Karissa Kruse, Sonoma County Winegrowers
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.
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.
In recent years, she received the North Bay Business Journal Community Philanthropy Award (2017), Sonoma County Harvest Fair Friend of Agriculture Award (2016), Marshall Memorial Fellowship (2015), North Bay Business Journal Women in Business Award (2014) and Forty under 40 Award (2012). She was also named one of the 22 Most Innovative Women in Food & Drink by Food and Wine Magazine in 2017. For the past two years, she was recognized as one of the top 50 wine industry leaders by Wine Business Monthly.
ON THE AWARD
“I cannot begin to express how humbled I am by this award,” Karissa said. “There is no greater honor than to be recognized by the people who I work on behalf of – grape growers! Thank you to the CAWG board of directors and the CAWG organization for this recognition. I love what I do and feel so fortunate that I get to work for grape growers who support a strong community, viable business and the long-term preservation of agriculture.”