WANTED: New Director, Fresno State Viticulture and Enology Department

Fresno State Viticulture and Enology Department Shines, But Needs New Director


By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director


No doubt, the Fresno State Viticulture and Enology Department is important not only to the Central San Joaquin Valley, but also to all of California’s agricultural areas. Nat DiBuduo, president, Fresno-based Allied Grape Growers, and a 1973 Fresno State alumnus, said Fresno State’s top administration is exceptionally dedicated to the department.


Research Buildings at Viticulture and Enology Research Center VERC
Research Buildings at Viticulture and Enology Research Center VERC

“It is really critical that we highlight the fact that Joseph Castro, president of Fresno State, and Sandra Witte, dean of Fresno State’s Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology, as well as the entire Industry Advisory Board for the Viticulture and Enology Research Center (VERC), are committed to the department,” said DiBuduo. “The entire board is committed to continuing the world-class program at the Viticulture and Enology Research Center that Vincent Petrucci (1985-1994) started so many years ago and has been continued on through Robert Wample (2000-2009) and James Kennedy (2010-2015).”

DiBuduo, who studied plant science and viticulture as a student, said, “We’re committed to providing this first class program for our students and for the industry. We’re in the midst of the search for the right person to head the program so that he or she can bring on the faculty and support staff who will continue that progress into the next century and beyond.”

As California’s agricultural industry feeds the world, it is important the industry supports this search for a new department chair. “It is important the University gets the right person in there, so we’re asking everyone out there who knows anyone qualified, [to encourage them] to apply for this position,” said DiBuduo. “We need to have the right person to provide the education, research and leadership into the future.”

Fresno State Winery Bottling Line
Fresno State Winery Bottling Line

Fresno State agricultural programs are unique due to a hands-on approach designed to give students the practical knowledge they need to get out and work. “They will know how to farm,”DiBuduo said. “They will know how to apply their teachings and their education to become managers, foremen and operators, and supervisors of field operations.”

Students come from all over the Central Valley and beyond the Valley because of Fresno State’s excellent reputation. “If students have enough units in the program, they can become Pest Control Advisors (PCAs),” said DiBuduo. “In fact, I was a PCA myself.”

fresno_state_makes_winemakers, Fresno State Viticulture and Enology Department“But the problem we’re having in agriculture today is that many in the industry are an aging society,” DiBuduo said. “So we need to get young entrepreneurs, young farmers and ranchers who want to become PCAs or farm managers or viticulturists or winemakers,” DiBuduo said. “We need these trained students to run the farms and ranches in the future.”

NEW! FACULTY POSITION VACANCY: Chair of the Department of Viticulture & Enology and Director of the Viticulture & Enology Research Center.   Vacancy #12978  (7/20/16) Review of applications will begin September 19, 2016 and continue until the position is filled.


Allied Grape Growers

California State University (Fresno State)

Fresno State’s Jordan College of Agricultural Sciences and Technology

Fresno State’s Viticulture and Enology Department

Industry Advisory Board for the Viticulture and Enology Research Center

Winegrape Legacy of Nat DiBuduo

Nat DiBuduo Has Long History of Growing Winegrapes


By Laurie Greene, Editor


A 16-year member of the Fresno-based Allied Grape Growers, a statewide marketing cooperative for winegrape farmers from major winegrape growing regions of California, Nat DiBuduo currently serves as the organization’s president and CEO. Likewise, Nat DiBuduo’s family has a long history of growing winegrapes and was the first family to plant varietal winegrapes in the San Joaquin Valley more than 40 years ago.

Eager to discuss this year’s crop, DiBuduo said, “Harvest 2016 is upon us. We started to harvest Pinot Grigio grapes last week that will be going into wine. We’ll be starting Thompson Seedless this week that will go into low-sugar wine and champagne programs,” he noted, adding, “We’re looking forward to it, we are ready for it, and we’ll go forward.”

Established in 1951, Allied Grape Growers has been providing competitive marketing services, including price negotiations, ever since to its members, which now total nearly 600 from major winegrape regions of the state. DiBuduo summed it up by saying, “There’s plenty of demand, and we think pricing will be better than last year. We’re optimistic.”

Allied also sponsors events aimed at improving workplace health and safety, which also reduces workplace injury and illness costs. In light of the recent heat wave in California, DiBuduo noted one of their top priorities is heat illness prevention. “That’s why most of the winegrape harvesting will be done at night time, which helps the workers,” he said. “So for those people who are picking table grapes or doing other work in the field, we want to make sure that they’re out of the field before it gets hot; practicing good, safe heat stress prevention; and getting plenty of water, time out, and shade.”

“We’re dependent on our labor force,” DiBuduo encapsulated, “and we want to make sure we’re protecting them. And preventing heat stress is important to us,” he said.

Winegrape Quality In SJV

Nat DiBuduo: Valley Winegrape Growers Must Produce Quality

By Laurie Greene, Editor

Nat DiBuduo, president of Fresno-based Allied Grape Growers believes there are good opportunities for Central San Joaquin Valley winegrape growers. “I think the San Joaquin Valley [winegrape growing industry] will survive because growers are working at producing winegrapes at a higher quality and at a higher price,” said DiBuduo.

