Our estate Margarita Vineyard resides on one of California’s oldest continuously operated cattle ranches, whose daily operations are in the hands of a dynamic duo: Jeff and Alie McKee.
For Jeff and Alie, managing Santa Margarita Ranch’s cow calf herd and daily ranching duties is anything but monotonous or one dimensional.
“Each morning the phone rings and there’s always something else to tend to, it can be different every day,” says Jeff, who is marking his 20th year of working at the ranch.
Jeff explains that the job requires a lot of flexibility because there are no set hours. Thankfully, Alie, who has been working closely with Jeff since their marriage at the ranch in 2006, is every bit the cowhand and shares his passion for the livestock, the local wildlife and the land. In fact, Alie is known for rescuing animals in need of help—whether it’s a bottle calf or a bird with a broken wing.
As self-professed “grass farmers,” Jeff and Alie ensure that sections of Santa Margarita Ranch are not overgrazed or exhausted. “We use rotational ‘pulse’ grazing—moving cattle around—to mitigate wildfire and invasive weeds, and to also allow the grass to rest and grow,” Jeff says. He adds that watershed management is also vital in fostering a native environment and riparian corridor so that wildlife can find its way to water via ramps and various access points.
The McKees also enjoy working alongside the vineyard operations of Ancient Peaks. They are in lockstep with our sustainable farming practices at the ranch, and they appreciate how Ancient Peaks cares about getting people out on the land, whether it’s via ziplines, vineyard tours, a wedding event or a Spartan obstacle race.
“It’s a little different setting than the typical tasting rooms and wine dinners,” Jeff says. “We like to showcase how agriculture and grazing can benefit each other when things are done correctly.”