Mother and Son Succeed at Farming & More
Upon arrival at Cove Crest Farm & Winery, the crisp scent of cedar and pine welcomes me and whispers a promise of something inspiring that lies in wait just ahead. Brett Walker must have felt a similar magic five years ago. His search for a farm came to an end the moment he stepped onto the small winery and twenty-two acre farm tucked away in Montgomery Creek, a few miles off the Pacific Crest Trail in the Shasta-Cascade wilderness area. Cove Crest was both the final and northernmost point of his search for land and a place to farm.
EXTENDING A LEGACY
Walker bought Cove Crest Vineyard from viticulturist and vintner Allan Griggs and his wife Mineca. Allan was a true wine pioneer in the Shasta region, having cleared forest to establish his vines more than twenty years ago. He proved the region’s viability for wine production, cultivating multiple grape varieties in blocks throughout the property. Merlot, Chardonnay, and Riesling are among the most prominent plantings, with smaller quantities of Pinot noir and Viognier, which are used in the farm’s wine blends. Some of his test vines are still found within the garden areas—Allan and Mineca also grew blackberries, blueberries, and vegetables they sold at Shasta Growers’ Association farmers’ markets. Coming upon these test vines creates a feeling of wonder at the historic space.
Brett learned from Allan and Mineca’s extensive knowledge through a formal twelve-month mentorship program guided by an organization called California FarmLink. With a mission of linking independent farmers with land and successors, FarmLink kindled their relationship. After the mentorship period, plus a few additional months while Brett worked on the farm and covered farmers’ markets, Allan retired. Brett and Beverley Walker, his mother, now build on his legacy.
The dynamic mother-son duo began operating the farm in September 2016. They have since worked tirelessly to bring Beverley back to the beloved familiarity of life on a farm and usher Brett into his dream of land stewardship. This is especially noticeable as I move into the original farmstead’s neighboring forty-acres, known as Cove Woods. The Walkers bought this adjacent property in December 2017 and re-decorated its farmhouse, now a destination for family gatherings, corporate functions, and parties. Cove Woods can sleep up to eight people and features a wraparound veranda, year-round creek, and gardens. Guests are invited to harvest the salad greens and vegetables, create their own bouquets from the cut flower garden, or book a private tasting in the farm’s new tasting room. Soon to be listed on Airbnb, this space will make you want to grab your best people and a glass of wine and merge into the natural seclusion of the forest for a time. Adventurers can also “Camp at the Cove” via its listing at Tentrr.com.
Beverley Walker was raised on a farm in South Africa. She cleaned stalls and rode horses on the beach in the early mornings before school. There were horses, chickens, geese, and always a garden. Beverley and her late husband Mark, an accountant, musician, and father of her two children, Brett and Taryn, built a homestead and a garden from the ground up on an acre of land in the late 1970s in Gillitts, Natal Province, South Africa. Beverley and Mark raised their family along with vegetables, fruits, nuts, and a small daycare business for five years, making her now an ideal attendant to the needs of the farm during her son’s weekly commutes, since he still works in Laguna Beach.
Beverley’s wisdom and a sparkle in her eye struck me as soon as we met. When I learned that she spent six years sailing and completed a trans-Atlantic crossing in both directions, it became clear clear that Cove Crest hit the jackpot with this capable and enthusiastic stewardess. An early riser, Beverley says, “There’s nothing that I enjoy more than a cup of coffee while all is quiet.” She may check the weather, plan her next trip to Laguna Beach to visit her three grandchildren, create the day’s list of needs, or manage the farm’s bookings and social media presence—and then starts her routine of animal, vegetable, and property care.
A self-taught florist and former owner of a successful Laguna Beach flower stand, Beverley brings creativity to all that she does on the farm. Peonies, dahlias, tulips, zinnias, cosmos, and ranunculus can all be found throughout the landscape and gardens, folding the talents of her past into the present farm-scape and its offerings. With a goal of retiring to her “cabin in the woods,” Beverley looks forward to spending the bulk of her days gardening and enjoying farm life from her inconspicuous cabin tucked neatly beyond the farm’s Riesling vines.
