Wolfe Ranch Farm to Table Quail

The farm-to-table movement consists of two essential contributors, the growers or farmers and the chef’s. Not many of the growers are as acclaimed or mentioned as often as the chef’s who hand select, prepare and deliver the perfect product to the table adding their distinctive style.

Urban farms have sprouted in the suburbs and on rooftop gardens atop city buildings. I visited the small agricultural community of Winters to meet Brent Wolfe. Brent began buying chickens and small game birds as a young boy; his paper route provided the funds for his ever-growing menagerie of fowl.

The premier bay area quail grower, Brent has become to go to guy for his Japanese Farrow Quail for over 20 years. He supplies birds to Chez Panisse, The French Laundry and a handful of other exclusive foodie restaurants.Wolfe RanchHis quail ranch is situated in a sprawling meadow just below the Julia Morgan house he moved from Cordelia in six pieces on a flatbed truck. That’s another blog post! The tour of Wolfe Ranch begins with the rotating egg incubator; the temperature controlled ferris wheel which rotates fertilized eggs for 14 days. Hatching chamber follows; imagine little wobbly speckled eggs rolling about, beaks protruding as fuzzy chicks poke out of the shells.

Circus-size tents and pens house the chicks for another seven weeks until they reach maturity. Brent has distinguished the process with his selective breeding program and a personally developed high protein diet, which produces a very meaty quail, twice the size of average. These are, in the truest sense, free-range birds; the familiar call is heard through the barn as you pass each open pen, chubby birds scooting around pecking at feed and random bugs off the ground.

Once the birds are ready for market, 85% are boned; the birds are transported to a processing plant off site. To ensure stock protection, Wolfe keeps his breeding quail at another ranch.Wolfe RanchBrent also has a few pens of husky pigs – the mama pig has free reign of the oak tree studded hillsides and when she is in heat, the local Russian wild black boars pay a visit. Acorn feed supplemented with Brent’s own mix result in a flavorful well-marbled product.

Wolfe Ranch Quail is available at Bi-Rite Market 3639 18th Street; and at their second location at 550 Divisadero. Dining: Chez Panisse and French Laundry.

Farm raised quail, for the uninitiated home cook, is deeply flavored and delicious and not  difficult to prepare. Recipes – my favorites from David Tanis:



Wolfe Ranch


Winters, CA – Off the Beaten Path!

So far off the beaten path, I had never heard of Winters, but this little agricultural town should be investigated. It helps when you enjoy an inside connection as we did, but we have the scoop on what’s hot!

Plan an overnight escape and include a Saturday evening at The Palms Playhouse. A cultural oasis for music, in their 30th year of hosting national touring bands, we were shockingly surprised to enjoy a raucous night of jazzy blues and zydeco, performed by award winning powerhouse singer and musician Carolyn Wonderland. This intimate playhouse hosted Van Morrison’s daughter and singer Shana Morrison last weekend. The venue is located upstairs in the 19th Century Opera House. Eclectic, casual and intimate, I would recommend you pay the corkage and bring your own liquid refreshments and do pre-purchase tickets for the first come seating.

Lodging is limited, another reason to make advance plans. We chose The Abbey House Inn, one of two Winters accommodations. Both Inns are charming, each with distinct advantages. The Abbey House Inn, built in 1905 is a sweet B & B a few blocks from town. A wide porch wraps around the small inn for afternoon cocktails. Five suites, my favorite is the De Winters, downstairs. I haven’t stayed in a B & B for many, many years, but this little gem was well worth the visit. Be careful if you slink into the kitchen in your sock-monkey pajamas for early coffee, as you might bump into an acquaintance! I met lovely bay area travelers; it turned out we had friends in common, truly two degrees of separation these days. Must be good all the time, and avoid jammies that don’t belong out of the bedroom!

Abbey House Inn, WintersCongenial Innkeeper Bruce Smith, knows everyone and can secure a dinner reservation, organize a farm visit and appears on site in the morning to prepare a delectable farm style breakfast. Abbey House Inn has a distinct location advantage, I loved being able to stroll to town for wine tasting, music and dinner and easily pop back for an early afternoon nap.

A few nearby restaurants offer variety and excellent food. We loved the tapas at Ficelle. Owner, Joann Martin, welcomed us and most likely due to our delightful host, she insisted we try many of her menu favorites and then refused to accept payment for our dinner. Small town hospitality with big city flavors, authentic home cooking inspired by her Spanish family meals; make a reservation in summer, as the line circles around the block!

The other local property is The Inn at Park Winters, located on ten acres of unobstructed farmland views. An 1865 Victorian mansion surrounded by beautiful gardens, an almond orchard and bubbling fountains; it is a private oasis best suited for escaping from everything! Growing in popularity as a wedding site, owners John Martin and Rafael Galiano are expanding with small cabins on property.

One of the fastest growing culinary trends, known as the farm to table movement, is bustling in this pocket of 7000 residents. Sustainable agriculture, many community farmers are building popular organic businesses in this area. We spent time exploring Ravi Tumber’s hydroponic tomato ranch in the center of his almond orchards. Separate blog to come. He can’t keep up with the demand for his greenhouse grown juicy red tomatoes.

Another local producer is Brent Wolfe in nearby Vacaville. Wolfe Ranch raises quail, no ordinary bird, he supplies birds to Chez Panisse, The French Laundry and several other bay area dining temples. He also raises pigs and cows. The pigs dine on black oak acorns, reminders of the famed pigs from Spain.

The valley has taken an undeniable shift in the last few years and the locals are enthusiastically participating at the highest level. Back to basics, growing local and limiting the impact on the environment is a passion in Winters.

Look for the postings of  summer farm to table community dinners served in a field, these local purveyors supply a few events and they sell out quickly.

An escape to Winters yields many wonderful rewards and memories!

Winters, CAThe Abbey House Inn www.abbeyhouseinn.com

Park Winters www.ParkWinters.com

Turkovich Family Wines www.Turkovichwines.com

Ficelle Restaurant www.ficelle-restaurant.com

Preserve Public House http://preservepublichouse.com/