Alumnus uses Virginia Tech lessons to get ahead of the curve in the wine industry
Carl Tinder saw things go wrong planting and maintaining vines and had to adapt to succeed
“If it was easy, anybody could do it.”
That’s Tinder Cattle and Vineyards’ motto, a Charlottesville-based business that serves agricultural businesses across the region by helping them get underway or expanding their existing operations.
But not anybody could lead a business that has planted and managed over 275,000 vines in the region in just six years as Virginia Tech alumnus Carl Tinder, owner and operator of Tinder Cattle and Vineyards, has.
“The ones that make it in agriculture are the ones that can work it out when things go horribly wrong,” said Tinder, who graduated in 1995 with a degree in animal and poultry science and a minor in agricultural and applied economics from the Virginia Tech College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Moving from managing cattle operations into the then-nascent Virginia vineyard business in 2005, Tinder has seen things go wrong planting and maintaining vines and has had to adapt to be successful in the business. He’s learned that to be profitable, he needs to continue learning and not give up – a skill he honed in college and has served him well in his career as an agricultural producer and manager.
“When you go through higher education, you realize that if you put your mind to anything you can learn it,” said Tinder. “So, I’ve never been afraid to learn.”
Tinder came to Virginia Tech wanting to learn how to be a successful farmer. Unlike his peers who either wanted to become veterinarians or return home to their family farm, Tinder also had to learn how he could build his own farm from the ground up.
Having this unique desire led Tinder to establish his career first as a farm manager for Adventure Farm, which was owned by Mary Jane Chisholm. And knowing Tinder’s ultimate goal of having his own farm business and seeing his passion and commitment to agriculture, Chisholm allowed Tinder to pursue new business opportunities independently and for Adventure Farm.
In just two years, Tinder grew Adventure Farm from 1,100 acres to 4,000 acres with 650 cow-calf pairs by building on his Virginia Tech training on how to handle animals and manage a business and leasing more land and sharing resources.
“Ms. Chisholm and I were always partners. She gave me the freedom while I was working for her to go out and do my own things and invest in my own cattle operations; she even allowed me to share some of her equipment to get me started.”
But while Tinder was prepared to handle livestock and manage a farming business, grapes were an altogether new undertaking.
“We were looking at other enterprises and how we could maximize the best use of the land. Back then I had no idea what a ton of grapes was worth. I didn’t know how you grew them. I didn’t know anything about it. All I knew was that you could potentially generate $8,000-$10,000 an acre growing grapes.”
Using his entrepreneurial training from Agricultural and Applied Economics Professor Dave Kohl and the confidence he’d gained during college to learn anything, Tinder moved into the vineyard business by first planting two acres of vines on his own 40-acre lot.
“When you totally switch strides and say ‘I’m going start a vineyard, another business,’ you think a lot of your knowledge will transfer over. You think you know a lot more than you really do. But by going through it, I realized how steep the learning curve really was – going from managing pastures and cattle to getting to the vineyard business.”
When Tinder began growing grapes in the early 2000s, there weren’t agricultural cooperatives or other resources prepared to help farmers with establishing vineyards like there were for those raising cattle or growing row crops so Tinder relied on the expertise of a few grape growers and his own trial-and-error.
After planting the initial two acres on family land, Tinder planted more vines for Adventure Farm a year later, and in 2010 he helped establish a larger vineyard at Pippin Hill, which helped pave the way for him to begin helping other farmers get into the vineyard business and eventually develop a full-fledged vineyard management program that now helps clients pick the location, design the vineyard, and help plant and manage it.
“The two largest industries right now in Virginia are agriculture and tourism, and the wine industry is where those two intersect,” said Tinder. “We can grow vines here and market the wine from that fruit to wedding and event venues as well as locals and people coming from NOVA and the urban crescent.”
Since 2014 Tinder has operated as Tinder Cattle and Vineyard, helping to develop the area around Charlottesville as a true wine region. His clients include his once-employer Adventure Farm, and he recently received the Grower of the Year Award from the Virginia Vineyard Association for his contributions to the Virginia wine industry.
- Written by Jillian Broadwell