News was being delivered throughout the day at the newly named Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos’ 5th annual Vineyard Employee Recognition Celebration. Acknowledged as one of the most innovative and prestigious awards in the winegrape industry, the Employee Recognition award salutes the accomplishments, talent and leadership of vineyard employees who contribute greatly to making Sonoma County a world-renowned wine region and sustainability leader. This year’s event was held at Saralee and Richard’s Barn at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in front 380 people including vineyard employees, their families, grape growers and community leaders.
“The Employee Recognition event is my favorite of the year because we publicly honor our valued employees in front of their families and peers,” said Karissa Kruse, president and chief executive officer of the Sonoma County Winegrowers and executive director of the Sonoma County Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos. She added, “The relationship between Sonoma County winegrowers and vineyard employees is unique and the Employee Recognition program embodies that special relationship.”
The big news of the day was delivered by Congressman Mike Thompson in a taped address played for the crowd. He announced Jose Aceves, a 54-year employee at Dutton Ranch, was the 2022 Sonoma County Vineyard Employee of the Year and Jose Guadalupe Nuñez, a 35-year employee at Bevill Vineyard Management, was the Employee of the Year Runner-up.
Aceves began working at Dutton Ranch in 1969 when he joined his best friend from childhood, Juan Sanchez, the 2020 Vineyard Employee of the Year, to begin working in the family farm’s vineyards and apple orchards. During his 54 years working for Dutton Ranch, he has handled every job with skill and expertise from tending to the vineyard, to driving tractors, to foreman and now supervisor. He has shown many of his colleagues how to farm and even taught Joe and Steve Dutton how to drive tractors when they were young boys. Jose has always been willing to help others and to do whatever was needed to get the job done. Of note, Jose’s only son, Jose De Jesus Aceves, grew up on Dutton Ranch and is now the Human Resources manager for the family-owned Dutton Ranch business.
“Jose’s commitment to Dutton Ranch and his talent have made him a vital contributor to our success as a family business,” said Steve Dutton, president and co-owner of Dutton Ranch. He added, “Even after 54 years, during harvest, Jose is the first one here in the morning and the last to leave making sure our apples and grapes are delivered on time. Dutton Ranch would not be as successful without Jose’s dedication and expertise all these years. We grew up with Jose. He is part of our family.”
Runner up Jose Guadalupe Nuñez, or “Don Gualo” as he is called by his family, friends and co-workers, went to work for Bevill Vineyard Management in 1988. Over the past three-plus decades, Nuñez has demonstrated a true passion for farming. Not only does Jose share his experience and wisdom in the vineyards with his colleagues, but he also prepares, tends and harvests the Bevill employee garden each year. Nuñez is so valued that the company dedicated its newest workspace as the “Jose ‘Don Gualo’ Nuñez’ Conference Room” complete with a plaque recognizing Jose’s many contributions.
“Don Gualo constantly displays teamwork and is always ready to help any and all who need it,” said Duff Bevill, managing partner at Bevill Vineyard Management. He added, “His dedication to his craft is inspiring to all of us and I consider it an honor to have him on our team. We were excited to dedicate our new workspace to him and now he has also been recognized as a leader in the broader Sonoma County ag community. Don Gualo deserves all of this and more.”
The Employee Recognition Celebration also paid tribute to 49 additional women and men who excel at farming in Sonoma County as “Employees of the Month.” These individuals are hands-on in growing Sonoma County’s famed sustainable winegrapes and were recognized monthly during the past year. Throughout the year, monthly winners receive gift cards as well as recognition in the local community through advertisements, social posts and articles recognizing their success.
All employees working in Sonoma County agriculture for a vineyard owner, vineyard management company or winery, are eligible for the Employee Recognition awards. Employers nominate individuals each month throughout the year to recognize their skills, achievements and exceptional performance in a variety of areas including leadership, innovation, safety, frost protection, conservation, pruning, canopy management and harvest.
Finally, it was announced that the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation has changed its name and will now be called the Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos which translates to Voice of the Vineyards.
