You may have noticed that a corner of our winery parking lot is greener than the rest.
It’s our Culinary Garden, also known as the Four Farmers Garden, and it is home to a myriad of vegetables, herbs and flowers that find their way to Chef Taylr’s kitchen.
The lady behind the garden’s thriving verdant life is Farmer Kate. A member of the Ram’s Gate team since January 2013, Kate spends her days tending the garden, cultivating new plantings and harvesting fresh produce for our culinary team.
Kate is a Napa Valley native who grew up in St. Helena before studying at Middlebury College, nestled in the Champlain Valley of Vermont. Surrounded by orchards and organic farms, Middlebury was the perfect place for Kate to study Environmental Science and Anthropology… and the perfect place for her to fall in love with farming.
“I think being a farmer makes sense because I grew up in a place like the Napa Valley, where agriculture is inherent: it’s what drives the region and makes Napa County what it is. And although farming grapes and making wine is different than running an organic farm, it comes down to the same basic principles of agriculture. If you couple that with my background in cultural and environmental studies and my connection with community, being a local farmer is the perfect fit.” -Kate Olen, Ram’s Gate Culinary Gardener
When she returned to California after studying and farming in Vermont, Kate moved to Los Angeles where she joined the start up team for a Spanish-Basque inspired restaurant, Racion, under Chef Teresa Monterro. Kate became the farm-to-table liaison for the restaurant and spent much time traveling around Los Angeles sourcing seasonal and unique produce for Chef Monterro’s kitchen. Although excited to connect with farmers in Los Angeles and incorporate local produce into the creative Racion menu, Kate realized her true passion was in growing the produce herself.
Kate moved back to St. Helena and began to model her farm-to-table philosophy after local culinary gardeners like Tucker Taylor of the French Laundry and Christine Kim of the Restaurant at Meadowood, who grow for Chef Thomas Keller and Chef Christopher Kostow, respectively. She says, “Both Tucker and Christine were perfect models of the culinary gardener I wanted to be. Already knowing the importance of perfect and unique produce from a kitchen perspective, I wanted to be the gardener behind a creative and cutting-edge Chef here in the wine country.”
The Ram’s Gate culinary team works in harmony, from the wine cellar to the culinary garden: Chef Taylr tastes the wines, detecting nuances and subtle flavors that can be echoed and complemented by ingredients on the table. The Chef then passes her menu to Kate, who determines what she can grow in-house and where to source the remaining ingredients – the rule of thumb being that the closer, the better.
What sets this farm-to-tasting room system apart, though, is that the garden has an almost wild look to it: but it’s all planned out in accordance with Kate’s gardening philosophy:
To me, calling our garden a culinary garden means my intent is to work with a specific Chef to provide specialty produce that brings their menu to life. The kitchen and its Chef are the driving force behind what I grow. The idea isn’t just to have a garden full of arugula, leafy cilantro, or summer squash: my intent is to track the plant’s development throughout its life span and see in what stages we can creatively use what it puts out. This way you get a garden of arugula flowers, green coriander, and squash blossoms.
Take a look at cilantro, for example. The refreshing herb is frustrating to grow because it has the tendency to bolt, or prematurely flower – for Farmer Kate, that’s no problem. Now, we have cilantro flowers and fresh coriander seeds that add an extra something to its dish.
Keep your eyes out for the launch of one of Kate’s latest projects – we don’t want to give it all away, but it involves delicious produce for our winery guests.
If you see Farmer Kate around the winery or Culinary Garden, don’t hesitate to pop in and say “Hi” – she has a knack for handing her garden visitors all kinds of edible plants to sample. To taste what she’s growing for the kitchen, check out our wine and food experiences here. Cheers!