Gold Ridge Organic Farms

September 23, 2022
It’s a windy summer afternoon in Sonoma County as I follow Brooke Hazen, farmer and proprietor of Gold Ridge Organic Farms, down a dusty fire road. We are winding our way through his olive and apple orchards, a patchwork blanket of varying shades of green spread across 88 acres of coastal foothills south of the town of Sebastopol. When we stop to admire the 360° view of rural and coastal West Sonoma, Hazen tells me that famed botanist and horticulturist Luther Burbank farmed and experimented nearby.

“Luther Burbank believed this was the best place in the world to grow,” says Hazen. “You see the color and texture of our fruits—the notes are fully expressed.”

It was just five miles north of here on West Sonoma’s Gold Ridge that in 1885 Burbank purchased his 15-acre Gold Ridge Experiment Farm to grow and develop hybrids and crossbreeds, including apples, plums and many other fruits and vegetables. Hazen recognizes, as did Burbank, that there is something meteorologically unique about this small agricultural strip of the planet, and that when the native soils are cultivated thoughtfully, the land offers up gifts of particularly robust and nuanced fruits. On this dry summer day, as we follow the fire road through olive groves, Hazen is on a mission: He and I are headed toward a particular stand of Frantoio olive trees he’d like to show me, several rows that, in his words, “are the cream of the crop.” I realize as we pass row after row of densely planted, carefully tended trees—in total 21 different Spanish, Italian and French cultivars—that Hazen’s connection to the 13,000 olive trees and 12,000 apple trees on his property is anything but ordinary. He gestures to specific rows of trees as we pass them by, describing the general characteristic of each cultivar and, more specifically, what he sees in the way the trees grow and fruit, their relative form and sturdiness. He seems to know every stand, maybe every tree, on this former cattle ranch that he began cultivating in 2001. Yes, Hazen can speak to the details of his agricultural practices, from soil science to pruning and harvesting, but it is the feeling he has about his trees and this land that seems to matter most.

We trot down to the bottom of a hill, where Hazen stops. “Here we are,” he says, pointing me toward a path into the leafy tunnel between the rows of Frantoio he says are his favorites. “You need to go in to really understand what I am talking about,” he urges. As we meander through the dappled light beneath his cherished trees, Hazen calls attention to the girth and twists of the trunks. He sees the Frantoio as a graceful, feminine tree, more curved and elegant than the upright Leccino across the way, but he is not exactly sure why these Frantoios have done so well in this particular location. He believes the overall success of Gold Ridge’s organic orchards has to do with the weather. When he and his family bought the farm property two decades ago, he knew the region hosted many successful apple orchards but he was not sure how olive trees would fare. He took an educated gamble, planting thousands of trees. As it turns out, he was right: All 16 acres of heirloom apples and 70 acres of olives, as well as an assortment of other fruit trees, including Meyer Lemon, Blood Orange, Mandarin-Kumquat and European and Asian Pear, have thrived.

“Yes, I believe it is the soil, the terroir, but mainly, it is the climate that makes our products so successful,” says Hazen. “Here we get the Petaluma Gap wind off the Pacific Ocean, which is just 10 miles away. This keeps the average temperature down and means a slow ripening of the fruit. This can mean lower yield, but adds layers of flavor. Our olive oil comes out robust and has a very high polyphenol count.” It is widely—accepted that olive oil is good for our health—Hazen himself drinks a tablespoon each night—and it is the polyphenols that give the oil its high medicinal value in the form of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties.

Hazen is equally proud of the fruits of his organic apple orchards, consisting of classic crowd-pleasers like Honeycrisp and Fuji, as well as 75 heirloom varieties such as Hudson’s Golden Gem, Ashmead’s Kernel, Cox Orange Pippin, Hoople’s Antique Gold, Red Gravensteins and others.

“I would rather take quality over quantity,” he says. “In our apples you see the flavor fully expressed because the trees are challenged by the wind.” According to Hazen, Gold Ridge Organic Farms is one of the few commercial growers in North America to harvest tree-ripened fruit, which means apples are harvested and taken directly to market rather than stored in a refrigerator to finish ripening. Hazen also planted early-fruiting strains of Fuji and Honeycrisp varietals, which means the team is harvesting by mid-July, about two weeks before other commercial growers get those favorite apples on market shelves.

Making our way back up the fire road toward the farm’s expansive Tuscan-style olive mill, farm shop and tasting room, Hazen recalls being in his 20s, just years out of college and somewhat directionless. It was then that he spent time at the Green Gulch Zen Center near Muir Beach, learning to farm. While there he discovered that working the land fed his soul, he says.

