Eagle Rock Ranch & Distillery, California
Property Types: Farms, Ranches, Home, Cabin, Recreational
Activities & Amenities
The legendary Eagle Rock Ranch is located in the California’s Coastal Mountain Range west of Ukiah on historic Low Gap Road, the former stage route to the town of Mendocino on the coast. Eagle Rock Ranch is among the last original large ranches in Mendocino County. Its central area opens to a grassed plateau surrounded by mature fir and oak trees, a sheltered & secluded oasis. This setting exudes privacy and remoteness yet is only 15 minutes to town.
The 2,100-acre ranch has three houses (including the original, dating to 1858), a handsome weathered redwood barn, multiple year-round springs, three good wells, 440 volt electrical service, and extensive frontage on County roads. The Ranch takes its name from bald eagles nesting on its most important feature, an awe inspiring rock outcropping on the mountain west of the ranch’s headquarters. This one of Mendocino’s most significant natural landmarks and has been noted as such throughout the region’s recorded history.
The property includes an operating craft distillery, where the famous Germain-Robin alambic brandy was originally crafted.
The beauty of this ranch cannot be overstated. It is a wonderful place to live, relax, raise children and animals, entertain friends and family, picnic, hunt, hike, take walks and runs, ride horses and the like. The extraordinary wildlife is one of the greatest pleasures of living on the ranch. There are rabbits, raccoons, skunks, opossum, flocks of wild turkeys, wild pigs, weasels, coyotes howling by night, deer with their fawns, bobcats, an occasional fox, bear, or mountain lion, a chorus of peeping frogs in the spring and deep-voiced bull frogs on summer nights. The current owners have twice spotted the rare ring-tail cat. Because of the variation in terrain, vegetation, and altitude, there is an unusual variety of birds, including owls, migratory ducks, and blue herons. The myriad wildflowers in the spring have to be seen to be believed.
Location: the property’s main entrance is five miles from downtown Ukiah on Low Gap Road, a well-maintained County road. This road and its spur, Pine Ridge Road, running parallel to Orr Creek, form the southern boundary of the ranch, some 3 ½ miles.
Eagle Rock Ranch is thus 12 minutes from Ukiah, population 15,000, the county seat, with a good hospital, legal services, and consumer outlets (including a Costco); there is a good municipal airport capable of serving commercial jets. San Francisco in good traffic is two hours south; Santa Rosa's commercial airport is an hour south. Mendocino County, mountainous, rural, and sparsely populated, is part of the fabled North Coast Wine Country. The County possesses great natural beauty: its spectacular rocky coastline draws visitors from all over the world.
Topography. The ranch is essentially the southern and eastern slope of a long ridge forming the north watershed of Orr Creek, rising from 700 feet elevation to 3000 feet at the west end and including the 2800-foot mountain which peaks in Eagle Rock. There are many seasonal creeks. The generally sloping terrain varies from open pasture to oak woodlands to fir forest; there is a small stand of old-growth redwood deep in a canyon below Eagle Rock and another on the north slope of the ridge behind the main house. There are several areas aggregating an estimated 120 acres that could be planted to grapes.
a. The original main ranch house, with original lovely and wide-planked clear-heart redwood walls, dates from ca.1858 and has been extensively renovated. A modern addition brings it to 2900 sq ft, including 2½ baths and an imposing fireplace built from local field sandstone; there are three outbuildings, including a modest guest cottage.
b. A second house, built on a decorative fieldstone foundation in 1946, has been extensively rebuilt and renovated; of its 2400 sq ft,. One of the bedrooms/baths is detached, across a small enclosed garden area from the main structure; there is also a Mediterranean-style walled garden leading to a separate office/studio. This house has an adjacent garage and workshed/storage building.
c. There is a handsome two-storey 2000 sq ft weathered barn used for storage and for cattle plus hayloft
d. The third house (approximately 1500 sq. ft.) is a serviceable 3-bedroom modern residence for the ranch manager along with a shop and two detached guest quarters, one of which, located by the barn, replaced the old sheep-shearing shed.
e. The original Germain-Robin brandy distillery was constructed in 1982-84. It is a show-piece, containing a beautiful antique copper still brought from an abandoned distillery in Cognac. There is also a large redwood-sided aging cellar, whose interior and roof are modern concrete/steel construction; this building is in excellent condition and could serve many purposes.
Other relevant information. The ranch, zoned to 160-acre minimums, consists of eleven parcels which have completed Certificates of Compliance. All parcels save two either have county road frontage or are served by the excellent main-ranch entry road.
