AFTER FOUR DECADES OF FARMING, raising livestock and making wine, Lou Preston can barely remember his former life as an accountant. He blends into the field, with his un-groomed beard, weathered sun hat and vegetable oil–powered Mercedes (license plate: Vedgy).
As a teenager, his father invested in a farm near Healdsburg, CA, but it was not until much later that Preston realized farming and viticulture would become his life’s passion. On any given day, you’ll find Preston chatting with a neighbor who has come to purchase a jug of wine, loaf of bread and fruit from the Preston Farm and Winery’s Farm Store. In the late 1960s, Preston was “bitten by the grape bug” and bought 120 acres of land in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley. “At the beginning, my interest was exclusively with vineyards as a business, although I grew vegetables for home use.”
Today, the property comprises 60 acres of vineyards, 15 acres of pasture, eight acres of olives, five acres of grain and nine acres of fruit trees and produce. Preston explains, “The rest is fallow riparian creek footage and land we choose not to use for aesthetic reasons.” Preston’s diversity has taken shape in the last 15 years. A known educator and community advocate himself, he eagerly credits his mentors, citing friends he met at the EcoFarm Conference in 2000, and Kelly Mulville, who taught him about rotational grazing to improve soil condition.
With electric fencing, Preston keeps a tight mob of sheep on fresh pasture, moving them a couple times a week. When sheep are moved out of an area, laying hens are introduced. “It’s about the health of the land—not what I can take from it, but what I can give to it.” To bring things back to accounting, it’s proven to be a sound business model. Most of Preston’s restaurant clients buy his produce, lamb and wine (sold under the Preston of Dry Creek label). Preston’s products can be found at dozens of farm-to-table restaurants, including Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen, Mateo’s Cocina Latina and Valette in Healdsburg and Zazu in Napa. “The things you taste from Preston express the personality of our farm,” says Preston