It’s All in the Family at Bianchi Orchards
By Kayla Anderson
Wine & Walnuts
Story by Kayla Anderson
Photos by Sunshine Rush
ON A CHILLY DAY, a curious little black and white cat called Amos is meandering around a big rustic wooden barn at Bianchi Orchards. Next to the tasting room, a 100-year-old walnut tree stands tall and wide, having survived decades of the changing Northern California weather. In the Bianchi Orchards wine tasting room, locally handcrafted items for sale dot the walls, but the focus is the 23-foot-long polished black walnut bar in the back where the Bianchi family gives wine and walnut tastings.
Becky Bianchi Klinesteker runs the tasting room, and also helps manage the 80-acre orchards. She is one of five kids raised in Los Molinos by Anne and Ray Bianchi, who moved to Northern California 50 years ago. Having both attended Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, Anne and Ray were both into teaching and farming. They bought a 20-acre prune farm (they have since acquired 60 more acres of land) and Ray taught agriculture at Los Molinos High School for 32 years.
As the years went on and Ray and Anne got closer to retirement, they decided it was time to replant the crops, so they asked their kids if they wanted to take over the business. All five children were interested in maintaining the orchards and decided to follow in their parents’ footsteps by going to Cal Poly and (most of them) moving back to keep the farm going, but this time with walnuts.
“Walnuts do better and are hardier than almonds. Plus, we have amazing soil for it,” Becky says. She graduated with a degree in environmental horticulture landscape design, but also always wanted to own a store. So, with her mother’s help, Becky opened a roadside walnut stand located off of Highway 99 and started selling Bianchi walnuts at farmers markets, special events and wholesale
“You can drive through Tehama County and buy nuts from a grocery store and not really know where they’re from; here you know exactly where they originated,” she says.
Then several years ago, Enjoy magazine put together a trail map featuring Tehama wine and olives, and it got the Bianchi family thinking.
“We wanted to be on the map, so we started growing wine,” Becky says. However, that wasn’t the only reason.
“Mom and Dad went on a trip to Italy to visit relatives who worked in the wine business. Mom fell in love with the wines, especially Montepulciano and Trebbiano, and came back and planted those two. She also just went to a class to learn how to make brandy,” Becky says. Although not quite retired, fortunately Anne and Ray have a lot of help.
“Robbie is the oldest, he’s the orchard manager. I’m the second oldest and I started the store, but when I got pregnant Katie took over. Then when Katie got pregnant, Julie took over. Then when Julie got pregnant, I came back to manage the walnut, wines and event venue. Eddie lives in San Luis Obispo and comes back for harvest in the winter and the spring to help out with the orchard. We’re all very involved in the property; it’s all kind of a hobby for us and we have other full-time jobs,” Becky says.
She likes that everyone is close by to help each other out and they never have to get daycare.
“We’re pretty lucky that we all get along,” Becky says. “And it’s been fun to see everyone’s strengths come in (in how they manage the farm). Most of it is because Mom and Dad are rock stars; it’s nice that they are still so active.”
This is Bianchi Orchards’ third year of being in wine, and the family is excited for its potential, as well as growing the walnut business by producing products such as walnut milk and walnut pesto.
“You can do so many things with a walnut. It has good fats, hearty texture, it’s perfect for a vegetarian or vegan diet,” Becky says.
The farm also holds five major community events a year: a Valentine’s Day chocolate, wine, and walnut tasting; a St. Patrick’s Day event with live music, wine and pedrozo cheese pairing; a Day at the Orchard event in November around harvest season; a Christmas boutique and tree sale the first weekend in December; and a Mother’s Day event this year on May 11 from 4-7 pm featuring local wineries, walnut dishes, Mother’s Day crafts, and local vendors. The entry fee is $10-20 with proceeds benefiting a local nonprofit. Bianchi Orchards also hosts Thirsty Thursdays the first Thursday every month from 5-7 pm with live music and discounted wine tasting. •