When he left Green Gulch he bought a small parcel in Sonoma, and for several years grew and sold his own produce. Hazen is not sure why, but he felt especially passionate about both apple and olive trees, and eventually, with the help of family, he was able to purchase the Gold Ridge acreage. He planted the first olive and apple orchards himself with the help of just one other person.

Now Hazen has a large team of 14 farm employees, including Master Olive Miller Guillermo Rojas. From October to December, the farm’s impressive Italian-made Rapanelli press and the Gold Ridge team not only mill and bottle Gold Ridge olives, but are available by appointment for custom olive oil milling and bottling for conventional and organic growers with a minimum of 50 pounds to process. Business Operations Manager Andrea Lederle, who brought to Gold Ridge her experience in the wine industry, is, among other things, expanding the brand partnerships and direct-to-consumer side of the operation to keep pace with the output of the farm.

Gold Ridge organic apples, including the Gold Ridge Heirloom Apple Blend bag containing six antique apple varieties (try the very strawberry-y Strawberry Parfait apple!) are sold in area markets, as well as at Whole Foods markets in Northern California and in the Reno-Tahoe area. Their four olive oil blends—Tuscan Blend and Minerva Blend (both made with Italian cultivars), Picholine Blend (French cultivars) and Arbequina Blend (Spanish cultivars), as well as specialty Meyer Lemon and Mandarin-Kumquat olive oils, are sold in the farm shop and tasting room on site. Each is certified extra virgin annually by the California Olive Oil Council (COOC).

Year by year, through the sale of apples, olive oil and specialty items made from these, along with the opening of the farm shop and tasting room, Lederle says the public face of Gold Ridge Organic Farms has increased, as have partnerships with other local growers and artisan producers. In the farm shop and tasting room (open Thursday through Saturday and by appointment for private tours and olive oil tastings) visitors will find baked goods from Wild Flour Bread in nearby Freestone, dark chocolate with olive oil and candied Meyer Lemon made in partnership with local Sebastopol chocolatier VOLO and there’s talk of making shrubs with the help of neighboring producer Little Apple Treats. The shop also features Gold Ridge apple cider vinegar, heirloom apple snacks, Honeycrisp-Fuji apple cider syrup and a variety of olive oil—based soaps infused with herbs and lavender also grown on the property (all items are also offered for sale on the farm’s website).

By the time Hazen and I make our way back to the top of the hill, the tasting room is full of customers, including a private group preparing to sample a full flight of olive oils. There is a buzz in the room and Lederle tells me that this is becoming more and more common as “food tourists” discover the farm and surrounding region.

“We’ve got the Monte-Bellaria di California lavender farm nearby—very popular for photographs—and Duckworth U-pick blueberry farm and Boring raspberry farm just up Canfield Road,” she says. “Adding a stop at our tasting room makes a perfect day trip, and all in this area.”

According to Hazen and Lederle, the excitement level peaks in the late summer and early fall with apple and olive harvests. On September 17 of this year Gold Ridge Organic Farms will host their annual Heirloom Apple Celebration at the farm’s apple barn. This is Hazen’s favorite event to host each year, he says, the culmination of his many years of effort, honoring the beauty and history of the heirloom apples.

Hazen’s Gold Ridge predecessor, Luther Burbank, would most definitely approve. “I get so much joy out of the heirlooms—the textures and flavors,” says Hazen, standing outside the bustling tasting room, overlooking the rolling silver waves of olive leaves and bright popping green of apple, pear and citrus foliage. “I started farming because I wanted to be in nature and see the fruits of my labor. I wanted to see what my hands could produce directly. I ended up feeding the population nutritious food. What could be better?”

I saw this olive oil on La Briffe recommended by Ruth Reichl. I love olive oil. My grandmother was from Croatia and she cooked with olive oil as did my mother way before it was chic to do. I am a native Californian and I live in Georgia. I miss California and I love La Briffe and Ruth's recommendations for things like your olive oil. It keeps me in touch with all things California.

Pam H., Decatur, GA

I haven’t encountered many American olive oils that knocked me out, but this one from Gold Ridge Organic Farms in Sebastapol is exceptionally good.

Ruth Reichl, James Beard Award Winner, Food Writer & Chef

We really appreciated the informative and tasty presentations as well as farmer Brooke’s informative tour of the orchard. A+ Everyone was super nice.

Blane H., Cloverdale, CA

Always happy with your olive oil! Someday we hope to visit the farm. It looks beautiful!

Ryan J., Portland, OR

I learned so much about apples! Thanks. I thought the oil tasting was so well organized and I enjoyed the experience very much. I’ll be spending more on olive oil Now. Thanks!

