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


Family farms vital to Sonoma County wine industry

  • Richard Mounts harvests grapes at Richard Mounts Vineyard in Healdsburg, California on Thursday, October 24, 2013. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

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.

"We get to really see what the grapes that we grow turn into, when you make it into wine," Mounts said. "It's more fulfilling than just hauling the grapes away and never knowing what your product makes."

Mounts has lived on the farm most of his life, except for a detour when he went to college at California Polytechnic State University and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in soil science, which was followed by a road trip around South America with a college friend.

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"That was a wild time," Mounts said. "Hippies were in full bloom."

During his college years, when prunes from Sonoma County were losing value, Mounts sensed that grapes would yield a more profitable enterprise, so he gradually replaced his father's orchards with vineyards.

After concluding that a desk job would never feel right, Mounts returned to the family farm in 1969 and began working full time, eventually taking over the business.

"It's a huge change from when I started, because this valley, it was all small farmers," Mounts said. "Now, so much of it is owned by people with money who have it as a lifestyle."

More residents have been drawn to the scenic Dry Creek Valley, and along with new neighbors came new rules and regulations.

"They don't understand the tractors running at 4 in the morning, the smells," Mounts said.

Vineyard management companies proliferated, helping everyone from hobby farmers to major wineries with their work.

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