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Napa vineyard pruning competition opens to women

  • Laura Orozco competes in the first ever women's division of the 13th annual Napa County Pruning Contest at Beringer VineyardÕs Gamble Ranch on Thursday, February 20, 2014 in Yountville, California. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

YOUNTVILLE — Competition on Thursday for Napa County's top vineyard pruner was billed as an historic event because for the first time it included a division for female competitors.

But the real stunner came after all of the scores were tallied and the day's overall best in the field of 69 belonged to — a woman.

For years, organizers of the pruning competition, now in its 13th year, debated whether to include women, in part they said because women expressed reluctance to compete against men. The creation of a women-only division was seen as a compromise.

Napa County Pruning Contest


But with her skillful and swift use of pruning shears, Celia Perez, a 47-year-old Napa mother of two, on Thursday cut away any lingering doubts, and in the process, likely cleared a path for others following in her work boots.

The full import of Perez's achievement came well after Thursday's event at Beringer's Gamble Ranch near Yountville was over and organizers had more time to compare final results.

When Perez, who has worked at V. Sattui Winery in St. Helena for 19 years, took the podium to accept a silver belt buckle, $700 and an assortment of new tools, she was announced simply as the top finisher in the women's division.

Not that that was an inconsequential honor. Asked afterward whether women are equal to men in the fields, Perez admired the belt buckle and said, "Yes, and here's the proof."

Jennifer Putnam, executive director and CEO of Napa Valley Grapegrowers, which sponsored Thursday's event, hailed Perez's performance as "groundbreaking."

Thursday's competition may have marked the first time in California that women were afforded the opportunity to participate in a vineyard pruning competition. Putnam said organizers researched the issue and could not find another example. Next Friday's pruning contest in Forestville for Sonoma County vineyard workers hews to the standard all-male field.

Thirteen women, most who've worked in vineyards for at least a decade, participated in Thursday's competition, alongside 56 men.

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