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Lillie Langtry, Orville Magoon & Bob

I was introduced to Guenoc Ranch in the late 1960s. I was selling fertilizer and Guenoc Ranch would use a large amount of fertilizer on its reported 19,000 acres of pasture and rangeland. I remember contacting the ranch manager and asking for the order. The order was a big sale for me, so I narrowed down the price so not to be underpriced. I was shocked to learn that I lost the order to a feed store in Calistoga. I represented a major manufacturer of dry fertilizer and here it was that I was outbid by a feed store. New to my profession I could not let this slip by me. I just had to know how a feed store could out bid me on a large 100-ton fertilizer order. I later learned that the feed store bought large tonnage of hay from the Guenoc Ranch. The fertilizer sale was an inside deal. 

Later in the 1980s I was reintroduced to the Guenoc Ranch where owner Orville Magoon (1929-2016) had built a winery, Langtry Estate (1981-present) and Vineyards and planted a few hundred acres of vines. The winery was named after actress, socialite, Lillie Langtry (1853-1929). He also named the 1800s vintage farmhouse after her. Orville was mesmerized by Lillie Langtry. He would go to great lengths to procure any piece of information or artifact relating to her. 

Lillie Langtry on stage

An old friend Bill Pickering was the vineyard manager, and contacted me to do some propagation (grafting) on some of the wine grapevines. It is not uncommon when there is an over-supply of one variety of grapes to convert to another variety. In the wine industry this is called “chasing the market.” I was fortunate to have a very experienced grafting crew, and grafted a large acreage for Langtry Winery and Vineyards Ranch acreage to more saleable varieties.

While doing the work I discovered that they had an oversupply of Zinfandel without a home. Around this same time White Zinfandel was becoming a new wine trend. A friend of mine, Bob Steinhauer, was the Grower Relations VP for Beringer and asked me for some help purchasing Zinfandel for their White Zinfandel program. I was able to put together a contract between Langtry Estate Winery and Beringer Wines. 

That Christmas I received an invitation from Orville to the Langtry Winery Christmas party on a Saturday night at the Lillie Langtry House. As we approached the Langtry House, we could see the outside Christmas lights from a mile away. Built in the 1880s complete with a surrounding porch, two stories and hundreds of Christmas lights. The little house was filled with friends, neighbors, and associates. 

Shirley and I did not recognize anyone at the function. The interior of the house had an array of lights, ornaments, and food. I had met Orville Magoon only once. I slid through the crowd to thank Orville for inviting us to the function. He then started to introduce me as the one who saved him by arranging the sale of his Zinfandel. 

The party would not be complete without a few songs from Orville’s wife Karen. I remember exactly how intently Orville would follow Karen’s every word she would sing. She ended her performance by singing a song she wrote about wine. Orville would always be dressed in jeans, a cotton shirt and a suite jacket. His pants legs were always tucked inside his boots. Orville was a well-educated man. He had an undergraduate BS in civil engineering and a MS in Civil Engineering from Stanford. 

Orville Magoon

Years later Orville and Karen hosted a group of leaders from Washington DC for a dinner. I was involved in a program where the graduates of the California Agricultural Leadership Program would host some government employees who may never had been on a California Farm. Orville and Karen arranged for a gorgeous evening for about 15 of the DC people and a few of us local people who had participated in both programs. 

I went on to help the winery both sell some of their grapes and purchase some needed grapes. I worked with a winemaker named Darrick Holstein. 

The 1990’s came along and the winery and vineyard changed direction and my services were no longer needed. Sometime later I read that Orville was no longer associated with the winery or the ranch. 

One last thing I remember about Orville was that Karen was going to give a concert right here at the Luther Burbank Preforming Arts center in Santa Rosa. Something happened because a week or so before the concert it was cancelled. My friend Bill Pickering tried to get me a phone number for Orville in San Francisco without results. 

Bill retired as vineyard manager at Langtry Winery and Vineyards and bought a small resort on the Lake. Someone else took over. I then began to hear rumors that the entire Guenoc Ranch including the winery would be sold.

Orvill died in 2016. The obituary did not state the cause of death, I think he died of a broken heart. I have never heard anything more about Karen. I did not give much thought to the Guenoc Ranch, Vineyards, and Winery for many years. 

Then just recently a large article popped up in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat that Guenoc had been resold and the new owners wanted to convert Guenoc to a new town. AG Becerra has joined the fray. Just what Lake County needs is a new town. Lake County’s poverty level is close to 20%.

I am sorry to have never heard Karen give a concert.

3 Comments

  1. Jim Armstrong June 1, 2021

    “Be First to Comment?”
    I commented when this first ran a few weeks ago that Magoon’s first name was Orville.
    Oroville is a town.

    • AVA News Service June 1, 2021

      Thanks for the reminder, Jim.
      Both first and last names have been corrected: Oroville McGoon to Orville Magoon.

  2. Jane Doe June 3, 2021

    The Langtry Winery and Lillie Langtry’s house are not part of the development.

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