Brett Walker shares his mother’s creative bent. Starting with T-shirt graphics and an opportunity in surf wear design that took him around the world, he quickly expanded his focus to apparel displays and ultimately to all aspects of interior design and build outs. It didn’t take long for his interest in sustainability to form the basis for this work, and this value led to the realms of land preservation and stewardship. Brett started a non-profit called Eartheart, where his focus was on sustainability education and activism. Three or four days a week, Brett continues to work in and around Laguna Beach, Costa Mesa, and Newport Beach, as a design consultant and owner of eVocal, a cooperative specializing in sustainable solutions design and implementation. He meets with architects and business owners, matching their needs with the offerings of local artisans and vendors with whom he’s formed relationships.
Back in Montgomery Creek the rest of the week, Brett takes on projects involving earth moving, permaculture design, lumber milling, and building, with seemingly endless energy to tackle a week’s worth of work in a few days. Cedar, Doug fir, and Ponderosa pines provide wood for building and repairs to the farm’s infrastructure and for tables and benches recently built for a friend’s wedding at Cove Woods. Brett has converted an old shed into a tasting room to showcase the farm’s wines. Two new terraces and a French drain have been created past the blackberries, setting the groundwork for a hoop house, which will allow the farm to extend its season for growing food. Also planned is a permaculture-inspired food forest to replace old Pinot noir vines.
MUCH TO STEWARD
Brett and Beverley also find time to enjoy long walks and hikes, often overtaken by awe as they meet and examine the ancient trees within the land they steward. Brett tells about the Shasta banana apples, wild cherries, and wild plums found on the property, many distributed by bears over the years. In a garden area, he points out hügelkultur beds and some of the herbs that are being grown, fragrant wormwood, lavender, epazote, and lemon balm. Culinary herbs like oregano, sage, and thyme, as well as perennials like goji berries and rhubarb grow in one of the original gardens.
A chicken run is also located in this area, an add-on where chickens dispense of garden weeds and provide nitrogen to the soil. A nearby structure, jokingly called the “goatel,” houses the farm’s Nubian goats. A mustang named Ripley and an Anatolian shepherd named Bruno are also among the farm’s animal inhabitants.
Eight varieties of blackberries, thorned and thornless, grow in the gardens, part of a UC Davis project during the Griggs’ time at the farm, as well as blueberries and the strawberries interplanted with them. Additional rows for vegetable production have been created among the berries; increasing vegetable production will help the Walkers offer a vegetable and wine CSA in the future. An old orchard with apples, pears, plums, and cherries offers a variety of seasonal fruit. Outside the garden, a concrete pizza oven waits amidst the lush surrounding of forest and, during the right time of year, a thick backdrop of hops along the fence line. The fruits and vegetables grown on the farm, unless they top pizza at the farm, make their way to customers at Shasta Growers’ Association farmers’ markets in Redding and Burney.
In addition to all the blocks of grapes and gardens of flowers, herbs, fruits, and vegetables, there is also the infrastructure for wine production, since the grapes for all the Cove Crest wines are grown and processed right at the farm. From the grapecrushing station to the bottling and storage area, it is evident that wine is produced here. The new tasting room reinforces that certainty.
Beyond the farm itself, the Cove Crest family is working on plans to revitalize a former restaurant located along 299 and turn it into The Station Café and Collab later this year. The café will serve as a hub where the community can experience the flavors and offerings of local artists, wine makers, brewmasters, and food producers of all sorts. With all the Walkers have accomplished in fewer than three years, there’s no doubt they will soon realize this goal as well.
Enjoy Cove Crest wines at Porkchop Slims in Fall River and Crumbs in McArthur and buy them at Gather Marketplace in Redding. The farm’s fruits and vegetables are available at the Redding Saturday farmer’s market and Burney Wednesday farmers’ market. To keep up with the Walkers’ progress stewarding this land, visit coveinthewoods.com and follow covewoods and covecrestfarm on Instagram.
Audrey Pascone and her son Pharaoh moved to Red Bluff six years ago to join long-time friends raising pastured meats, vegetables, and herbs for their families and the local community. At Red Gate Ranch, they continue to teach themselves and their customers about food quality and encourage everyone to know their farmers by taking an active role in sourcing local, pastureraised meats, and “beyond organic” vegetables. More information about Red Gate Ranch can be found at www.redgateranch.us.