We spoke to Tucker Taylor, the Director of Culinary Gardens at Jackson Family Wines. He told us about his journey to becoming a farmer, how important farming is to create a great wine, and why he loves kicking back with a nice glass of pinot noir.
When you were young, did you know you wanted to grow up to become a farmer?
I grew up in the countryside of northeast Florida and I was always helping my father in the garden. This is where I learned to appreciate being in nature and eating fresh produce. However, I studied business administration at university and found myself working at a bank upon graduation. I was always coming home to unwind in my garden and one day it dawned on me that I wanted to be in a garden every day. I then I returned to school and began studying environmental horticulture and then began my “new” life in nature, farming outside of Portland, OR and Atlanta, GA before moving to the Napa Valley, CA.
How important are sustainable practices and the farm to table movement when it comes to wine?
I have always managed my farms and gardens using organic methods. For me, it is a practice, a way of life. I feel that grapes, or any type of produce, produced in a sustainable manner are not only better for the environment, but better for society…and although the farm-to-table movement has been gaining momentum for quite some time, I feel like there are still plenty of people to become inspired. We have seasonal farm-to-table dinners in our main culinary garden at and it really brings people together, to understand the connections between the chefs, the farmers, the ranchers, the cheese makers and the winemakers.
You’ve said elsewhere that you really enjoy Pinot Noir – why is that? And is there a specific bottle/brand of pinot that you keep coming back to?
When I was farming in Oregon 20 years ago, I developed an interest in Pinot Noir. I love to eat and this varietal is so versatile. I’m generally drawn to lighter styles, such as the 2014 Copain Wentzel “Solstice” with its bright fruit and subtle acidity. I like this with lightly seamed baby beets and spring peas.
What is something you wish more people knew about your job — about farming and how it relates to wine?
I wish more people understood how the health of the soil is directly related to the quality of the fruit and thus, to the wine. I have always planted cover crops to increase the organic matter and nutrients in the soil. I’ve also applied compost to inoculate the soil with microbes, which aide in plant health, and provide more nutrients. These practices result in healthier plants that produce nutrient dense fruit that ultimately, in my opinion, makes a better wine.
You’ve built a sizeable following on social media where you post regularly – why do you think so many people are interested in seeing the “behind the scenes” looks at life as a grower that you provide?
My social media following really took off after redesigning the culinary garden at The French Laundry ten years ago. People were really intrigued to see some of what we were growing that was ultimately going to be served each night at the restaurant. I also think that more people are interested in the diversity there is with respect to produce around the world. We are growing oyster leaf from Scotland, ice lettuce from coastal Africa, crosnes from China, oca from the Andes, kinome from Japan and so much more. In addition to growing for our culinary team at Jackson Family Wines, we are also growing for several chefs in San Francisco and Sonoma County. Social media has been a great way to share the harvest, so to speak, so that chefs and others interested in fresh produce are able to see what’s in season.