A group of up-and-coming leaders are emerging in the grapegrowing community who are setting new standards of excellence for innovative farming practices that maintain Napa County’s agricultural heritage and sense of place.
Allison Cellini, viticulturist at Cliff Lede Vineyards & Poetry; Caleb Mosley, senior viticulturist at Michael Wolf Vineyard Management; Kelly Macleod, director of vineyard operations at Hudson Vineyards and Rolando Sanchez, general manager at Walsh Vineyard Management are four distinguished Napa Valley Grapegrowers members who are helping lead the charge — championing viticulture, the preservation of agricultural land, and inspiring future generations of farmers in Napa Valley.
Where are you from?
Allison: I was born and raised in Lafayette, Calif.
Caleb: I was born in Sacramento, but grew up on a vineyard and winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains near the city of Saratoga.
Kelly: I grew up both in Connecticut and Massachusetts.
Rolando: I’m a proud native-born Napan. My father, Manuel Sanchez, was the first in my family to migrate from the state of Jalisco Mexico to Napa in the early ‘70s. All five members of my family lived on a couple hundred-acre ranch called Rancho Chimiles.
If not local, what brought you to Napa?
Allison: The grapes! I came to Napa after completing my degree in fruit science at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, to pursue a career in vineyard management.
Caleb: After spending five years at Ridge Vineyards Monte Bello, I was given the opportunity to manage the historic Eisele Vineyard in Calistoga for Bart and Daphne Araujo. To farm a vineyard that Paul Draper vinified in 1971 under the Ridge label was too good to pass up, as was the dedicated nature in which the Araujos continued to care for the land.
Kelly: I came to the Bay Area in 2005 to work for the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy doing native plant restoration and botanical surveying. During those years, I found myself spending more and more weekends in Napa and falling in love with the place. In 2008, without much of a plan but knowing I loved it here, I decided to move to Napa.
What is your favorite time of year in the vineyard?
Allison: While I love the energy of harvest time, I would have to say late winter/early spring. The decisions and the precision involved in pruning during this time determines the quality and tone of the new vintage.
Caleb: Pruning season is by far my favorite time of the year. It is a time to reflect on the prior vintage, and to look ahead to the growing season to come and beyond. A freshly pruned vine elicits a sense of calm that seldom occurs during the mad dash through the remainder of the growing season.
Kelly: The two weeks in August before harvest starts. It is a brief moment of calm before the chaos of harvest where you get to admire the beautiful crop you have spent all year growing and tending.
Rolando: I love the winter months. There is nothing like walking around a vineyard after a successful harvest and taking a little time to think about how to adapt to all the great challenges the next season may bring.
What do you think are some of the benefits of living in an agricultural community?
Allison: I think that the obvious answer would be the beauty, but the agricultural community in Napa is so much more than just the landscape. The passion and dedication of the people who live here to preserve the land and support their neighbors is what makes this community so amazing.
Caleb: Being part of a community that cherishes the land and environment that we are fortunate enough to farm is such a rewarding part of living in the Napa Valley. There is a contagious sense of stewardship amongst growers, with a shared goal to preserve our ag land for the generations to come.
Kelly: There are a lot of benefits, but on the top of my list are the people. Since all of our jobs are so intimately connected to unpredictable weather, we learn to be adaptable, resourceful and good at working together to solve problems.
Rolando: I love being in a community that works so hard at supporting and providing opportunities to those who want to chase their dreams. There is nothing like growing up in a place where there is so much opportunity for hard-working people. I love hearing all the success stories.
What vineyard or experience in the vineyard made for your ‘aha’ moment?
Allison: Winegrowing requires patience, so it often takes a few years to experience the “fruit of your labor.” I’ll never forget tasting the first bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from grapes that I had a hand in farming.
Caleb: Some of my favorite “aha” moments have occurred when tasting wine while standing in the vineyard from which the grapes were sourced. Something that simple can be a powerful experience.
Kelly: When I first moved to Napa Valley, I went with one of my best friends to sample his vineyard. We walked the vineyard, talked about the differences in soil types and he instructed me on how to sample based on microclimates and ripening within the vineyard. Two weeks later, we returned to help with a small pick. Afterwards, we tasted a vertical of several vintages picked from this exact site. It became clear that grapegrowing has it all: history, science, creativity, and soul.
Rolando: When I was about 16, I helped my father farm and manage a vineyard out in Wooden Valley on the weekends. I started my morning shift and noticed that I was making a lot of progress. Around mid-morning, I realized I had a shot at finishing the entire block by mid-day, so I put my head down and went for it and finished by noon. It was in that moment, I put my Felco #2 shears back in the holster, and I knew I was in control of my future.
2018 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Ag Preserve. What does the Ag Preserve mean to you?
Allison: The Ag Preserve illustrates the commitment that our community has made to preserving the beauty of our valley and our agricultural land.
Caleb: Growing up witnessing the tail end of the transition of the Santa Clara Valley from an agricultural Eden to the technology hub it is today has left me with a profound appreciation for the protections the Ag Preserve established back in 1968. Agriculture in Santa Clara is now, for the most part, a novelty. The Ag Preserve in Napa has prevented similar development from occurring in this precious, and much smaller valley, and will continue to provide for the coexistence of agriculture and the native environment. I am thankful for everything the Ag Preserve has done in its first 50 years, and look forward to continuing its legacy.
Kelly: The Ag Preserve is something that makes me proud to live in Napa. The forethought of this community is inspiring. It has ensured that our community stays rooted in agriculture and that our valley stays beautiful.
Rolando: The Ag Preserve showcases the growers’ commitment to preserving our way of life and creating an environment that is sustainable.
What do you feel is most important when it comes to ensuring the future of farming in Napa?
Allison: Innovation, technology, and education.
Caleb: Opportunities for professional education, career advancement, and sometimes just a seat at the table during discussions provides a sense of belonging and opportunity. It is impossible to farm any crop without possessing a profound passion for the work. This is especially true of the growers tending to the wine grapes of Napa County. Determining methods to inspire and empower passionate young growers is crucial to maintaining the farming culture we strive to preserve for years to come.
Kelly: The technology of the future is exciting; however, we need to continue to put energy into attracting, training and retaining labor.
Rolando: It’s our job as viticulturists is to foster young peoples’ interest in grapegrowing as a career. It requires a professional skill set based in science, problem solving, and teamwork. Also, careers in grapegrowing allow for the potential to advance as your experience grows.