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Sonoma County wine industry keeps positive outlook

‘The market has come back into balance,’ winegrowers’ president Karissa Kruse says.

Lee Allen

May 26, 2022

3 Min Read
Sonoma County Winegrowers president Karissa Kruse stands in a vineyard outside the organization’s office in Santa Rosa, Calif.Tim Hearden

Trying to nail Karissa Kruse down to a single specific topic is a nearly impossible task because she’s a three-ring circus and all her acts are performing at the same time.

And because she represents some 1,800 regional winegrape growers as President of Sonoma County Winegrowers, her juggling efforts are on-going.  She did find time for a Big Picture Overview of the anticipated 2022 season.

“The outlook is a really positive one after dealing with the pandemic for the past two years,” she said  “From the grape grower/winery side of the business, the market has come back into balance and momentum has swung from uncertainty to back-into-full-swing tastings and restaurant openings.”

Following on the heels of a large 2018 crop and then the lingering COVID crisis, some changes are being noted in Sonoma County and across the state.  “We saw folks who were contemplating replanting who would go through the 5-year permit process, and then put planting plans on hold,” she said.  “They didn’t pull out of the process of replanting, just took a pause.”

Another grower shift is being noted in how the harvest is conducted.  “Given the labor issues we’ve experienced over the last decade, we’re seeing a movement where folks are relying on vineyard management companies to do the farming.”

Kruse lives by a ‘Look to the Horizon’ mentality shown at her winegrowers annual Dollars & $ense Seminar with the theme, Farming for the Future.

“We understand the challenges and opportunities that growers face --- dealing with drought and climate change, attracting and retaining a local workforce, navigating new regulations and their additional costs, and how these factors impact on the future to keep multi-generational family farmers a continued part of our DNA.”

Pilot project

Part of that event included announcement of a pilot program in collaboration with Ford Pro in which three selected farms in Healdsburg and Sebastopol --- representing a collective 4,000 acres of vineyards in the Russian River Valley --- were outfitted with electric vehicles, charging stations, and web-based fleet management aimed at increasing productivity, improving sustainability, and lowering total fleet costs.

“It’s all part of our 100-year business plan and a commitment to sustainability in all our vineyards,” she said.  “Its collective thinking about what we can do as a farming community to move the sustainability needle forward, a path towards thinking more about carbon sequestration, vegetation management, and hardscaping in response to extreme climate events like wildfires and flooding.

“Farmers are always facing scenarios where they have to think through, in real time, how they respond most efficiently.  We’re trying to support our agricultural community in making the best decisions that will be climate friendly and we’re trying to present best practices that can be flexible enough for adaptation, a whole toolbox of resources and practices that will allow them to be best equipped.”

As Sonoma growers entered the bud-break phase of a new year, Kruse spoke about changing weather patterns and unseasonable warmth pushing early budding, then some nail-biting over the prospect of cold nights and frost.  “I’ve spent a lot of time discussing and gearing up for another drought season and how we’re going to implement water conservation measures throughout the season.”

Citing the riches of the area for winegrape growing, she notes the single coin in her Sonoma County Winegrowers purse is a two-sided one with challenges on one side and opportunities on the other.

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