Fred and Nancy Cline, owners of a far-flung agricultural and hospitality empire including Cline Cellars and Jacuzzi Family Vineyards in Sonoma, are conservative in their politics as well as the way they tread on the thousands of acres of land they own in Sonoma, Contra Costa and Tehama counties.
The Clines are dedicated conservationists prudent in preserving natural resources on their land while working and respecting Mother Nature — in other words — walking softly on their ground, which is farmed in a way they describe as “beyond organic.”
They disdain chemical-based pesticides and synthetic fertilizers in their vineyards and olive groves and have used crushed rock and minerals to restore depleted soil in their vineyards and on an old dairy ranch that is home to Green String Farm, a thriving and verdant organic vegetable farm near the Adobe State Historic Park in Petaluma. Sheep, not herbicides, are used to bring down the weeds and grass in their Sonoma Valley vineyards.
They use solar power, have implemented water conservation programs and think “green” in all aspects of their business, embracing a sustainable philosophy, which means using fewer resources while reaping more productivity.
The award recognizes the Clines’ deep-seated environmental ethic and exemplary stewardship at a time when those values are such an important part of the public pact in Sonoma County. Increasingly, agriculture leaders say for farming to survive and thrive for future generations the urban public must better understand what farmers like the Clines are doing to care for their land.
The Clines, the parents of seven children, said they are honored to be recognized by the Farm Bureau for farming in a way they believe makes sense for the bottom-line of their business, their land and the natural environment around them.
Fred Cline said the word conservative is at the root of conservation, after all, and it’s what guides him in life, politics and farming. He went to UC Davis to study agriculture but embraced the old-fashioned farming philosophy of his maternal grandfather, Valeriano Jacuzzi, one of the seven Jacuzzi brothers who invented the Jacuzzi whirlpool bath. It was an inheritance from Valeriano that launched Fred Cline into winemaking in 1982 on his grandfather’s vineyards in Oakley, Contra Costa County. In 1991 Fred and Nancy relocated the Cline Cellars from Oakley to a 350 acre ranch on Arnold Drive in the Carneros region. Jacuzzi Family Vineyards was later established on land across the road from Cline Cellars.
Fred Cline said his grandfather farmed his land in harmony with nature and was mindful to reuse and repurpose materials he had. It’s a simple approach based on keeping the soil healthy and utilizing recycled materials already on hand.
“Like a lot of farmers, I have a diamond pile that I keep on my ranches. A diamond pile is the stuff that can be used over again so we aren’t spending money on something new, which conserves resources,” said Fred. He wears many hats running his diverse businesses but considers himself a farmer first. In addition to vineyards and wineries the Clines have gained a reputation for owning and managing elegant destination properties that include hotels in Italy and Nevada and the Dillon Beach Resort on the Marin County Coast.
The Clines have 450 employees spread across their various businesses. The Clines said they have been able to expand their holdings in the farming and hospitality industries because of top-notch employees-partners like farming legend Bob Cannard who runs Green String Farm and can coax vegetables to perfection without chemicals. “We have the best employees in the world,” said Nancy Cline. “We treat them well and they treat us well.”
Someday, Fred and Nancy expect at least some of their seven children – Megan, Hilary, Ramsey, Emma, Mayme, Elsie and the youngest Henry, 16 – will come back into the family businesses.
The Clines also are majority owners of the Olive Press, an olive oil producer and custom olive pressing facility in Glen Ellen. Nancy Cline oversees the facility and directs the pressing and processing of the Clines’ own olive oil, which recently won best of class in the New York International Olive Oil Competition. The Clines had another celebratory family experience last month when daughter Emma, 25, an already recognized literary figure, was awarded the prestigious Plimpton Prize for Fiction at a gala event in New York hosted by the “Paris Review” magazine.
The Clines takes the pursuit of excellence seriously, whether it’s raising their children, making olive oil, crafting premium quality Cline Cellars and Jacuzzi wines, offering luxurious accommodations at their hotels or raising livestock and crops on their 12,000 acre ranch near Red Bluff in Tehama County. The Red Bluff ranch is a diverse agricultural operation that includes cattle, sheep and goats as well as commercial crops that include wine grapes, olives, cherries, peaches and walnuts.
The Clines have a respect for land and nature and believe that farming and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive.
“The Clines are true mentors to all of us engaged in agriculture,” said Tito Sasaki, president of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau and the North Bay Agriculture Alliance. “They show us how imagination, courage, action, and above all, care for others, can overcome mounting obstacles. We have seen them go through unbelievably trying experiences with misguided federal agencies which could have destroyed their family. They are tough fighters but they remain most gracious and caring for other people as well as for environment.”
As recipients of the Luther Burbank Conservation Award, the Clines will be honored at Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Love of the Land celebration on Thursday, July 17 at the Kendall-Jackson Estate and Gardens in Fulton. Also being honored at Love of the Land is Pasta King Art Ibleto of Cotati, who is a grape grower, winemaker and a driving force for good in Sonoma County. He will be inducted into the Farm Bureau Hall of Fame.
The Gambonini Dairy Family of Petaluma is being honored as Farm Bureau’s Farm Family of the Year for their ranching and agricultural leadership. The Gambonini family is now in the sixth generation of milking cows on a dairy ranch that has been in the family for more than a century.
The Love of the Land celebration is a public event, open to anyone who wants to celebrate the award winners while toasting the land and people who define and propel Sonoma County’s agricultural heritage.
– By Tim Tesconi, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau