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Toast: Biodynamic Wine in the Land of Boies and Cowboys 


From Tueday, April 16, Vacaville Reporter under the title Baby Steps Produces Wine Made the Hawk and Horse Way.

Mitch Hawkins has a good dentist.

I know because I can see every one of his teeth when he smiles. It's hard to resist a guy who smiles like that and brings you icy water on a hot day.

Like Gomer Pyle in a David Mamet play, he's got a twangy, nonstop patter that must have served him well in his days as a bartender. He's a good ol' boy in a checkered shirt with a princess for a wife.

Tracey Hawkins claims humble roots, she grew up working in her mother's restaurant in Sonoma, but her cadences conjure boarding school all the way.

When I drove up to their ranch house, she emerged wearing a Western shirt, riding pants and knee-high boots, an outfit that only someone with a perfect derrière would risk -- I was jealous. Perhaps her patrician air comes from selling luxury wine for Windsor Vineyards for many years or, perhaps, it's the influence of her stepfather, high-stakes attorney David Boies.

Boies is the lawyer who took on Microsoft in United States v. Microsoft, George Bush in Bush v. Gore, and is now defending same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court. In 1982, his enthusiasm for wine and of California's North Coast wine-growing region led him to purchase, in 1982, the historic El Roble Grande Ranch, a former horse-breeding facility on 900 acres of wilderness in Lower Lake County.

Tracey's family took turns managing the ranch but, after awhile, it became clear that Mitch and Tracey had a special love for the property. They took over daily operations of the ranch in 1999 and began to plant their vineyard, called Hawk and Horse Vineyards.

If a Supreme Court lawyer seems improbable in Lake County, an area known for cowboys, Indian casinos and methamphetamines, biodynamic farming may seem equally preposterous.

But a trip to the vineyards at elevations of 1,800 and 2,200 feet, surrounded by nothing but wild hills, spring water and a pristine sky, makes any other approach to farming feel like a travesty. The low-grade diamonds sparkling in the red dirt are a ready metaphor for the crystalline beauty of the Red Hills AVA (American Viticultural Region).

"We're micro-managers big time. We baby this stuff at every step," said Tracey.

Biodynamic farming is similar to organic farming in that it avoids chemical pesticides and herbicides.

Easy when you're growing petunias on the deck but an awesome commitment when you are clearing decades of brush, brambles and poison oak, which is what the Hawkins pair did for their vineyard. Biodynamic farming goes a step further by treating the farm as a single ecosystem, thus the importance of the cattle, hawks and wild turkeys on their ranch.

"Other biodynamic growers use chickens in their vineyards; we have wild turkeys. If they eat a few grapes, well, God bless them," said Tracey.

The ranch's herd of Scottish Highlander Cattle, a breed chosen for its easy calving and gentle nature, supply a key ingredient to the nutritive preparations that are part of biodynamic farming: manure.

In fact, the Hawkins share their "bounty" with other biodynamic farmers, many of them associated with premier wineries in Napa.

"There's enough love for everyone," quipped Mitch. Added Tracey, "I call it alchemy. They leave and I have biodynamic wine and honey on my table. They left with dung."

The ranch is also home to horses that Tracey and her daughters ride in local rodeos.

They love the horses, they love the land. But, most of all, they love their vines.

"I have my head in every vine," said Mitch and I believed him. Whether it's the hawks, the diamonds, Boies or the Scottish Highlander manure, I'll never know.

But  the end result is a special-occasion cabernet that is rich with black berries, cocoa and soft tannins. For more information about Hawk and Horse Vineyards, visit


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