Desmond Samples, a young grower from Washington’s Tri-Cities area


family background/ Desmond is the first generation of his immediate family in agriculture and has been working at Fidélitas Wines while attending school at Washington State University. He is the son of Joella and Cedric Samples.

age/23
grower/Washington’s Tri-Cities area
crops/Grapes
business/Viticulture and enology student, Fidélitas Wines

How did you get your start?
Growing up, our family was constantly out at my grandparents in La Grande, Oregon, and we were always in touch with the land and watching things grow in the garden. Then we went to the Tri-Cities, locked into suburbia with houses and cars everywhere. It was a big change after being out on the land and doing whatever I wanted.

When I started my college programs, I thought architecture or mechanical engineering would be the way. I just kind of fell into the winemaking process at that time. Instead of putting art on paper, I thought I should put art into a bottle.

That was my first thought about this career — I can make something that showcases me but through a process that’s much more.

What helped you find your path?
For me, I didn’t land my first job in agriculture through the school. It was through a referral from my physical therapist. I told her that I was in the viticulture program at WSU Tri-Cities, and she passed my information on to someone she knew.

I didn’t know how or where it would go from there, but Charlie Hoppes at Fidélitas Wines has been my mentor ever since. He’s been walking me through the entire process, showing me the ins and outs of winemaking, barrel works — to where I’ve made my own wine this year.

Between that and working with counselors and teachers at school in the viticulture program, who consistently send out emails about jobs that are opening and internships in the area, there’s a lot more in the program than just schoolwork.

Students will see notifications about an enology job this time, then the next time it’s in viticulture, or maybe it’s cellar work. They keep us busy pumping out jobs for us to hunt for and take chances on.

What’s your career goal?
I’m working on becoming well-rounded in the industry. I’ve learned that it can bump your resume and get jobs that maybe someone else can’t get, but it also helps you better understand the process.

I’m shooting to be able to go out into the vineyard to work with vineyard managers and understand what they are trying to achieve and help direct what steps need to be taken in the field.

That way there’s a mutual respect between us, because I know how to be a grower and know what needs to happen, and why. I want to understand the fruit development all the way from the vine. From pest management, nutrition … everything.

Regarding the cellar, I feel the process of winemaking isn’t necessarily learned through school, because there isn’t a set way. Every winemaker is going to make wine differently.

Some may use carbonic maceration on their grapes, some people may macerate it fully in the juice and let the wine do its thing. I believe combining the two parts of the industry and understanding every part of the process will help me produce much more well-rounded wine.

Why are you doing both school and industry work simultaneously?
Some school programs only teach you how to make wine. From yeasts, fermentation and the hands-on experience of being in the cellar, but you’re lacking the fieldwork that teaches you how the vines work.

Why are some vineyards planted north-to-south to capture sun from east to west, or why are trellis systems set up a particular way? Each individual plant is set up for a reason, and understanding that is important to me.

I’ve had to find that balance through school and work. I need to get my education while also being out in the vineyard. Being in a viticulture and enology program was the best fit for me.

What advice would you have for other young growers?
It took me a while to figure out what I was really trying to do and what steps I should take now. Just being able to talk to your boss and tell them what you want for your future is a really big step.

Being young, it’s tough talking with your boss about how you want to continue your career, even if it doesn’t involve them. Being able to stick your neck out there to let them know about your situation has helped me the most.

Also, tell people what you want to learn, because it’ll open new doors. The people around you will realize that you really want to learn, instead of just complacently working a job.

Make sure to set a plan, then talk about your plans with people — not to get a reaction, but to learn from them and keep gas in your tank.

—TJ Mullinax



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