Home Industry News Economics Congressional Wine Caucus Invites Sonoma County Leadership Academy to Washington Reception

Congressional Wine Caucus Invites Sonoma County Leadership Academy to Washington Reception

The members of the third class of the Sonoma County Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos’ Leadership Academy were surprised to learn Thursday afternoon that they will soon be leaving for Washington, D.C., to attend the Congressional Wine Caucus as guests of Congressman Mike Thompson.  They will be traveling to the nation’s capital courtesy of Alaska Airlines’ ‘Gift of Flight’ for the June event, the remaining costs are paid by the Foundation primarily through the generosity of local grape growers.

“Producing world-class wine starts with a world-class agricultural workforce. That’s what makes the Leadership Academy’s work so important — it empowers Sonoma County vineyard employees, expands our workforce, and trains our leaders of tomorrow,” said Congressman Thompson.  He added, “My colleagues and I look forward to welcoming the outstanding leaders of the Vineyard Employee Leadership Academy to Washington, D.C. to advocate for agriculture and share our great wine region with others.”

Launched in 2022, the Sonoma County Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos’ (Voice of the Vineyard) Leadership Academy is the nation’s first and only leadership program specifically for vineyard employees.  The Academy does not teach new farming skills.  Instead, the focus is on introducing, developing, and advancing vital skills needed for vineyard employees to become future leaders in the wine industry and local community.  Topics taught during the eight-month program include sustainability, financial literacy, conflict resolution, communications, human resources, education, disaster preparedness, health care and wine appreciation.  Given that all the Academy participants primarily speak Spanish, the courses are taught with interpreters present to ensure the content is understood and any questions can be asked and answered.

“Given our commitment to social sustainability, we were intent on creating the best leadership program of its kind.  So, to witness the growth of the past participants as they become our future business and community leaders is both gratifying and amazing,” said Karissa Kruse, executive director of the Sonoma County Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos’ and CEO of the Sonoma County Winegrowers.  She added, “Last year, our Leadership Academy members were shaking hands with Nancy Pelosi and other Congressional members while sharing their story of working in Sonoma County’s vineyards.  They made a huge impression on the Wine Caucus members which is why Congressman Thompson invited the next graduating class.”

The success of the Leadership Academy speaks volumes about the benefit of the program.  More than 50% of the graduates from the first two Leadership Academy have taken on new responsibilities at work since they graduated.  One-third of the graduates have received promotions.  Every graduate of the first two classes have become mentors to the current Leadership Academy participants.  Just as important, the employers of the Leadership Academy graduates have noted that their employees possess more confidence, demonstrate stronger leadership skills and have become better at teaching, communicating and supervising.  Traveling to Washington. D.C., and meeting Congressional leaders, as the past two classes have, is a big part of the growth process for participants.

Alaska Airlines also took to the podium to announce the airline is donating flights from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., for every Leadership Academy participant to make the trip and attend the reception.  For many of the participants, this will be their first trip on a plane, their first visit to Washington, and their first opportunity to meet with congressional members.

“As a proud partner with the Sonoma County Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos Leadership Academy, Alaska Airlines is excited to provide memorable moments for the leadership class through our gift of travel to Washington, D.C., where they will share their stories with members of Congress,” said David Tucker, Managing Director, California Public Affairs, for Alaska Airlines.  He added, “From the vineyard to our nation’s capital, I can only imagine what’s in store for them next!”

The 2024 Leadership Academy participants are:

Name:                           Employer:                               Years with Company:
Jesus Garcia                           Bevill Vineyard Management                              15
Sacramento Ortiz                  Cornerstone Certified Vineyard                          23
Amelia Lopez                         Cornerstone Certified Vineyard                            3
Antonio Lozoida                    Dutton Ranch                                                          31
Miguel Carmona                    Dutton Ranch                                                         38
Juan Avila                               Emeritus Vineyards                                               24
Misael Patino                         Joseph Phelps Vineyards                                        5
Jaime Salgado                        Lynmar Estate                                                          5
Valerio Ruiz                            Martinelli Winery                                                   31
Luis Martinez                         Mauritson Farms                                                    16
Inocencio Vargas                   Munselle Vineyards                                                12
Maribel Morales                    Munselle Vineyards                                                  5
Gustavo Gonzalez                  Redwood Empire Vineyard Management           5
Ermelando Gaytan                Sangiacomo Family Vineyards                              9
Jorge Andrade                       Skipstone                                                                   17
Joaquin Andrade                  Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards                                       3
Jose Antonio Villagomez     Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards                                     14
Juan Ruiz                                St. Francis Winery                                                   10
Amadeo Lopez                       St. Francis Winery                                                   16
Elias Alvarez                          Vino Farms                                                                24

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 healthcare, affordable housing, childcare, education, recovery and resiliency, and workforce development.  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.

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