This month, 209 vineyard workers from Napa and Sonoma counties competed to see who was best in the critical wine season task of pruning. And Sonoma this year joined Napa in having women vie for the title.
For nearly two decades, vineyard trade groups, growers and vintners in the adjoining fine-wine regions have held the competitions to showcase the skill — speed and accuracy — of the professionals who tend the vines where ultrapremium- and luxury-tier wines are born.
Fifty-six deftly plied their pruners at Sunnyview Vineyard west of Santa Rosa on Feb. 22 for Sonoma County Winegrowers’s 19th annual competition. The top two contestants in three-vine heats advanced to the final round. There, Gerardo Pantoja of Atlas Vineyard Management topped nine competitors, followed by Victor Bernardino Martinez of Bevill Vineyard Management, Luis Abrego of Cornerstone Certified Vineyard and Jaime Castro Montiel of Seghesio Family Vineyards.
Monserrat Diaz of Vinepro Vineyard Management was the first female entrant in the Sonoma County contest.
“This contest continues to grow in popularity among the men and, now, women who work in the vineyards and take great pride in being considered among the best pruners in Sonoma County,” said Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, in the winner announcement. She added, “Pruning is one of the most critical components of growing winegrapes. We are honored to showcase our vineyard workers’ technique and skill that are critical to growing grapes in Sonoma County and preserving our local agriculture.”
At Beringer’s Gamble Ranch Vineyard in the Oakville region of Napa Valley, 153 competed in the 18th annual Napa County Pruning Contest on Feb. 9, put on by Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation. Each entrant pruned five vines, and the highest scorers advanced to the final round.
The first woman competed in the Napa County contest in 2014. Topping the women’s division this year was Veronica Medina Reyes of Bayview Vineyards, Cecilia Avina of Silverado Farming Company, Margarita Bonilla of Walsh Vineyard Management and Maria Eusebio of Bayview Vineyard Management.
Winning the men’s division was Antonio Lopez Pacheco of Vinedresser Vineyard Management, followed by Fernando Avina of Pine Ridge Vineyards, Gerardo Romero of Sutter Home Family Vineyards and Herube Avila of Beckstoffer Vineyards.
“The high level of precision, focus, determination and celebration make for a lively contest that brings our grapegrowing community together,” said Macy Stubstad of Rudd Oakville Estate and contest co-chairwoman.
The contestants live in the valley and work there full-time, according to Napa Valley Grapegrowers. While they volunteered their time to compete, most were paid by their employers for the day, the group said. Many had successfully competed in internal competitions within their own companies prior to arriving to the countywide contest.
Prizes for the Sonoma County winners were $1,200 for first place, $600 for second, $300 for third and $150 for fourth. Each also received a gift bag that included a $250 gift certificate from Wyatt Irrigation and a plaque sponsored by American AgCredit. Top winner Pantoja also received a $30 El Farlito restaurant gift certificate, and the competition winner plaque is displayed in the Atlas office.
The rest of the finalists received $50 each. And Diaz also received $50, donated by former winegrower group President Nick Frey, for her trailblazing entry.
Pruning contest backers
Pruning contest backers
Platinum: Central Valley, Dutton Ranch, PYGAR USA/FELCO, Vineyard Industry Products, Bacho Tools
Gold: American Ag Credit, Grow West, Emeritus Vineyard Management, Grace Vineyard Management, Lodi Irrigation & Pump, Redwood Empire Vineyard Management, Russian River Valley Winegrowers, Wyatt Irrigation
Silver: Duarte Nursery, Novavine, Valdez & Sons Vineyard Management
Bronze: The Gables Wine Country Inn, Constellation Brands
Premier sponsors: Nemerever Vineyards, Silicon Valley Bank, Central Valley, PYGAR USA/FELCO