A Twist in the Dry Creek Valley Mix

By Marcy Gordon
Sonoma Discoveries Magazine

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Looking to experience some “coltura promiscua” in Dry Creek Valley? Then, swipe right on Trattore Farms. Although coltura promiscua may sound risqué, it’s merely the term for farming mixed crops in a field. At Trattore the mix is grapes and olives, one of nature’s most prolific botanical pairings. Nothing unsavory, poloyamory-esque or Fifty Shades of Green about it, unless you consider that both like the terrain to be, well, a little rough.

It’s not surprising that wherever grapevines grow, olive trees are usually close by. Grapevines and olive trees are highly compatible and have similar soil and climate requirements. But there are surprises at Trattore Farms and Dry Creek Olive Oil Co. nested inside the undulating hills at the North end of Dry Creek Valley.

First the view—it’s unexpected as you approach the entrance, but simply breathtaking when you reach the summit. Then there’s the on-site olive mill and oil-production facility, and finally the wines, featuring a Rhône-heavy portfolio with a boutique level of production hovering around 3,000 cases.

Owner Tim Bucher grew up on a dairy farm on Westside Road in Russian River Valley and he and his siblings once grew and sold French Colombard grapes. Originally Bucher wanted to design and build tractors, but while in engineering school at UC Davis, he developed an interest in Computer Science. He continued his studies at Stanford where he met his wife Mary Louise in the Stanford engineering program.

While his career veered away from agriculture, he always held tight to the idea of opening his own winery. Eventually his dream became a reality and Trattore, Italian for tractor, opened in October of 2015. Bucher now lives on the Trattore estate where he gives the final approval on all the wines and Mary Louise, a master miller, makes the olive oils

Winemaker Kerry Damskey, along with assistant winemaker Ryan Schmaltz, are the guiding hands of the wine program, creating wines with great finesse and delicate balance.

The 40 acres of vineyards and olive trees are set on steep rolling hills. Originally water ran through the valley and river rocks are found all over the property. The excellent soils and sun exposure on the hillsides make ideal growing conditions and Rhône varieties grow especially well there.

Vineyard, Orchard and Olive Mill Tour

Time permitting, the best way to experience Trattore is to make a day of it. Start with the Get Your Boots Dirty Tour and then flex your newly acquired knowledge about wine and olive oil to fully enjoy the tastings of both.

Trattore Farm strives to connect guests to the land with a comprehensive yet relaxed and educational experience. The 90-minute walking tour takes guests through the diverse soils of the olive orchards and the vineyards, into the olive mill and the wine cellar, ending with a guided wine and olive oil tasting. During the walk, sustainable initiatives are also explained with regard to the use of solar and their own on-site wastewater treatment facility—one of the few wineries with one. All water used in the winery and tasting room flows downhill to the treatment plant to remove harmful bacteria, then it’s reused for irrigation.

In the olive mill, you can get an up-close view of the giant 7,000-pound granite stone wheels that grind the olives and the centrifuges that separate the solids from the liquids and extract the oil. You’ll also learn how various oils are co-milled with fruit to make flavored oils.

The tour aims to enlighten visitors on the olive-oil making process and outlines the strict standards for California extra virgin olive oil and why it’s become one of the finest oils in the world. Multiple varieties of olives—Italian, Spanish and Greek—are used and blended in a process that has many similarities to winemaking.


Big View, Big Flavors

The Trattore tasting room is spacious and airy with a rustic elegance and an almost spa-like serenity despite its size. One end of the tasting room showcases a few shiny examples from Bucher’s prized tractor collection that look more like vintage race cars than farm equipment. But the main attraction of the tasting room is the riveting view. No matter the season, rainy or bright, the changing foliage and light is like a Monet painting come to life. The patio, outfitted with comfy low-slung couches and high-top tables, is the perfect perch to relax and catch the magical sunsets.

Settle in on the patio or cozy up to the wine or olive tasting bars inside. All tasting menus include both wine and olive oil samplings. Two wine flights are offered—The Estate Menu and the Reserve Menu at $20 and $30 respectively.

Both flights have their inherent charms, but the Reserve Menu consisting of the 2015 Viognier, 2015 Roussanne, 2014 TF Pinot Noir and 2014 Stone Soup, is a must.

Flights come with light nibbles. Truffle oil popcorn with some Roussanne perhaps? Yes, please.

For something heartier, charcuterie and cheese plates may be purchased. The plates are available daily, featuring local purveyors such as Valley Ford Cheese and Creamery, Zoe’s Meats from Santa Rosa, and Bohemian Creamery and Kozlowski Farms of Sebastopol.

On weekends you may find yourself face to face with the Buchers—Tim pouring wine and Mary Louise at the oil bar—greeting guests and sharing their enthusiasm and knowledge of the oils and wines.

Sundays, from April to October, wood-fired pizzas are offered fresh and hot from the oven featuring house-made pizza dough from the resident dough maker—a difference you can taste. Try a glass of the Stone Soup or Grenache with the Trattore Classico: Red sauce, Mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, Tavola Toscana Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Or pair some Viognier or Roussanne with The Goat: No sauce, goat cheese, Anjou pear, Italian herbs and Meyer lemon olive oil.

Along with the whimsical tractor and logo-branded merchandise, Trattore has a selection of one-of-a-kind housewares. Follow your nose to the display of scented olive oil soaps made from Trattore’s own olive oils and handcrafted by Soap Cauldron in Sebastopol.

Of particular note are the white ceramic olive-oil dipping dishes designed by artist Mary Judge and inspired by the hillside terraces of Tuscany. The graduated levels of the plates highlight the different hues of the oils from dark to light. Both beautiful and functional, they come in a cloud and leaf motif. Be forewarned: You may find it difficult to leave without one.

Suggested Sips:

2015 Roussanne – Beautiful floral nose with pear, apricot, citrus and honey hints. Full bodied with a complex and viscous mouth feel. Aromatics translate over to the palate with lush acidity.

2013 Stone Soup – This field blend, made with all five grapes grown on the property (Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah, Petite Sirah and Zinfandel), is big and bold with an intense bouquet. Age-worthy, yes, but once you taste it, you’ll be hard-pressed to lay it down.

More than Expected

To some, Trattore Farms may appear as an anomaly—a large estate producing limited quantities of wine. But while the infrastructure is certainly in place to increase wine-case production, Trattore is not looking to become big for the sake of getting big. Instead Bucher and his winemaking team are interested in growing slowly, maintaining the quality of the wines and producing reds that are lighter style with lower alcohol.

Trattore Farms brings a twist to the mix in Dry Creek Valley most widely known as big, bold Zinfandel country. With their focus primarily on Rhône varieties and commitment to producing the finest olive oils, it’s more than coltura promiscua—it’s a delicious dichotomy.