By NATHAN HALVERSON
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Kyle Cameron is the youngest vineyard manager in Sonoma County.
At 14 years old, Kyle might be the youngest in the nation. He can pick up the phone and order spare parts for a tractor or schedule a time to have the fields sprayed for mold prevention.
But perhaps his most amazing accomplishment is the respect he’s earned from veteran grape growers.
“He’s a very bright guy, knowledgeable and passionate about agriculture,” said George Martinelli, vineyard manager at Martinelli Vineyards & Winery. “His grandfather has really instilled that in him.”
Out of 14 grandchildren, Kyle is the one who has spent nearly every year of his life working at the side of his grandfather, Al Cameron, who owns a 10-acre vineyard along River Road near Fulton.
At about 2, Kyle would call his grandfather and ask if they could take a drive along the dirt road that loops through the fields.
“He would call me up and say, ‘The loop, papa, the loop,’ ” Al Cameron recalls. “That just never ended. Farming has become his life.”
By 9, Kyle was spending his summers out in the vineyards helping his grandfather prepare for harvest.
“It’s a love of the land,” Kyle said. “Something just sparked in me, and I realized this is where it’s at.”
Kyle began making phone calls for his grandfather to order new parts or contract vineyard services. At some point, Al Cameron just started calling him the vineyard manager. And then, two years ago, he made it an official title.
Of course, at 14, Kyle has job requirements that include some rather unusual provisions, such as maintaining his grades at El Molino High School.
“He’s got to be a teenager, too,” said Al Cameron, 75. “The homework is important.”
Still, Kyle is making major decisions about how to manage the vineyard. Kyle recently made the choice to prune the vineyard in February, which is often a tough decision because a strong frost can mean ruin if vines are trimmed too early.
Like other crucial calls, Kyle made the decisions under the tutelage of his grandfather. The pair work in close concert, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m best friends with my grandfather,” Kyle said with unerring conviction.
Al Cameron, whose family has been farming in Sonoma County since the 1850s, sees it the same way.
“He’s my best friend,” Al Cameron said. “He’s 14 going on 34.”
Kyle is devoted to both his grandfather and agriculture. He wants nothing more than to grow the family’s farm. But first his parents and grandparents want him to get his college degree, and they’re looking at agriculture programs at UC Davis, Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and Fresno State.
Then, Kyle says, he’ll launch into expansion mode.
“I desperately, desperately want to grow and diversify our farming,” he said. “I want to keep our family growing, both in total acreage and with the grapes we grow.”
Al Cameron can’t help show a little emotion when he sees the family farm being tended by such capable and enthusiastic hands.
“I really don’t like to brag about him too much. But he’s got a good head on his shoulders,” he said. “It’s been nothing but just a joy.”
You can reach Staff Writer Nathan Halverson at 703-1577 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Family: Parents, Gerry and Toni Cameron; grandparents Al and Beverly Cameron
School: Freshmen at El Molino High School
Activities: Farming and viticulture, 4-H, FFA
Goal: Grow the family farm and attend college for agriculture
Quote: “Something inside me just said, ‘I’m a farmer.’ ”