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The California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) has selected Steve Schafer as the 2018 Grower of the Year and Karissa Kruse as the 2018 Leader the Year. The awards will be presented at the 2018 CAWG Awards of Excellence Program on July 17 in Napa.

The Grower of the Year award is the highest honor given by CAWG. It is bestowed to an individual, family or company that represents an outstanding example of excellence in viticulture and management. The recipient is an efficient and successful producer of quality winegrapes, recognized for innovation and leadership within the industry.

Fourth-generation farmer Steve Schafer is an officer of Schafer Ranch, owner of San Joaquin Wine Company and former chair of the CAWG board of directors. As an innovative winegrape grower and vintner, he is deeply invested and involved in all aspects of the industry. For nearly 20 years, his visionary leadership and proactive efforts to advance sustainable winegrowing practices have helped to ensure that his and other vineyard and winery operations continue to be successful.

The Leader of the Year award recognizes an individual whose record of exceptional leadership has benefitted California’s wine industry and is an inspiration to others. The recipient has demonstrated an outstanding commitment to issues of significant importance to winegrape growers and has achieved lasting changes to promote and protect the interests of California winegrape growers.

Kruse is the president of Sonoma County Winegrowers, owner of a 12-acre vineyard and partner in Argot Wines. She is a selfless and compassionate leader who worked extensively with growers, employees and community members during and after the October 2017 wildfires. She is also guiding the initiative to make Sonoma County the nation’s first 100 percent sustainable wine region. Her actions are part of a history of leadership focusing on communication, building relationships, strategic thinking and giving back.

“Steve and Karissa are widely respected for their many years of effort to promote California’s winegrape growers,” said CAWG President John Aguirre. “Both are exceptional leaders within their communities, and outstanding ambassadors for sustainable winegrowing practices and California wine. CAWG is honored to recognize them for their unwavering dedication and many contributions to California’s winegrape growing community.”

The following was printed CAWG's June 2018 issue of its monthly newspaper for members, The Crush:

During the October 2017 wildfires, Sonoma County Winegrowers (SCW) President Karissa Kruse was a selfless and compassionate leader. She was on the front lines during and after the tragedy – on a professional and personal level. Her actions were part of a history of leadership focusing on communication, building relationships, strategic thinking and giving back.

TAKING THE LEAD AT SONOMA COUNTY WINEGROWERS

Karissa joined SCW as director of marketing in September 2012 and eight months later was named president – the first female to hold the position. Since then, she has guided the implementation of a major agricultural/environmental initiative: to make Sonoma County the nation’s first wine region that is 100 percent certified sustainable.

In addition, she spearheaded the relaunch of the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation in January 2016 (she is executive director) and the launch of the Sonoma County Center for Ag Sustainability in January 2017.

In a 2018 article in Forbes, Karissa summed up her job: promote Sonoma County as a world class wine region and protect and preserve local agriculture for the next generation. “Simple concepts, but with a wide array of responsibilities and initiatives that include marketing partnerships, education to the community and our elected officials, working with wine influencers from around the world, promoting Sonoma County agriculture and our commitment to sustainability, providing input on new legislation and regulations that will impact grape farmers, and being a spokesperson and ambassador for Sonoma County’s wine community.”

As a partner in a small winery, Argot Wines, and owner of a 12-acre vineyard, Karissa can relate to the growers she represents.

CRISIS LEADERSHIP

Like thousands of others, Karissa faced the unexpected disaster of the Wine Country wildfires. During and after the crisis she communicated and worked extensively with growers, employees and community members. Karissa also had to respond to a barrage of calls from newspapers, TV news stations and wine industry publications. She did all of this while dealing with the loss of her own home to the fire.

In the following weeks, Karissa was involved in efforts to rebuild the community and spread the word that the wine region was “open for business.” To help agricultural employees impacted by the fire, she joined forces with the Sonoma County Farm Bureau president to establish the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation Wildfire Housing Support Fund. More than $1 million was raised and distributed to ag workers and their families who were displaced, incurred damage to their homes or lost wages due to the fire. “Our ag workers are the heart and soul of Sonoma County agriculture and wine community, so we want to do all we can to lessen the impact the fires have caused them,” she said.

She also reached out to legislators about the situation. At the April 6 joint information hearing of the California State Senate Select Committee on California’s Wine Industry and the California Assembly Select Committee on Wine, Karissa served as a panelist and provided an update on fire and industry recovery.

VOLUNTEERISM AND AWARDS

In addition to her job, Karissa serves on numerous boards and committees: Sonoma County Alliance, United Way of Wine Country, Sonoma County Tourism, Social Advocates for Youth, Sonoma County Harvest Fair, and Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce. She is on the board for Wharton’s Initiative on Global Environmental Leadership and a member of the Global Wharton Women in Leadership.