Water. The Coales have drilled three good wells, and there are several more potential sites identified by professional hydrologists. There are numerous productive year-round springs. The many scenic creeks are seasonal.
Fire protection. A productive well above the main buildings serves 12,500 gallons of water storage tanks, which feed a 4” underground main connected to fire stanchions at the barn, at the distillery, and at all three houses. A dozen head of cattle keep the ranch grazed down to reduce fire hazard.
440-volt electricity (sufficient for industrial use if needed) is carried on a dedicated line that serves all the ranch structures. The houses and the distillery are served with individual propane tanks.
Ranch History. Low Gap Road was the original trail used by the Pomo Indians to journey to the coast to trade for seaweed and abalone. Eagle Rock itself was regarded as sacred. Many arrowheads, throwing stones, and mortars and pestles have been found around the ranch. The Coales have not allowed these objects to leave the ranch.
The earliest recorded holdings date from before the Civil War. The crumbling remains of an 1850s homesteader’s cabin, barn, corral, orchard, and vineyard are still visible at the eastern end of the ranch. To subsist, many homesteaders stripped tanoak bark to be sold for commercial leather-curing. They also cut firewood for Ukiah (the courthouse once had 40 fireplaces), split railroad ties from large redwood trees, planted grapes and pear and apple trees, and ran sheep.
There remain two single-room cabins for solitary shepherds, which predate the original main house. The main house, built in 1858, reflects the vertical architectural style brought in from the New England-settled whaling village of Mendocino. The house contains large wall planks on the interior walls and foundation timbers rough-sawn from virgin redwood. Later in the 1920’s and 1930’s, various homestead and vacant parcels were assembled by the Bradford family into a cattle/sheep ranch; Bradford family ashes were scattered from Eagle Rock. The Bradfords also had a commercial peach orchard in front of their main house; there is an aerial photograph of the orchard from ca 1948. Oats were cultivated on a sloping fenced field behind the 1946 house, and the gang-plow, mower, and hay rake are still on the property, along with the original Fordson tractor.
In the early 1950s, George Chalfant, an ATT long-lines engineer, began looking for a ranch to purchase for his retirement. Chalfant had run the Bell Telephone long-distance lines across the Cascades and was also the senior engineer for wiring the founding United Nations conference (the first use of simultaneous translation in five languages), held in San Francisco in 1945. Chalfant flew all over northern California in search of land he liked. He believed that the Ranch was the most beautiful land to be found in California.
Chalfant purchased the Ranch from the Bradfords’ successors in 1954 and retired to it in 1957; he added some adjacent parcels to round out a natural and sheltered geographic unit. He leased the rangeland and the second house (built in 1946) to Meredith Clark, who ran sheep on the property for 35 years. An avid amateur historian, Chalfant had a deep interest in the Hudson Bay Company and was instrumental in placing several Historical Monument plaques, one of them on busy Montgomery Street in the financial district of San Francisco.
In his eighties, confined to a wheelchair by crippling arthritis, Chalfant held back from selling the property, hoping to find buyers who would love the ranch as he did. When he encountered the Coales in 1973, he lowered the price and offered advantageous terms so that they could afford the purchase. The Coales have made the ranch their home ever since. They have carried out extensive renovations and additions to both of the main houses.
Germain-Robin brandy distillery. Near the barn is the original Germain-Robin brandy distillery and aging cellar, still in occasional use.
In 1981, Coale picked up a hitch-hiking refugee from the industrialization of cognac. Hubert Germain-Robin came from the Jules Robin family, cognac producers since 1782. Hubert told a sad tale: ancient hand-methods of distillation were disappearing as huge firms applied “improved” high-volume industrial methods. Hubert wanted to turn the clock back and distill using craft methods handed down for centuries from master to apprentice.
Hubert dismantled an antique still in an abandoned cognac distillery and shipped it to the ranch in Mendocino County. Coale built a modest redwood building for it, thus starting the country's first craft distillery since 1919, and the two began to experiment with premium wine grapes. The very first time that brandy distilled from pinot noir flowed from the still, Hubert took a long sniff from the sampling glass, turned to Coale, and said: “this is the finest I have ever experienced.”
The first Germain-Robin brandies were released in 1987. By the mid-1990s, once the aging brandies had matured, Germain-Robin was frequently reviewed among the world's finest distilled spirits: in 1996, Robb Report's expert panel named the Select Barrel XO the best spirit in the world, ahead of Macallan 18-year-old and the $1500 Richard Hennessy cognac. From his ranch office, Coale also developed and marketed Hangar One vodka, the first significant national craft brand, which was sold to Cuervo in 2010. Germain-Robin was sold to Gallo in 2017.