Hanging up their suits for overalls was the perfect choice for Manny and Carol Diaz.
While many approaching retirement look to simplify, even (dare we say) downsize, Manny and Carol Diaz did just the opposite. In 2010, after raising their children in Windsor, the couple bought an 18-acre farm in rural Cloverdale adjacent to the Russian River. “When we drove down the driveway, we stopped about halfway,” recalls Manny. “And we didn’t say anything for about a minute — that’s an eternity — and I knew this was it.”
Overseeing 10 acres of vineyards and growing most of their own food turned out not to be a very big leap for Manny, who worked in the airline industry, and Carol, a former accountant. Their passion for cooking (both are heavily involved in the north county slow food movement) and love of the outdoors have shaped a new life — one that focuses on the seasons, long walks by the river and plenty of time in the garden.
Summer is prime time at the Diaz home, where the couple love to work in the garden late into the evening and enjoy leisurely meals at the 16-foot outdoor table that overlooks 5 acres planted to Sauvignon Blanc. “We have basil in the containers, and we go get our tomatoes, and we’ll have our caprese every day. That’s my favorite salad,” says Manny.
“We have to buy the cheese,” laughs Carol. “I don’t think it’s that hard, but we just haven’t done [cheese] yet.”
Their two grandchildren visit often and jump at the chance to make happy-hearted mischief on the farm, like tossing ropes to climb the fig tree and throwing rocks in the culvert to make the biggest splash possible. “When they first got old enough to be out by themselves, they kept looking back at us all the time like they were expecting us to say ‘Don’t do that!’ But then they realized they can do all those kid things here,” says Carol.
To bring their vision of a grandkid-friendly, ecologically minded homestead to life, the couple worked with architect Michael Cobb of Studio Ecesis and landscape architect Michael Lucas of Lucas + Lucas Landscape Architecture, both based in Healdsburg. Cobb oversaw renovations to the house and barn and the addition of a guesthouse in 2010. Lucas designed a serene, eco-friendly landscape with minimal details, incorporating massed specimen grasses as a replacement for a front lawn. He recycled chunks of concrete from the former front path to make a bench as well as surrounds for raised veggie beds that contain salad greens, herbs, garlic and onions, potatoes, peppers, eggplant and, of course, plenty of tomatoes.
Lucas was inspired by the remote setting and proximity to the river. “The landscape here has different moods every direction you look,” he explains. “East, it’s more intimate, with the mountains in close proximity. To the west is more expansive, more vast, with the river and the mountains farther away. And in the middle, that quiet spot, with the shade of mature trees. It’s a nice juxtaposition.”
While Carol loves to travel far afield, Manny often prefers to be at home with his many projects in the barn and garden. “I enjoy traveling too, but I enjoy this place,” says Manny. “The best part of traveling and leaving Sonoma County is coming back. I like it here; I connect.”