Casey Flat Ranch Vineyards
Capay Valley AVA
An exciting new winery project in the Capay Valley
This month’s Gold Club selection is Casey Flat Ranch that is located in Yolo County, California. Yolo County mostly lies directly west and north of the capitol of Sacramento, and is just blossoming as a part of the California wine production acreage. It shares a common border with two top wine producing counties (Napa and Lake) and is home to the University of California Davis, America’s top producer of winemakers and winery executives.
Casey Flat Ranch is a 6,000-acre site that encompasses some of the most rugged terrain in all of California. It is located on the eastern side of the Vaca Mountain Range and about 20-25 miles due east of the City of St. Helena, the actual heart of the Napa Valley wine region.
Casey Flat Ranch is also deeply steeped in California’s early history. It was originally part of the Berryessa Spanish land grant and was settled during the pragmatic frenzy of the 1849 Gold Rush. Locals named the area after the legendary frontiersman and early homesteader John Casey, who chose the land to begin his farming and cattle operation.
In 2003, the Robert and Laura Morey Family of San Francisco purchased the land and set about to start a small cattle operation featuring Texas Longhorn cattle. A small piece of land around the 2,000 foot altitude mark attracted their attention and a small grape growing operation was added.
“The land is so rugged that there are only a few tiny places where we could plant vines,” explained Ali Morey Garrett, the Morey daughter who runs Casey Flat Ranch. “It is actually quite a trek from our front gate up to where the vineyards are planted. To my knowledge, we are the highest vineyards in Yolo County and probably among the highest in Northern California.”
Even with its relative obscurity, vineyards in this area seem to make a great deal of sense. Soil composition is only moderately rocky and similar to the other side of the Vaca Range where grape farming is booming. Weather conditions are also remarkably similar to the Oakville and Rutherford appellations, both mainstays of the Napa Valley growing region.
It was also fortunate that the area was already blessed with its own appellation, the Capay (pronounced Kay-pay) Valley AVA that was granted in 2002. Capay Valley AVA is also the smallest AVA in California with less than 100 acres under vine.
When the decision was made to grow grapes, another evaluation was soon made to begin making wine under the family’s own label. The first release of commercial wine came in 2007 with a modest 775 cases.
“We started with our Open Range label that was a tribute to the almost primitive condition of the land,” informed Ali Garrett. “We utilized some of our estate grapes along with other fruit that we sourced from Lake, Mendocino and the Sierra Foothills. These wines were so well received that we decided to begin producing some estate wines that carry the Casey Flat Ranch label.”
Annual production for the entity is still small, some 4-5,000 cases of Open Range wines and another 2,500-3,000 cases of estate wines. The wines are made at the old Cuvaison Winery facility on Napa Valley’s Silverado Trail that has been turned into a custom crush facility. Ali Garrett also stated that the family is in the process of developing some additional varietals (Grenache, Viognier and Syrah) that will become part of Casey Flat Ranch’s estate program. There is also another small section of the ranch that might harbor vineyards, but the decision to plant has not yet been reached.
Casey Flat Ranch is also part of a tasting co-op, named Rootstock. Rootstock is located in Western Yolo County in the historic and charming town of Winters. The site also boasts the work of local artists and is a pleasant stop in that part of Northern California.
From a number of different aspects, the future is bright for Casey Flat Ranch and its Open Range wines. Plaudits for the wines have become frequent and awards and accolades more common as the brands gain more exposure. Gold Medal Wine Club welcomes Casey Flat Ranch and
its delicious wines to our portfolio of showcase wineries. Enjoy!
The Art of Fine Wine
The Party in the Vines
Painted by Stephanie Schlatter and depicts a scene from Northern Michigan’s wine county.
About Capay Valley Region
If the name Capay Valley doesn’t jog your memory, don’t feel bad. For your information, the Capay Valley is located just east of Napa Valley (some 15-25 miles) in Yolo County in the heart of the Vaca Mountains. It is also the smallest appellation for production with only 100 acres under vine at present. There are only a small number of wineries, but the quality of grapes being grown alludes to the fact that there are good things to come from this growing region in the future.
The entire appellation is located at extremely high altitude (mostly over 1,000 feet) and the cooler resultant temperatures make the growing area quite similar to its western neighbor Napa Valley.
Laura Barrett - Winemaker
Laura has been with Casey Flat Ranch Vineyards since 2008. A graduate of the University of Vermont with a BS in Chemistry, Barrett first worked in New Zealand for a small winery and returned to the United States to attend UC Davis. She obtained a Masters in Enology and was awarded the La Reve Foundation Scholarship while attending Davis.
Laura next traveled to Western Australia under the International Wine and Food Society Global Internship Award where she worked in the Margaret River Wine Region. Upon returning to California she saw stints at the Napa Wine Company and was Associate Winemaker for the prestigious Fisher Vineyards in Santa Rosa, California.
Alison Morey Garrett - CEO
Alison ‘Ali’ Morey Garrett holds the reins for operations and management of Casey Flat Ranch. Now 41, the personable woman is in a position she never expected to pursue. “I grew up in the San Francisco area and went to Georgetown University,” she related during a recent interview. “I majored in American Government and that allowed me a liberal arts side of life.” When her family made the decision to buy a large, undeveloped property in Northern California in 2003, Ali Garrett found herself in the unique position of running the new acquisition.
“We decided to plant some grapes in 2004 on a small section of the land,” she recalled. “It was all very exciting and also quite difficult. Some family decisions were made to find the best possible people to help with the new project and for that I will be forever grateful.”
One of the first hires was iconic viticulturist Tom Prentice, whose reputation and resume spans several decades and a number of continents. Prentice began the planting operation at Casey Flat Ranch soon after its inception and is still associated with the Morey Family today.
“I am delighted that Tom is still part of our operation,” Ali Garrett added. “He brings much more than just expertise to Casey Flat Ranch. It is as if he is part of our family and that’s one of the reasons we have been so successful. The same goes for our winemaker, Laura Barrett. She’s the only winemaker we have ever had and she means so much to each of us.”
Biggest problems faced to date?
“I would say it was figuring out just what grows best on our land and then deciding on how we can make it all better,” Ali responded. “Grape growing is a sometimes hit-or-miss business. What works here doesn’t always work there and it all takes a great deal of patience. I have always set out to build my knowledge of that aspect of the business and I don’t expect I’ll ever stop learning.”
Ali Garrett conceded that Casey Flat Ranch will never be a large production winery, but intends on developing the estate side of its business in the near future.
“Most of the property we own is too rugged for planting,” she explained further. “But there is a small section that we are considering planting. If we do plant it, our production will practically double. But even if we do plant, the vines won’t produce a really large amount of grapes for some time.”
Ali Garrett counts on her husband Mark for business advice. Mark Garrett runs a highly successful wealth management business in Boston and is always available for any assistance. Ali and Mark have two daughters, Langan, 8, and Phoebe, 6, but neither has expressed much interest in the winery business. “I take them along with me to winery meetings and of course, I am always hopeful that they will enjoy the wine industry. It’s such a fun business and the people who are in it are so nice.”
Ali Garrett is a fortunate woman to be involved in a project she truly enjoys. The wines of Casey Flat ranch are gaining popularity and devotees with each new release. It is a great pleasure to introduce both Ali Garrett and Casey Flat Ranch to our Gold Wine Club members. Enjoy!