grower / Alderdale, Washington
age / 36
crops / wine grapes
business / Austin Sharp Vineyards
other experience / After graduating from Washington State University, he joined the family cattle business and then switched to co-own and manage a vineyard with his father Rick and cousin Rob Mercer.
What was your background before starting a vineyard?
All through the Mercer family history we’ve been involved in livestock or row crop production. We had some ground available that needed to be taken care of, and I stepped forward and I decided to plant the vineyard that we now operate and provide something that hopefully will last a few more generations.
How did you make the switch?
To go from cattle to grapes was a huge jump. They are completely two different industries.
With cattle, the work involved myself, my father, and my dog with a lot of animals. With the vineyard I still have my dog, a lot of plants, but there’s a lot of people and the issues that come with managing people and their issues. So operating a vineyard is a lot more complicated, a lot more challenging, and a lot more rewarding.
Why a vineyard?
The wine industry as a whole is very exciting. It’s young and vibrant with a lot of new things and innovations going into it. We (in Washington) are surrounded by facilities that if you want to learn more, you can. Washington’s on the cusp of breaking the wine grape growing mold—coming out and saying we are Washington, look at us. The country and the world is taking notice, and it’s very, very exciting to be a part of that.
What future projects or ideas are you working on?
Water automation is something I’m very interested in. When farming on a large scale, water management is very critical when you’re trying to achieve particular watering intervals. With automation, it allows you the flexibility to sleep a longer night. If you had a wifi system out in the field that you could tap into with a smartphone, tablet, or computer so you can check on your system while you are away, making sure the pressures are correct and the correct fields are being irrigated. But that still doesn’t account for the human eye to make sure you don’t have a leak.