Women of Lodi's wine industry: Grape exec Amy Blagg
We are continuing our series of profiles on the Lodi wine industry’s most powerful women with a conversation with Amy Blagg, the Executive Director of the Lodi District Grape Growers Association (LDGGA).
The Lodi District Grape Growers Association represents 310 grape growers plus related businesses working within California Crush District 11. The boundaries of District 11 are defined as San Joaquin County north of State Hwy. 4 (bisecting Stockton); south of U.S. Hwy. 50 in Sacramento County; and east of Interstate 5. This roughly (if not exactly) corresponds to the boundaries of the federally approved Lodi Viticultural Area, where over 110,000 acres of premium wine grapes are planted.
LDGGA plays the important role of giving a voice to individual growers, particularly in political matters at local, state and federal levels. Ms. Blagg comes by her position in the most natural way possible; having been born and raised in a Lodi farming family, and now making her own living as a Lodi farmer, in marital partnership with a Lodi farmer, and most likely as a mother of future Lodi farmers (if the local tradition hold true).
We live in a great country, where anyone can grow up to do possibly anything, while living anywhere in the world. Which makes it all the more amazing that Lodi remains one of the few wine regions, outside of Europe, where the profession of wine grape growing manages to last more than two generations within a given family. Here in Lodi, vineyard owners and managers typically go back three, four, even five or six generations.
In addition to her work with LDGGA, Ms. Blagg has served as past chairman for the Young Farmers and Ranchers of San Joaquin County, and represents the area of Victor and eastern Lodi on the San Joaquin County Farm Bureau Board of Directors. In 2013 she was recognized for her contributions to these organizations going “above and beyond in service to the ag industry” (according to a Farm Bureau press release) with a Star YF&R Award.
Our talk with Ms. Blagg:
LoCA: How long has your family lived and worked in Lodi?
A.B.: I was born and raised in Lodi, as were my parents. My great-grandfather was of German decent and came from Crimea, Russia. He arrived in Lodi in the early 1920s where he initially worked in vineyards on Alpine Road. He met my great-grandmother, whose family worked on a dairy farm in the Thornton area. They were married and eventually purchased a dairy on Hwy 88 and Harney lane in 1943 – on the site where Omega Cellars is located today. That dairy, operated by my grandfather until 1996, is where my mom (Claudia Valente) was raised. I was also raised on the family dairy farm, and my parents still live on that property.
LoCA: What about your dad’s side?
A.B.: My dad is Joe Valente, the Vineyard Manager for John Kautz Farms. He has worked for the Kautz family since 1980, managing all of their Lodi area vineyards and orchards. My brother Gary also works for Kautz Farms. My dad's parents farmed in Lodi; on the west side, growing hay and other crops. My paternal grandfather was of Portuguese descent. Like many Portuguese-Americans, he came to California by way of Hawaii – born on the island of Kauai. He came to Lodi in the 1930s.
LoCA: What does your job as Executive Director of the Lodi District Grape Growers Association entail?
A.B.: We represent District 11 grape growers on political and regulatory issues. We also provide grower education and networking opportunities, and award scholarships to students studying agriculture. I manage all the LDGGA activities and report to our volunteer Board of Directors.
LoCA: When did you start with LDGGA, and what did you do prior to that?
A.B.: I have held this position since 2008. Prior to LDGGA, I worked for Sacramento County Farm Bureau and the California Fig Advisory Board. I'm a graduate of (California) Fresno State (2006) with a degree in Agricultural Business, and a past recipient of an LDGGA Jim Kissler Memorial Scholarship.
LoCA: What might be the biggest single issue facing LDGGA today?
A.B.: Currently, water is the biggest single issue. Growers are facing the impacts of the drought, new reporting requirements for the Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program, the curtailments of water rights, and new groundwater management legislation. LDGGA holds water forums to keep our members educated on ever-changing water issues. Our directors and I keep engaged at the local level in water districts and steering committees that are helping to implement new rules and regulations.
LoCA: Talk to us about your own family, and the farm that you’ve established on the east side of town.
A.B.: My husband, Tyler Blagg, is an agent for Petersen & Company Agricultural Real Estate. We have three sons: Nathan, who is 6; Henry, 4 years old; and Oliver, just 6 months. In addition to our "day jobs," we have a variety of farming operations; including a small vineyard – all Petite Sirah, planted in 2013, which goes to one of the larger wine producers. We also raise dairy heifers on pasture, before being sold when they come to maturity; and we are also growing hay.
LoCA: You certainly are doing a lot of raising – kids, baby heifers, grapes and hay – but what would you say you love most about what you do?
A.B.: I love the people that I get to work with. The Lodi grower community is made up of some of the hardest working and most genuine people around. I enjoy working with these people on a daily basis, and I also love the variety that my job at LDGGA job brings. One day I can be up in Sacramento meeting with legislators, the next day I can be planning an event, or attending a committee meeting on LDGGA's behalf.
LoCA: Is there one accomplishment you are particularly proud of?
A.B.: I am proud that LDGGA membership continues to grow. As a membership based organization, we are only as strong as our members. I am also proud of the variety of grower education that we are able to provide. Growers today must be focused on much more than just what happens in the vineyard. We are able to help them navigate through the often confusing world of labor and employment regulations, water issues, the winegrape market, and more.
LoCA: Has being a woman heading a farmers’ organization ever been an issue?
A.B.: No! I feel that I have always been treated with great respect by all of our members, and by everyone in the wine industry. That said, I also appreciate the flexibility that this job allows me to have; especially since I am able to work from a home office, where I can also be with my young family.
LoCA: Through your work, what are you hearing people out in the market saying about Lodi grown wines?
A.B.: Right now there is a lot of excitement about Lodi. This area is finally getting the recognition that it deserves after many years of hard work. People are recognizing the quality and value that Lodi has to offer. I see this both in industry and personal settings. Personally, I love sharing Lodi wines with friends and family, and love to see them get won over by Lodi.
LoCA: Where do you envision yourself 10 to 20 years from now?
A.B.: Lodi is home, and always will be. I hope that we can expand our own vineyard and farming operations in the future.
LoCA: Where do you envision Lodi as a wine region, as well as a community, 10 to 20 years from now?
A.B.: I think the strength of Lodi as a wine region will always be the growers themselves. They are the foundation of this community. Many growers have vertically integrated and opened their own wineries – I see these types of grower-owned businesses continuing to grow and succeed.
LoCA: What kind of advice would you give younger women who are thinking about entering the wine industry?
A.B.: There is tremendous opportunity in the wine industry. In the Lodi area, operations are only expanding, and those that once were exclusively family-run are now hiring individuals to fill a variety of roles. The wine industry is one of the most progressive in agriculture, and I do not see roles defined by gender. We see women in leadership positions, women as winemakers, PCAs (i.e. Pest Control Advisors), winery field representatives – the opportunities are endless!