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History for sale: DeTurk Ranch on market

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013 | Posted by

The DeTurk ranch in Bennett Valley is for sale. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

By MELODY KARPINSKI / Santa Rosa Correspondent

The historic DeTurk Ranch on Bennett Valley Road is for sale, for just the third time in the past 100 years, as its owners prepare for a simpler life in Carmel.

It was founded by Isaac DeTurk, one of the county’s earliest wine pioneers, and is protected against development by an agricultural easement.

Marcia and Barry Cox have listed it for $10.7 million after 16 years of growing grapes and breeding horses on the 600-acre ranch they purchased in 1996.

Marcia, 66, and Barry, 71, bought the historic DeTurk Ranch after retiring from careers in the Silicon Valley.

“Originally we were just looking for 20 acres, but we ended up with 600,” said Barry. “We wanted to get out of the crowded state of Silicon Valley.”

The Coxs revived the estate to mirror founder Isaac DeTurk’s twin passions of winemaking and racehorses.

DeTurk came west to California in 1858. The son of French immigrants, he had developed a love of wine from his father, who tried unsuccessfully to create European varieties in Indiana.

“His father’s failures made DeTurk appreciate the ease with which all varieties of grapes grew in the California soil,” wrote Gaye LeBaron in “Santa Rosa: A Nineteenth Century Town.” “He may have been the first to appreciate the importance of grape culture to the future of the Santa Rosa Valley.”

In 1862, DeTurk founded Belle Mount vineyard at the base of Bennett Mountain, the ruins of which lie a few hundred feet away from the farmhouse the Coxs live in. DeTurk acquired the land from so-called “squatter” James Bennett, for whom the valley is named. Bennett acquired it from General Vallejo under the Yulupa land grant.

DeTurk sold his property to the Davis family around 1882, looking to expand elsewhere. The winery grew to become one of the largest in the state, with a capacity of around a million gallons in 1888. An infestation of phylloxera wiped out all of Bennett Valley vintner’s crops in 1890.

Despite the winery ruins, the property is still home to several large dairy barns installed by an early 20th century owner.The farmhouse was built in 1910, with French doors that overlook a pond they installed and the vineyards they revived. Though the vineyard makes up just 25 of their current 430 acres, last fall’s crop produced more than 340 tons of grapes.

“We have a contract with Rodney Strong Vineyards, and we also sell to Coppola,” said Barry. The Coxs also are part of the Bennett Valley Grape Growers.

The Coxs donated about 170 acres to the state in 1998, extending the borders of Annadel State Park. Of the remaining 430 acres, 310 are protected under the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District.

“It’s in a category called ‘forever wild,’ ” said Barry. “You can’t even turn the dirt, and about all you can do is run animals on it.”

Cattle have been on the property since it belong to the Carithers family. They bought it in 1957, and willed it to their daughter and son-in-law.

“There were about 150 head of cattle on the land right before we got here,” said Barry. “He had been leasing it out.”

Approaching old age and looking to downsize, the Gearys purchased a home in Rincon Valley around the time the Cox’s began looking for a home.

“We drove by this beautiful house, and it was the kind of place where the more you saw of it the more you liked it,” said Marcia. “From how well it was built to where it sits on the land facing the sunlight, it’s just been a pleasure living here.”

The original dwelling on the property sits about a quarter mile down the lane, lined with walnuts, where it was moved when a farmhouse was built. The Cox’s now live in that farmhouse, updating it while retaining the original style. “We didn’t change the original footprint at all,” said Barry.

Isaak DeTurk. (Photo courtesy of the Sonoma County Library)

DeTurk’s secondary success was in horseracing, and in 1885 his primary horse Anteo won a high stakes race in San Francisco. Winning three heats and setting a track record, the horse became a stud almost overnight.

Marcia Cox was the first occupant to return horses to the property, bringing quarter horses. “Barry is the wine guy, and I’m the horse girl,” she said.

To satisfy her passion, they built a full-scale equestrian facility on the property, using it for many years to breed quarter horses and Freisians. Over the years she kept 11 horses on the property, the last of which died recently.

Though the Cox’s retain some racehorses, those animals are stationed in L.A. and New Mexico for training.

The DeTurk Ranch is now listed with Craig Sikes of Sotheby’s International in Healdsburg. (See it at historicbennettvalleyranch.com.) The Cox’s are ready for a new adventure, and are preparing to move to a new home they’re building on a smaller lot in Carmel.

They’ll leave behind over 15 years of memories.

“It’s really the longest we’ve ever stayed in one place,” Marcia said.

The land itself remains, still nourishing the twin passions of winemaking and horseracing.

  • Left Bank

    There isn’t a house in Fountaingrove or any other upscale subdivision that can match the simple beauty of the De Turk home which is also so perfectly situated in its environment. It’s a masterpiece of understated elegance in harmony with human proportions.

  • http://www.dmoz.org/Regional/Europe/United_Kingdom/England/Devon/Plymouth/Business_and_Economy/Property/ stopka

    “Where there is no property there is no injustice.” Locke, John on property.

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Ann Hutchinson is our Santa Rosa correspondent.
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