Yolanda Cruz, of Redwood Empire Vineyard Management, Named Top Employee as Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos Recognizes 42 of the Best Vineyard Employees

Sonoma County’s wine community has a long, rich history of women winegrowers, winemakers, winery owners, executives, and industry leaders. This past weekend, it has added to that legacy with the announcement by the Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos that it has chosen Yolanda Cruz, of Redwood Empire Vineyard Management (REVM), as Sonoma County’s Vineyard Employee of the Year, marking the first time a woman has been selected for the prestigious award which was established six years ago.

Yolanda has been an integral part of the REVM team for twenty-three years. She made history in 2011 when she became a supervisor and pioneered the formation of the local wine community’s first all-women harvesting crew. Her ability to lead and inspire has made her crew one of the most popular and sought-after crews. Two of her children now work with her at REVM.

“Everyone working at our company is so excited to see Yolanda being recognized and celebrated,” said Kevin Barr, president of REVM. He added, “She has empowered so many other women throughout Sonoma County and takes such joy in sharing her experience and wisdom with the next generation. She is an inspiration for all of us.”

Juan Avila, a vineyard supervisor at Emeritus Vineyards, was selected as the 2023 Employee of the Year Runner Up. Juan has worked for Emeritus Vineyards for 23 years and has worked a total of 31 years in the Sonoma County viticulture community.

The sixth annual Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos’ Employee Recognition Celebration honored 42 vineyard employees for their talents, accomplishments, and leadership. The Employee Recognition Awards are considered one of the most prestigious awards in the winegrape industry. This year’s event was held at the Mary Agatha Furth Center in Windsor in front of a crowd of more than 300 people which included vineyard employees, their families, grape growers, and community leaders. Once again, Congressman Mike Thompson addressed the group and announced the Employee of the Year as he has done for the past six years.

“The Employee Recognition awards are so special for all of us in the local winegrowing community as we come together to honor and thank our valued employees in front of their families and peers,” said Karissa Kruse, president and chief executive officer of the Sonoma County Winegrowers and executive director of the Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos. She added, “The relationship between the vineyard employees and winegrowers in Sonoma County is built on mutual trust and respect which is so evident not only at this event but every day of the year. That is why both Yolanda Cruz and Juan Avila have each worked for their employers for more than twenty years.”

Juan Avila is primarily responsible for overseeing Emeritus Vineyards’ Pinot Hill vineyard which consistently produces some of the highest quality pinot noir grapes due to his vine oversight and daily activities focused on producing superior grapes. He is a sought-after mentor for all his fellow employees.  He shares his experience and expertise on how to prune, leaf, thin and more. He is team focused and believes each person is integral to the success of the team. He is known to work side-by-side with employees to help them grow and succeed. Juan also helps manage the employee gardens which provide fresh, nutritious food for all employees at Emeritus Vineyards.

This year’s Employee Recognition Celebration also paid tribute to 40 additional men and women who excel at farming in Sonoma County. These individuals were recognized during the past year as “Employees of the Month” for their skills and leadership ingrowing Sonoma County’s renowned sustainable winegrapes. Throughout the year, the Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos presents gift cards and recognition in the local community through advertisements, social posts and articles saluting the employees of the month and their success.

All employees working in Sonoma County agriculture for a vineyard owner, vineyard management company, or winery are eligible for the Employee Recognition awards. Employers nominate individuals each month throughout the month to recognize exceptional performance in a variety of areas including leadership, innovation, safety, frost protection, conservation, pruning, canopy management and harvest.

A special thank you to this year’s Employee Recognition Celebration sponsors: Zenith Agribusiness Solutions, Bahco, and Martinez Orchards. And congratulations to all of our employee award winners and their families.

The Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos is the only non-profit in Sonoma County whose sole mission is to support vineyard employees and their families. It was first established in 2002by local winegrape growers to help fund education workshops in Spanish. Relaunched in 2016, it expanded its focus to include improving the lives of Sonoma County’s agricultural employees and their families to ensure the region remains a place where they can continue to live, work and thrive. Following the devastating wildfires of 2017, 2019 and 2020, the organization established its Vineyard Employee Resiliency Fund, which has provided more than $2 million in support to more than 1,500 agricultural employees with temporary housing, rent support and gift cards to purchase household items, food and essential supplies. Today, the Foundation remains a committed employee resource but has focused its programming on initiatives that elevate the workforce including its nationally recognized Leadership Academy.

First Woman Honored as Sonoma County’s Vineyard Employee of the Year

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.

First Woman Honored as Sonoma County’s Vineyard Employee of the Year

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