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family background/Dustin grew up working with his family at Dave Tobin Farms and studied viticulture and enology at Walla Walla Community College and Washington State University. He’s the son of Carmen and Dave Tobin.
age/36
crops/grapes, apples and cherries
business/Precept Wine Brands

Dustin Tobin, a young grower from Granger, Washington, on Wednesday, February 13, 2019, at the Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick, Washington. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)How did you get your start?
Growing up, our family operated a farm with juice grapes, apples and cherries, and I was driving tractor by the time I was 10 years old. I was going to school, then heading home to work on the farm doing whatever needed to be done that day. Those years instilled in me how important agriculture was to me, my life and my career. I fell in love with the work.

Besides family, who else guided you?
When I was young, I realized I needed to focus on one thing because agriculture is such a broad field. In sixth grade, I was fortunate to have Stan Clarke as my teacher. I remember when I was graduating from high school, he came up to me and asked me what I wanted to do in agriculture. He suggested I look at the wine industry.

At that time, he was spearheading the Institute for Enology and Viticulture in Walla Walla and I then entered into that program in 2005. It was special to have him again as my college professor and he set my path in viticulture that I’m still going down today.

What challenges have you worked on at Precept?
We were hand picking wine grapes for quite some time for higher-tier wine programs and wineries would come out and draw up acreage contracts that they’d want hand-picked.

We also farm apples when the grapes need to be picked. Our labor needs to be in apples, not only in the wine grape side. Because of that need we purchased a selective harvester where it picks and destems the grapes in the field. It also allows me to do added-value work in the field, rather than at the winery.

When we approached a few of the winemakers about using our machine to do the work in the field, they were hesitant on doing it. So, in exchange we offered a discount. I said, “Just give us a chance for one year.” They brought out their fermenters so we could pick the grapes right into them.

We found a way to directly add SO2 or any other enzyme they wanted us to add. They’d load it up and take the fermenters back to the winery. That was probably the end of the prep work for them because we did it for them in the vineyard.

What are your daily tasks?
As director of operations, I focus on three things when I wake up every morning. Where are my tractors? Where is my water? Where are my people?

Tractors: Are we doing the most efficient thing with the rigs that day?

Water: What’s the weather like? What’s been watered this week? What’s the weather like tomorrow? All the weather and irrigation questions form a major equation of how many hours of water do I provide in the coming days to a particular block.

The third would be labor: What are my people doing? Are we being efficient and profitable? Are we doing what we need to be doing at that time in the growing season to make sure we’re ahead of the curve?

What would you tell young growers?
The advice I’d give to young people entering this industry is always make sure you stay ahead of the curve in regard to continuing education — whether it’s new fungicides out there or finding new ways of saving money on the farm.

Look for anything out there to help you stay up-to-date and more profitable. Also, especially in the wine industry, remember to put time into the networking side of the business.

Get to know the new wineries coming into town and sustain relationships with existing wineries. For example, we grow a lot of different varieties and we may have one that will fill a particular niche for one winery but will not for another.

As a grower, it’s important to find those niches or pairings that will make everyone successful on the farm and in the winery. Every day, you need to dig and claw to do the best job in the most efficient way you can.

-TJ Mullinax