The Gleason Family Vineyards Santa Ynez Valley Group of Hospitality Brands Introduces Michael Vining as Director of Farming and Sustainability, Expands Organic Roblar Farm, Adds Sheep Herds to Refugio Ranch Vineyards, Revives Solvang’s Buttonwood Farm
July 14, 2022 – Santa Ynez, CA – The Gleason Family Vineyards Santa Ynez Valley portfolio of brands (Roblar Winery and Vineyards, Refugio Ranch Vineyards, Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard) has officially announced a series of new sustainability efforts for its Santa Barbara County vineyard and farm properties, as well as the introduction of Michael Vining as Director of Farming and Sustainability, overseeing all farming and sustainability initiatives for the entire portfolio.
Vining, who joined the Gleason Family Vineyards team in August 2021, shifted grape harvest practices on the winery operations side of the businesses by composting all vegetative winery waste from the 2021 harvest in a new project located on the group’s Roblar Farm property in Santa Ynez. Grape pomace from Roblar Winery and Vineyards, and Refugio Ranch Vineyards, went into the compost program and the company’s vineyard waste hauling contracts were canceled. Also part of the new composting program, is all kitchen waste from the Roblar Winery tasting room, where Executive Chef Peter Cham crafts farm menus for winery visitors, as well as private menus for events at both Roblar Winery and Roblar Farm.
At Refugio Ranch Vineyards, the Gleason family’s first Santa Ynez Valley property, the group is returning the land to one of its former uses as a grazing ground for farm animals, but this time, in between the rows of vines which blanket 26 acres of the 415-acre property. Before the growing season initiated, the Refugio Ranch vineyards were cover cropped and a herd of sheep joined the grape-growing and grazing operation, complete with shepherd, with guidance and services from Central California-based Cuyama Lamb, a sheep outfit committed to the regeneration of native California grasslands and the sustainable production of ethically raised food and fiber, which operates primarily in the coastal foothills of Santa Barbara County.
“We’re building an agricultural team here, incorporating the vineyard and farm lands into one regenerative system,” commented Michael Vining, Gleason Family Vineyards Director of Farming and Sustainability. “We are a company founded on family. And we want these lands for which we’re now stewards to thrive, for our own families, for future generations, and for the entire Santa Ynez Valley community.”
Michael Vining, a Santa Barbara native, is no stranger to farming practices and their importance to varied communities. In 1993, Vining completed his Senior Thesis while at University of California, Santa Cruz, titled, “Growing Alternatives and Opportunity: Homelessness and Garden-Based Social Change in Santa Cruz.” Following graduation and earning a BA with his degree in Community Studies, Vining tended and managed several local community farms in the Santa Cruz area. His work on these farms has been showcased in magazines like National Geographic, honoring his unique attention to design, color presentation, and layout of locally grown fruits and vegetables.
Vining moved on to a 15-year career in planning, developing, and homebuilding, growing a successful construction business which operated in both Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties. Vining leverages his dual backgrounds in construction and farming in his new role with Gleason Family Vineyards, where he has spearheaded such projects as the creation of a chicken run and residence for Roblar Farm’s 200-count chicken population, all roosting in a structure and yard made from reclaimed materials.
As part of Vining’s efforts, the previously-one-acre, organic Roblar produce farm has received a two-acre addition, which Vining has planted as a “market garden” – a seasonal field bearing 40+ varieties of vegetables and herbs to supply the Gleason Family Vineyards kitchens, as well as the newly-enhanced Roblar Farm stand which sits at the entrance to Roblar Winery and Vineyards on the corner of Roblar Avenue and Refugio Road. The stand regularly carries eggs and produce pulled directly from Roblar Farm, for purchase by locals and visitors.
Additionally, as of June 2022, Vining and the Gleason Family Vineyards team launched a new CSA program for Gleason Family Vineyards wine club members and Santa Ynez Valley locals, and the team is also planning to initiate community days where local residents are invited to walk the farm to glean produce, at no cost.
