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Gail Kautz: “Education in Agriculture Ensures our Future!”

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Creating a culture of giving, community service, leadership and advocacy is the legacy that Gail Kautz is known for. She puts the “culture” in agriculture as she lives her life dedicated to providing children educational opportunities, supporting nonprofit and charity organizations that raise funds for all things agriculturally related. She’s a country girl at heart, so you would be surprised to learn that Gail was born and raised in Oakland, California. She loved the country and when she was 14 years old, her father bought a ranch in the foothills. Located in Murphys, the ranch would later become the beautiful winery and event center we know today as Ironstone Vineyards. 

Gail attended Anna Head School in Berkeley and moved to the Midwest after graduating from high school; she received her AA from Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. “Moving away from home and living in a different part of the country was an amazing experience for me,” shared Gail. The college is the second-oldest female educational establishment in the United States. She moved back to California and studied elementary education at College of the Pacific, known today as University of the Pacific in Stockton. Gail graduated in 1958 and before leaving Stockton, she met her soon-to-be husband, John. The young couple met at Lugo’s Pizza Parlor and shortly after their first meeting, Gail found herself riding in a truck on a first date having dinner at the tomato cannery.

Building the Future
John was a farmer and captured Gail’s heart with a life of farming. She knew he was serious about her when he let her drive his big semi-truck. “I only made it about 50 feet or so because I couldn’t get the truck into gear,” laughed Gail. She continued to share stories from early in their marriage when they grew tomatoes and alfalfa and built a small horse corral on the property John farmed between Lodi and Stockton. She remembered the floods of 1958; she described the steady flow of water coming down the railroad tracks on Live Oak Road and how she and John helped neighbors sandbag properties in an effort to hold off the water. The two continued to build their farm and started a family. “We were blessed with three boys and a girl,” Gail said proudly. While John continued to grow crops and his reputation, Gail focused on the family and through her children, the passion and commitment for community and agriculture began to grow even more. 

“We have grown everything from A to Z, apples to zinnias!” she enthused. In 1965, John was recognized as National Outstanding Young Farmer and Gail attributes this award and others for opening doors politically. John and Gail took trips to Washington, D.C., and began meeting people from around the world who shared their dedication and commitment to farming and soil preservation. They grew seed crops for Ferry Morse for many years and eventually John moved away from some of the row crops and planted grapes. Around this time, Gail’s father was ready to sell the Murphys property she had grown to love, the place where she spent her summers in the country before returning to the city in the fall for the school year. “My father’s ranch was on the market and John and I had the opportunity to purchase the ranch and the adjacent property,” she continued. The property served as a cattle ranch and John quickly made plans to pursue grapes. They grew grapes and produced wine through Stevenot Winery before they eventually started construction of Ironstone Vineyards. 

Commitment to Wine
“In 1989, John and I wore hard hats while we watched the dynamite blasts cut the hill in half. The hard rock miners drilled and blasted through the hillside as they dug out caves,” she recalled. Gail remembered fondly John’s insistence on having dinner with the miners before construction began. People began to take notice and became interested in what they were building. They celebrated and hosted a party in the caves and before they knew it, people were requesting to host parties of their own in the caves. The winery began to take shape with construction of the tanks, the wine press and the tasting room. John and Gail have continued to preserve pieces of California history throughout the property, including a 44-pound Crystalline gold leaf piece and a pipe organ from the Alhambra Theatre in Sacramento. The pipe organ was built in 1908; after a year of restoration, it was settled into its new home in the music room of the winery. 

As their farming adventures were blossoming, John and Gail’s children were fast growing into sports and 4-H. Gail had a love for horses and became an equestrian leader for the local chapter. “I honestly enjoyed doing it. Helping young people through introduction and education in agriculture ensures our future,” Gail expressed. From 1987 to 1995, Gail served on the board of the California State Fair and Exposition. She was the first woman chair of the board and in 1996 earned the Track of Bear Award for outstanding contribution to agriculture; in 2016 she received the prestigious Golden Bear Award for her service to the State Fair. 

A Legendary Benefit
Gail is particularly proud of the annual classic car event held at Ironstone Vineyards, Concours d’Elegance, which helps raise funds for the Ironstone Concours Foundation. The event has raised over $1M for statewide and local 4-H and Future Farmers of America, providing scholarships to youth. Concours d’Elegance is considered to be among the top ten classic car shows nationwide. “I am looking forward to 2021 as we celebrate the 25th anniversary of Concours d’Elegance,” Gail said proudly. 

As the children grew, they all learned the value of hard work from their parents. “We raked leaves, pulled weeds, loaded boxes of cucumbers onto truck beds,” shared Gail’s son, Jack Kautz. “My parents taught us from a young age and we all learned to work together as a family,” he continued. Jack laughed as he shared a story from his youth that he feels reflects the values of his parents. “We had a dishwasher that was always breaking. My parents refused to buy a new one. They must have had it repaired 4 to 5 times. Spending money frivolously was not in their nature!” Jack continued to share his admiration for his mother. “Her dedication is unparalleled. Her entire life, she has put everyone in front of herself,” Jack smiled. All four of John and Gail’s children work in some capacity with the winery or farm as they continue the traditions of their parents. 

The list of awards, achievements and advocacy that Gail has accomplished in her life is a true testament to her dedication to family, community and agriculture. Her strength through bountiful harvests and tough years has always helped pushed her family forward. When I asked her about her awards and titles, she shared with me her favorites continue to be “wife, Mom and Grandma.”

For more information on Gail, the Kautz Family and Ironstone Vineyards, please visit ironstonevineyards.com.