If your home still needs some holiday cheer, a Mendocino winery makes versatile wreaths that are beautiful, festive, smell great, and can even enhance your favorite warm winter dishes.
Founded in 1970 in Potter Valley, 29 km north of Ukiah, by Guinness McFadden, McFadden Family Vineyard & Farm has been making bay leaf wreaths for almost 50 years. In 1972, they started selling garlic braids in Williams-Sonoma, and soon after the company approached them to make wreaths. Laurel happens to grow vigorously in the hills behind their estate.
“My dad said yes and then went back to the farm to work with our guys to figure out how,” said Fontaine McFadden, who runs operations at the farm and is the daughter of Guinness McFadden, a Vietnam veteran who received the bronze. Star for bravery.
For most of the year, the McFadden family and their staff focus on growing organic grapes for iconic producers – in the past this has included Robert Mondavi, Chateau Montelena and Berringer – as well as winemaking for their own McFadden and Blue Quail brands. But starting in October, once the annual harvest is over, instead of putting their feet up, farm staff get to work making around 20,000 bay leaf wreaths for the holiday season.
Wreaths are made to order and shipped fresh, and in about 10 days to two weeks they begin to dry out, turning a lighter green. “That’s when they’re great for cooking,” McFadden said.
Many customers hang the wreaths in their kitchen so they can tear off a few leaves when preparing seasonal dishes, like soups, stews and curries. Some of McFadden’s Culinary Wreaths are even decorated with additional ingredients like chili peppers (a fun substitute for traditional holly), rosemary, thyme, and garlic bulbs. Like the gift that keeps on giving, McFadden said once dry, the wreaths will last at least until next Christmas.
Making the bay leaf wreaths, wreaths and tinsel, and garlic braid on the farm serves an important purpose: it keeps McFadden workers employed year-round, not only during the grape growing season and harvest.
The McFadden family vineyard crew at work making laurel wreaths and garlands.(Courtesy of the McFadden family)
“When our father came to Potter Valley, no one was growing grapes commercially, so it was difficult to attract workers. It wasn’t like Napa, where there were a lot of vineyards and a lot of people who knew how to work with the vines,” McFadden said, explaining that every year his father had to start over with a whole new team.
“It seemed like it would be better for everyone if he could offer year-round work, so he didn’t have to build a new team so often and those people could put down roots and not have to migrate. Our foreman has been with us for 48 years. We grew up playing with his children and now work together on the farm. It really is a family business.
Today, the average tenure of workers at the McFadden farm is about 25 years.
Laurel leaf wreaths can be purchased at McFadden website.
(Courtesy of McFadden Family Winery and Farm)