We are proud to be ranchers as well as winegrowers, and to practice both disciplines with a passion for sustainability.  

Responsible grazing practices are at the heart of how we operate our herd on the historic Santa Margarita Ranch.

For starters, we typically practice what is known as “rotational grazing,” whereby we methodically move the herd from one area to another, ensuring that no area is overgrazed.

By doing so, we help with the restoration of native California grasses on the ranch. Once upon a time, perennial grasses such as Creeping Wild Rye, Slender Wheatgrass and Purple Needlegrass proliferated on the ranch and around California. Eventually, non-native grasses from Europe were introduced to California, and when the land was overgrazed, these non-native grasses became predominant.  

Fields of Green

The native perennial grasses are distinguished by their green color throughout the year.

“If you give the perennials a chance, they’ll reseed and take back over,” says Ancient Peaks co-owner Karl Wittstrom. “They’re green grasses compared to the dry golden grasses that you see around California in the summer and fall. The cows will just munch these green grasses down to the nub if you let them, which is what happened in the past. With rotational grazing, we give the native grasses a chance to reseed while clearing away some of the non-native species. It also allows young native oak trees to sprout and thrive.”

The results are evident in the fields of green that persist during the dry summers at the ranch. Not only is it pleasing to the eye, it has a downstream effect on the overall health of the environment and its inhabitants.

“The wildlife do better when they have access to native grasses,” Karl says. “We try to leave a light footprint so that the deer have a plentiful food source. This also impacts the mountain lions, bobcats, birds of prey and other animals—it creates a more abundant environment for all species in the food chain.” 

Taming the Flames

There is one instance, however, when we practice high-intensity grazing, and that’s in areas that are sensitive to wildfire acceleration. One local hotspot is the Cuesta Grade, which is located on the other side of the mountain peaks that border the ranch.

“Fires start on the freeway and go up the hill and into the forested mountains, so we graze that area more intensively in order to reduce the fuel,” Karl says. “It slows the fires down and allows firefighters to get the upper hand more quickly.”

This, in turn, reduces the chance of a devastating firestorm, like the ones that have been increasing in California over the past decade.

We are proud of the progressive rangeland practices that respect and support the environment of Santa Margarita Ranch.