Roblar’s culinary platform also plays heavily into the farm planning, with Chef Cham and Vining working hand-in-hand to plant what might be on a seasonal “chef wish list.” Just steps from the Roblar kitchens, Chef Cham picks fresh produce destined for his dishes such as beets which hue his smoked salmon deviled eggs, or Roblar Farm lettuces which support fresh salads like a black garlic Caesar, or radishes to top his avocado and seeded levain toast, which also boasts ricotta salata, puffed grains, and a poached farm egg. More of those farm eggs may be found in a lunchtime offering, a tarragon egg salad sandwich with house-pickled mustard seeds, and Roblar Farm-grown shallots and celery.
“It’s really a dream to sit down at Roblar and eat the most amazing salad you’ve had in years, all with produce grown right next door. While our primary focus remains on viticulture, it’s been a joy to work on enhancing our properties to showcase additional riches that Santa Ynez Valley has to offer, all while being mindful of how we can use those outputs as regenerative inputs for the ongoing health of this land,” said Matthew Bieszard, Gleason Family Vineyards General Manager.
In addition to Roblar’s fruit and vegetable bounty, the Gleason Family Vineyards team is also raising more animated residents. Roblar Farm recently added a herd of Babydoll sheep, as well as Duroc-Hampshire pigs, both of which will add animal inputs to the farm’s soils and in the case of the sheep, act as natural mowing implements. Beehives also dot both Roblar Farm and Buttonwood Farm; powerful pollinators who serve as an integral part of the Gleason Family Vineyards farming system and supply honey’s natural sweetness to Chef Cham’s varied menus.
Over the course of the next year, the Gleason Family Vineyards team will be reinvigorating the 10-acre farm, two-acre orchard, small hop yard, and 42-acre estate vineyard at the newly-acquired Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard, in Solvang. Under a multi-year project, all of the vineyard trellising will be updated while the team works closely with vineyard management to monitor each block to better manage growth and yields, to produce the best possible fruit. The agriculture team is also tending to Buttonwood’s farm crops, like the property’s prized peaches, olives, and pomegranates. A Buttonwood farm stand located in the tasting room offers these items for sale as they are ripe, as well as fresh sweet corn and popping corn, watermelon, squash, Asian pears, plums, and apricots, alongside produce from Roblar Farm. The Gleason Family Vineyards restoration of Buttonwood’s famous peach programming, also means that peach preserves, mini peach pies, and peach sorbet are available for sale.
The Buttonwood property, first founded in 1968 on a principal of sustainability, is positioned to become part of the Gleason family’s plan to introduce agritourism programs for the public, essentially travel packages for those looking to learn more about regenerative farming methods in both the food and wine industries in the Santa Barbara County wine region. Packages will include lodging options on Roblar Farm, dining opportunities courtesy of the portfolio’s Executive Chef Peter Cham, and of course, winery visits, vineyard walks, and tastings with the Gleason Family Vineyards winemaking team of head winemaker, Max Marshak, and assistant winemakers Kat Neenan and Brett Reeves.
Vining continued, “I use the term ‘sustainable fertility’ for what we’re trying to do with this land. We’re using organic methods to fertilize the soil, aiming for sustainable plant growth and optimal crop yields, while keeping our environmental impact at a minimum. This isn’t just about ‘now,’ this is about farming this region for our future.”
Roblar Winery and Vineyards, located at 3010 Roblar Avenue (at the intersection of Roblar Avenue and Highway 154), Santa Ynez, CA, is open daily for wine tasting experiences and bottle purchases, 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Advance tasting reservations are requested. Chef Cham’s weekly lunch menus are offered Monday through Thursday, full farm menus are offered Friday and Saturday, and a brunch menu is served on Sunday.
Buttonwood Farm Winery and Vineyard, located at 1500 Alamo Pintado Road, Solvang, CA, is currently open daily for outdoor wine tasting experiences and bottle purchases, 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Advance tasting reservations are recommended. More information will be available soon, about Buttonwood’s new food service options and menus.