Devil’s Gulch Ranch up for sale

06/21/2018

At age 19, Los Angeles native Mark Pasternak saw an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle for ranchland in Nicasio and made a bold decision. “It was my dream—it’s still my dream,” he said last week. 

Nearly five decades later, he and his wife, Myriam, are selling the 75-acre property, Devil’s Gulch Ranch. “We are getting older and have less energy for the ranch, our kids don’t want to take it over, and we aren’t able to make enough money to hire a manager,” Mr. Pasternak said. 

The couple is open to selling the ranch business, in addition to the property, which is listed for $5,250,000, and to finding a buyer willing to give them a life estate agreement to continue living in their home. He said they are also prepared to leave Nicasio. 

Along with three dairies, Devil’s Gulch is one of the few commercial agriculture operations in the village. Though he has worked other side jobs in the past, Mr. Pasternak says he has tried to generate income solely off of the property for the last 10 years—an effort that has proved discouraging. 

“The value of the property is so high here that you can’t justify any farming practices to pay for it,” he said. “If I had actually realized what was involved in all of this when I bought the property, I probably wouldn’t have done it. I didn’t know that I couldn’t.”

The land was originally part of an 873-acre dairy ranch that was subdivided when Mr. Pasternak bought his acreage in 1971. It now falls within the boundaries of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, though it remains privately owned and zoned ARP-30, allowing for agricultural and residential use. The property includes five residences, an 18-acre vineyard, multiple barns, a horse arena and stalls, and a swimming pond. 

Over the years, he and Myriam, a veterinarian who grew up on a small ranch in Sonoma County, have raised a variety of livestock, including pigs, rabbits, sheep and pigeons as well as trained horses and guardian dogs. They have also grown asparagus and grapes, the latter of which are purchased by local wine producers Sean Thackrey and Dutton-Goldfield Winery. 

Mr. Thackrey, a Bolinas resident, said that the vineyard was finicky in a number of ways, including having an unpredictable yield from year to year, but also that the grapes created a distinctive pinot noir. 

“Devil’s Gulch is not like most other sites, but that’s exactly the charm of it for me,” he said. “Mostly above the fog line, it gets hot enough for the grapes to ripen while still staying cool due to the breeze off of Tomales Bay. Because often the majority of the grapes within a fruit cluster don’t ripen, however, there’s a very high percentage of skins to juice. All the character in a red wine comes from the skin, so you know it’s going to be a very intense wine.”  

Aside from agriculture, the Pasternaks have expanded operations to include fundraising events, educational tours and a YMCA day camp, sparking a string of lawsuits from a neighbor in the past decade. They also came under heat from local animal rights groups that lobbied against the county awarding them a special use permit due to concerns over slaughtering rabbits on their property.  

“There are too many people here with money who don’t want anyone out here who isn’t in their socioeconomic group,” Mr. Pasternak remarked. 

As a result of the litigation, which centered largely around whether the ranch’s activities were overburdening a shared road, the ranch’s special use permit, first issued in 2004, now has a series of restrictions, including limits on the number of events it can host. The Pasternaks also were unable to get county permission for proposed overnight camp stays. Litigation finally wrapped up last month, allowing the Pasternaks to move forward with their intention to sell. It’s also left them feeling unsupported by the county.

“They were not unreasonable restrictions [in our special use permit], but the cumulative effect is chilling,” Mr. Pasternak said. “The county has given up on going to bat for small agricultural producers.”