Sonoma County Vineyards No Longer A Man’s World

By Bill Swindell
The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.

Under a clear blue sky, Cecilia Méndez is the model of efficiency as she picks grapes and supervises her crew at the Oat Valley Vineyard at Cooley Ranch just north of Cloverdale.

In her hooded sweatshirt and blue jeans, she swiftly cuts away clusters of carignane grapes that will ultimately go into a red blend made by Windsor Vineyards. And as a forewoman, Méndez keeps her eyes on her 10-person crew, made up mostly of women, while they work through the 10-acre plot.

The 44-year-old Santa Rosa mother of three is part air-traffic controller as she rises at 4 a.m. to make sure her crew will be at the vineyard and coordinate their rides; part maternal figure as she helps recruit other women for the work and shows them the ropes, and part no-nonsense referee as she recently had to break up chest-puffing between two men over a dispute if one crew should be paid more for helping out another.

Most of all, she is an indispensable link who ensures that her employer, Redwood Empire Vineyard Management Inc., provides quality service in the competitive North Coast wine industry.

“We love her,” gushes Linda Barr, the Geyserville company’s owner and vice president, who has 10 forewomen working for her this harvest along with approximately 60 other women as crew members. “The growers, our clients, saw them and saw what a great job they did and they have complimented them quite frequently over the years.”

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