Our family has been farming in Napa Valley almost 120 years — and we’ve got some tales to tell. Scroll through some of our favorite family photos and discover a piece of Napa Valley history.
Ailene’s great-grandfather John Stewart was part of a large group of Scots that migrated to Ireland during Scotland’s potato famine, and became known as “Scotch-Irish.” He held his heritage in high regard, and had deep Protestant beliefs. John was just 22 when he left Ireland for the U.S., traveling by himself to New York and then on to San Francisco with 50 cents in his pocket. His first job in the U.S. was as a dairy hand in Marshall, where he earned $15/month. Then he started driving a four-horse milk wagon in San Francisco for $40/month.
John worked hard, saved his money, and met and married Elizabeth, a fellow immigrant. The couple had three kids: Earl, Wilbur and Essie. On Oct 5, 1903, John bought 300 acres of Napa County ranchland for his family from Elizabeth McClure, an old maid as people said at the time. He paid just $12,500.00. John, his wife, their kids and 12 milk cows moved in, and Stewart Ranch was born.
When the family bought the property, it had just one barn and “the old house” just a few yards away. Earl, John and Elizabeth’s eldest child, remembers the 1906 earthquake in that seven-room, two-story farmhouse. His iron bed was tossed across the room.
John and his family started a dairy on the Carneros property that soon became one of the better Grade A raw milk Jersey dairies in the county. We sold milk to the public out of the dairy building. (We use the same refrigerated lockers to keep our wines chilled today!) The cave up on the hill that we use for special wine club tastings was where John’s family used to age meat.
The family built what we call “the old dairy barn” in 1916 (which we used to store hay while Ailene was growing up), a shop building in 1956, and the new horse barn in 2018.
John Stewart was credited for creating the levees along the Napa River, which protected the valley floor from saltwater during flooding, and allowed for more farming in the area.
John’s son Earl married Mary Mannering, and the couple had three children: Ailene, Dolly, and Bucky (real name Philip). Dolly was current-day Ailene’s mom. All worked in the dairy and in the fields growing up. Horses were a large part of their lives — riding to school, moving cattle, and checking fences. All three kids eventually married and built houses on the ranch.
The dairy housed its milkers on the property, and Earl’s wife Mary cooked three meals a day for them. She also did their laundry and had one of the first electric washers in the valley.
Earl and Wilbur had the first airplane in Napa County, a Lincoln Standard. They created a landing runway in the lower field. It was called “Stewart’s Flying Field” and hosted many air shows over the years.
The dairy workers helped the family build a second house, where Paul and Ailene live today.
The brothers continued in the dairy business together after their dad died, until the 1940s. At that time, Wilbur bought a ranch a few miles away and moved his family there to start a sheep business.
Earl and his family stayed on the Stewart Ranch property, and he became very active with fire prevention. He was the county’s Carneros region fireman and all of his children frequently went on fire calls to help out. A county fire truck was kept at the ranch until the late 1960s, in the equipment shed that we’re turning into the winery fermentation room.
The family built a third house for Ailene’s great-grandmother Elizabeth “to die in” in 1955, where she lived until she passed the first week of Sept 1957.
Hard work was a way of life for all on the ranch, but Sundays were considered a “day of rest.” Earl’s wife said it was his excuse for flying! Earl flew airplanes until the 1970s, and maintained an airplane hangar in the lower field. Every Sunday he would fly to various towns, have lunch and return. Once he brought back a drop calf in the plane from the auction in Dixon, for his granddaughter Ailene (present-day Ailene, who was named for ther aunt Ailene, Earl’s daughter. Present-day Ailene was called “little Ailene” by the family.)
Earl’s daughter Dolly always loved the cattle and taught her daughter Ailene how to raise and sell them. Ailene at 7 years old was given $24.00 to buy her first heifer calf, Specks. Specks provided a calf every year for Ailene to sell. The money she earned paid for her school clothes for the year. Some years were profitable, and some not. Specks lived for 24 years — ancient by cow standards.
Highway 29 split the ranch in two in 1972. The vineyards are primarily located to the east of the highway, and the rest of our winery ranch operations to the west.
The dairy closed in the 1970s due to the difficulty with government regulations and Earl’s age. All the dairy cows were sold, and only the commercial beef cattle remained. Ailene’s mother Dolly maintained a small herd of her own, while also working full time off the ranch.
In the 1980s, Ailene became interested in the Belted Galloway, a unique Scottish beef cattle breed. She first saw them on a trip to Maine and was intrigued by the dominant genetic factor of the belt and the low-fat content to their meat, due to the double hair coat. After many months of searching, Ailene found a small herd available in Washington State. Stewart Ranch is now the oldest continuous breeder of Belted Galloways in California. We successfully show our cattle all over the U.S.
Ailene has three children, Robert and James (fraternal twins) and Pookie: the fifth generation of the Stewart Ranch family. All three kids were very active in 4-H raising chickens, pygmy goats, dairy and market beef.
Ailene and Paul Tarap were married in 2010. Paul’s family are also longtime dairymen and cattle ranchers in the Berryessa area of Napa. For more than 22 years, Paul has been a leader for local 4-H as well as the nonprofit Ag4Youth, which teaches at-risk kids to raise market animals. He is the current ranch manager for Ag4Youth.
When the vineyard lease with Doug Hill expired and Napa County passed a micro-winery ordinance in 2022, the family saw the opportunity to combine wine and beef in a totally new way. We decided to create a down-to-earth, ranch-style wine tasting experience in Napa Valley.
Today, Ailene and Paul live on the ranch with 40 Belted Galloway cows, 12 champion mini-horses, 8 dogs, and a blind goat. Ailene and Paul compete in cattle and horse shows and keep both Quarter Horses and Miniature Horses on the property. Twenty-one-year-old Dayspring First Light (“Blondie”) has won the world championship more than 28 times.
Ailene’s children are now the fifth generation of Stewart Ranch. Robert is a fireman for the state of California. He helps Paul with the cattle and ranch maintenance. Robert’s fraternal twin brother James is the area sales manager for Southern Glazers Wine & Spirits, in Houston, Texas. James handles sales and e-commerce. Pookie is a mixed-practice veterinarian in Northern California. She helps out with the family ranch as much as her busy practice life allows.