2021 Wrap and More

Posted by: Casey Hartlip

2021 Wrap and More - 10-22-2021 12:59:40

My 2021 wrap up and 12 year reflections:

This year: 669 tons, 66 lots 16 clients. Ending my grape growing career on a high note for sure. Except for the issues with drought, '21 was a great year FOR US. Many folks in the north coast area struggled with lack of...or no water, and greatly reduced crops. We did some changes to our pruning regime in some blocks and seemed to have just enough water to survive. Yes, there was the usual drama not being able to satisfy everyone, but we did an amazing job getting it done.

When I took over this property in 2010, the owners had just bought the neighboring ranch. In total it became 180 planted acres to care for, 8 different ponds (water rights) 8 worker houses (more regulations), two separate crews and a tasting room and warehouse under lease. I came in with my 30 years of running Eaglepoint and was ready to apply that theme. The previous manager was farming like it was still the 70's: heavy chemical weed control, not paying the crew well, letting the housing go to hell and using old shitty equipment. My predecessor never really went out and interacted with the crew, which was crazy. They were never given any direction, advice, goals or demands. The previous guy really didn't speak any Spanish and really looked down on them. I made some subtle changes right away but wasn't looking for a huge shake up until I earned some of the guys respect. That wasn't hard since the previous guy really didn't do anything!
In the first 2-3 years and with full support of ownership, we updated the two main tractors and sprayers. We also improved some of the living conditions which in some cases were appalling and unsafe. When the crew realized I cared about them, morale improved markedly. When I got here Valley Foothills and Day Ranch were not respected within Anderson Valley. It was almost a laughing stock. Nobody really wanted to work here for obvious reasons.
The next task was to upgrade the client list and find better customers. This has always been one of my strong areas, but I had to learn the world of cool climate varietals and how the market worked. When I got here we had about 4-5 clients. I adopted some of the techniques I used at Eaglepoint: if you buy a lot of 5 tons or smaller, you have to haul it. We could always pick tons, but couldn't tie up equipment delivering small lots. The client list crew. which of course had new challenges.
We stopped using pre-emergant herbicides like Goal, Surflan and Chateau and did one well timed application of Roundup. In the last two years we've begun using other products as Roundup will likely be gone soon. Both properties have great water (on most years) but there was no real plan with how to irrigate. As most of these soils were so much more generous than Eaglepoint, I found growing these vines somewhat easy.
In the past 4-5 years this place has found its way. The crew is happier and happy people work harder. We've retooled many blocks by converting cordon pruning over to cane. That has been HUGE. We've gone from hand harvesting at daylight, to starting at 4:00 am with tractor lights and headlamps....a game changer. My crews have learned how to and when to drop crop (something the previous guy had never thought of). The clients are on board and generally happy with how things work. I think its time to leave. Its time to hand this thriving property to someone with more energy and fresh ideas. There are some fallow fields that need planting and replanting (we're planting 8.5 acres of Mt Eden Chard if we get enough water) and to embrace the idea of machine picking. Obviously not in every field, but its the only way to keep up.
I've found my replacement which is SO great. He helped me with harvest and didn't skip a beat. He speaks Spanish as well or better than me and comes from a Mendocino county farming family. He's run bigger places and dealt with mechanization as well. He won't live on the property as he has a young family in Ukiah, but he's only 35 minutes away (when I lived near Eaglepoint I was 55 minutes away).
As many know, Lynne and I are moving to Show Low Arizona in March of '22. We're super excited to begin a new chapter in a beautiful place. We hope to travel within the US a bunch and see much of our own country. I hope to elk hunt in the month of September (something I haven't been able to do for 43 years) and get back into fishing. If I get really bored, I'm sure I can find some part time work or donate my time. I'll still be posting until I leave and hope to be talking about full ponds and chest high cover crop soon.
Posted by: Bob Davis

Re: 2021 Wrap and More - 10-24-2021 13:55:03

Congratulations and good luck!
Posted by: TomHill

Thanks... - 10-24-2021 14:07:16

Thanks for the UpDate, Casey. Sounds like you're leaving Ordway in much better shape than when you took over. Not at all surprised.
If you come thru NM in your travels, there's always a place for you all at Susan's in SantaFe. Including...and especially...Zip.
Tom