“Overall, I think the industry is doing well,” stated DiBuduo, “and we just have to work with our San Joaquin Valley growers to produce a better quality grape. It’s like a chicken and an egg; they’ve got to be able to get paid for that better quality. And of course, growers need a solid contract with a good price to make it worthwhile,” he noted.Allied Grape Growers logo

DiBuduo noted that the Bureau of Reclamation’s initial announcement at the beginning of this month that federal water users will receive merely a five percent water allocation, fortunately, does not affect many of his grower-members. “Most Allied growers are not Westside growers; but they will be severely affected by the groundwater regulations soon to be in place.”

DiBuduo explained the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act is predicted to create major issues for production agriculture. “Oh yes, we’ve got guys who have sold their property because they didn’t have enough groundwater,” he said.

State of the Winegrape Industry

State of the Winegrape Industry

By Charmayne Hefley, Associate Editor

Growers attending the Grape, Nut and Tree Fruit Expo in Fresno last November had the opportunity to learn about the state of the winegrape industry from Nat DiBuduo, president of Allied Grape Growers. While DiBuduo acknowledged growers were facing challenges, he encouraged them to continue to work with the industry.

DiBuduo said the immediate challenges facing the winegrape industry—largely in the production and price of winegrapes—depend on the variety, “but I’m asking all winegrape growers to look at their crops, production levels and quality levels.” DiBuduo is asking growers to work with the wineries to get higher production numbers and contracts with higher prices for long-term sustainability.”

“I think 2016 will be a challenge, but I look forward to 2017,” he elaborated; “however, it’s not going to get better without the removal of some vineyards. We’ve got to get the price to where growers are sustainable and viable going forward,” said DiBuduo. “We supply a big base of grapes to in the industry. We want to keep that base despite dwindling sales.”

DiBuduo explained that growers could work on overcoming their challenges by remaining active in the discussion. “Go to meetings like this,” he explained. “Go to viticulture meetings. Work with specialists to get better production and better quality.”

DiBuduo also stressed the importance of designing labels and wines that appeal to millennials. Labels that stand out as creative and unique appeal to the millennial generation, which also does not hold the same brand loyalty as prior generations, he said.

Having labels and brands that are attractive to the millennials is important, DiBuduo said, because this generation cannot “be standardized into one-cookie-cutter-fits-all, so you’ve got to be energized. I think the winegrape industry has really done that. We’ve come out with a number of different blends of wines and different labels that catch the eyes of the millennials and get them excited.”

Water Crisis Reducing Valley Fruit Production

The impact of the worsening drought can be seen in the expected drop in crop production.

Valley fruit production is down on many farms, but the lack of water isn’t the only factor causing the lower expectations.

The grape crop is ready for harvest in many Valley vineyards but there’s not nearly as much of the sweet fruit this year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture expects grape production in California to dip 9 percent.

“We came off two big years in both wine grapes and Thompson seedless, so those vines are taking a little bit of a rest,” said Nat Dibuduo with Allied Grape Growers. “The other factor is obviously the drought. We’ve got growers that lost wells or they’re minimizing their irrigations to stretch out the water they do have.”

Table olives fared even worse with the dry conditions. Production is expected to dip 45 percent statewide but as much as 60 percent in Tulare County. 

“When olive trees go into dormancy they need some good deep soil moisture and they didn’t get it,” said Adin Hester with the Olive Growers Council. “The lack of moisture is something that certainly exacerbated, number one. Number two, we’ve got growers that are just flat out of water.”

Peach production is down 4 percent. We’re seeing peach, olive and grape growers rip out orchards and vineyards to put in more profitable crops like almonds and pistachios.

“I think there’s going to be not only Thompson seedless grapes pulled out after this harvest but also wine grapes throughout the San Joaquin Valley because they’re not making money, and they see their neighbors are making money with any of the various nut crops,” said Dibuduo.

Dibuduo is worried about this year’s outlook. He says winery demand for Valley grapes has taken a big hit because of international competition. Some grapes, he says, might not get sold.

Other crops like pears, apples and rice are also down from a year ago.

Winegrapes: New acreage helps offset drought impacts

Source: Steve Adler; Ag Alert

Although per-acre yields may be down in some regions due to drought and other concerns, California farmers expect to produce another large winegrape crop this year, as a result of increased acreage. Winegrape harvest has started throughout California, primarily for early varieties of white grapes that are destined to become sparkling wines.

Government estimates issued last week placed California winegrape acreage at 570,000 acres in 2013, up from 508,000 the previous year. About 45,000 of the 2013 winegrape acres were classified as non-bearing.

With the harvest beginning in most areas from 10 days to two weeks earlier than usual, the biggest concern among growers is that many wineries do not yet appear prepared to receive the grapes.

