Sonoma County Winegrowers has selected Karissa Kruse to become president of the organization when Nick Frey retires from the role on May 1.

Kruse, who is currently marketing director, is a grape grower who owns a Bennett Valley vineyard with 5 acres of pinot noir, chardonnay and syrah. She was recruited by the board of directors in an 18-month succession planning process.

"I'm so excited," Kruse said. "I have so much passion for this industry and am very, very honored and proud to work with such a great grower community."

Sonoma County Winegrowers represents about 1,800 grape growers in Sonoma County and is funded by $1.2 million in mandatory assessments on growers who harvest more than 25 tons of grapes. The group hosted 78 educational activities for growers last year, Kruse said.

Kruse moved to Sonoma County in 2007 to start Argot, a wine business that produces 2,000 cases per year, after visiting Wine Country and becoming a Sonoma County "believer." She also ran a consulting firm, Onit Consulting, working with dairy farmers and other clients to ensure they had a place to sell their milk and helping farmers navigate public health issues.

Kruse plans to expand on Frey's work and the group's collaboration with Sonoma County Vintners and Sonoma County Tourism, and is especially interested in community outreach.

"Sometimes we forget how important it is to communicate in our own communities our history, and how we take care of our land, and what goes into caring for our grapes," Kruse said.

Kruse began her role as marketing director in September, and was selected by the board of directors to replace Frey at their board meeting Monday night.

Since joining the group, Kruse put together an 18-month marketing plan and has been a great addition to the staff, said Frey, who led the organization for 14 years.

"She really likes working for growers, and she relates well to them," Frey said. "She's got some really great marketing experience and education, and probably more than marketing, it's business. She has a good business training, and that will serve her well in this role."

Kruse earned an MBA in marketing from Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania. She worked for General Mills, Universal Studios and Dairy Management, living in Minneapolis, Chicago and Los Angeles before moving to Sonoma County. She was raised in South Dakota and Colorado Springs, and some of her earliest childhood memories involve chasing pigs around her grandparents' farm.

"Farming is in my roots," Kruse said. "As I've moved around in my career, I keep coming back to it. And I think I've found a special home here."