Heading north along Highway 101 in Northern California, you follow the path of the Russian River in reverse as it courses through the steep hills and rich farmland of Mendocino and Sonoma counties. In Ukiah, an area known for producing some of California’s most celebrated wines, Tyler Rodrigue has turned challenge into opportunity in founding Noble Vineyard Management.

A multi-generational farmer who returned to his grandfather’s vineyard to continue the family business, Rodrigue ran into issues common to growers in the region: limited access to skilled labor, rising production costs and an increasingly competitive global market.

“Noble Vineyard Management came into being because we’re all farmers and we were trying to figure out how we can survive in today’s evolving world,” said CEO Tyler Rodrigue. “We came together and said, ‘How can we collaborate, achieve some scale and share resources?’”

Five years later, Noble Vineyard Management has grown from a few clients to managing more than 1,500 acres of land for vineyard owners in Mendocino, Lake and Sonoma counties. The company offers vineyard owners a single source for equipment, custom harvesting, construction, and pump and irrigation services.

“We were looking around at our own ranch and trying to figure out how we could scale things and create more efficiencies,” said Jen Rodrigue, Chief Financial Officer. “We recognized there was a need from other grape growers and farmers for the same thing, and that we could help fill that need.”

Building Trust and Transparency

As the company has expanded over the last five years, so has the industry’s focus on sustainability and accountability in producing grapes.

“Transparency is key to us,” said President Dave Downey. “We are working to be at the forefront and the leader in Mendocino County vineyard management. We’re trying to help our clients make more for their grapes, to make the right planting decisions, to be as sustainable as possible and to continue growing in Mendocino County.”

Downey started his career working for a vineyard manager who farmed organic and conventional wine grapes. Since then, he ‘s managed properties practicing a wide variety of growing techniques, ranging from organic and biodynamic to regenerative biodynamic agriculture.

As more wineries embrace sustainable and regenerative growing practices, Director of Viticulture Dave Koball said Noble Vineyard Management was able to provide guidance and evaluate the pros and cons of each option. He draws from 28 years of experience in Mendocino County grape growing and viticulture.

“To manage a vineyard right, you have to be aware of a lot of things,” said Dave Koball. “Soil, water, insect fertility, when to do certain things for the vines, how to manage your labor. It’s an extremely complicated business.”

Beyond the work normally associated with grape growing, Koball said that the company handles many “behind the scenes” tasks critical for a successful growing season. During a typical season, the team may be managing water, compliance, labor sourcing, administrative and irrigation issues for their clients, in addition to planting, pruning and harvesting wine grapes.

Grape Harvesting

New Technology and Innovation in Grape Growing

One secret for success at Noble Vineyard Management has been the team’s willingness to embrace new technology to help clients become more efficient, from mechanical harvesters that shake and remove grapes from the vine to automated irrigation systems. Meanwhile, the company’s employees have gained new skills as they operate and optimize equipment in the field.

“I think the mechanization of farming is where it’s going,” said Dave Downey. “It started with machine harvesting, now there are trunk shakers and bow rods that help make the process easier. You see custom harvest machines and autonomous vehicles everywhere because the technology works.”

The company also completes aerial photography on clients’ properties, then uses LIDAR technology to compare year-over-year changes to the vineyard and recommend spot treatments to address any issues.

“My favorite part of the job is the constantly evolving nature of farming,” said Tyler. “The challenges are unique and they’re much more complicated than they might seem at first blush. It’s the constant challenges that make it fun.”

Finding a Financial Partner in Agriculture

As Noble Vineyard Management has grown, the company has partnered with American AgCredit to secure capital and financial expertise. Deanna Martin, V.P. of Lending, and Jena Cramer, Senior Loan Officer, have both worked closely with Tyler and his team.

“It’s really evolved into becoming a partnership where at American AgCredit we provide resources to Tyler and his team to improve their bottom line.” said Deanna. “We put them in touch with our economic data and relevant information from our appraisal department, and that’s helped them make more informed decisions.”

Tyler says working with a lender that knows and appreciates agriculture has been a benefit for his business, both in finding a reliable financial partner and a team with a great deal of expertise.

“American AgCredit has this incredible group of people who come from a financial background but oftentimes also a hands-on agricultural background.” said Tyler. “They can help you think outside the box and find what’s right for your business, and that adds a lot of value for your organization.”

Grape Harvesting