Sara S., Sebastopol, CA

Love your organic olive oils - they are amazing! Whenever we are in the area will visit.

Scott B., San Diego, CA

I love the Meyer Lemon Olive Oil! A friend brought a bottle for me to try and I am in love. I am a personal chef and I plan to make this a regular finishing oil. I am taking it with me back east to share with friends!

Heidi L., Sebastopol, CA

I love our olive oil! Thank you.

Lisa M., Port Washington, NY

Love your olive oil, thanks!

Ryan J., Portland, OR

The Arbequina Blend olive oil is simply wonderful, and the shipping was very fast! Thank you!

Barb G., Post Falls, ID

I like the VOLO Chocolate with Meyer Lemon. Kind of satiny, not too sweet. That’s good in my book! I like the olive oil in that one too. Kind of creamy and nourishing.

Ginny A., Plainfield, MA

I saw the farm store sign from the road and came in to explore. I'm so glad I did. I tasted, and chose some gorgeous oils and vinegars too & chocolate! Some really special gifts available. Great packaging & nice hospitality. Thank you. I'll be back.

Penny L., Sonoma County, CA

Your facility is beautiful! Your olive oil is fantastic, and the specialty chocolate with olive oil is super delicious (wish they made at least 80% chocolate to cut down on the sugar). As an aside, I absolutely loved the front gates!

Bonnie K., San Francisco Bay Area, CA

My feedback on Meyer Lemon Blend Olive Oil: I love it and think you’re doing great work…a credit to the community!

Barbara C., Santa Rosa, CA

AMAZING true olive oil! The taste and texture is divine, but for us this oil has been a blessing beyond the gourmet, our autistic son has had tremendous leaps forward in healing and development, this oil is truly brain food pure and healing. Thank you for what you do!

Laina S., Naples, FL

[The tour and tasting were] very interesting and informative. Thank you.

Kristen T., Sonoma County, CA

I learned so much! Loved the samples - very generous! I am sharing my purchases with my friends, too. I made pancakes to try the apple syrup and that was a hit! Thanks to the polite and knowledgeable staff. We had a great time! We bought a few items, for us and as gifts. You have an impressive operation that we will continue to support! Thank you for your customer care, attention to detail, and knowledge. Excellence shows!

Gerard G., Napa, CA

The best, unparalleled olive oil I’ve ever had! Apple cider syrup is also second to none! What is the most impressive to me is that all of the ingredients are freshly grown, organically made! Simply the best!

Jeongbum S., San Francisco Bay Area , CA

The taste and texture is divine, but for us this oil has been a blessing beyond the gourmet, our autistic son has had tremendous leaps forward in healing and development, this oil is truly brain food pure and healing. Thank you for what you do!

Laina S., Naples, FL

A friend gifted me the assorted tins for Christmas and I am very impressed. Delicious oil. As I cannot do dairy and do not like margerines I found scrambling my egg in this olive oil was sublime. You don't want to waste it on dishes where you cannot get the full impact of its delicious flavor. I am hooked.

Jean M., Grants Pass, OR

I will NEVER go back to store bought oils! The difference in taste between fresh and store bought was extraordinary.

Sheryl P., Cheboygan, MI

My entire experience was wonderful. The order arrived in a very timely manner, and the product is excellent!

Barb G., Bonners Ferry, ID

We love the Honeycrisp-Fuji Apple Cider syrup! Thank you!

Sarah H., Culver City, CA

Great products, excellent service!

Karen K., Los Angeles, CA

Recipients of the EVOO were delighted. Nice to get positive feedback from foodies.

Yvonne , Sebastopol, CA

Very good people and service.

Mateo S.

Always a pleasure working with Gold Ridge Organic Farms for custom milling. Very professional, helpful and friendly.

Bill M.

Delicious products and a beautiful view.

Steven M.

So far have been splashing Minerva on our pasta. No more boring pasta dinners! The details were also good - packing material, gold tab on bottle for opening, info for using each oil, drop down tab to cover spout opening, etc… Every detail well planned.

Patti L., Bellevue, WA

Thank you providing this service to our community. I was so happy to be able to have my olives individually milled this year. In the past I have always participated in a community press. So this is the first time I have been able to taste my very own olive oil! Thanks for making that possible!

Mary Lee M.

We've only opened up one bottle so far but we are pleased. I'm a bit of an olive oil snob. Your oil has flavor and smells like fresh grass. I put it on my air popped popcorn with salt. It's delicious! So glad I found you! Can't wait to try the other oils and get the new harvest oils in the future!

