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Profiles in Wine: Agustin Santiago

With two decades of institutional knowledge, Agustin Santiago intimately understands the Medlock Ames vineyard, from budbreak to harvest.|

For Agustin Santiago, language is a significant part of his cultural heritage. Born in the village of Santa Maria Zacatepec in Oaxaca, Mexico, Santiago wasn’t raised speaking Spanish. Instead, the building blocks of his identity were formed around Mixteco, a pre-Hispanic indigenous language nearly 3,000 years old.

“I have a lot of sympathy for people who are trying to learn Spanish, because it’s my second language,” said Santiago, vineyard manager at Medlock Ames winery.

Santiago speaks English and Spanish now but said he enjoys conversing with two colleagues who also speak Mixteco.

“Preserving my native language is very important to me, and I don’t want to lose that,” Santiago said. “The younger generation is not as interested in the Mixteco language, so there is a lot more Spanish speaking.”

This year, Santiago is marking 22 years at the Healdsburg-based winery, where he joined the vineyard team as a tractor driver in 2000 before moving up the ranks to vineyard foreman and now vineyard manager. Today, he meticulously manages and cares for the Medlock Ames vineyard, market garden and olive trees throughout the year while overseeing a team of five employees.

“Agustin knows the vineyard better than (co-founder) Ames Morrison and I do,” said Abby Watt, winemaker at Medlock Ames. “The vines are like his children — thousands of children — and he is very dedicated to making sure all their needs are met.”

With two decades of institutional knowledge, Santiago intimately understands the Medlock Ames vineyard, from when budbreak will likely occur in each block to how the vines will respond to changes in the weather. He also has a perfectionist streak and sets a high standard for his vineyard crew.

Over the last 20 years, Santiago’s hard work, passion and commitment have not gone unnoticed. Earlier this year, Morrison nominated Santiago for the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation Leadership Academy.

Designed to promote leadership among Sonoma County’s vineyard workforce, the program provides specialized training, leadership guidance and networking opportunities to vineyard workers to help them develop skills beyond farming. Within the program are courses on financial literacy, conflict resolution, compliance and wine production.

“Agustin has an insatiable drive to learn,” Morrison said. “He loves to dig in and ask challenging questions on every aspect of vineyard management. I thought the Leadership Academy would be an excellent way for him to leverage his existing knowledge to grow and provide even better leadership to our vineyard team.”

Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, which operates the foundation, said Agustin Santiago was “a true delight” at the academy and provided a unique perspective, given he works as a vineyard manager at a smaller winery.

“I am so proud of everything Agustin has accomplished, and I’m grateful he is part of Sonoma County’s wine and agriculture community,” Kruse said. “I am excited to see what is ahead for him and look forward to watching him continue to thrive as a leader.”

After completing the Leadership Academy this summer, Santiago said he feels more confident managing a challenge or crisis at work and is inspired to learn more about grape biology and vineyard economics. Recently, he took on a new role, assisting Watt with the budget.

“I love working for Medlock Ames because they want me to continue to grow and learn,” Santiago said. “I get to enjoy the beauty of nature and spend time with my friends. For me, work brings me peace and happiness.”

You can reach Staff Writer Sarah Doyle at 707-521-5478 or sarah.doyle@pressdemocrat.com.

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