MacMurray Ranch: Hollywood Meets Vine

You know Fred MacMurray as a distinguished and gentlemanly actor. But did you also know he was a serious farmer and rancher in Sonoma wine country?

MacMurray and his wife, actress June Haver, raised Angus beef, not grapes,but these days the ranch, now owned by the Gallo family, is part of the wine scene with 425 acres producing grapes that go into the very good value MacMurray Ranch wines.

Most of the time the ranch is closed to the public, but over the Labor Day weekend it’s open as part of Taste of Sonoma, a terrific event held each year. (I just checked; this is sold out but there are a few tickets left to other events.)

When they bought the ranch in the 1990s, the Gallos asked Fred’s daughter, Kate, to stay on as brand ambassador and that turned out to be one smart decision. Kate is one of the warmest, nicest, most down-to-earth people you will ever meet, and I say that as someone who usually gets tongue-tied and self-conscious around the rich and famous.

I interviewed Kate earlier this year for a story on wines with celebrity connections and the visit ranks as one of my highlights of 2013. The ranch has been beautifully restored by the Gallos — they even hired a painter to touch up the vintage wallpaper — and is just as it was when the MacMurray family lived there, right down to the rocking chair with the wide, flat arms just right for holding the actor’s drink as he sat reading the paper in the evening.

The MacMurrays bought the property in 1941 from the Porter family who established the farmstead in the 1850s – their old wagon still stands in front of the house – and used it first for diversified farming in World War II and then for cattle. A display of panoramic photos in the old barn paints a detailed picture of the evolution of the area.

“It has a rich agricultural history and it’s very specific to Northern California,” MacMurray pointed out. ” If you held a mirror up to our ranch what would reflect back is the whole history of agriculture in Northern Califronia. It’s quite remarkable.”

MacMurray, star of such classics as “Double Indemnity” and “The Apartment,” and later the popular TV series “My Three Sons,” spent his free time at the ranch and was deeply involved in the local agricultural scene. The photo displays include fun pictures of Fred, June and their prize cattle looking very spiffy for competition days.

MacMurray Ranch pinot noir has been my go-to Thanksgiving wine for some years. It’s usually to be found for under $20, sometimes under $15 and it’s rich and silky and does a nice job of smoothing out the turkey-cranberry-stuffing trinity. I also tried the reserve pinot on this visit and, while it is a bit more. with a suggested retail of $35, it is worth the splurge.

Here are my notes:

MacMurray Ranch 2010 Ranch Russian River Reserve Pinot Noir: Dark garnet color, nice aroma of red fruit followed by more cherry and raspberry in the mouth. Finishes rich and smooth. ABV 15.2 percent.

And speaking of smooth, I was my usual urbane, suave self while interviewing Kate. Here is a picture of me striking a sophisticated pose.

Cheers, poisedly.