Swirl n’ Spit

Swirl n’ Spit

MacMurray Ranch

By Heather Irwin

In the 1940s, actor Fred MacMurray purchased a sprawling ranch at the south end of Westside Road in Healdsburg. More at home on the farm than in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, MacMurray, and his family, ran a herd of prize-winning cattle on the property with the occasional celebrity dropping in for lunch.

Filled with secret redwood groves, hidden springs and breathtaking vistas and historic oaks, the ranch was a place that MacMurray worked and loved, according to his daughter Kate MacMurray, who is glad to tell story after story about her father and the land. Hosting a recent press junket, Kate pointed to benches and windows built by her dad, explaining how the property had been farmed for generations by the Preston family with little changing over the last 150 years. Except, of course, for the planting of grapes.

Now, like most of the area surrounding it, MacMurray Ranch is filled with rows of wine grapes that sun themselves in the summer heat. At the helm is Kate, who grew up on the ranch and creates award-winning estate Pinot Noirs from her former home (she now lives across the street).

Recently sold to Gallo, and thus under boycott by the UFW, MacMurray Ranch is surrounded by other well-known Pinot growers like Gary Farrell. The hot, dry days and nights make for deep, fruitful Russian River Pinots that pair beautifully with local foods like salmon and quail. The winery has also recently bottled a lighter style Pinot Gris. Unlike its neighbors, the ranch is not open to the public. To taste MacMurray wines, you have to purchase them in the store or buy the wine in restaurants–except, that is, on the one day this month, Saturday, July 16, when the ranch throws open its gates to host the annual Taste of Sonoma County on Saturday.

Anyone who’s been to the estate can attest that a visit is well worth the effort. Kate MacMurray, who often entertains at the century-old farmhouse, is an engaging tour guide. She’s quick to tell fascinating stories about the nearby redwood groves and ancient Indian arrowheads, and anecdotes about her father and his Hollywood friends. During the Taste event, MacMurray will host several discussions and slideshows on the ranch and surrounding area.

Taste of Sonoma County overflows at the MacMurray Ranch on Saturday, July 16, from 11:30am to 3:30pm. 9015 Westside Road, Healdsburg. $155. Taking its cue from the CSI television show, this annual weekend of events is this year called “WSI: Wine Scene Investigation.” It begins with the “Appellation Experience” on Thursday, July 14 ($85); features special dinners at various wineries that night ($160); continues on with winery lunches on Friday, July 15 ($80); launches a lavish auction and dinner that night ($450); and, after the MacMurray event, ends with a San Francisco Symphony performance on Saturday night ($125). 707.586.3795, ext. 209. www.sonomawine.com/showcase.

From the July 6-12, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

© 2005 Metro Publishing Inc.

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