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Pioneering Kautzes added to Hall of Fame

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Posted: Sunday, September 25, 2005 10:00 pm

John and Gail Kautz have been committed to agriculture most of their lives. They built their family farm into 5,000 acres of vineyards in Lodi and Murphys, have sold more than a million cases of their wine in 15 years and began Ironstone Vineyards, a destination point in the foothills.

They have served on numerous agricultural commissions and been involved with many organizations.

Though they could retire, they keep going because they enjoy what they're doing.

"In agriculture, you are as the public view you," John Kautz said, which is one reason the Kautzes are committed to excellence.

For their contributions to agriculture, John and Gail Kautz were nominated to the Lodi Community Hall of Fame. Other inductees include Gersh Rosen, former college counselor and current county museum volunteer; Dr. Norman King, Lodi's first certified anesthesiologist; the late Carl Wishek, long-time owner of Farmers and Merchants Bank; and Jack Carter, long-time owner of Burton's Shoes in Lodi.

John was born in Stockton in 1930 and raised in Lodi. He said his family started with 38 acres in 1941. They had the average family farm when he was growing up; they raised all their own food and had dairy cows. They started raising more vegetables to sell as time went on.

Gail was born in Oakland. Gail's father had bought a ranch in Murphys for vacations that would later become Ironestone Vineyards.

"I'm a country girl who was accidentally born in the city," Gail Kautz said.

John was active in FFA and was the chapter president. He became the state president of California Young Farmers. He earned his Eagle Rank in Boy Scouts and went on to be Scoutmaster for the Boy Scout Troop at the Lutheran church in Lodi.

John and Gail met each other at a pizza parlor while Gail was attending the College of the Pacific.

When they were married in 1958, they worked on the Kautz farm.

In the late '60s, the Kautzes shifted their farming to wine grapes. By 1981, they sold their first cases of wine under the John Kautz label.

In 1989, they broke ground for the winery in Murphy's. They mined into a mountain to create a cavern. The winery, which is a replica of an 1859 gold rush stamp mill, has an amphitheatre, gardens, museum and jewelry shop and has become a destination point. In 1992, the largest crystalline gold nugget was found in the Sonora-area, and the Kautzes purchased it to put on display at Ironstone Vineyards.

"It attracts visitors worldwide," John said. "We did that because people like history."

"We're having a lot of fun producing something worthwhile," Gail said.

Gail and John have been a part too many agricultural committees and organizations to list and have received several awards.

John was president of the State Board of Food and Agriculture for 11 years. Gail was honored as Agribusiness Person of the Year in Lodi in 1998. The couple was involved in the Office of International VIN, which studies wine and table grapes and raisins; they have visited every wine-grape producing region in the world. John is starting up a Knights of the Vine chapter in Lodi; the group would discuss ways to better showcase Lodi and Gold Country wines.

When the Kautz' children were small, Gail started working with 4-H. Her niece wanted her to start a horse project. Gail led the horse project for 25 years. She also led other projects such as sheep, dog obedience, raising a vegetable garden and being a community leader. When her children outgrew 4-H, she was on the 4-H foundation board, which raises funds for 4-H. She began the Concours d'Elegance, a vintage car show, at Ironstone Vineyards, which she said is a chance for people to meet 4-H members, as well as a fund-raiser.

In 1965, the Kautzes were named Outstanding Young Farmers in the nation. They started joining many national agricultural boards. They were members of Top Farmers and in 1969 went on a worldwide trip viewing agriculture of the world; this was a stepping stone to making their business international.

Their four children all work in the family business.

"It's one of the things we're most proud of," John said.

"The biggest thing is having a generation to take over," Gail said. "We could be retired, but we do this because we enjoy it."

Their son Stephen is the president of Ironstone Vineyards; Kurt is head of Bear Creek Winery, among others; and Jack is in charge of things on the Kautz farm. Their daughter Joan took the Kautz business international from scratch after graduating from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. The company now has wines in 49 countries in the world.

"We were always very ambitious," Gail said. "We enjoy working hard. We had a lot of fun -- we're not done yet."

The 2005 inductees will be honored at the Lodi Community Hall of Fame dinner at the Lodi Boys and Girls Club on Oct. 15 at 5:30 p.m. Cost is $40. For information, call 334-2697.

Contact reporter Jennifer Snyder at jennifers@lodinews.com.

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