Sonoma County Winegrowers’ Commitment to Social Sustainability Reaches New Heights

SANTA ROSA, Calif.  (April 26, 2024) – 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 Ramirez                     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.