“Being this early, I don’t believe the wineries were prepared to open on time, so right out of the gate we had some quality issues because of early ripeness and delays on the winery side,” Tulare County winegrape grower JR Shannon said. “We’ve barely been picking for two weeks and it is already showing signs that the winery tanks are still full from last year and they aren’t very eager to get grapes in right away.”

Noting that harvest will continue for several more weeks, Shannon said many wineries haven’t even opened yet.

“The early signs are that it is going to be a long, non-grower-friendly season and the wineries are showing no excitement about anything except pinot grigio. We spent a lot of money planting these new vineyards for them and they are not cooperating in getting the grapes into the wineries,” he said.

That view was supported by Nat DiBuduo, president and CEO of Allied Grape Growers in Fresno, who said there is real concern among growers who don’t have contracts with wineries.

“We are getting reports of some of the larger wineries that have decided to bottle as needed, which means the tanks are full. We know the 2012 crop and the 2013 crop were big, and what that has created is that they aren’t buying any more grapes than what has been contracted for. And there are a lot of grapes that aren’t contracted,” he said.

DiBuduo said the vast majority of grapes are under long-term contracts, but there are some that don’t have contracts and growers in that situation are just waiting for wineries to start buying them.

“I hope the wineries start to realize that this is going to be a lighter crop. They will all honor their contracts, but I am hopeful that they will recognize the smaller crop and buy these other grapes. The speculation is that some of these wineries will come out with lower prices when all of these growers are in panic mode,” he said.

In Lodi, winegrape grower Joe Valente of Kautz Farms said harvest at his vineyards would begin this week, putting it 10 days earlier than usual.

“It is probably one of the earliest or second-to-the-earliest starts that I have seen here in Lodi in the past 35 years. We are starting this week, but it all depends on the sugars. Ideally, once we get started we can keep going, but it is all dictated by the sugars,” he said.

Valente also expressed concern about a potential shortage of tank space for this year’s grapes.

“The last two years were large crops, and how empty the tanks are going into harvest will dictate how much we will be able to pick. It depends on the varietals that are in demand. They will find room in the tanks for certain varieties that are in demand,” he said.

On the South Coast, grape grower Jeff Frey of Santa Maria said he has heard talk of tank shortages, but at this point it doesn’t appear to be an issue in his area. A bigger issue for coastal growers is the ongoing drought, he said.

“The situation concerning drought on the South Coast depends on where you are at. We haven’t had any rain to speak of, but growers who were able to irrigate through the winter are looking pretty good. We have a pretty good crop set and we will start harvesting next week, which is very early for us. I have a few vineyards that are out of the periphery that have wells that are going dry and there isn’t much water, so those yields will be down,” he said.

In the Paso Robles area, grower Neil Roberts of Templeton said he is very pleased with the way winegrapes developed this year.

“The crop looks average in size, which is probably a good thing, and the quality looks tremendous,” Roberts said. “We’ve been OK with water. Some of the shallower wells have had some issues, but overall there weren’t any problems. If everything goes well, we should be done by the end of October.”

DiBuduo said the drought is having an impact in the San Joaquin Valley as well. The quality of the grapes being produced is fine and sugar levels are good, but the berries and the bunches are smaller, he said.

“It appears that the overall crop will be lighter than last year and a lot of it has to do with the drought. Growers have tried to maintain the vines and keep them as fresh as possible, but we are hearing from all over the place about growers’ pumps going out and it has been taking several weeks for the pump repair people to take care of the problem,” he said.

Shannon, too, has been having problems with lack of water. He said he has been forced to pay up to $1,200 an acre-foot for water that in a normal year costs $60.

“It is kind of salt in the wound right now with all the other issues we have been dealing with,” he said. “Hopefully the groundwater will last another three months.”

Shannon said he has three or four wells out of commission waiting for pump repair, calling 2014 “the toughest year in my experience.”

Valente said that so far this season, he hasn’t had any problem with wells.

“Our concern is groundwater legislation and what that might mean to us. We keep hearing that farmers aren’t managing our groundwater, and I truly believe that the state and federal governments aren’t managing our surface water,” he said.

2014 AG Trends

 2014 Ag Trends and Land Values


By Patrick Cavanaugh, Editor

At the Outlook 2014 California Agriculture Thriving Through Change meeting about ag trends and land values, this week in Fresno, the crowd was upbeat despite the drought and regulations facing the farming industry.

Nat Dibuduo
Nat DiBuduo

Nat DiBuduo, President of the Allied Grape Growers is also an Accredited Farm Manager and President of the California chapter of American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers (ASFMRA), which hosted the conference.

“We talked about a lot of different commodities today starting out with citrus and ending with the dairy industry. And I am really happy to say that everyone, including the dairy industry are on a high,” DiBuduo said. “We do have our challenges; we have the drought issues and how that it is affecting things, but I would still say that California agriculture is positioned for a good future.”

“Granted, we have regulatory issues, drought issues, immigration issues to deal with, but the messages of the day’s meetings were positive,” noted DiBuduo.

It was also announced that ag land prices in all areas of the state and nearly all commodity prices are up.