Virginia wine grower of the year helps keep vineyards healthy
By Alison Laurio -- firstname.lastname@example.org
STEPHENS CITY -- The glass of Virginia wine standing next to a dinner plate might be finer because of Jeanette Smith, who was named Wine Grower of the Year by the Virginia Vineyards Association.
The award was given Friday at the group's annual meeting in Charlottesville, said association President Bill Tonkins.
Smith, a horticulturist and the president of VineSmith Inc., is a vineyard services consultant.
"I basically help growers," said Smith, of Stephens City. "Most are people interested in starting a vineyard. They're usually not farmers. They're usually in other fields, and they have a passion for wine."
Smith advises on planning and developing vineyards, then assists in keeping them healthy and productive.
"Once (the vineyards) are installed, I basically act as a doctor," she said. "I help keep the vineyard healthy by managing pests and making sure nutrient levels are correct. I look at the vines and make recommendations so the quality of the crop will be its best."
Her expertise has been beneficial, Tonkins said.
"She's extremely knowledgeable about pest control, spraying schedules and herbicide usage," he said.
Smith's producer management guides include fungicide, insecticide and herbicide, according to her website. Almost every vineyard manager has a copy on his wall, Tonkins said. "It's the most go-to document."
She helped Tonkins with a problem at Aftonshire, his "small vineyard" in Afton.
"I was having a problem with my tramenitte," he said. "I was going to tear it out, but she suggested changing my pruning method, and now it's very bountiful. She's wonderful and very well respected in our industry."
In 1981, before Smith began her senior year in the Virginia Tech horticulture program, she got a college internship.
"That summer, I fell in love with the wine industry," she said. "At that time, the wine industry was very small in Virginia -- probably only a half-dozen wineries. But it was growing very quickly, and there was a a need for people with training in horticulture."
Smith works out of Stephens City, but she also has a 100-acre farm in Shenandoah County about a half mile south of Conicville. Right now, she has 1.5 acres planted at Cabin Hill Vineyard, but she hopes to move there within the next year or so, and then she will expand.
"My own vineyard gives me a laboratory to do experiments that I can then parlay into recommendations for my clients," she said.
Smith's customers range from southern Pennsylvania through central Virginia and vary from people looking for land to established vineyards.
Company growth has been good. "I've probably doubled in the last two years," Smith said.
Her business success parallels that of the industry statewide.
"Within the last five years, most (vineyards' growth) have nearly doubled," Tonkins said, referring to a study released Friday by Gov. Bob McDonnell's office that states the industry grew 106 percent between 2005 and 2010.
He was not surprised.
"It wouldn't do that without people like Jeanette," Tonkins said.