Debbie V., Boulder, CO

Everything is so great! Love the tins as much as the bottles and enjoying both right now. Love giving these oils as gifts too!

Laurie S., Sonoma, CA

The olive oils are excellent. My favourites are Tuscan and Arbequina and the fact that they are organic makes them even better. Also the packaging is exceptional.

Joanne H., Red Bluff, CA

I’m very happy with your Arbequina Blend. It’s smooth and fresh. It makes everything taste elegant. I love it. I also love your Minerva olive oil.

Cheri R.

The Strawberry Parfait apples made a lovely, fluffy applesauce in a soft pink color. Not as deep a color as the Pink Pearls, and the flavor is milder than other varieties in the markets here - but very pretty nonetheless... With a wee bit of my "secret ingredient" it tastes great!

Jennie C.

I recently picked up some Gold Ridge Organic Farms strawberry parfait apples from Whole Foods. They are some of the best apples I’ve ever had.

Samantha E.

Excellent packaging and true authentic organic extra virgin olive oil with the bite to the palate that distinguishes it from poor quality and purported EV olive oils. Thanks again expect repeated orders to come!

Ty J., Hemet, CA

LOVE IT!!! I take a shot of olive oil every day. (Along w/all the other stuff we use EVOO for!). Picholine Blend is high in polyphenols, which is why I chose this blend… I'm after the health benefits of higher polyphenols… I love that Gold Ridge is organic, I love all the awards they have, I love that they are a small farm, I love the taste and quality of the olive oil!

Ashley C., Murrieta, CA

I received my shipment in good order. I have opened the Tuscan Blend and was very impressed with its flavor and finish. The others I have not tried at this time. Since I, also, am a very small olive grower and making some organic extra virgin olive oil, I love to try other oils.

Marilyn M., Calistoga, CA

Love love love my order! I was introduced to the goldridge olive oil from My real good greens delivery that I started. I love the olive oil so much that I order a bottle almost every week. I also told a girlfriend about it, she ordered some, and I ordered some for My mom and sister who live in New York. I have never had such amazing olive oil, and absolutely love it! Thanks

Nancy S., San Francisco, CA

Five Stars!!!!  Thank you Andrea and Brooke!  LOVE your product!!!  Hope that Montage Healdsburg can send guests for tasting, special events some day!  Hotel opens November 18!!

Laurie S., San Clemente, CA

I am happy with the Arbequina olive oil.  I had been looking for a long time for an olive oil appropriate for making a vinaigrette that was flavorful without being overpowered by the strong taste of the olive oil.  And now I have found it!  Thank you!

Deborah , Del Mar, CA

We love this oil. I feel better about consuming an oil that is actually good for you as long as I don’t over heat it or use too much of it at once

Irene D., Port Townsend, WA

Amazing!!!

Merhunisa K., Bronx, NY

I love this olive oil.  I had been looking and trying many olive oils to try to find a mild but flavorful oil that would not overwhelm salad dressings and vegetables.  This is absolutely a perfect oil for these purposes.  I now also use it as my overall go to olive oil.  It enhances and does not detract from other flavor profiles.  Just delicious!  I also love the pouring spout that was included in my first order.  I love it so much I even sent this oil to a friend of mine who also loves to cook.

Deborah M., Del Mar, CA

We appreciate the chance to support local artists. 

We’re on a keto diet that requires us to consume a cup of oil a day. Your sampler has made this program tasty! 

It was flawless and the packaging was perfect! 

Excellent! Gave some to my mom, sister, and son/fiancé for Xmas. They loved it! My son and fiancé (in colorado) said it is the best olive oil they have ever had! My mom and sister are repeat gifts. My mom asked for more of the goldridge olive oil for Christmas. Always pleased with goldridge.

Nancy S., San Francisco, CA

I LOVE your olive oil so much. It is smooth and bright and delightful. AND its the only oil I wanted to provision my upcoming sailing adventure with for 6 months!

Thank you.

Aria A., Hallandale Beach, FL

I am very happy with your product. Shipping was fast and quality is excellent!

Danielle L., Sequim, WA

Great arrived before we expected it. Andrea is wonderful, she knew what we wanted with just......it begins with a P

John G., Lake Oswego, WA

I'm only on my first of the trio, Minerva, but I'm already super happy with my order. And, as a longtime connoisseur, you are now one of my favorite olive oils, not kiddin, and will now be in my regular rotation. Thank you for the complimentary pour spout. I never liked their idea as to keep oxygen out. But I love it. Super convenient and makes it easy to pour all over the place.

Homero D., Driftwood, TX

Great service and love the olive oil!!

Deb , Perry, MO