Hundreds gathered Saturday in Santa Rosa to honor Jose Aceves, a 54-year veteran of Dutton Ranch, as Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation’s Vineyard Employee of the Year.

Surrounded by a jubilant rally of nearly 400 colleagues, family and friends, Jose Aceves — a 54-year vineyard employee at Dutton Ranch in Sebastopol — received the most prestigious title among Sonoma County’s vineyard workforce: Vineyard Employee of the Year.

Presented Saturday by the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation at its annual Employee Recognition Celebration at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds, the award recognizes Aceves’ unwavering dedication and invaluable contributions to Dutton Ranch, where he’s worked since 1969 — the same year co-owner Joe Dutton was born.

Jose Guadalupe Nunez, an esteemed, 35-year employee at Bevill Vineyard Management in Healdsburg, was selected as runner-up.

“This is our absolute favorite event of the year,” said Karissa Kruse, president of Sonoma County Winegrowers and executive director of the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation. “There is such incredible energy in the air because the nominees often invite their extended family to attend. There is a real sense of pride and camaraderie among everyone there.”

This marks the fifth year the foundation has selected a Vineyard Employee of the Year and the second time it’s named a runner-up. Kruse said choosing just one winner can be difficult given the region’s outstanding vineyard workforce.

“Employee recognition is incredibly valuable because it shows people how much they’re appreciated — not just in the vineyard, but in the community,” said Kruse. “Sonoma County would not be a successful, vibrant wine community or a leader in sustainability without our agriculture workforce. Without them, we are nothing.”

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