Sonoma County Farm Bureau
Fifth-generation Sonoma County grape grower Steve Dutton knows a lot about stewardship of the land; his family has been farming in the county since the 1800s.
“My brother, Joe, and I never wanted to do anything else,” he said. “We have always wanted to be farmers, we never had another job. We both worked on the ranch as teenagers, and started full time in 1987.”
Dutton is a co-owner of Dutton Ranch alongside his brother, a business started by their late father, Warren Dutton, in the 1960s. Currently, they farm 1,400 acres — 1,200 acres of winegrapes and 200 acres of organic apples. He is also a partner in Dutton-Goldfield Winery with winemaker Dan Goldfield. The Sebastopol winery primarily produces Chardonnay and Pinot noir.
“Our days are long,” he said. “In the spring and summer we work 10 to 11 hours, at harvest 13 to 15 hours, and in the winter eight hours.”
All the grapes are hand-picked. The Pinot noir grapes are harvested at night, starting at 2 a.m. and finishing most days at 12:30 when the weather heats up.
“The 2017 harvest looks good so far,” he said. “It’s on track to be a good year.”
Although he says Pinot noir grapes are hardest to grow, the varietal has gained in popularity, and the demand continues to grow, he said.
Grape growing has steadily evolved over the past 10 years because growers have a better understanding of which rootstocks and varietals grow best in each American Viticultural Area, he said.
He has some advice for someone considering a career in grape growing: “Pay attention to detail and grow the varieties that sell best from your AVA,” he said. “For example, foreign competition is something we are aware of but not a real problem. We are fortunate to grow Chardonnay and Pinot noir in the Russian River Valley AVA. They both have a lot of demand.”
He is also concerned about agriculture in general, serving as president of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.
“It’s important to me to keep Sonoma County as open space,” he said on the organization’s website. “It’s important to protect agriculture and protect the right to farm. The Farm Bureau is the only entity fighting for property rights, farming rights, water rights and to protect agriculture in Sonoma County while representing all agriculture.”
He says challenges face not only Sonoma County grape growers but California viticulture in general.
“In my opinion, there are two challenges,” he said. “A severe shortage of labor and over regulation of the agriculture industry.”
Dutton has served on the county Farm Bureau board 13 years. For the last four years, Dutton also chaired the membership committee.
In his “spare time” he has served on the boards of Sonoma County Farm Trails and the Russian River Valley Winegrowers Foundation, where he is currently president.