Building A Russian River Legacy
Jim Pratt, owner of Cornerstone Certified Vineyard has been farming grapes in Sonoma County since 1980. After graduating from Humboldt State University with a degree in botany, Jim moved to Sonoma County looking for the next step in his career. With his obvious interest in agriculture, a friend recommended he consider the nursery business. Jim got in contact with Richard Kunde, Owner of Sonoma Grapevine Nursery and a leader in local agriculture, and they hit if off instantly. Jim went to work with Richard where he produced grafted grapevines and rootings for the wine industry.
While working for Rich, Jim planted his first vineyard on Irwin Lane in 1988 from land he leased from the Sanchietti Family, another local farming family that has been rooted in Sonoma County for generations. He went on to plant 12 acres of registered increase block rootstock rootings and 6 acres of wine grapes, including Merlot that Rich Kunde gave him to help him get started.
Jim left the nursery business in 1998 to concentrate on his own vineyards and start a vineyard management company. Today, Jim owns and operates Cornerstone Certified Vineyard, where he farms his own wine grapes, produces rootstock and offers vineyard management services. Jim’s wife Kristy is also involved in the business where she assists with major financial and personnel decisions.
Cornerstone manages approximately 200 acres of vineyards in addition to those on the estate. Most of these are located in the Russian River Valley, Green Valley and Sonoma Coast and include Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot and Viognier. All vineyards managed by Cornerstone are certified sustainable under California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) and Jim has expressed that the process of the sustainability audit has been a huge benefit for monitoring success, quantifying results, and being able to demonstrate the best practices for sustainability. He believes setting standards for sustainability has been a huge success both for his business and for Sonoma County.
“If they do decide to continue the business, we would of course support and help with that”
In the early days of starting his business, Jim Pratt was single and had not yet started his family. His plan then was to build the business to eventually sell. Today, those plans have changed as Jim and Kristy raise their three children, including twin 11-year-old boys, and daughter Ashton, at college in Southern California. The family now thinks about succession planning; and although the boys just want to ride ATVs for moment, they want their children to have the option to carry on the family business, should it be a career that appeals to them, “If they do decide to continue the business, we would of course support and help with that,” said Jim. As many winegrowers do, Jim has dabbled in making his own wine. In 2005, when the vineyard produced excess Merlot, Jim made a wine he called “Irwin Lane,” which he made for two vintages. Today, he and Kristy are thinking of starting a Pratt Family Vineyards label, with Pinot Noir from their Sebastopol vineyard.
Jim has been an active supporter of Sonoma County’s social sustainability efforts, including the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation (SCGGF). In February, SCGGF proudly named Cornerstone’s Operations Supervisor, Jose Cervantes – a 25-year veteran of the company – as it’s 2019 Employee of the Year. The Pratt Family was on hand to celebrate the occasion, of course.
During our conversation, we asked Jim a couple of fun questions:
What is your favorite part of farming and why?
Being able to work outside and work the land with like-minded crew and other farmers.
Do you farm anything other than grapes?
Yes! We have 15 acres of winegrape rootstock over in Vacaville, in a CA Registered Increase Block.
If you weren't a farmer, what other career path would you have chosen?
If I hadn’t met Rich Kunde right out of college and gone to work from him, I would have gone back to school for my teaching credential. Or, applied to the National Park Service.
What is your favorite wine varietal?
To drink or to farm? Let’s do both.
To drink, my favorite red wine is Pinot Noir and my favorite white wine is Sauvignon Blanc.
To grow, !#**^@! Merlot!