Long Meadow Ranch is home to the oldest olive orchard in the Napa Valley. The olive tree cuttings were planted in the 1870’s by E.J. Church, who owned the land during that time. Vineyards were also planted and the grapes and olives were supplied to neighboring wineries and taken into town to market. However, farming ceased during prohibition in the 1920’s and the property was abandoned, leaving the vineyards and olive trees to slowly deteriorate.
Discovering Prato Lungo’s Past
The Hall family purchased Long Meadow Ranch Estate in the 1980’s with hopes of re-establishing the vineyards and winery. Although they were aware of the olive trees on the property, they did not know how many trees, nor the history. While cultivating their land, they found these old olive trees hidden from view and scattered amongst an overgrown forest. They cleared away the Douglas Firs and Digger Pines that were towering over the olive orchards so the sun would be able to reach the olive trees. The old trees were aggressively pruned to allow new growth and they quickly began to flourish, giving Long Meadow Ranch beautiful olive producing trees.
What kind of olives? That is the question! After lab testing from the University of California at Davis and DNA testing at a state-of-the-art facility in Spain, they believe the olives are in the same family as the Picholine, a variety from the Provence Region of France. You may be familiar with this variety of little green olive as they usually sit at the bottom of a martini glass. However, Long Meadow Ranch took the opportunity to use the mysterious little olives to produce extra virgin olive oil instead.
Prato Lungo Today
The beautiful meadow on the Mayacamas Estate is named Prato Lungo, which translated from Italian means Long Meadow. Our private tour takes us to the historic Prato Lungo Orchards where the sun is shining, the birds are singing, and the olive trees sway in the gentle breeze. It’s fascinating to know that these old trees have been rooted here long before any of us and managed to stay alive through years of neglect. With patience and tender care, the Hall family has restored the historic grove and given the olive trees a chance to live a healthy life once again.
The old scraggly trees sit upon a hillside, overhanging the picnic bench we are seated. If these trees could talk, I’m sure they’d have a story to tell. We feel a bit nostalgic as we quietly listen to their silvery sage colored leaves rustle in the wind as if they are trying to tell us something. Planted in the traditional orchard style, the trees are spread several feet apart to allow plenty of room to grow freely. This historic orchard is truly special and we feel honored to be sitting beneath their sprawling branches sipping wine and tasting the oil and fruits of their labor, literally.
The olive oil produced from these old trees is delicate, buttery, and slightly fruity. Some might even say “mature”. After all, they have been here a long time and they seem to know what they are doing. Similar to the “old vines” in a vineyard, they’ve picked up where they left off, producing a distinct olive oil from an olive variety that remains a mystery. Since this variety of olive doesn’t produce a lot of oil when pressed, Long Meadow Ranch treats the Prato Lungo orchard with the respect it deserves. At Harvest, the olives are removed from the trees by hand and dropped into nets so the olives don’t get damaged or bruised and quickly taken to the frantoio (olive mill) to create fresh extra virgin olive oil. After the organically grown olives have been pressed, the unfiltered oil settles in barrels before it makes its way into a beautiful diamond shaped bottle, fitting for oil that came from trees considered to be hidden gems. This one of a kind oil deserves an elegant bottle to display its golden hued fruit juice.
Only a small allocation of Prato Lungo olive oil is available and most is reserved for family and wine club members. If you visit Long Meadow Ranch, (we highly recommend one of their excursions) you may be fortunate enough to try or even buy a bottle of Prato Lungo. Words of advice, if you get the chance, buy it! It sells out very quickly every year. We can attest to this fact because it took us three years of trying! But today, we get the honor of taking a little piece of California history home with us. We promise to tr(eat) her well.
For those who miss the opportunity to take one of Long Meadow Ranch’s excursions and meet the swaying trees on the hillside, fret not! In 1998, an additional orchard was planted with Italian varietals, bringing a more robust flavor profile to a new olive oil they produce. The Napa Valley Select is a blend of Frantoio, Leccino, Manzanillo, and Mission varieties. This blend gives the oil a perfect balance of fruit and pungency, perfect for everyday use and cooking. This extra virgin olive oil is readily available and you can taste it (along with the Prato Lungo) at the General Store at Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena. Both olive oils are certified as organic extra virgin olive oil by California Certified Organic Farmers and the California Olive Oil Council, two trusted third party certification agencies in the industry.
Prato Lungo’s Future
The Hall family has made Long Meadow Ranch a perfect example of full circle farming. They tend their land, cattle, chickens, orchards, and vines, reaping the rewards it all offers but giving back freely and generously to their land and community. We leave here today knowing that great food comes from great farmers. The only question we still ponder is the identity of the mysterious olive cultivars in the Prato Lungo orchards. We’re not sure if we’ll ever know, but, at the end of the day, does it really matter? Our philosophy is: Be grateful and enjoy what life has given you and when life gives you olives, make olive oil!
Read more about Long Meadow Ranch Winery & Farmstead Restaurant in our review.
Photos taken by The Grove & Co. at Long Meadow Ranch Mayacamas Estate, Prato Lungo Orchards.