We often talk about our winemaker and winemaking team, but get to know Vineyard Manager, Danny Smith, who has a very important role in the winegrowing process.
Question: How did you become interested in farming, specifically wine grapes?
Answer: I have always been interested in agriculture, but more on the livestock side of the industry. I went to college for horses and spent many years in that industry breeding and raising ranch horses with a short stint with Kentucky Thoroughbreds.
As I’ve gotten older, my body disagrees with getting bucked off horses! I was offered a job by my friend in wine grapes at a vineyard management company. I started hauling tractors and equipment around for them, and began to learn more about viticulture. The more I learn, the more I love what I do. There is so much innovation throughout the world of wine grapes, finding new ways to use technology but also utilizing the standards that have worked for centuries.
Q: How long have you been working in this field?
A: I’ve been in the wine industry for seven years and two years in my current role.
Q: What types of formal training do you have?
A: From what I’ve found, the best education in farming wine grapes is on-the-job training. I learn something new every day, and every year is different, and every vineyard is different.
Additionally, I have taken courses on many aspects of vineyard management, and hold a Qualified Applicators License. I try to stay current with farming practices and find new ways to get the job done more efficiently. Not every idea works at every vineyard, but those challenges are what makes this fun.
Q: What are some of your favorite vineyards to farm that Arrowood uses?
A: My favorite vineyard is the Smothers–Remick Ridge. Organically farmed, you can see the life inside the soil which transmits to some great vines and into great wines. Especially amazing is working with the winemaker Kristina, spending time together walking the vineyard and developing a plan to get the best Cabernet Sauvignon from this unique vineyard. The property itself sits on top of a hill with flat spots, hills, terraces facing many directions; the views are incredible.
Q: What are some of the more difficult vineyards you work with?
A: Most every vineyard has its challenges from water availability, to soil type, terrain (mountain vs flat) and microclimates. Some places are hot and some cold and foggy, great for wine grapes in their respective regions, but very challenging to keep everything clean and happy. I find the vineyard at the Arrowood estate possesses challenges unlike many other vineyards. Many areas in the vineyard have shallow soils and dense rock below, limiting the amount of water that sticks around for the vines.
Grape vines do love a challenge and grow in places not much else will take hold. The fires of 2017 damaged our irrigation system and required some quick action to get water on-site for the last growing season. But luckily, we are back up and running and after the rain this year are set up for great 2019.
Q: How has the recent rainy winters affected our vineyards?
A: Rain is a welcome sight in the vineyard after years of drought. Rain does come with its challenges, no one likes spending all day working in the rain getting wet, so days are often shortened, and mud slows us down a bit. Later its tractors stuck in the mud, but the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.
Reservoirs are full, ground water is re-charging and the soil is filtering clean down to the roots. We expect lots of growth and fruitful vines with more incredible wine grapes. Managing the vine vigor will be the key to our success this year.
Q: What types of wine do you enjoy drinking?
A: That goes without saying…Arrowood Smothers-Remick Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon, hands-down first choice. The wines from that vineyard are very unique due to its location and soil structure. Outside of that anything, from the small AVA of Bennett Valley, like Pinot Noir, Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc.
Q: Can you name couple of interesting facts about yourself or is there anything else you would like to share?
A: I have enjoyed everything I have learned so far in my life from working in agriculture, from cattle and horses between California, Texas and Montana, to wine grapes in Northern California. What I enjoy most is being outside no matter the weather. Watching things grow up from wine grapes to baby animals is an incredible feeling. As a cowboy, I could never understand why people choose farming but now that I am a farmer, it its clear. The birds, the trees, the environment and the view. Who wouldn’t want this job? My wife, Jessica, now works in the wine industry, too. She is learning on-the-job in a wine cellar, and is teaching me things about the winemaking process.