October 09, 2017
Debby Zygielbaum is the dirt FarmHer and sheep wrangler at Robert Sinskey Vineyards in Napa, California. I first met Debby a number of years ago at a women’s agriculture conference and instantly knew she was a woman that I needed to visit with my camera. All the way in Iowa, she was there to meet and learn from her fellow women in ag. As the dirt FarmHer and sheep wrangler, aka Farm Manager at Robert Sinskey Vineyards, Debby is responsible for basically all growing things.
On the cool, rainy early spring morning that I caught up with Debby she was in her office, a place she doesn’t see much of due to her wide-spread duties at the various vineyard locations that make up the operation. Before we could head out to look at the freshly pruned vines, she heard about the first problem of the day - a stuck tractor. It is currently the wettest season on record for the area and with that comes mud. A few days before a tractor had gotten stuck in the mud, and now a backhoe was stuck, trying to get the tractor out. As Debby noted, there is never a dull moment. After discussing the situation, Debby drove me up to the most scenic vineyard that the operation has. It was one of the most beautiful sights I can imagine, with rolling bright green hills and row after row of grape vines across the hillside. Debby explained that the work crews had just finished pruning as she went back through to prune a few more suckers at the base of her precious vines. The vines were almost at “bud break” where the leaves and clusters of grapes start to emerge. It’s a crucial time for the fruit. She also talked about the type of dirt and climate at that particular vineyard and why they grow a certain type of grape there.
From there it was back down to a flatter piece of land, made up of mostly clay where a different type of grape is grown and where the sheep are. The sheep that Debby “wrangles” serve a few purposes at the farm. First, they graze the grass in between the vines, keeping it trimmed down without having to use heavy equipment to mow it. Second, they naturally fertilize the ground, sticking to the organic and biodynamic growing principles at the operation. Lastly, they eventually become the meat that is served to customers at the Tasting Room. The sheep were lambing at the time and Debby mixed up some milk replacer to bottle feed a few of the lambs that were not able to get enough nutrition from their mother.
We ended the day with the finished product, tasting wine at the Robert Sinskey tasting room. There I got to visit with Jeff, the head winemaker to hear about how the wine is made, bottled and distributed once the grapes are picked from the vine. He even used a wine thief to give us a taste of my favorite, Pinot Noir, straight out of the barrel….definitely a #FarmHerFirst.
Debby is an amazing woman and amazing FarmHer. Her love of agriculture runs deep and her role in caring for the dirt, growing the vines, raising healthy animals and leaving the Earth a better place than she found it is evident. Her sense of care permeates everything she does, from managing the employees who work the farm alongside her to tasting the final product.
November 09, 2018
Lovely article about Debby Z and her devotion to the land. Sadly, I have to report that she was killed yesterday—November 8th, 2018, in aviolent car crash near Napa, Ca. We will miss you so much, dear Debby.
October 20, 2017
Just as an update: Robert Sinskey Vineyards winery (and the 2017 vintage) survived the Atlas Fire, but the vineyard right above on the hill burned. Those drone shots in the ep are somewhat poignant now. The sheep and vineyards in the Careneros just barely escaped the Partrick Fire before it merged with the Nuns. We were so, so lucky.
Here’s an article on it with some pics: http://www.motherjones.com/food/2017/10/after-napas-inferno-were-still-standing/
October 15, 2017
Kila here. I was wondering how this beautiful place was affected by the fires? I enjoyed the show and we are praying for California from Texas!
February 13, 2020
January 26, 2020
December 16, 2019
The busyness of holiday preparations, year-end closing of financial books, tax preparations, loan renewals and prepay of next year’s commodity inputs may have your snow globe resembling the topsy-turviness of a blizzard. Good health and wellbeing, including mental health, is a key factor that contributes to one’s ability to keep farming.
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