Organic wine and canned produce from the Medlock Ames ranch

Photo by Frank Ladra

Medlock Ames, which started in 1998, is an organic and sustainable winery founded by lifelong friends Christopher Medlock and Ames Morison. The vineyard is located in Sonoma County's Alexander Valley at Bell Mountain, one of Northern California's warmest wine regions by day.

The winery has a unique commitment to farming, one that expands beyond the grapes and the land. A commitment that is equally about community. Much of this is rooted from Morison's two and a half year stint in the Peace Corps in Guatemala. It was there that he worked with women's groups, children and farmers on developing organic and sustainable community gardens. But it was also there where he saw the effects of toxic pesticides on a community that didn't know how to properly use them.

Owner Ames Morison and General Manager Kenny Rochford. Photo by Frank Ladra.

When scouting for vineyard location, the two friends looked at hundreds of properties up and down California but immediately knew Bell Mountain was the place when they saw it. The 400 acre ranch is oak-covered, peppered with man-made ponds and neighbors a wild life sanctuary. Of the 400-acres, only 50 of them are used for agriculture, the rest remains intentionally natural.

Canned goods from the farm. Photo by Frank Ladra.

Nature is a common thread to all decisions made by the winery. When the vineyard suffered a severe rodent and gopher problem, they installed owl boxes near the vines, which barn owls quickly took too. The barn owls quickly took to the rodents and gophers, also. In the more woodland areas, the implemented bat boxes for the same purpose. And with a neighboring wildlife preserve comes, well, neighboring wildlife. The vineyard is regularly visited by wild pigs, deer, bobcats and mountain lions.

Conventional wisdom might dictate that high fences be installed. Instead, the vineyard implemented corridors throughout the property which allows the animals to visit but not get trapped; a safety precaution for both the workers and the animals themselves. And one of the more entertaining ideas, they use miniature cows (really!) to help with the weeding. Sheep also participate.

The vine getting ready for harvest. Photo by Frank Ladra.

But the ranch at Bell Mountain is not open to the public, so if you want to taste Medlock Ames' wine you will have to visit the tasting room located just a few miles away at the intersection of Highway 128 and Alexander Valley Road. What was once a store and biker bar from the early 1900's has been reclaimed and renovated into a tasting room. Where there were once gas pumps, there is now a mini farmers' market. And the biker bar is still there…kinda. They opened a speakeasy in its place that conveniently opens when wine tasting is done. With wood-fired pizzas on the weekends and seasonal cocktails at the speakeasy, you'll be hard pressed to find a reason to leave.

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