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Family farms vital to Sonoma County wine industry

  • Richard Mounts harvests grapes at Richard Mounts Vineyard. (BETH SCHLANKER / The Press Democrat)

On a hillside vineyard in Dry Creek Valley, Rich Mounts maneuvered a tractor through the rows, hauling a few bins of lush zinfandel grapes that had just been plucked from the vine.

“I've been on a tractor since I was 12,” said Mounts, a second-generation farmer with an affinity for overalls and deep roots in Wine Country. “OSHA would frown on it, but in those days, kids were expected to work.”

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Mounts, 66, grew up on the property where his father Jack sold prunes for a living. It was a smaller farm in his youth, but Mounts slowly expanded the ranch to its current size of 140 acres.

“I still have people that come up now, in their 70s, and tell me how they picked prunes for my father when they were in high school,” he said.

Now, Mounts makes his living as a grape grower, selling his fruit to about a dozen North Coast wineries.

While big wineries such as Kendall-Jackson and E&J Gallo have made Sonoma known around the world, independent growers like Mounts farm two-thirds of the vineyards in Sonoma County.

They are not just smaller growers, like Mounts. Many of the largest vineyard and winery owners in Sonoma County are families, said Honore Comfort, executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners, a trade group representing local wineries.

“That commitment to family farming is a hallmark of our industry here in Sonoma County,” Comfort said.

With his son David, Mounts opened a small winery in 2005. He sets aside 10 tons of grapes from the 120 tons he picks every year and produces about 500 cases of wine under the family's name. There's a satisfaction to tasting the wine made from your own grapes after decades of selling them off to giant companies, Mounts said.

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