How the vineyards found this YF&R

By Kevin Hecteman

August D’Amato came to California for an internship six years ago and ended up staying. She is now an Assistant Winemaker and President of the Young Farmers and Ranchers of Napa County.
Photo / Courtesy of August D’Amato

August D’Amato did not find the vines so much as the vines found her.

“I stumbled across vineyards and farming by accident,” D’Amato said. “After college I had a hard time finding a full-time job. I had moved to California in 2015 for an internship, which ultimately turned into a career for me.”

The Delaware native holds a dual bachelor’s degree in plant science and agricultural education from the University of Delaware, as well as a master’s degree in agronomy from Iowa State University. Today, she is an Assistant Winemaker at Barbour Vineyards in Napa County. She also cares for the next generation of Napa County winegrowers, serving as the chair of the Napa County Young Farmers and Ranchers Chapter.

A day in the life of D’Amato involves a lot of driving.

“I am responsible for researching all of our properties,” she said. “We have about 60 different properties, which vary between stages of development and vineyards planted over 50 years ago. A typical day or week for me is walking all these ranches, taking health notes and the condition of the plants and then provide recommendations to our growing team. “

Like most other Napa County grape growers, D’Amato has seen wildfires ravage the world-famous wine region on several occasions since 2017.

“We have seen a huge impact in our county, not just in the vineyards, but in our infrastructure,” D’Amato said. Last year, in “the glass fire and the LNU complex fire, a lot of our properties were pretty badly affected, which meant we lost entire vineyards. Some of our clients have lost homes ”.

D’Amato’s farm lost a significant amount of fruit to the fires, she said, mostly from exposure to smoke from the wildfires. Tests on the grapes showed a higher level of compounds, in particular guaiacol and 4-methylgaiacol, the two main suspects of the flavor of smoked wine, which would make any resulting wine undrinkable.

“We had to drop a significant amount of fruit, which is extremely disheartening,” she said, noting that around 50% of the cabernet on her farm had been lost due to exposure to the smoke. “I say cabernet specifically because a lot of people had harvested white varieties before the fires.”

She said she knew people who lost their entire harvest and “ended up dropping all of their fruit or not picking it.”

Dealing with the issue in the future, D’Amato said, is tantamount to dealing with climate change.

“As a farmer it’s something we deal with on a daily basis, it’s the constantly changing climate,” D’Amato said. Thanks to the experiences of the last few years, she added, “now we have to think about fire”.

This means fire mitigation work such as weeding and building defensible spaces around the property. But the solutions for the other main puzzle for winegrowers remain elusive.

“There’s not much we can do to prevent the smell of smoke,” D’Amato said. “I think this is something that a lot of us are looking to the industry with questions about how we’re going to deal with this in the future? If we have another fire again and we don’t ‘haven’t picked the fruit, what can we do to prevent that, or protect the fruit? As of yet, there are no answers to that. “

One place where D’Amato has found common ground with others is YF&R. She first became involved when the Napa County Outpost was relaunched in 2019.

“I really fell in love with the band immediately,” D’Amato said. “The first meeting we had, I think there were about 20. I had known quite a few of them through other experiences.”

Since then, she has been a regular at YF&R meetings. She was elected secretary and fundraiser in 2020 before being elected president this year.

Its YF&R chapter has focused on giving back to the community, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.

“Just as the pandemic happened, we were trying to find a way to give back, and more specifically in the food security aspect,” D’Amato said.

Napa County YF&R was referred to Mission Farm, a 2.5 acre organic farm run by volunteers from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Napa. All food goes directly to the Napa County Food Bank, D’Amato said, adding that the farm is keen to expand. So YF&R stepped in.

“We were able to get our group involved on Saturday as regular attendees,” she said, “and this year also we added Thursday night.”

Her favorite thing about YF&R is “definitely networking,” she said.

Napa County is unique in that “almost all of us grow wine grapes,” D’Amato said. “At least 90% of us work in some aspect of the wine industry. It’s really nice to know other farmers who are going through the same thing as me and discussing really typical topics like weather or soil profiles – what do you see in the field? “

(Kevin Hecteman is associate editor of Ag Alert. He can be contacted at [email protected])

Permission for use is granted, however, credit should be given to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this article.


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