Division, strife leaves future at Mondavi uncertain
Robert Mondavi, left, and his son, Michael, sample some of the orange muscat grapes during the annual blessing of the grapes at the Mondavi Woodbridge Winery in this 2002 file photo. (Jerry R. Tyson/News-Sentinel)

Lodi’s contributions to the agricultural industry will be front and center when five individuals with Lodi ties will be inducted into the San Joaquin Agricultural Hall of Fame on Oct. 19. They will be recognized at the San Joaquin County Chamber of Commerce’s annual banquet at the Robert J. Cabral Ag Center, 2101 E. Earhart Ave., Stockton.

Joseph Grant, Jack and Pati Hamm, Hank Van Exel, and Robert Gerald Mondavi (posthumous) will be inducted into the Hall of Fame for their significant contributions to agriculture and their community.

Joseph Grant

For more than three decades Joseph Grant advised farmers in San Joaquin County by providing them with necessary research and information to improve their farming and diagnosing problems with crops. He retired in July of 2016. For most of his career he worked as a farm advisor for the UC Cooperative Extension and is known for his research on walnuts, cherries, apples, olives and other tree crops.

“It’s kind of awesome. I mean when you look at the other people that have been inducted into the Hall of Fame, I don’t consider myself in that class of people so it’s humbling” he said about his induction.

Before his long tenure with the cooperative in San Joaquin County, Grant worked for the extension in several other locations including Madera County. He began working in San Joaquin County in 1987. After being exposed to agriculture while attending UC Davis in the 1970s he realized that a career in agriculture was the right path for him. Grant received a bachelors degree in plant science (1980), a masters in pomology (1984) and a masters in plant protection and pest management (1930) from UC Davis.

Over the course of his career Grant has built a number of relationships with local farmers and takes pride in that. Grant is a former board member of the California Walnut Board Production Research Advisory Council and was also the extension’s liaison to the cherry industry as well as the Cherry Apple Commission. He also participated in the Mid-Valley Apple Association, California Cherry Growers and Industries Foundation and the California Alliance with Family Farmers.

Jack and Pati Hamm

Jack and Pati Hamm met each other at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. Both have backgrounds in dairy farming. At the age of 6, Jack started milking cows on the family farm in his hometown of Calexico and studied dairy science while at Cal Poly. The Lima Ranch Dairy has been in Pati’s family since 1938. After graduating from college and getting married, the third generation farmers moved to Lodi to work on the Lima Ranch in Lodi as operational managers. Jack has served as president of the San Joaquin Farm Bureau Federation and is a member of the Western United Dairymen.

Hank Van Exel

Local dairy farmer Hank Van Exel will be following in his father’s footsteps by being inducted into the Hall of Fame. His father who was also a dairy farmer was inducted over 20 years ago.

“I think it’s cool because my dad was a recipient quite a few years ago, so its kind of a cool thing. I’m very appreciative and humbled that I got an award like this,” he said.

His father moved to Lodi from Alabama and started his dairy from the ground up with very little money and only 15 cows. Born into the dairy industry, Van Exel already knew that he was destined to continue his father’s legacy. Van Exel attended Cal Poly and graduated with a bachelors degree in dairy and business in the late ’70s. After graduating, Van Exel began working in the family farm which has expanded significantly over the years.

Van Exel has been successful with the genetics of his cattle and has sent cattle all over the world. He was also voted the World Dairy Expo’s 2015 Dairy Man of the Year. Van Exel Dairy is known for the high milk production of their Holstein and Brown Jersey cows and having one of highest production rates in the country.

Van Exel has been involved in a number of organizations throughout his career, including the San Joaquin County Farm Bureau, Future Farmers of America, 4-H, Woodbridge Irrigation District Board of Directors and the National Holstein Association Board of Directors.

Robert Gerald Mondavi

“He was the pioneer of California winemaking,” were the words Larry Pilmaier of Woodbridge Winery used to describe the late Robert Mondavi. Winemaking was in Mondavi’s blood. His father owned a grocery store in Minnesota where he brought in grapes from Lodi and taught all the miners how to make wine in their basements during Prohibition. The Mondavi family eventually moved to Lodi and Mondavi’s father began distributing Lodi grapes all across the United States.

Mondavi’s first job was nailing together crates to ship grapes for his father’s business. Mondavi graduated from Stanford University and later moved with his parents to Napa where they purchased a winery. In 1966 Mondavi branched out on his own and opened Robert Mondavi Winery, which grew to become a world famous winery. In 1979 he came back to Lodi and opened Woodbridge Winery because the wines that were being produced in the Napa valley were expensive and so was land.

“He knew that Lodi was a more affordable place to make wine and he wanted to be able to make wine that people can drink every day. He called it everyday wine for everyday living,” Pilmaier said.

Because of his focus on quality, Mondavi contracted with several Lodi grape growers and brought his crews from Napa to teach the growers how to make better wine.

“He taught the growers down here how to produce superior quality crops so that he could make good wine out of it,” Pilmaier said. “Mondavi was instrumental in raising the bar in Lodi, convincing these growers to grow high-quality grapes so that he could produce great wine.”

According to Randall Lange, co-owner of LangeTwins Winery and one of Mondavi’s former growers, Mondavi had a huge impact on him and his twin brother, Brad, along with several other Lodi growers.

“He was very pivotal in adding the inspiration to the growers, adding the support to the growers and creating what I would say is a group of growers that eventually turned out to be wine growers,” Lange said. “I just feel greatly honored and privileged to be a part of what Bob led in the years that he was active in the industry.”

Mondavi sold off his wineries to Constellation Brands before his death in 2008.

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