George Donati, 2023 SLO County Agriculturalist of the Year

 2023 Agriculturalist, Cattlewoman, Cattleman of the Year named

By Paso Robles Press | Jul 20, 2023

Three local agriculture leaders honored at California Mid-State Fair

By the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau

Photos by Tom Meinhold Photography

PASO ROBLES — Local agriculture organizations recognized three San Luis Obispo County farmers and ranchers during the California Mid-State Fair’s annual Cattlemen and Farmers Day at the Paso Robles Event Center on July 20.  

The 2023 award recipients are:  

George Donati, Agriculturalist of the Year;  

Suze Evenson, CattleWoman of the Year; and  

Mike Massey, Cattleman of the Year. 


The awards were selected by members of the San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau, San Luis Obispo County CattleWomen, and San Luis Obispo County Cattlemen’s Association.  


“This is a special annual tradition for our local agriculture community dating back to 1963,” explained Farm Bureau Executive Director Brent Burchett. “These three individuals embody our proud farming and ranching heritage in San Luis Obispo County.” 

George Donati, 2023 Agriculturalist of the Year 

San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau has selected local farmer and vineyard industry leader George Donati as the 2023 Agriculturalist of the Year. 


The Agriculturalist of the Year award recognizes distinguished success in the agriculture industry and a lifetime of dedication to advancing San Luis Obispo County’s proud farming and ranching heritage.  

His 50-year career working in agriculture has been marked by advancement of the local agricultural community and service to his fellow farmers. Born in 1951 to Clarence and Nancy Donati of Santa Maria, George has five siblings, Jane, Leslie, Jim, John and Tricia. 

George Donati’s San Luis Obispo County roots run deep. Donati’s paternal great-grandparents emigrated from Switzerland to Cayucos in 1875, and the Donati family has been on the Central Coast ever since. Before becoming sheepherders and land owners in Fresno, California, Donati’s maternal great-grandfather and great-grandmother emigrated in the 1890s from Spain and France, respectively. 

George’s father and all of his brothers were farmers and ranchers. From the age of 12, George says he worked every summer on the farm. Working in agriculture from a young age would shape the trajectory of Donati’s life. “I learned to work hard growing up on the farm,” he says. “I used this work ethic in every job and position I’ve held.” 

After graduating in 1969 from St. Joseph High School in Santa Maria, Donati attended California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo majoring in Agricultural Business Management. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1974 and married his wife, Kristi, in 1975. 

Donati worked on his father’s Santa Maria farm for four years after college until he accepted a position as Vineyard Manager at Robert Johnson Farms in Madera, California in 1978. 

It was there Donati’s experience growing grapes first began. “On my first day,” George recalls, “the boss takes me out to introduce me to the workers and says, ‘George is here and he wants to run the farm, and he knows absolutely nothing about grapes.’ Then he walks away. I was just deflated when he said that, but I know why he said it. He wanted those guys to teach me, and they did.” 

Seventeen years later, Donati got the opportunity to return to the Central Coast as Vineyard Manager of Pacific Vineyard Company in 1996. He served in that role until 2019 when he became Owner and General Manager of the company, now called Pacific Coast Farming. 


Today, Pacific Coast manages nearly half of the vineyards in Edna Valley, and farms a total of 1,400 acres of wine grapes and 75 acres of citrus spanning from Lompoc to Paso Robles.  

In a 2019 profile of the SLO Coast wine region, Wine Industry Network wrote about a Donati-managed vineyard that is especially revered by winemakers, Spanish Springs Vineyard. “The farmer and manager is George Donati, who may be, from the standpoint of the wine consumer, the most profound behind-the-scenes architect of the wines of the SLO Coast.” Donati works with numerous wineries and about 30 landowners.  

In 2012, Pacific Coast Farming received the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce Green Award for its environmental stewardship, and the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance named George Donati the 2013 Wine Grape Grower of the Year.  

He is actively involved with the San Luis Obispo Groundwater Sustainability Plan process for the SLO and Edna Valley Groundwater Basins, serving as an alternate member for the Edna Valley Growers Mutual Water Company. Donati was an early leader in development of the Vineyard Team’s Sustainability in Practice (SIP)™ Certification program in 1994, and is a longtime member of Farm Bureau, SLO Coast Wine Collective, and Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance. 

Supporting and mentoring the next generation of agriculturalists has been a focus for Donati. He serves on the Wine & Viticulture Advisory Board at Cal Poly and Pacific Coast Farming manages Cal Poly’s Trestle Vineyard. Dozens of Cal Poly students have interned at Pacific Coast over the years, including Erin Amaral. Amaral got her start as an intern sugar sampling wine grape blocks in 1998. Today, she is a business partner at the company, serving as Vineyard Manager.  

“George has taught me some valuable lessons in leadership and taking care of our employees and the vineyards we manage over the years,” Amaral says. “I am so honored to have personally grown with George over my career, and I would not be where I am today without his support.”  

Donati says being recognized by the Farm Bureau and industry colleagues is an honor. “I would like to thank my wife, my family, Jim Efird and the Niven Family for giving me the opportunity at Pacific, and all the people who work with me, especially Erin Amaral and Jim McGarry.” 

George Donati has been married to his wife, Kristi, for 47 years. The Donatis have two children, son, Kory (40), and daughter, Kayla (36). Kory and his wife, Cheri, live in Clovis, California with their two sons, Brody (11) and Lucas (9). Kayla and her husband Matthew Barnes live in Orcutt, California with their 3 children Ava (11), Owen (8) and Cody (4). 

San Luis Obispo County Farm Bureau has given the Agriculturalist of the Year award annually since 1988, making Donati the 35th person to receive this honor.