STEPHAN BEDFORD, THE wine maker at Rancho Sisquoc, has gained a reputation as one of the best cooks in the Santa Ynez Valley. Unlike most of us, Bedford does not schedule a trip to the supermarket when he plans a dinner. Instead, he draws upon a rich variety of fresh, ranch-raised produce and meat and his own wines.
Sisquoc is a Chumash Indian word for quail, which inhabit the territory along with squab, wild boar, bear and deer. Located between Solvang and Santa Maria, Rancho Sisquoc covers about 90,000 acres. More than a third of this vast spread is owned by the James Flood family of San Francisco; the rest of the acreage is leased. Cattle graze the pastures, seed beans are a major crop, and a small vineyard yields the grapes for wines that are sold only at the ranch. If what Bedford needs is not at hand, he obtains it from neighboring ranchers or from friends with flourishing vegetable and herb gardens.
The local bounty appeared full force in a cassoulet that Bedford prepared for a dinner at the winery during a regional wine festival. The ingredients included locally raised lamb, wild boar meat, four types of ranch-grown beans, and sausages made from wild boar, beef and venison. This zesty dish was seasoned with an abundance of fresh herbs contributed by Bedford's friends and red wine that the young wine maker tipped into the huge pot when liquid was needed. For appetizers, there were crudites--vegetables obtained from nearby plots--with a spicy yogurt dip. Guests then sat down to a first course of steamed mussels accompanied by sweet peppers that had been roasted over a fire of ranch-grown oak. Walnuts from trees on the property added crunchiness to a salad of watercress, sorrel, endive and sun-dried tomatoes. Bedford himself made the long loaves of French bread that accompanied a cheese course, using Montrachet wine yeast for leavening.