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Sonoma County vineyard workers vie for pruning supremacy

  • Fernando Gutierrez, with VinePro Vineyard Management, competes in the Sonoma County Pruning Championship at the SRJC Shone Farm, near Forestville, on Friday, February 24, 2012. Gutierrez beat out nine other competitors to take first place in the championship.

With speed and precision, Fernando Gutierrez sliced through the bare, arching canes of five syrah grapevines and won the 13th annual Sonoma County Pruning Championship on Friday outside Forestville.

Gutierrez, a worker for VinePro Vineyard Management of Geyserville, pruned and pulled away canes for five minutes before triumphing over eight other contestants in a yearly event that calls for fast thinking and skillful cuts to prepare the vines for the best growth in the coming season.

For his efforts, the 38-year-old Gutierrez won $1,000, tools and other prizes worth hundreds of dollars. The event was sponsored by the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission.

It was Gutierrez's second victory. He last won the county contest in 2009.

On Friday he credited those who had helped him first learn pruning 11 years ago. That was about seven years after he came to the United States from the state of Michoacan, Mexico.

Gutierrez noted that his fellow contestants all had qualified for Friday's finals with first- or second-place finishes at regional competitions.

"If they made it this far, they have to be good," he said in Spanish.

His words were translated by his son, Luis, a freshman at Cloverdale High School. Luis Gutierrez also had been present at his father's victory three years ago, and he credited Friday's first place not only to his father's best effort but also "because I was here" to watch.

The contest Friday at Santa Rosa Junior College's Shone Farm gave more than 100 vineyard managers, workers and guests the chance to bask in sunshine while standing in a vineyard encircled by large trees and capped with blue sky.

The managers said the contest is a way of recognizing men who play a critical role in the production of wine grapes, the North Coast's premier agricultural crop, which last year brought in $869 million to the region.


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