The Godfather of Sustainability
Duff Bevill has been farming wine grapes in Sonoma County for over 35 years. He arrived in Dry Creek Valley in 1973 at the age of 22 for a summer job working with Joe Vogensen at his local vineyard management company. In that position, Duff became acquainted with many older farmers in Dry Creek Valley, who taught him old timers’ wisdom and self-reliance. I was in my early twenties, and I would sit in Jim Guadagni’s cellar and drink his homemade wine out of shot glasses and jelly jars. It gave me a sense of history and an appreciation for what it means to be a grape grower in this valley.”
A strong proponent and early adopter of sustainable farming, Bevill was involved in early programming with the California Association of Winegrape Growers that would become the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance in 2003. “Before the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission was formed, Nick Frey and I drove down to San Francisco to meet with CAWG and about 10 other growers to talk through sustainable practices,” says Bevill. “Once the program launched, we visited all the AVAs and helped farmers assess their own practices so they were ready when the certification programs became available for sustainability.”
“It gave me a sense of history and an appreciation for what it means to be a grape grower in this valley”
In 2014, Bevill Vineyard Management became one of the first Vineyard Management companies in Sonoma County to have 100% of their clients certified sustainable. Around that same time, he posed a question (or a challenge) to the new President of Sonoma County Winegrowers, Karissa Kruse: How can we get the Governor of California to recognize the efforts of Sonoma County growers’ sustainable practices? This question led to many discussions that ultimately culminated in the unprecedented commitment and 5-year journey for Sonoma County Winegrowers to certify 100% of vineyards in Sonoma County sustainable in 2019.
Duff has not only been a catalyst in advancing sustainable winegrowing in Sonoma County, but a tremendous supporter of our organization, community and continuing efforts to promote and protect the resources of Sonoma County grape growers for generations to come.
Duff Bevill and his wife Nancy own and lease a total of 80 acres of their own vineyards in the Dry Creek and Russian River valleys. The Bevill family lives in the heart of Dry Creek Valley, surrounded by vineyards.
Here are a few fun interview questions we asked Duff!
How many acres to do you farm?
A little over a thousand acres in Sonoma County: Healdsburg, Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley and Russian River Valley.
Where are you from?
I grew up in Southern California, North of the San Fernando Valley. I moved to Redding in the summer of ’71 and studied agriculture.
What brought you to Sonoma County?
I got a job offer in Dry Creek. I interviewed on a Wednesday and moved the following Monday.
What was Healdsburg like in the 70's when you arrived?
It was an ag town, a farming area. There was one movie theater and that was all it was. Just a convenience town for all the local farming activities around here, and had been for decades and decades.
Did you come to grow grapes or to farm in general?
I came to farm. I got a job offer. I couldn’t have named you one grape variety when I started.
When did you start your business?
In 1977 I bought a tractor and started with no employees. I drove the tractor and then eventually got a couple of people working for me.
You were a catalyst for launching Sonoma County's sustainability goal. How did that happen?
It’s funny. I was sitting on my back porch on a Saturday afternoon with a glass of wine. I was reading one of the “Ag Rags” when I said to myself, “what can Sonoma County do to get on the radar of the Governor of California?” I connected with Karissa at Sonoma County Winegrowers and that was when we came up with the goal of 100% sustainability.
Did it work?
It did! In 2016 Sonoma County won the GEELA award which is the Governor’s highest honor for environmental and economic leadership.
What has been the reaction overall to the sustainability commitment you helped create?
Now we get people from all over the world, different wine regions and industries asking us how we did it and what learning they can take with them back home to strive for similar success.