Due to the ongoing pandemic, Sonoma County winegrowers gathered around their laptops and computer screens to review the organization’s efforts last year and learn about the future direction from the Sonoma County Winegrowers’ president, Karissa Kruse, as the 30st annual Dollars and $ense Seminar and Trade Show went virtual for the first time Thursday morning. Additional speakers included Ray Isle, Executive Wine Editor from Food & Wine magazine; Glenn Proctor from Ciatti Co.; Danny Brager, Brager Beverage Alcohol Consulting; Peggy Gsell, of Nielsen and several breakout session speakers.
In recent years, this event has generated significant wine industry news and the 2021 meeting did not disappoint. Kruse used this year’s forum to announce that the organization will be establishing the nation’s first innovation accelerator for the wine industry to encourage, collaborate and assist in the development and creation of both short-term and long-term vineyard resiliency solutions.
Known as Sonoma VITS (Vineyard Innovation Through Science), this effort builds upon the reputation of Sonoma County Winegrowers as a global leader in sustainability and climate adaptation while meeting the objectives of the industry’s 100-year business plan to preserve local agriculture. Sonoma County is the nation’s first 100% certified sustainable wine region and Sonoma County Winegrowers (SCW) is the exclusive participant in the California Land Stewardship’s Climate Adaptation Certification Program which is the world’s first program of its kind for agriculture.
“Think of it as ‘Shark Tank’ comes to Sonoma Wine Country. We want to motivate creative solutions to the various challenges facing our industry now and in the future such as water use, habitat protection, climate adaptation and more,” said Kruse. She added, “This is our ‘man to the moon’ call to action to leverage the best thinking from all innovators. Those companies or individuals with the best ideas will present to an advisory group who as ‘sharks,’ will decide whether our organization will partner in their company and match winning proposals with local growers.”
Sonoma VITS will serve as a bridge among the scientific, technology and innovation communities and local winegrape growers to encourage and develop the best ideas that will benefit the region’s vineyards, wineries, and residents for years to come. The advantage of this cutting-edge effort will encourage the best thinking and creative ideas that will help Sonoma County grape growers pursue a path forward, providing real solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing the industry in the years to come. The first “pitch day” will be this summer.
Sonoma VITS is the next initiative of Sonoma County’s Center for Ag Sustainability, which was established to problem solve and develop new, fresh ideas that will advance farming not only in Sonoma County, but may also revolutionize grape growing and the larger wine industry across the globe.
Kruse also took time on Thursday to update the audience on the organization’s additional activities for the year ahead.
Three years ago, SCW launched a “sustainably farmed grapes” label and followed this with a region first of using augmented reality to tell consumers the story of sustainability. In 2021, the label and augmented reality will be expanded.
Also, this year, Sonoma County Winegrowers will continue to build on its popular Millennial Ambassador program which coordinates more than 175 local contacts throughout the country who serve as local influencers on behalf of Sonoma County.
Kruse also took time to update the audience on the ongoing efforts of the Sonoma County Grape Grower Foundation which is the only non-profit in Sonoma County that solely serves the region’s farmworkers. Among its many activities this year, the Foundation will conduct four listening sessions with local farm workers and their families to ensure the Foundation is working to meet the needs of the community.
The event ended with the virtual awarding of the Nick Frey Community Contribution Award which was presented to a group of individuals and and organizations who went above and beyond in a challenging year to support local grape growers and farmworkers.
The honorees were Ag Health Benefits Alliance; American AgCredit; Atlas Vineyard Management; Bahco; Casa Cristal Nursery, Inc.; Comcast NBCUniversal Foundation; Dave Martinelli of Tolay Vista Vineyards; Dutton Ranch; Exchange Bank; George Petersen Insurance; Grow West; Hinkle Charitable Foundation; Judy Jordan; Judy Newman through the Robert F. Ford Charitable Foundation; Kaiser Permanente Northern California Community Benefit Programs; Peterson Cat; Rodney Strong Wine Estates; Sherry and Pete Swayne; Silicon Valley Bank; Sonoma Clean Power; Sonoma County Vintners Foundation; Vineyard Industry Products; Wilbur-Ellis; Wonderful Nurseries; and The Zenith Agribusiness Solutions.
About Sonoma County Winegrowers:
The Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, also known as Sonoma County Winegrowers (SCW), was established in 2006 as a marketing and educational organization dedicated to the promotion and preservation of Sonoma County as one of the world’s premier grape growing regions. SCW has oversight by California Department of Food and Agriculture which supports producer regions. With more than 1,800 growers, SCW’s goal is to increase awareness and recognition of the quality and diversity of Sonoma County’s grapes and wines through dynamic marketing and educational programs targeted to wine consumers around the world.
In January 2014, SCW committed to becoming the nation’s first 100% sustainable winegrowing region in 2019. As of September 2019, 99% of the vineyard acreage in Sonoma County has completed certification by a third-party auditor making Sonoma County the most sustainable wine region in the world. 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