I'd Rather Be at the Sturgeon Farm

by Olga Schafranek |

Sarah, Caviar Concierge for Tsar Nicoulai, and I drive up to the Tsar Nicoulai sturgeon farm in Wilton, California, to check it out. As we peek over the edge of an aquafarm pool to say hello to a new generation of White Sturgeon, we listen to Aquaculture Harvester, Auggie, admire these interesting creatures. “They’re curious animals,” he tells us. “If you tap the side, they’ll come over to check you out.”

The rows of pools are home to different stages of sturgeon. Each sturgeon can be on the farm for upwards of eight years, making production of the caviar a more dedicated process. Especially since the fish are never given growth hormones. They, also, do not receive antibiotics and eat non-GMO fish feed. During the summer, natural aqua plants cool the fish. The plants also organically filter the pure well water that fills the tanks. Paired with the California sun and a natural ecosystem, a free range environment is achieved.

Just like in the facility in Concord, Tsar Nicoulai handles every aspect of producing caviar at the farm, from sexing the fish to testing and harvesting the eggs and smoking the meat. Auggie, whom we affectionately call the Willy Wonka of sturgeon, mentions that a local art teacher asked for sturgeon bladder for a class. Not only is Tsar Nicoulai a supporting member of the community, but we are also happy to find ways to use the entire fish. Nothing is wasted.

Auggie went to culinary school in New York, then had his own fish smoking business for a while. He now finds himself here dedicating his relevant experience and wisdom to the unique and innovative caviar producer that is Tsar Nicoulai. He’s a free spirit. An adventurer. A dreamer. A converted West Coaster with every “dude” and “bro.” He fits into the view around us at the farm like each patch of soil or blade of grass gently swaying in the soft breeze.
We tour the rest of the property, including the makings of a new smokehouse. At the edge of the farm there is a pooling of crystal clear water – demonstrating the success of the filtrating system. From the fish to the soil, Tsar Nicoulai captures the essence of farm-to-table caviar. It is cleaner, healthier, and happier. And you can taste the difference – “like terroir in wine,” Auggie says.

Auggie’s friendly rescue pit bull, Boston, leads the way as we continue. He dashes between newly planted mulberries, kumquats, and pomegranates. His owner pulls a ripe blood orange from a tree, peels off the rind to expose its deep, fresh color and hands Sarah and me pieces of the juicy fruit. The bright citrus flavor bursts in my mouth. Cloaked in the orange warmth of the shining sun, I am swept away and start to plan my escape from responsibility to come live here forever, instead.

At the end of our visit, Sarah and I suit up in waders and very ungracefully take turns climbing into a tank. We get to meet some eight-year-old sturgeon up close and even take a stroll with one around the pool. An adventure I didn’t even know was on my bucket list has been checked off.

Stay tuned for more exciting happenings, news, and stories from the sturgeon farm


Na Zdorovye!