At Sonoma's Stone Edge Farm Estate Vineyards and Winery, cabernet sauvignon vines grow next to vegetable beds and olive trees, creating a natural web of interdependency.
John McReynolds, who serves as winery chef and personal chef to owners John "Mac" McQuown and his wife, Leslie, compares the 16-acre, all-organic estate to a small Italian farm.
"With the vineyard and olive oil and vegetables, it's like going to a Tuscan fattoria," said McReynolds. "It's a complete system."
Now that the vines have been picked for the 2012 Stone Edge Farm Cabernet Sauvignon, McReynolds is looking forward to the "other" harvest: the farm's 150 olive trees, a mix of Manzanillo and Ascalano varieties.
"We'll be picking olives in mid- to late-November," McReynolds said. "We'll bottle the olio nuovo (immediately), and the rest will be available in January."
This year's harvest is especially precious, since the farm has not had any fresh olives to press since the December 2010 harvest. Like many growers on the North Coast, they lost all of their olives last year to the vagaries of nature.
Once plucked by hand, the Manzanillo olives will be whisked off to The Olive Press in Sonoma and bottled as the Stone Edge Farm Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
"California has, overall, the highest quality olive oil in the world," McReynolds said. "The most popular style of oil is Tuscan, which is harvested early and is more pungent and bitter (than the Manzanillo)."
McReynolds serves the farm's buttery olive oil with bread, cheese and other savory bites to showcase the estate's high-end, Bordeaux-style wines during tastings at the winery.
The Stone Edge Farm Cabernet Sauvignon wine, made from a blend of the estate grapes tended by viticulturist Phil Coturri and grapes grown by winemaker Jeff Baker at his vineyard on Mount Pisgah, is aimed at discerning oenophiles and collectors.
"Jeff extracts the best tannins and comes up with elegant wines," said Director of Hospitality Philippe Thibault. "He knows that wine is made in the vineyard."
To help the olive oil complement the wine during tastings, McReynolds adds a ramekin of dukkah, an Egyptian spice blend he makes himself from cumin and coriander seeds, almonds or hazelnuts.
The cheese selections, such as Vella's tangy Mezzo Seco and Italy's fruity Piave, are served with membrillo paste the chef makes from the farm's aromatic quince fruit.
In the late fall, the olive oil also adds an unctuous sheen to pepperonata, a Sicilian condiment made from heirloom tomatoes and Corno di Toro peppers grown at the farm. The chef also sprinkles it over savory salads made with figs and butternut squash, toasted walnuts and prosciutto.
For home cooks, it's often more practical to reserve high-end olive oils for drizzling or dressings, he said.
"I cook with our olive oil, but it's $24 a bottle," he said. "For cooking, some of the Central Valley oils are quite good."
McReynolds first met the McQuowns in the 1980s, when he was studying at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.
In 1995, entrepreneur and investment manager Mac McQuown, who developed the first institutional index funds at Wells Fargo Bank in the early 1970s, bought the former sheep ranch in the El Verano area of Sonoma as a weekend retreat.
That was the same year that McReynolds opened his renowned Cafe LaHaye in Sonoma and started buying lettuces and vegetables from McQuown's farm.