What is in this article?:
- Carson Smith Farming Co. co-owns and manages 800 acres of grapes in southwest Madera County along the San Joaquin River.
Carson Smith standing in a Muscat Alexandria block, two years after planting on Freedom rootstock. The vines are planted on a 10-foot row spacing with the vines 6-feet apart within the rows. The cover crop is a blend of bell beans, Dundale peas, common vetch and Cayuse oats.
Lending a hand
Smith was one of the founding members of the Central California Winegrape Growers -- now the San Joaquin Valley Wine Growers Association -- which was established in 2001.
At the time, Smith managed more than 8,000 acres of wine grape vineyards in four counties for a major supplier of bulk wines to California wineries. “I felt an obligation to get more involved and try to help our industry,” he says.
Back then, prices for wine grapes grown in the San Joaquin Valley, which usually accounts for more than half of the wine grapes crushed each year in California, were at an unprecedented low – well below the cost of production, Meanwhile, growers were losing market share to other grape-growing areas of California, perceived to produce higher quality wines, as well as imports from around the world.
“Central California was the only wine grape growing region in the state without a growers association,” Smith recalls. “Wineries were telling us we needed to improve the quality of our grapes. So, with leadership and financial support from the California Association of Wine Growers we formed the Central California Winegrape Growers. Our goal was to enhance the quality, reputation and marketability of our products by educating growers on how to produce better grapes.”
Those educational programs continue today in the form of a series of tailgate workshops presented in the spring. This year’s meetings in March addressed such topics as new water use and monitoring regulations, the impact of drought on irrigation water quality and techniques for treatment and dealing with the effects of a dry winter on vine physiology.
Smith is now in serving his fifth year on the Board of the California Association of Winegrape Growers as one of two at-large members. As a growers advocate, this association provides leadership on research and education programs, public policies, sustainable farming practices and trade policy to enhance California’s wine industry.
“Until I got involved with CAWG, I didn’t realize all this group does behind the scenes representing the interests of wine grape growers to legislators at the state and national levels,” he says. “For example, we have been pushing policy makers in Washington, D.C., to reconsider certain programs and wine label regulations that favor the importation of bulk wine, which directly competes with wine made from grapes produced by Central Valley growers. Among other groups, CAWG also offered strong opposition to proposed new limits on the use of cash method accounting for agricultural business.
“Every season seems to offer some kind of challenge for wine grape growers. This year, of course, water is at the top of the list. But, the last two year’s large statewide wine grape crops are also a concern. The good part of the story is that the 2013 crop overall made very good quality wine. So, maybe it will offer stiffer competition for wine imported from other countries.”