Brent Young, Rising Star in Wine Country

Written By: Tim Tesconi
Published: October 1, 2011

Brent Young’s dusty boots show his passion for the pursuit of perfect grapes at Jordan Winery and Vineyards in the Alexander Valley.

The Jordan Winery viticulturist walks the estate’s 225 acres of vineyards twice a week, studying the overall health of the thousands of vines under his careful watch. He logs lots of miles as he moves through the vine rows, scouting leaves for the pests and diseases that threaten both the quality and yields of the vines he considers his kids.  Young, who is university educated but hands-on practical, believes the up- close-and- personal approach is the best way to understand what’s going in the vineyard.

He always carries a magnifying glass so he can count insects, like tiny mites, on each leaf.
Young, who is 30, takes the pursuit of excellence very seriously. His work ethic and passion make him a perfect fit in the culture of care at Jordan Winery where top-tier cabernet sauvignon wine has been produced for more than 30 years.

I observe and take notes during the time I spend walking row after row, covering as much of the ranch as I can,” said Young, a fifth generation resident of Sebastopol whose roots run deep in Sonoma County agriculture. “It’s really important to be out looking at the vines, particularly in early spring when pest pressures are high.

Young’s precision-oriented approach to viticulture and his reverence for integrated pest management and sustainability have made him a rising star in the Sonoma County wine industry.  He feels fortunate to be part of the county’s dynamic, world class wine industry, which, he said, is based in farming.

I can’t imagine a better place to be,” said Young. “I am deeply passionate about Sonoma County and sustaining our agriculture heritage here.

His dream is to have Jordan Winery and Vineyards an integrated estate that produces an array of food to match its wines. Jordan already produces olive oil and vegetables and herbs for its tables. Now Young is looking at utilizing the land not planted to vineyards to raise cattle for beef and dairy goats for cheese. He is working toward the day when a dinner served at Jordan Winery will be come entirely from the estate itself.

Young said he feels very blessed to not only love his work and the place he works but to have the love and support of his wife Katie Fonsen Young, who is the deputy manager of the Sonoma County Fair, and his family. Together, Brent and Katie are a power team destined for increased leadership roles in Sonoma County agriculture and the community.

Young received his bachelor of science degree in wine and viticulture with a viticulture concentration from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, in 2005. He worked for Kunde Family Estate from 2006 to 2008 before taking a newly created role at Jordan Winery and Vineyards. His task was to elevate the vineyard’s precision farming techniques and sustainable agriculture practices.

Young’s work and deep dedication is garnering attention in the farming community. The Sonoma County Harvest Fair named him the 2011 Outstanding Young Person in Agribusiness. He was honored at the Harvest Fair Wine Awards Gala on Sept. 24. He also was featured as a “Western Innovator” by the Capital Press, the West Coast’s largest agriculture publication, for his on-target work and leadership in the wine industry.

Young is currently president of the Sonoma County Vineyard Technical Group, an organization of scientific based vineyard managers and viticulturists dedicated to sharing information from university researches to produce high quality wine grapes.

He has held leadership roles in the Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers and was recently elected an alternate to the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission Board.

Nick Frey, president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, praises Young for his dedication to improving grape quality and his willingness to work with others to promote sustainable grape growing.

Brent Young represents the next generation of viticulturalists in Sonoma County,” said Frey. “Bottom line, we need new, talented young leaders contributing to the broader agricultural and grape growing communities in Sonoma County. Brent Young brings that talent and commitment to the Winegrape Commission board as well as other industry groups.

Young grew up in the Sebastopol area, surrounded by the apple orchards where he played after school. He would sit on the side a tractor next to his dad George Young, a contractor and heavy equipment operator. Young said his dad is his hero, mentor and best friend, someone who is always there to provide both encouragement and counsel.
Young once considered studying engineering but the land always beckoned.

Surrounded by apple orchards as a kid I was fascinated with the seasons and the cycle of farming in the orchards. It captured me and never left me,” said Young. “I really believe that agriculture chooses you, you don’t choose agriculture. It’s in your blood, nurturing the passion that must be there if you are to be successful in agriculture.

Young said his passion runs deepest at harvest, which is his favorite time of year because it is the culmination of a year’s worth of work. Harvest is long, hectic and tiring but it’s when you can see if all your work paid off.

Harvest is like delivering your kids to their first day of school. There is high anxiety because, like your kids, you want your grapes to be the best they can be,” said Young.  He said there also is a sense of relief because you know you have done everything you can up to this point and now it’s just crossing the finish line.

You are at the mercy of Mother Nature and she can be tough,” said Young.

Young’s goal is to always learn as much as he can from the people in the business who share his passion for excellence. People like Rob Davis, the Jordan winemaker, whose incredible sensory abilities, make him a winemaking wizard. Davis can sniff a handful of dirt and know if it will produce the exacting flavors he demands in cabernet sauvignon.

At Jordan, Young has led advancements in soil research at the vineyard, completing an extensive soil mapping study in 2009. The comprehensive study resulted in new micro-farming  techniques .

Young also spearheads the ongoing project of rebuilding the hillside irrigation systems, which began in 2009 to decrease water and electricity use while strategically targeting specific vines with water only when necessary.

Precision farming is closely linked to Young’s philosophy as it relates to agricultural sustainability. Together with Jordan’s vineyard manager Dana Grande, Young recently started Jordan’s certification process for Fish Friendly farming and the new Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing Program.

I am fortunate to work for a company that supports my program 100 percent,” said Young. “The best part is working with some very talented individuals each day that challenge me and keep me inspired.

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