are delivered to a restaurant or picked up by one of our individual customers.
Below are some of the peach varieties that we grow. The orchard is in a continuous state of flux as we try new varieties, pull out those that didn’t do so well, and replace old, failing trees. We are aided in this effort by Wendy Krupnick, a local orchard consultant and Santa Rosa Junior College educator who helped design the original orchard 15 years ago.
Peach varieties (all are freestone, yellow peaches except as noted):
Spring Flame – very early, semi-freestone
Paul Friday – early
Red Haven – mid season
Elegant Lady – late mid season
Suncrest – An old heirloom but new to us, mid-season
O’Henry – late mid-season
Tra-Zee – late season
Fairtime – late-season
Indian Red – very late-season dark red flesh, first available fruit in 2019
Other Tree Fruit
Considering that our property was originally part of an 80 acre apple ranch dating back to the 1890s, it is not surprising that we have at least 15 bearing apple trees on the farm. Most of our apples are Gravenstein or Red Gravenstein (the Gravenstein Highway is a mile to the west).
We have 14 citrus trees, 11 of which we planted. They include Valencia orange, blood orange, Mandarin orange, Lisbon lemon, Meyer lemon, Bergamot lemon, Bearss lime, and Mandarinquat. Other fruit trees include plums (3), figs (2), persimmons (2), apricot (1), Bartlett pear (1), and pomegranate (1). What do we do with all of this fruit? We sell some to restaurants, give some to friends, make jams, and dry some for off season snacks. And, of course, we enjoy our fruit fresh and in desserts when it is in season.
We, like many of our friends and neighbors in West County, grow a number of different vegetables for our own table. Our goal is to include home grown food in all our meals throughout the year. What we grow varies from year to year but usually includes tomatoes, pumpkin, squash, lettuce, leafy greens, green beans, shelling peas, beans for drying, fava beans, leaks, garlic, and potatoes. With help from our friends Erik and Jeannette Ekh we have recently built a greenhouse utilizing old windows taken from our house during its renovation. This allows Mary to propagate seeds and starts earlier in the season and to grow lettuce in the off season. We’re also going to experiment with off season tomatoes.
We seldom sell our vegetables, preferring to enjoy them ourselves and share with friends.
Rusty Gate Farm has become a “bee and bee” by hosting 70 boxes of honeybees from Westwind Farms. Westwind is an almond grower in Woodland, California and maintains bee colonies for the springtime pollination that is so crucial to almond trees. They are committed to honeybee sustainability as are we, and so we have partnered to provide an off-season diverse habitat for their hives. The bees moved in behind the peach orchard in May 2018 and were our guests through November. They produced wonderful honey that we and our friends are enjoying. We’re looking forward to their return after they complete their pollination work in the almond orchards in 2019.