Young farmer does double duty to build family winery
Editor's note: The following story originally ran in the Oct. 12, 2011, issue of Ag Alert®, the weekly newspaper of the California Farm Bureau.
Lake County farmer Beau Moore
Editor's note: This is the second part of an Ag Alert® series about the different paths young farmers and ranchers take to grow their agricultural businesses.
Although Beau Moore has been building vineyards and wineries for other farmers for years, he's also been doing double duty building up his family's own lifelong dream: Moore Family Winery in Lake County.
The fifth-generation construction worker considers farming and winemaking his second and third jobs but says the goal has always been for the family winery to pay for itself so he can ditch his day job and perhaps have his children take over the wine business someday.
"Our whole lives, we've loved farming," he said. "We've always had really big gardens, so farming has always been important to us. But since our background is construction, it's hard sometimes to make that transition. We also never had the land to do it."
It wasn't until 1995 when his father, Steve, bought the 70-acre plot that is now home to Moore Family Winery that his family finally had their own farming operation.
Nestled in the foothills of Cobb Mountain at almost 3,000 feet elevation in Kelseyville, the property had no running water, power or roads at the start—but now features a Mediterranean-style tasting room, yet-to-be completed wine caves and grounds for concerts, weddings and picnics.
To support the family winery, Beau Moore works with his dad, Steve, in a construction business that builds wine caves and other projects for Northern California vineyards and wineries.
Moore, 31, was still a sophomore in high school when he and his dad started building the winery. He said he has since spent nearly every weekend and every free moment tending to the property. The winery officially opened in 2007, the same year his family also started selling their estate wine.
"The wine and the winery is something my dad always wanted. We basically built the entire place ourselves," he said. "We still don't have anybody that helps us. As the winemaker and the grape grower, I'm the one who has to make it work somehow; I'm the one who has to get it done."
That includes pruning 15 acres of grapes. And Moore describes the two-month harvest period as "really, really crazy."
During crush season, he wakes up around 3 a.m. and spends the first two to three hours on the farm before heading to the construction job site, which is currently in Sonoma, where he and his dad are building a 21,000 square-foot wine cave for Petroni Vineyards. That project will probably take another six months to complete; they've already been there for a year.
At the end of the day, he goes back to the family winery, puts his winemaking hat on again and spends a few more hours on the farm before heading home.
His dad, who has been in the construction business for 35 years, started building wine caves about 20 years ago. Now, the father-and-son team specializes in cave construction but also installs pipelines and builds roads, irrigation ponds, vineyards and other aboveground projects for wineries.
Moore said there's a natural advantage to working on all these well-known California wineries: He gets to pick the brains of his clients on farming and winemaking. For the most part, though, much of what he's learned has been self-taught through research and trial and error, he said. That's because farming winegrapes at the 3,000-foot elevation "is a little more extreme" than what his clients are used to, "so they can't help us too much."
"We've done a lot of research on what they do in Argentina; they have high-elevation grapes up there. But they're closer to the equator, so it's a little bit different than what we do," Moore said.
Beau Moore says his children are already deeply involved with the winery. He and his son Bodhi demonstrate a winemaking process in which grapes are crushed to test their sugar level and determine when they should be harvested.
Growing at such high elevation produces hardy grapes that lend to big, bold-flavored wines, he said, but the challenge is fighting frost every year with "all kinds of crazy techniques," including frost fans, heaters and sprinkler systems that often freeze as well. The winery gets about 75 inches of annual rainfall, with two- to four-foot snowstorms and temperatures dipping to 18 degrees.
"So it's completely different from what most people are used to and how they farm," he said. "It's funny, but when I talk with other farmers and I tell them what's going on, they're just completely confused."
Moore prunes his vineyard in mid-May, at a time when most Northern California vineyards are already seeing a foot or two of green growth. His growing season not only starts later but ends earlier. That said, his grapes do get longer periods of sunlight—14 to 15 hours a day, with temperatures reaching 70 degrees by 7 a.m. Such growing conditions differ greatly from wine regions in Sonoma and Mendocino counties, which often see coastal morning fog, he noted.
Another major difference is the fruit set. Moore said his family vineyard typically produces about one to one-and-a-half tons of grapes per acre without any thinning. Other Northern California vineyards will produce seven to eight tons per acre, he said, and crews usually have to come in and thin to about two to three tons per acre.
Moore said even though the winery was really his dad's dream, it's now become his path and one he's paving for his children—Syrah, Wyatt, Bodhi and Sage, who range in age from 8 to 17 months and are already deeply involved.
"That's where I get to hang out with them," he said. "And they love it. They know when it's harvest season. They come out and they sit at the sorting table and help pick out the bad stuff. And when it comes to bottling time, my 8-year-old always puts the little foil capsules on the bottles before they get spun up."
But he acknowledged the winery is more a labor of love for the entire family, because it is really the construction business that's paying the bills and keeping it open. His wife, Gabriella, a full-time mom, works on the winery's landscaping during the day while his mother, Robin, provides family child care. His sister, Stepheny, is the hospitality manager and wedding coordinator.
"We give everything we've got to the winery, but without the construction company, it wouldn't be alive," Moore said. "So it's a complete love of the land. It's a lot of work, and it takes a lot of time, especially when you're already working 40 to 50 hours at another job."
(Ching Lee is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at email@example.com.)