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Gerald Naef

Growing up amongst the grape vines.

As a child growing up surrounded by vineyards in the central valley of California

I had several attempts at making wine.  I'd smash up some grapes or stone fruit in an out of the way spot in the shed where no one would discover and watch it turn to grey-green slime that could only be tipped out when the wind was favourable. 

Then in year ten my agriculture teacher, a would-be-wine-maker, taught a segment on wine making and I was hooked. I went straight home and smashed about a hundred kilos of grapes into two plastic garbage bins, added a little bakers yeast and made 40 litres of wine. 

Patina Winemaker Gerald Naef

As you may have detected I was still lacking a little bit of science and my wine turned to vinegar (or something worse) in about two months. However I was totally rapt by the experience and was convinced I would pursue it again one day - with science.

My home was in the country near Lodi which at that time grew the largest quantity of grapes in the US.  We lived in the Woodbridge district among the vines, fruit trees and beautiful old oaks of the central valley.  Woodbridge was where Robert Mondavi started and now has a huge commercial winery and label called 'Woodbridge'; it was also home to the Gallo wines while I was growing up.

My agricultural career as a crop farmer

My choice of high-school courses and casual employment had an agriculture bias. 

I graduated high-school in 1973 and secured employment in an agriculture machinery manufacturing and repair business for 15 months before beginning university studies.

I attended California State University, Fresno in 1974/1975.  The autumn semester included a whole raft of general education subjects that only convinced me farming was what I wanted so in the second semester I concentrated on agriculture based subjects.

During my summer break I secured employment with a family friend who was a successful farmer growing 2000 acres of various irrigated broad acre crops.  After I had worked for him for a month he asked me to continue working for him instead of returning to university for the autumn session. 

My response was 'I will stay and work for you if you start me off in farming'.  A week later he made me an offer I couldn't refuse.  He had approached the owner of an undeveloped dry-land grazing property that had been for sale for some time and offered him a four year lease-purchase arrangement which involved the development of the entire 310 acres into an irrigation property.

Being an eager young farmer, the following year I located and secured another development lease on a 280 acre property 12 kilometres away.  With that successfully underway I secured three more farming properties within a four year period bringing my total farming area to 1300 irrigated acres that included crops of white clover and sedan grass grown for seed, wheat, corn and rice.

In 1981 adventure called and I sold my farm and bought a farm in Northern NSW with other family members.  It was a 2400 acre un-developed farm with 800 acres of water entitlement that we would develop into an irrigated farm.  We set up a family partnership packed our bags and late in 1981 at the ripe old age of 26, my wife of 22 and I immigrated to Australia.