Daniel Sinton is the fifth generation of his family to ranch on the same land near Paso Robles, California for the past 140+ years. Avenales Ranch has become one of Panorama’s valued producers, known for their excellent Hereford/Angus beef. But the ranch is also home to an award-winning vineyard and winery. In the 1970s the family added wine grapes to their land, growing petit sirah, cabernet sauvignon, chenin blanc and valdiguié for renowned wineries throughout California. In 2007, they began making their own wine, and their small lot, old vine petit sirah, chenin blanc, and rose of valdigué have been honored at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition. (The interview has been edited for length.)
Please tell us how long you’ve been working with Panorama and how it works for your family.
We’ve been working with Panorama for three years now, and there’s a lot to like about it. We’d been in the conventional side of the business for 140 years. When we transitioned over to working with Panorama, a lot of things changed for us. We were already essentially running organically for those 140 years, but this just made it official. The increased pricing that we get for being organic allows us to be financially solvent.
The people of Panorama have been really tremendous. When you work with them, you get the feeling that you’re working with people who are on your side. In the conventional market, that’s not always the case; it’s almost like you’re battling them. But with Panorama, we work together to bring you the best possible piece of beef. That means that we’re constantly trying to improve things on our ranch because we have such a good connection with the company.
Tell us about you. Other than growing up on the ranch, what’s your background?
I left the ranch to go to college. And then I worked in some software companies up in San Francisco and then for some nonprofits down in San Diego. The whole time I was just trying to make it back to the ranch to raise a family and live on the land again. We’ve been back on the ranch for seven years now. You know, there’s nothing better than living on a ranch. We have two boys and they have a giant ranch to explore for fun, but also for learning. The ranch provides such a great foundation for making grounded people who know how to fend for themselves and live off the land and take care of it.
It’s unusual for cattle ranchers to also be in the wine business. How did that come about?
In 1972, my grandfather and the rest of the family decided that we needed to diversify to help the ranch keep up with ongoing expenses, so we entered into the grape market. And we’ve been doing that almost 50 years now. For the last 40 years, we’ve been selling the grapes to wineries all across California. More recently, in the last 10 years, we started our own brand, so we’ve been producing small lot wines for the last 10 years.
Where can people find your wine?
It’s mostly online on our website, and then there are some restaurants local to San Francisco and scattered across California, but it’s mostly direct to consumers.
Moving from vineyard to winery is a big shift. How’s it going?
Yeah, that was a big shift. We’re still trying to get our feet under ourselves on that one. As you know, the wine market was completely disrupted this year. The fires were a nasty deal. We were very lucky; we didn’t have anything close to us. We were in one of the very few spots in California where wine grapes were not affected.
In agriculture, no matter what part of the industry, you’re going to deal with the weather. And that’s not easy. Farming is not for the faint of heart. We’re dealing with it right now because it hasn’t rained. We got a sprinkling here in November, but it’s dry as a bone. And it doesn’t look all that good for the next couple of weeks. And that’s hard. So, we’re keeping our fingers crossed, and I guess enjoying the sun until then.
What do you see going forward for the cattle side of the business?
On the cattle side, the organic market has been steadily increasing at a nice growth rate, and we’re really happy to be a part of it. It’s a huge help for us to maintain the property, and that’s really what the cattle are here for. At 18,000 acres, we’ve got a lot to manage, and we think having cattle on the land is the best use for that land. Without being an organic program, it’s a real struggle, but the organic program allows us to maintain the property as it should be. We’re really happy to be a part of that.
Going forward, I’m excited for lots of potential that the market contains. You know, grass-fed beef is new to a lot of people. But the pandemic has really allowed us to show people that grass -fed beef can be tender and delicious, and nutritious. I think we have a real opportunity going forward to continue that growth, and maybe even accelerate it.
What else do you want people to know about what you’re doing?
The big part of what we’re doing is managing the land and we’re raising a great product at the same time, one that’s feeding people. What’s been passed down from generation to generation is that we’re here to take care of the land. And that’s always the forefront of our minds. That’s why we manage the land the way we do.
I think it’s important to people that the animals are treated humanely and the land is kept as open space. That’s important for everyone. Everybody is talking about climate change right now, and to me, there’s no better way to offset climate change than by having open rangeland run with cattle. And that’s a big piece of what we’re doing here. For every acre that stays in open rangeland, we’re sequestering carbon every single day, quietly helping the world.
On the animal welfare side, we’re GAP 4 certified, but that’s really the way we’ve been doing it forever. I’m sitting in my office right now looking out at the ranchland and I can see some steers walking up on the hillside and half of them are sleeping under the trees. They’re wandering around and eating, and really, that’s what they do their entire lives. It’s a pretty darn good life, living on a ranch.