In late 2022, alumni members of the first class of the Foundation’s Leadership Academy were asked to brainstorm new names for the charitable organization that would best represent them and the work they do as vineyard employees. The name change, after 20 years, should better recognize the foundation’s evolving mission and singular purpose to elevate and support vineyard employees and their families. The name should reflect them and their contribution. “Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos” was recommended by Jose Cervantes, a vineyard employee from Cornerstone Certified Vineyard and the 2019 Employee of the Year, and was selected by the alumni group. His suggestion inspired conversation and excitement from the other members of the Leadership Academy who felt that the name represented them, their families, their peers and their desire to be a voice for the wine and ag community. From there, the recommended name was brought to the Foundation’s board of directors which enthusiastically approved renaming the organization, “Sonoma County Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos.”
According to Cervantes, the Leadership Academy alum, “It was an honor to be included in this process and to be able to give our recommendations to the Foundation for the renaming. The new name represents what we do and that we have a voice.”
The Sonoma County Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos is the only non-profit in Sonoma County whose sole mission is to support vineyard employees and their families. It was first established in 2002 by local winegrape growers to help fund education workshops in Spanish. Relaunched in 2016, it expanded its focus to include improving the lives of Sonoma County’s agricultural employees and their families to ensure the region remains a place where they can continue to live, work and thrive. Following the devastating wildfires of 2017, 2019 and 2020, the organization established its Vineyard Employee Resiliency Fund, which has provided more than $2 million in support to more than 1,500 agricultural employees with temporary housing, rent support and gift cards to purchase household items, food and essential supplies. Today the foundation remains a committed employee resource but has focused its programming on initiatives that elevate the workforce including its flagship Leadership Academy.
“The Foundation has always focused on improving the lives of our region’s agricultural employees and their families by providing a helping hand with innovative programs and outreach specific to our community including during the floods earlier this year,” said Kruse. She added, “This is a great day for Sonoma County as we are excited to share our new name with the community as it truly reflects the purpose and essence of the organization from those who know it best and to honor our talented vineyard employees for everyone to learn about and appreciate.”
About Sonoma County Winegrowers:
Sonoma County Winegrowers (SCW), was established in 2006, evolving from the Sonoma County Grape Growers Association, which was first launched in 1983 by local grape growers inspired to work together to elevate the region. SCW is a marketing and educational organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of Sonoma County as one of the world’s premier grape growing regions. With more than 1,800 growers, SCW’s goal is to increase awareness and recognition of the quality, sustainability and diversity of Sonoma County’s grapes and wines through dynamic marketing and educational programs targeted to wine consumers and influencers around the world. In 2014, Sonoma County’s winegrowing community embarked on a major initiative to have all Sonoma County vineyards certified sustainable. Today, 99% of the vineyard acreage in Sonoma County has completed certification by a third-party auditor making Sonoma County the most sustainable winegrowing region in the world. In addition, in 2020, SCW became the exclusive pilot partner for the California Land Stewardship’s Climate Adaptation Certification. In 2022, SCW began envisioning a Farm of the Future which it officially introduced in 2023. SCW’s sustainability efforts have been recognized with California’s highest environmental honor, the 2016 Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA). Learn more at www.sonomawinegrape.org.
About the Sonoma County Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos:
Originally called the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation (SCGGF), Sonoma County Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos was first established in 2002 as a 501(c)(3) organization to help fund educational workshops in Spanish for agricultural employees. Relaunched in January of 2016, the Fundación is focused on improving the lives of Sonoma County’s agricultural employees and their families, while ensuring Sonoma County remains a place where agricultural workers will continue to live, work, and thrive. In 2022, the first class of the Leadership Academy met to brainstorm names for the Foundation which would best represent them and the work they do. They selected Sonoma County Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos. Since its relaunch in 2016, the Sonoma County Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos has continuously proven it has a unique model of outreach and support, recognizing and relying on the trusted relationship that farmers have with their employees. The Sonoma County Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos collaborates with various community-based organizations and agencies to identify existing resources, leverage available support, and create new programs to assist local agricultural employees and their families. This includes a focus on leadership, empowerment & recognition, resiliency, workforce development and being a trusted resource. The Fundación is managed by the Sonoma County Winegrowers with a 16-member board of directors comprised of agricultural leaders, vineyard and winery owners, and Sonoma County community leaders.