This month 31 graduates of the Voz de los Viñedos’ (Voice of the Vineyard) Leadership Academy were honored in Washington D.C.. Congressman Mike Thompson helped to organize the event and Alaska Airlines provided the ‘gift of flight.’ The Mexican-American vineyard leaders are all from Sonoma County where, collectively, they represent more than 200 years of expertise in farming some of the most prestigious vineyards in America.
“I was honored to welcome Sonoma County’s Fundación de la Voz de los Viñedos’ Leadership Academy to our nation’s Capital,” stated Thompson. “They are the heart of our wine community and my colleagues, and I was impressed with the leadership skills they have honed over the last year.”
Because these 31 men and women are already deeply skilled in viticulture, the Leadership Academy doesn’t teach farming skills. Instead the 8-month program focuses on teaching critical skills, such as finance, communication, conflict resolution, human resources and disaster preparedness. In this way the vineyard employees can become future leaders in the wine industry and community.
“When I started in the Leadership Academy, I felt like a puzzle piece in a bag,” stated Ricardo Corona, a 2022 Leadership Academy graduate who works at Munselle Vineyards. “As time went by, I started to finish the puzzle, and now I am much better prepared at work and as a person.”
While in Washington D.C., the vineyard leaders had the opportunity to attend the Congressional Wine Caucus, tour the White House, and meet with some Members of Congress. Nancy Pelosi greeted them, and they were able to share with her and others their experiences in the vineyard and their hopes for the future.
“This was the most important experience, because I never thought in my dreams to go to Washington D.C.,” shared Jose Cervantes, a Leadership Academy graduate from Cornerstone Vineyards. “Being with Congressman Mike Thompson was the most important thing,…. and shaking the hand of Nancy Pelosi, one of the most influential women in the U.S., meant a lot. She listened to our story – which is huge, since we are the people who work in the vineyards.”
Young Vineyard Leaders Important to Future of Wine & Farming Industry
In addition to assisting these 31 leaders to achieve their career goals, the Leadership Academy for vineyard workers also is important to the future of the wine and farming industry. This is because recent demographic data highlight a growing need for younger, more diverse leaders and consumers.
Farmers are critical to the agriculture health of the U.S., but American farmers are aging rapidly, according to a recent U.S. Census report. The average age is now at 57.5 years while farmers under age 35 account for just 9% of the country’s 3.4 million farmers. And in the wine industry it is estimated that 70% of the vineyard workers were likely born in Mexico, according to the U.C. Davis Global Migration Center. Yet they are under-represented in leadership positions.
A related demographic issue is reflected in the lack of diversity amongst wine consumers in the U.S.. Now slowing wine sales have caused industry experts to urge wineries to connect with younger multi-cultural consumers in order to develop new consumer bases for the future. Having Mexican-American vineyard leaders in upper management and executive positions in the wine industry can assist towards this goal, and the Leadership Academy helps to prepare them.
“When we first had the idea to create a Leadership Academy for vineyard employees, I could never have imagined that within two years we would be taking these men and women to Washington, D.C..” reported Karissa Kruse, CEO and President of Sonoma County Winegrowers. “To watch the Leadership Academy graduates connect with the history of our country and beam with pride during their interactions and conversations with Members of Congress was an honor. It was a week that will forever live in my heart.”