Meet a Farmer: Kevin Jones of Lava Cap Winery
Founded by a family of geologists, Lava Cap winery grows their award-winning wine grapes in rich volcanic soil found in the Sierra Foothills. Kevin Jones explains how hard work, and long hours have been key to the success of his family’s winery and why even his 88-year-old grandma still likes to visit the winery each day.
CA GROWN: What are you doing today?
Kevin: Today has been a busy day! I did a little event promotion this morning on Fox 40 Sacramento for the ZAP tasting “Stories from the Sierra Foothills” April 8th in Sacramento. When I got back to the winery, it was time to start working on our new bottling line, getting all the tracks in place, and bolted on before the electrician comes in and connects the motors and controls. It is a really exciting spring season here at Lava Cap!
CA GROWN: What is your favorite part of working in the wine industry?
Kevin: What I really enjoy about working in the wine business is the hard working philosophy that surrounds all the different activity in the industry. Each aspect such as retail, wholesale, marketing, and production are pushed by the hard working farmer attitude, the old saying the day isn’t over until the job is done is actually true. I think this also pushes the growth and improved quality of the California wine industry. It is competitive and if we are not on our A game, our family business would be eaten alive. That is also another neat part of the business, the family involvement. It is one of the few industries you see many families still involved with multi-generational roles. My 88-year-old grandmother still walks to the winery every day to make sure we are keeping the ship full steam ahead.
CA GROWN: How do you give back to the community?
Kevin: Having a business in a rural area comes with a duty to support the local community. We work with many local charities to raise awareness, but also to fund raise for programs and infrastructure. We work with programs such as MORE (a rehabilitation program that helps empower individuals with disabilities to enhance their quality of life), local community theaters, Ag in the classroom which helps improve and develop programs for ag education, and just about every local charity there is to support.
CA GROWN: What drew you into wine making?
Kevin: Like many people who were raised on a vineyard or in the winery, you more or less cannot get away. I tried. Twice. I was born and raised on the vineyard, and I didn’t realize the bonds I have with the land, the farming way of life, or the ability to walk into my Dad’s tractor barn, or grandparents office to say hi. That is something that can never be replaced. I would say the attraction to the industry isn’t the aspect of necessarily making the wine, but having a strong common goal to produce the highest quality agriculture product every season.
CA GROWN: What are your hobbies or past times when you are not working for the winery?
Kevin: When not here at the winery, I’m taking my four kids fishing, skiing, or hiking. We live in a neat area where there is always something to do that is not too far away from home. El Dorado County is one of the few places that offers almost everything. It makes coming to work a little bit easier knowing the same day I can get out on the lake after work, or take the kids on a hike for a couple miles.
CA GROWN: What advice would you give to someone who wants to start winemaking?
Kevin: This is an agriculture industry. Forget the romantic idea that some people seem to have. Get rid of your hobbies, sell your house to buy vineyards, and tell your family not to take your absence personal. Being a part of the wine industry is a full emersion process, there is no room for set hours and weekends. Usually people who have success in other entrepreneurship endeavors are fine, or farmers. Farmers are already programmed with the grit to grind through a lot of the issues that deter and weed out people with grand illusions. Farmers already understand the wine industry is an agriculture way of life for their family. So, my best advice to anyone is don’t give up, just keep plugging along and make sure to put as much effort into making a better product every year, even if you think it can’t get any better, just keep the progress moving forward in a positive direction. It is a very satisfying feeling when you establish a quality product to sell, and it can only happen with hard work. Once you experience this, it becomes addictive.
CA GROWN: What are one or two things you do on the farm to be sustainable?
Kevin: We farm on hillsides and steep slopes, so for Lava Cap we have had to implement practices by necessity before there was a large consumer push to see farms more sustainable. Many of the following practices prevent erosion and siltation that would be detrimental to our vineyards. We cover crop all of our rows, never disc, drip irrigate and dry farm, establish erosion control on all vineyard roads with straw every winter, established riparian habitats for predatory species like owls and hawks, never fertilize and instead grind the clippings and cover crop to provide nitrogen. A large push in the last two years has been utilization of our weather station to calculate powdery mildew indexes to reduce unnecessary pesticide applications. This weather station is on the Lava Cap property and was installed with a grant through fish friendly farming and the UC Davis extension for use by all local vineyards.
In the winery, we started a new barrel cleaning program 3 years ago, drastically reducing our water use and waste water. All of our tanks are housed inside an insulated building, we draw cool air through louvers at night and seal the building up during the day, and this prevents the need to use large amounts of energy to control tank temperatures. All glass, cardboard, plastic, paper, and wood waste is sorted and recycled here at the winery.