True to its roots
July/Aug. 2006 California Country magazine
By Jim Morris
Winery creates 10-year program to offer assistance to farmworkers and their families.
Unique wine gives back to farmworkers
Sergio Camacho came to America from Mexico as a young man with ambitions of a better life, starting a family and owning a home.
A quarter century of farm work--from picking crops to pressing winegrapes—has helped him reach his goals.
Camacho works at Talley Farms in Arroyo Grande, a third-generation, diversified family farm with vegetables, vineyards and a winery.
"The work is hard, but the Talley family are good people," he said.
Winery President Brian Talley and his wife, Johnine, decided it was time to give back to Camacho and co-workers for their unheralded, invaluable role in farming and the California economy.
Sergio Camacho, right, beams with pride over the future he envisions for his sons, Alberto and Sergio Jr.
The Talleys in 2004 embarked on a 10-year program to generate up to $1 million to assist farmworkers and their families. An exciting new wrinkle was the May 6 release of Mano Tinta, a wine in which 100 percent of the proceeds go toward this cause. A Cinco de Mayo celebration was held to honor this novel idea. Several hundred people gathered at the winery, with a mariachi band, abundant food and drink bolstered by a world of good sentiment. More than 500 cases of Mano Tinta have been produced, which could raise up to $50,000 for the cause.
Brian and Johnine Talley established the Fund for Vineyard and Farmworkers, seeking a way to provide a legacy to the memory grandmother and to help the workers who are fundamental to their success.
This is the latest effort for the Fund for Vineyard and Farmworkers, which provides grants to local non-profit organizations that assist those who work in the fields. Areas of greatest need include housing, health care and education.
The Talleys established the fund, seeking a way to provide a legacy to the memory of Brian's grandmother who had just passed away and to help the workers who are fundamental to their success.
"Farmworkers really are the backbone of my family's business," Brian Talley said. "Since I've been working here going on 30 years, I have come to know and appreciate what these people do for us. I also thought it's a great way to bring together the agricultural community in San Luis Obispo County, to support this kind of an effort."
Mano Tinta costs $18 a bottle and is a blend of three robust red varieties: syrah, petite syrah and tempranillo. The result is a big, rich wine that goes down smoothly and offers something extra--a sip of social consciousness.
"Agriculture in California could not exist without the important contribution that these folks make," Talley said. "Farmworkers are literally responsible for getting all kinds of food products out of the field and onto our table. It's often wrongly classified as unskilled labor. In fact, there is quite a bit of skill associated with the various jobs that we do here."
Talley Farms has been a springboard for motivated farmworkers to move up through the ranks.
One of the top positions in the winery is manned by Jose Cuevas, who, like Brian Talley, first started at the farm by harvesting beans. Cuevas said his respect for farmworkers began at a young age.
"As the son of two migrant farmworkers, I remember since I was a kid seeing my parents after a long day of hard work, and at the same time, they're very proud of putting food on someone's table," said Cuevas, winery production manager. "I definitely have a lot of pride behind that."
It was Cuevas who came up with the wine's name, Mano Tinta, which is Spanish for red hand.
"It was inspired by a wine book that I was thumbing through," he said. "I noticed in one of the pictures, it had the hands of a worker holding a cluster of grapes. His hands were stained red from the juice, and you could see he had a long day of work."
Cuevas not only plays a major role in producing wine, he operates a mobile wine bottling service with a fast-growing clientele.
The Mano Tinta label is from a painting by 9-year-old Jose Juan Rico, whose father handles irrigation at Talley Farms and who dreams of being an animal rescuer when he grows up.
"I haven't won any of these awards before," the young artist said. "It makes me proud that I won. It makes me want to draw more. It's really, really fun for me to draw. I don't care if I win, I just enjoy drawing."
Enjoyment and pride are common attributes at Talley Farms these days, as farmer and farmworker forge a closer tie and strive for the enviable combination of a work environment that's rewarding for all involved.
"In my opinion, these are some of the hardest-working people in the world," Talley said. "I think we are blessed to have such a dedicated, hard-working work force here."
Camacho says it is farmers like the Talleys who have helped him seek still loftier goals.
The 43-year-old speaks with the confidence of a man who has reached many personal aspirations, achieved since immigrating from Jalisco, Mexico, in 1981. He is married and has two sons--Alberto, a high school student, and Sergio Jr., who's studying to become a dentist. His wife is attending college to become a teacher. Camacho and his family live in a home in nearby Nipomo.
"Here you can have the opportunity if you work," he said. "You can live better than in Mexico. I feel good. I have my family and I have a home. That's why I'm happy."
Jim Morris is a reporter/photographer in Sacramento. He can be reached at email@example.com.