SANTA ROSA -- Sonoma County Winegrape Commission found the next leader for the 1,800-plus-member group in its recently hired marketing director, Karissa Kruse.

[caption id="attachment_70077" align="alignright" width="313"] Karissa Kruse[/caption]

Ms. Kruse came to the commission in August and starts in her new role as president on May 1, coming in as longtime President Nick Frey is set to retire that month, the organization's board of directors announced this week. Mr. Frey will be acting as an adviser through the end of this year.

"Karissa's strong marketing background and ability to build relationships will help us maintain and grow the momentum that the winegrowers have experienced over the past four years with the collaboration of the Sonoma County Tourism and Sonoma County Vintners," said John Balletto, board chairman, in a statement.

The board's search committee spent 18 months searching for a marketing director before hiring Ms. Kruse and considered her as a top candidate for the role of president. After considering outside prospects, the board chose her.

In her six months with the commission she created an 18-month strategic plan, took up a community outreach program and cemented relationships with Sonoma County Tourism and Sonoma County Vintners. The three trade groups launched a joint Sonoma County marketing program last summer and rolled out a multimedia campaign earlier this year.

Ms. Kruse has an MBA in marketing and a bachelor's degree in economics both from the Wharton School of Business. Her career includes General Mills, Universal Studios and seven years at Dairy Management, working on behalf of farmers nationally. She owns 25 acres in Bennett Valley, with five acres planted to grapes.

[caption id="attachment_67205" align="alignleft" width="180"] Nick Frey[/caption]

Mr. Frey was president of the commission and its predecessor trade group for nearly 14 years. In January he announced he would retire in May.

Three things he points to as achievements in his time at the helm of the commission are its formation in 2006, the approval of a conjunctive-labeling law for the county in 2010 and the launch last August of a three-way joint marketing campaign with Sonoma County Vintners and Sonoma County Tourism Bureau.

He joined Sonoma County Winegrape Association in May 1999. Seven years later, the marketing group became a winegrape commission, funded by mandatory assessments on growers. In August 2010, 86 percent of the county's growers voted to allow the commission to continue for another five years.

Also in August 2010, the Legislature approved a conjunctive-labeling law for Sonoma County, requiring wines from one of the county's American Viticultural Areas to also carry the county name on the label.