If your home still needs some holiday cheer, a Mendocino winery crafts multi-purpose wreaths that are beautiful, festive, smell amazing, and can even elevate your favorite warm winter dishes.
Founded in 1970 in Potter Valley, 18 miles north of Ukiah, by Guinness McFadden, McFadden Family Vineyard & Farm has been making bay leaf wreaths for nearly 50 years. In 1972, they began by selling garlic braids to Williams-Sonoma, and soon after that, the company approached them about making wreaths. Bay laurel just so happened to grow vigorously in the hills behind their estate.
“My dad said yes, then went back to the farm to work with our guys to figure out how,” said Fontaine McFadden, who heads up operations at the farm and is the daughter of Guinness McFadden, a Vietnam veteran who was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery.
For most of the year, the McFadden family and their staff are focused on growing organic grapes for iconic producers—in the past, this has included Robert Mondavi, Chateau Montelena, and Berringer—plus winemaking for their own brands McFadden and Blue Quail. But starting in October, once the annual grape harvest is complete, instead of putting their feet up, the farm staff gets right to work on making about 20,000 bay leaf wreaths for the holiday season.
The wreaths are made to order and ship out fresh, and in about 10 days to two weeks’ time, they begin to dry out, turning lighter green in color. “That's when they're great to cook with,” said McFadden.
Many customers hang the wreaths in their kitchen so they can pluck a few leaves off when cooking seasonal dishes, like soups, stews, and curries. Some of McFadden’s culinary wreaths are even decorated with additional ingredients like chili peppers (a fun substitute for traditional holly), rosemary, thyme, and garlic bulbs. Like the gift that keeps on giving, McFadden said that once dry, the wreaths will last at least until next Christmas.
The making of the bay leaf wreaths, garlands, and swags, plus garlic braids at the farm serve an important purpose: It keeps McFadden workers employed throughout the year, not just during the grape growing season and harvest.
The McFadden Family winery crew at work making bay wreaths and garlands.(Courtesy of McFadden Family)
“When our dad arrived in Potter Valley, nobody was growing grapes commercially, so it was hard to attract workers. It wasn't like in Napa, where there were lots of vineyards and lots of people who knew how to work with the vines,” said McFadden, explaining that every year, her father would have to start over with an entirely new crew.
“It seemed like it would be best for everyone if he could offer year-round work, so he wouldn't have to build up a new crew so often and so those folks could put down roots and not have to be migratory. Our foreman has been with us for 48 years. We grew up playing with his kids and we now work together at the farm. It's truly a family business.”
Today, the average tenure for workers on the McFadden farm is about 25 years.
The bay leaf wreaths can be purchased from the McFadden website.
(Courtesy of McFadden Family Vineyard & Farm)