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Sonoma County Leadership Academy for Vineyard Employees Honors its Second Class of Graduates

It is thought to be the nation’s only program for vineyard workers intended to create future leaders in their industry and community. “It” is the Sonoma County Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos’ Leadership Academy and it held its second annual graduation ceremony yesterday to honor 20 local vineyard employees.

The Academy does not teach new farming skills. Instead, it focuses on introducing, developing, and advancing vital skills needed for vineyard employees to become future leaders in the wine industry and local community.

“Our goal is to create future business and community leaders. This is why the leadership academy has quickly been recognized as one of the nation’s premier programs to provide opportunities for all people to learn, connect and lead our industry in the years to come,” 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, “In fact, the program’s two graduating classes will be traveling to Washington, D.C., at the invitation of Congressman Mike Thompson and attend a reception hosted by the Congressional Wine Caucus.”

For any sustainable business, particularly a family-owned business, to be successful, new opportunities must be created for employees to learn, connect, and lead in the years ahead. This was part of the inspiration for Sonoma County’s winegrape growers when they launched the nation’s first Leadership Academy for vineyard employees two years ago.

The Academy provides participants with a unique opportunity to learn about a host of topics taught during the eight-month program including financial literacy, conflict resolution, community resources, communications, wine production and more to provide critical professional development. The Academy courses are offered in both English and Spanish to ensure the content is understood and questions can be asked and answered. Each year, candidates for the program are nominated by their employers and go through a selection process. Each class size is limited to 20 participants to ensure a good experience and an opportunity for individuals to freely ask questions and to build a professional network.

“From the beginning, we have sought to make this the most meaningful leadership program in U.S. agriculture. There is nothing more gratifying than to see the Academy participants grow personally and professionally in front of our eyes,” said Duff Bevill, chairman of the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation’s board of directors. He added, “The sky is the limit for each of these graduates.  Most importantly, our winegrape growing community is committed to continue to support our skilled agricultural workforce and their families for years to come.”

Next month, vineyard employees from the first and second classes of the  Sonoma County Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos’ Leadership Academy are headed to Washington, D.C. to attend the annual Congressional Wine Caucus reception at the invitation of Congressman Thompson and flying there courtesy of Alaska Airlines.

“The relationship between Sonoma County winegrape growers and their vineyard employees helps make our wine region one of the best in the world. Through the Leadership Academy and the many other programs offered by the Foundation, it is clear that the Sonoma County winegrowers are putting their employees first and helping them succeed,” said Congressman Mike Thompson. He added, “I am looking forward to welcoming this outstanding group of vineyard workers to Washington, D.C. and thanking them for their incredible work on behalf of our community.”

The 2023 Leadership Academy graduates are:

Roberto Alvarez, Sangiacomo Family Vineyards
Jose Elias Avila, Lynmar Estate
Pedro Cabrera, St. Francis Winery
Guadalupe Cespedes, Redwood Empire Vineyard Management
Cirilo Contreras, Martinelli Vineyard Management
Jose Ventura Vieyra Garcia, Cornerstone Certified Vineyard
Jaime Guerrero, Dutton Ranch
Jose Guzman, Robert Young Vineyards
Manuel Hernandez, Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards
Maria Hernandez, Bevill Vineyard Management
Anelly Reyes Jimenez, Cornerstone Certified Vineyard
Juan Lara, Munselle Vineyards
Ricardo Morales Lucas, Sangiacomo Family Vineyards
Jose Martinez, Dutton Ranch
Oscar Meza, Bevill Vineyard Management
Ramon Murillo, Vino Farms
Pablo Ruano, Redwood Empire Vineyard Management
Jose Saldana, Jordan Vineyard & Winery
Sal Jimenez Sandoval, Vino Farms
Isidro Vigil, Atlas Vineyard Management

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.

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