In June, the California Rangeland Trust brought together urban and rural communities at A Western Affair 2019 at Wente Vineyards in Livermore, California to celebrate our Western heritage and mutual love of land, legacy, and all things country. Hosted by the Wentes, a family with a long and rich history in both wine-making and ranching, the event highlighted the importance of keeping our land and country vibrant and available to support and improve California for generations to come. And since red meat and red wine go so well together, the event was extra special with a culinary experience like no other.
The weekend kicked off on Friday, June 28 with an exclusive reception and VIP wine blending class at Wente’s Wine Maker’s Studio. Led by Eric Wente—a man who brings humor and a lifetime’s worth of expertise to the art of winemaking—guests uncorked their inner winemakers by blending their own custom creations. After the class, guests mingled with one another, enjoyed delicious food and wine paired to perfection, and watched a spectacular performance by Rangeland Trust’s Emeritus Director Scott Stone and his band, Stone’s Throw.
The following day, friends of the organization gathered for the main event, A Western Affair. Before entering the venue, they were immediately “wowed” when they spotted the Rangeland Trust’s new showstopper— a traveling bar and educational system to be used for outreach events on ranches. This would later be auctioned off for use at a personal event to the highest bidder. After reveling over the trailer’s endless possibilities, guests checked-in and were greeted with live country music by Buck Ford, a superb glass of wine, and friendly faces both new and old. Next, they headed over to the Tirage building and stepped into a world of Western wonder complete with stunning décor, carefully planned to the very last detail by the Alameda County Cattlewomen, and a silent auction filled with an array of specialty items. At that point, it was clear the evening would be one to remember.
Following the cocktail-hour, Rangeland Trust Chairman Mark Nelson welcomed guests and thanked Eric and Arel Wente and the Wente family for hosting the event, along with the group of generous sponsors including: Raley’s, Murphy Austin Attorneys, Panorama Organic Grass-fed Meats, Farm Credit, E&J Gallo Winery, Rabobank, East Bay Regional Parks District, Lucas Public Affairs, and Westervelt Ecological Services.
As the meal of mouthwatering grass-fed Panorama beef was served, Rangeland Trust Chief Executive Officer Nita Vail announced the 2019 Conservation Impact Award recipient, Russell Austin and the Conservationists of the Year Recipients, Marilyn and Jerry Russell. While accepting her award, Marilyn brought the audience to tears as she recounted her family’s history in ranching, her reasons for donating the development rights on their Mendocino County ranch to the Rangeland Trust in 2017, and her plans (with no children of her own) to pass on the land to her long-time ranch caretakers. “I didn’t have a lot of wants or wishes, I just wanted to make sure that I was leaving my family’s ranch as a heritage to my parents, and to the wildlife, and to the landscape, and to agriculture; that’s when I sought out the California Rangeland Trust,” she said. “When I read the easement language, I thought, ‘Yes! This is the organization that’s by and for ranchers.”
After listening to Marilyn’s heartwarming story, Mark returned to the podium with Rangeland Trust Director Bonnie Atmore to emphasize the importance of bringing various groups together around a common table. “Whether you’re a mother in the city worried about the type of food you put on your family’s plates, a rancher working to preserve the watersheds and natural habitat that pull toxins from the air, or a developer looking to balance the need for more housing with the need for natural resources preserved by grazing,” said Mark. “We all have common concerns, and we are all connected.” And as Bonnie so beautifully articulated, “If we lose our connection to the land, we will lose our connection to each other and to the bonds we have built on the land. In bridging our diverse communities, we can find common ground and common purpose. And we can celebrate those whether at A Western Affair, or with friends like you year-round.”
As the program ended, auctioneer Jake Parnell introduced an exciting lineup of one-of-a-kind experiences. Energy ran high as guests raised their paddles to further rangeland conservation efforts that benefit all of us with local food to eat, clean air to breathe, and magnificent open spaces to cherish. As this remarkable weekend concluded, guests danced the night away under the stars.
This weekend affair served as the perfect reminder of why the Rangeland Trust does what it does—to serve the land that provides for all of us, honor the legacy of our nation’s ranchers (past, present, and future) who steward our valuable natural resources, and gather with friends and neighbors from different backgrounds to enjoy some of life’s simplest pleasures. Mark your calendars for A Western Affair 2020 on April 18th at Rancho Mission Viejo in Orange County!