By Virginie Boone

In a year that saw Barbie dominate the box office and Taylor Swift take over the world, it’s only fitting that Sonoma County’s Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos would honor and recognize another hard-working woman, Yolanda Cruz, as its 2023 Employee of the Year.

The Employee Recognition Awards recognize vineyard employees for their leadership and talents in front of an audience of hundreds, including family members, colleagues and Congressman Mike Thompson, who has announced the Employee of the Year the last six years.

In all, 42 individuals were recognized for their work this year, including Employee of the Year Runner Up, Juan Avila of Emeritus Vineyards.

The first woman to be selected for this honor, Cruz has been part of the team at Redwood Empire Vineyard Management (REVM) for 23 years, becoming a supervisor in 2011 and formed the first all-women harvesting crew.

Her boss, Kevin Barr, the president of REVM, acknowledged how much she has inspired other women, including the next generation, including two of her own children, now following in her footsteps.

An Agriculture Science/Viticulture graduate of UC Davis, Barr founded REVM in 1983 with a Chevy truck and a dream. Soon, he had 20 clients, 30 full-time employees and 500 acres of vineyards to manage between Santa Rosa and Cloverdale, with an early dedication to sustainability and Fish-Friendly Farming.

Wife Linda joined in 1991, a fourth-generation Sonoma County farmer raised in Geyserville on a prune and pear farm and winemaker herself.

Co-owner Tyler Klick joined the team in 1997, first as a member of the grounds crew. In 2012 he led the vineyard management company to become the first to be certified sustainable in California. Three of their viticulture supervisors, Jesus Torres Martinez, Dante Guerro Ruano and Ramiro Rodriguez, have been with REVM for about 30 years.

Today, REVM farms about 1,500 acres of vineyard in Sonoma County, Mendocino, Lake and Marin and own about 700 acres. They are a full-service vineyard management company but also do vineyard development, vineyard leasing and estate development in addition to a dedicated landscaping team. They have several women-only vineyard crews amidst a staff of about 250 people a year.

In addition to being leaders in sustainability, REVM has always embraced technology and mechanization in the vineyard, particularly around water monitoring and harvesting, investing in Pellenc Harvesters to soften labor needs.

But clearly REVM couldn’t do what it does without employees like Yolanda Cruz paving the way for future generations of women to excel and be recognized. Congratulations to all.

World Ag Expo this Week

The Sonoma County Winegrowers will be at the World Ag Expo this week in Tulare with the team from John Deere. One of the largest agricultural trade shows in the world, it covers 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space, with 1,200 exhibitors.

The show’s beginnings date back to 1968, when it was known as The California Field and Row Crop Equipment Show. In 1969 it became the California Farm Equipment Show and by 1976 it had waiting lists for exhibitors, outgrowing the Tulare County Fairgrounds. Three years later it became the California Farm Equipment Show and International Exposition, reflecting the increasing interest from international exhibitors and attendees.

The year 1982 was the first to open at the International Agri-Center in Tulare, with 80 acres of exhibit space and 70 acres of parking. By 2000 that was no longer enough. The 76,000-square-feet Heritage Complex was built to house additional parts of the Ag Expo, as well as the Antique Farm Equipment Museum year-round. In 2001, it officially became the World Ag Expo.

Seminars this year cover such topics as energy, food processing, innovation, irrigation, international trade and sustainability.

Pertinent to this week’s Employee of the Year, there will also be sessions around Women in Ag, including one preparing women for leadership roles in agriculture. It seems Yolanda Cruz could offer a perspective or two.