The former landowners of the 42-acre property off Wragg Canyon Road said there was “no way” M. Sid Torun could ever realize his dream of converting the tree-covered hillside property into thriving olive orchards and vineyards.
But they didn’t know Torun. Making the impossible happen, through hard work and determination, is a reoccurring theme in his life.
Could he be scared off by land situated on an incline so steep it looked like only mountain goats could scale it? No, he had grown up in such country. In fact, Torun, who is Kurdish, had spent two years looking for land that was similar to where he grew up in Turkey. This was it.
“They weren’t the only ones who didn’t believe we could have this,” Torun said, gesturing to a view of the orchards, vineyards, winery, bed-and-breakfast and more. “My wife didn’t think it was possible.”
Torun’s wife, Naciye, agreed with the naysayers. “I told my husband there is no way this will ever be a ranch,” she said, laughing. “No way!”
Torun was not dissuaded and the couple bought the property in 2002.
“My wife cried then but she is laughing now,” Torun said, as they both laughed.
Torun’s dream for the land has come true and those lucky enough to have seen their place are talking about it.
“They grow everything by hand. They have their own olives, sheep, goats, chickens, vineyards and vegetables," said Leonore Wilson, a neighbor who lives a 20-minute-drive away. Wilson, along with her husband and other neighbors, helped harvest olives at the Torun’s ranch this fall.
“They are amazing and hardworking — and the nicest people you will ever meet,” she continued. “You won’t believe your eyes when you see what they have done. They import rock from their old village in Turkey. They even made their own road with pick and ax.”
Though they both have put endless hours of backbreaking work into transforming their place, his wife gives her husband credit for doing most of the work by himself in the beginning.
“Sid worked here for seven years alone,” Naciye said. “He lived in a small 10-by-12 shed.” She brought him food and water every day but continued working as a chef for Anderson Market in Palo Alto while her husband built their home and fenced the property.
Torun used some of the water his wife brought him each day to mix the concrete for fence posts. He dug into the ground 2 feet deep for each hole before putting the post into it. It took 3,800 fence posts to surround the property and protect it from deer.
Without a road at the time, he managed to carry two 98-pound posts a day to the site. Once the fence was built, he put barbed wire on top to prevent the “olive hungry” deer from leaping it.
Naciye, who helped her husband build the road up the mountain to their home, works as hard as Torun. By 6:30 a.m. she has fed the animals, milked the goats, gathered the eggs, and picked fruit and vegetables for breakfast. Then she makes 11-, and sometimes 22-course, breakfasts.
“Ninety percent of everything here is from our property,” she said, pointing to 11 elaborate Kurdish dishes she has prepared for a guest luncheon.
Her mouthwatering meals are delicious and leave a guest feeling light. Torun credits his good health to her Kurdish recipes.
The Kurdish couple, along with their three children, immigrated to Atlanta from Turkey in 1995, and then moved to California in 1999.
When they left Turkey, they not only left behind family and friends, they also left the seven businesses Torun had built up through perseverance and entering the workforce at an early age.
When Turon was 10 years old, his teacher told him that even if he graduated, he couldn’t get a diploma from school because he had no identification papers.
“I asked my father why I didn’t have the papers. He explained that he hadn’t had time to go to town,” Turon said. “We lived 9,000 feet up and it was covered with snow eight months of the year. Dad couldn’t get down the mountain to get my identification papers.”
So Turon decided to run away from his home in Conag Village at age 10. He admits that he “stole” $6 from his father’s wallet to go to Istanbul.
Once there, he bought a “shoeshine box” and went into business. One day a “beautiful lady” approached him with her shoes. She was driving a car, something very few people had then, he said. She asked him why he wasn’t in school.
“I told her the truth,” he said. “She got me into a school and paid for it. I studied six months. After that, no school.”
Torun stayed in Istanbul and worked hard at his shoeshine business and washed dishes in a restaurant. He did well in the city over the next 10 years. Back home his mother was yearning for him to get married.
“My mom was begging me. She said she had cancer. She said, ‘I need you to be married before I die,’” he recalls. “She knew someone from a nice family.”
Although Naciye lived in Xasko, a village only 5 miles away from his, the two had never met. Accompanied by his family, Turon went to her family’s home. Following tradition, he and Naciye didn’t say more than “hello” to each other.
“I saw how hard she worked preparing the food during the visit,” he said. “I knew she was the one.”
“I knew he was the one,” Naciye said. “The heart knows.”
The couple laughed as they recalled how she initially refused his marriage proposal. At age 18, Naciye said she had never been out of her village, been on a bus or in a car. “He had a car,” she said. “Hardly anybody did then.”
Their marriage was blessed with three children, and he was busy with his businesses.
Turon purchased the Bellevue Music and Restaurant, where he had once worked as a dishwasher. Many celebrities and politicians came to the restaurant that had a reputation for its live music as well as its food. Turon has a photo of former president George H. W. Bush dining there with then-Turkish president, Turgut Ozal.
Turon ran an unsuccessful campaign for mayor of Kartal, a suburb of Istanbul with a population of 2.5 million at the time.
“It was an uncomfortable time for Kurds in Turkey,” said Turon.
Becoming well-known was not an asset for Kurdish businessmen there from 1989–1992, he said. Of the 120 successful Kurdish businessmen killed during that time, four were his close friends.
“They would disappear and their bodies would be found 50 miles away a few days later,” he said.
One day the Turkish Secret Service came into the perfume shop that he had purchased for his wife to run, and took Turon away. Naciye had no idea why they took him or when — if ever — she would see him again.
“They questioned me for two straight days because my business card was found in the pocket of one of the Kurdish businessmen who had been killed,” he said.
“They wanted to know what my connection was to this man,” he continued. “I kept telling them that I was a businessman. I give cards out to people all the time.”
“One of my friend’s approached me. He came to my home and said, ‘Just go away. Take your family and go away for a few years.’ I put my businesses for sale.”
Within three months the Turon family was living in Atlanta and then moved to California in 1999. In America, Turon worked for Home Depot’s Expo Design.
They were able to buy the Napa property, which overlooks Lake Berryessa, with salary savings plus money from the sale of his former businesses.
The couple love sharing what is on their land with others. Besides their vineyards, they have 6,000 established olive trees plus another 10,000 small olive trees in the greenhouse they built.
Four miles of hiking trails, 5 feet wide, allow guests to visit the five goats, four sheep, chickens and guard dog. In addition, they can see rare mulberry bushes from Mesopotamia and beehives.
Guests also enjoy tasting the homemade cheeses, olives and wines that were raised and produced on the property.
Famous people come and go. Dr. Dean Ornish buys wood from the couple. Kurdish politicians visit.
Their olives and grapes are sold to several olive oil and wine producers. They sell their olive oil in small batches and sell a variety of wines. Construction is underway for a winery, campsites and more.
Their guest book is filling with comments from happy visitors. Several guests compared “The Kurdish Laundry” (Naciye’s cooking) favorably to the famous French Laundry restaurant.
M.S. Torun Winery and Olive Oil is at 5185 Wragg Canyon Road, Napa. For information, go to MSTorunWinery.com or call 707-966-1957.