Local Vineyard Workforce Heading to Washington, D.C., to Attend Congressional Wine Caucus and Meet Congressional Leaders

SANTA ROSA, Calif.  (May 19, 2023) – As wine lovers, growers, vintners, sommeliers, and local dignitaries gathered for the Chef Matt Horn Barbeque at Dutton Ranch to kick off this year’s Healdsburg Wine & Food Experience, some big news was made by Congressman Mike Thompson and Alaska Airlines that received a rousing ovation from the crowd.

Vineyard employees from the first and second classes of the  Sonoma County Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos’ Leadership Academy were in attendance and were surprised to learn they are headed to Washington, D.C. this July to attend the annual Congressional Wine Caucus reception as guests of Congressman Thompson and traveling free courtesy of Alaska Airlines.

“The relationship between Sonoma County winegrape growers and their vineyard employees helps make our wine region one of the best in the world. There are several programs that help cultivate this relationship and provide opportunity for our vineyard employees to learn and grow. Between the Foundation, the Resiliency Fund, and the Leadership Academy, it is clear that the Sonoma County Winegrowers are putting their employees first and helping them succeed,” said Congressman Mike Thompson. “I am looking forward to welcoming this outstanding group of vineyard workers to Washington, D.C. and thanking them for their incredible work on behalf of our community.”

Alaska Airlines also took to the podium to announce the airline is donating flights from San Francisco to Washington, D.C. for every Academy participant to make the trip and attend the reception.  For many of the Academy participants, this will be their first trip on a plane, their first visit to Washington, and their first opportunity to meet and converse with congressional members to share their story about growing grapes and working in Sonoma County agriculture.

“We know the importance of a diverse and inclusive workforce; it’s one of our own priorities here at Alaska,” said Eric Edge, Alaska’s managing director of marketing & advertising. “When we learned about the trip to Washington, we wanted to make sure Leadership Academy members could get there at no cost of their own. We know that travel can be the key to transforming lives. Alaska Airlines hopes this gift of travel helps this group in their journey to becoming leaders in Sonoma County.”

Now in its second year, the innovative year-long program, Leadership Academy, meets eight times between February and July for half day classes.  Each cohort class consists of 15-25 participants who work in the vineyards and  are nominated by their employers who are either vineyard owners or vineyard management companies.  The employers pay their employees as they participate in the Learning Academy.

The Learning Academy does not teach new farming skills, but, instead, focuses on advancing the skills needed for vineyard employees to be promoted into leadership roles within their organization or their community.  The topics, taught by local subject matter experts and professionals, include topics such as financial literacy, communications, leadership, wine production, sustainability and more. The Leadership Academy supports the bigger mission of the foundation which is to be a resource for the vineyard workforce and elevate their experience, their leadership, and their voice.

“From day one, our goal has been to make the Leadership Academy the most prestigious program of its kind in all of agriculture.  We want to empower these future leaders with the skills and experience they need to lead our community and our industry,” said Karissa Kruse, president and CEO of the Sonoma County Winegrowers and Executive Director of Sonoma County Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos.  She added, “We are so thankful for Congressman Thompson and Alaska Airlines to make this trip both possible and unforgettable. This is a life-changing opportunity!”

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