Lou and Susan Preston have been making wine in Dry Creek Valley since the early 1970s but their gorgeous estate, nestled near the northwest corner of Dry Creek Valley, is much more than a vineyard and winery. It is a farm, a ranch, an orchard, a farm store, a bakery and more. It has grown, bit by bit, into a compelling expression of glorious diversity, as grapes have taken their place alongside other, equally important, crops.
This year, Preston Farms has been a fixture at the Healdsburg Farmers Market on both Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. The current harvest features tomatoes–the Indigo Rose is both gorgeous and delicious–sweet and hot peppers, lots of zucchini, eggplant, beets, turnips, carrots, radishes, red Stockton onions, lettuces and lettuce mix, kale, cabbage, collard greens, mustard greens, cilantro, basil, dill and stinging nettles. There’s also strawberries, Turkey figs, Mission figs, the first quinces–two varieties, Chinese and Italian–and Fuyu persimmons. The first pomegranates may appear this week and in a few weeks, there will be Hachiya persimmons. They’ve just dug their first sweet potatoes and will bring them to the market after they’ve cured in a solar-heated room for a week or so, a process that sets their sugars.
The farm has tomatillos, too, which can be a hard sell, Lou says.
Preston sauerkraut is famous in and around Healdsburg and you can get it at the market for $6 a pint. The farm also produces pickled hot chiles, dill pickles redolent with estate garlic and multigrain hearth bread, a sturdy, nutrient dense bread made primarily of estate grown and milled grains.
Soon, they’ll be picking olives for both curing and for making olive oil. Lou says he’s tempted to offer raw olives at the market and will be happy to explain how to cure them at home.
“We want people to be comfortable with olives as a local crop,” he explains.
Preston Farms has had chickens and, in season, eggs for a number of years. The Prestons also raise lambs and sheep, goats and pigs. Most of Preston’s meat is sold to local chefs such as Ari Rosen of Scopa and Mateo Granados of Mateo’s Cocino Latina.
Preston also has a serve-yourself farm store where you can find whatever is being harvested at the moment, along with the sauerkraut, pickles and breads. Preston olive oil is available in the tasting room.
Susan Preston is an artist with a refined yet delightfully whimsical sensibility; you’ll see her images on wine labels, olive oil labels and more. Her studio is in the midst of the farm.
Lou Preston, who calls himself a food activist, has always been something of a philosopher and seems to love long conversations about almost anything to do with real food and non-conventional farming. Just get him talking about compost, the kefir he makes almost daily or the grain collaborative in Philo that he joined a while ago. Conversation meanders down so many alleyways and side streets that the next thing you know, an hour has passed and you have no inclination to stop chatting.
An endeavor this diverse requires more than just Lou and Susan Preston, of course. Matt Norelli is Preston’s winemaker and also oversees olive oil production. Lindsay Challoners is food and farm coordinator.
Preston Farm, part of Preston Vineyards, established in 1973, attends the Healdsburg farmers market on Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings. The farm store and tasting room, located at 9282 West Dry Creek Rd., Healdsburg, are open daily from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For information about wines, olive oil, farming practices and philosophy and more, visit prestonvineyards.com.