Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos’ Leadership Academy Members Share Their Stories with Congressional Leaders

SANTA ROSA, Calif. (July 10, 2024) – In what is being described as a “trip of a lifetime,” seventeen vineyard employees – all members of the Sonoma County Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos’ (Voice of the Vineyards) Leadership Academy –  just spent four days in Washington, D.C., which culminated in being the featured guests of the Congressional Wine Caucus, hosted by Congressman Mike Thompson and Sonoma County Winegrowers, where they met numerous Congressional Members including Speaker Emerita, Nancy Pelosi.

The seventeen vineyard employees represent the third graduating class of the Sonoma County Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos’ Leadership Academy, the nation’s only leadership program specifically for vineyard employees.   The Leadership 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, healthcare, and wine appreciation.  This year marks the third graduating class of the Leadership Academy to visit Washington, D.C., as guests of local Congressman Thompson and with the gift of flight provided by Alaska Airlines.“This trip to Washington was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I never thought I would be able to see and experience such a famous city,” said Antonio Lozioda, an employee at Dutton Ranch, where he started as a field worker thirty-nine years ago and has worked his way up to crop protection supervisor.  He added, “I appreciate the Foundation and especially the Sonoma County Winegrowers for giving me this chance and experience.”

While in Washington, the Leadership Academy met and visited with California Senator Alex Padilla’s staff, toured the Capitol, including a visit to the House Gallery, attended a Ways and Means subcommittee hearing, toured the area’s monuments and met with Congressman Thompson and his staff.

“The visit to Washington has become the capstone of our Leadership Academy and provides an unprecedented opportunity for Sonoma County vineyard employees to share their stories and experiences directly to members of Congress.  This makes a huge impression in the halls of Congress and fosters an environment to further network and build friendships within the Leadership class,” 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, “Thanks to the leadership of Congressman Mike Thompson, the generosity of Alaska Airlines, and the support of vineyard employers, we were able to come back to witness the impact that seeing and experiencing our nation’s history has on our class members which makes this program so impactful.  These memories will last a lifetime and have a generational impact on their families.”

The highpoint of the visit was attending the Congressional Wine Caucus Reception where the Leadership Academy Class mixed and mingled with members of Congress and shared Sonoma County’s amazing wines that their hard work helps to produce. For the second consecutive year, Speaker Emerita, Nancy Pelosi attended the reception and greeted the Leadership Academy class.  The class was able to share with her and others their experiences in the vineyard and their hopes for the future.

“You can’t produce world-class wine without world-class vineyard employees, and this year’s Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos’ Leadership Academy class demonstrates just that. It was an honor to welcome these outstanding leaders to our nation’s capital to represent the Sonoma wine community. I am already looking forward to hosting our next class of vineyard employees in Washington in 2025,” said Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-04).Like Congressman Thompson, Alaska Airlines has played an equally critical role in making the trip to Washington possible for every Leadership Academy class through its ‘Gift of Travel.’ The airline provided a wonderful flight experience for the Leadership Academy members, many who had never flown before.

“Alaska Air is proud to be a partner of the Sonoma County Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos’ Leadership Academy to ensure every Leadership Academy member can make the trip at no cost of their own,” said David Tucker, Alaska Airlines’ managing director for California Public Affairs.  He added, “The Leadership Academy is key to transforming lives and we hope this gift of travel helps this group in their journey to becoming leaders in Sonoma County.”

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 2002 by 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. 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.

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 Andrade                       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 (Voice of the Vineyards).  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 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. 


John Segale | 916.600.1081