Tolosa Press: 10 Questions with George Donati
Ten Questions with Lynn Diehl
George Donati — Pacific Vineyard Company
Vineyard workers are busy pruning the vines and getting ready for the start of the wine grape growing season. George Donati, General manager of Edna Valley based Pacific Vineyard Company (www.pacificvineyard.com), answers Ten Questions with Lynn Diehl this week.
This is the time of year when vineyards are “asleep,” but vineyard managers are still at work preparing vineyards for the growing season, correct?
We have numerous employees that return each and every year to prune all of our vineyards. Most of the vines are cane pruned in the Edna Valley, so this takes more skill and care than spur-pruned vines. We should finish within the first 2 weeks of March. Once harvest is complete, cover crops are planted in the vineyards. These are now well established with all the rain that we have had. These cover crops will help add organic matter, prevent erosion, increase beneficial insect habitat and add nice aesthetics to the vineyards.
You are 4th generation of family farmers here on the Central Coast – did you always know that you would continue the agriculture tradition?
My family has always been involved in ag, starting with my great grandfather who emigrated from Switzerland in 1870 to Cayucos, as a dairy farmer. My grandfather, all of my uncles, and my father were also involved in farming here on the Central Coast. After I received my degree in ag business management with a minor in crop science from Cal Poly in 1974, my path to farming was already in place. I continued farming with the family in Santa Maria as I had done all through college. Later, I moved over to vineyards in Madera, Ca., growing table grapes and wine grapes.
Family farmers are by size, income and other factors somewhat different from corporate agriculture – do you see the wine industry, given the current economic climate, becoming more difficult for small wineries?
The wine industry in general may be tough for a few years on corporate and small farmers. I think the small wineries always have less time to react and/or recover from any economic condition.
You managed table grapes in the central valley after college – why were wine grapes more interesting to you?
Mostly because the product is fermented, and the people involved are much more fun.
How much of the Edna Valley vineyards are under your team at Pacific Vineyard Company management? I’d heard 80 percent.
We manage 2200 acres, or around 80 percent of the Edna Valley appellation.
Given the relatively small size of the AVA – are the vineyards similar?
In the Edna Valley Appellation, there is an outstanding 60 different soil types within the properties. The soil series within the acreage we manage range from clay to the finest sandy loams. In some of our vineyards, we have discovered the soils to be comprised of not only clay loam, but also marine sediment and also some volcanic rock (serpentine) elements.
When you’re driving around the Edna Valley it’s not apparent but it’s really close to the Pacific Ocean and there’s a wind tunnel from Los Osos to the area, isn’t there?
The Edna Valley is situated in an East- West valley, with the west end open to the winds off the Pacific Ocean from Los Osos. The east end of the valley stops at the Santa Lucia mountain range. This situation makes a windy valley during the day, and a very cold valley at night due to the trapped cold air. This is why the Edna Valley is one of the longest growing seasons in all of California.
The Edna Valley is well known for its Chardonnay and now Pinot Noir – what other varietals do you think could be successfully introduced here that haven’t been as of yet.
We are having great success with some varieties from Spain, such as Albarino, which we grow for the Tangent label. Our long season and moderate temperature are well situated for this variety. Syrah grown in our Cool Climate is totally different from Syrah grown in warmer climates such as Paso Robles. We achieve a lot of black pepper and more aromatics in our wines.
When you travel do you seek out other wine growing areas? What has influenced your management practices?
My management team and I recently toured southern France on a 10-day vineyard technical tour. We did get a chance to see many old world practices, and we also found vineyard operations that are very similar to California viticulture, making world-class wines. We are still discussing how we can utilize these practices in our own operation.
Do you make wine of your own?
I do make my own wine. Having always experienced the grower side of winemaking, I found Ialso need to know what is done after I deliver the grapes. The Barn Boys, my good friend Howard Carroll, my father Clarence Donati and I, all make wine together. We each have our own label, and we end up drinking and sharing all of our wines with family and friends.
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