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Richard Keehn Receives CAWG Leader of the Year Award


Date: 07/01/14

The California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) selected Richard Keehn, founding chairman of CAWG and Mendocino County winegrape grower and winemaker, as the 2014 CAWG Leader of the Year. CAWG presents the annual award to the grower whose “record of exceptional leadership has benefitted California’s wine industry.” Keehn is the third recipient of the award created by CAWG to acknowledge exemplary industry members and to inspire future leadership. The award will be presented at the association’s Annual Meeting and Awards of Excellence Program on July 23, 2014 in Carmel Valley.

“Richard recognized four decades ago that winegrape growers would be better-served in California by uniting around their strengths and common goals,” said Heidi Scheid, CAWG chair. “There couldn’t be a more appropriate time to recognize and honor Richard’s lifetime of leadership and his role as CAWG’s first chairman as our association celebrates its 40th anniversary.”

Keehn spent his early years not on the ground as a farmer, but in the air as a military man and distinguished helicopter pilot, serving in Korea, Germany and Vietnam. He was awarded two purple hearts, the Silver Star and decorations for valor and service including the Army Aviator of the Year award.

In 1971, while stationed at 6th Army Headquarters, San Francisco, Keehn married Karen Crawford, a widow and owner of historic McDowell Valley Vineyards located in the coastal range of the Mayacamas Mountains in Mendocino County. Over time, Keehn, who knew nothing of vineyards and winemaking, resigned his commission and traded the skies for a career closer to the ground.Keehn not only embraced his new career in agriculture, he became one of its most devoted leaders.

“Richard was truly a Renaissance man and excelled in everything he did,” said John Kautz, a founding member of CAWG and chairman of Kautz Family Vineyards in Lodi. “He embraced the art and science of winegrape growing and learning the intricacies of the industry. This new expertise would prove invaluable in helping to create and launch a new association of growers that would become CAWG.”

In 1974, winegrape growers were challenged by an array of issues, from low prices and unfair business practices to pest and disease management to advocacy with state and federal lawmakers. Keehn, along with a handful of winegrape growers, believed they would be better served by forming a base of combined strength. They met with Bank of America and each grower signed a personal guarantee of $10,000 to launch the California Association of Winegrape Growers. Keehn would later joke that after one of the organizational meetings, he left the room to go to the bathroom and returned to find that he had been elected founding chairman. He served as CAWG Chairman for four years and then as a director on the CAWG Board for seven years.

“Richard made many sacrifices to ensure the survival of CAWG in its infancy,” said Jeryl Fry, president and CEO of Mohr-Fry Ranches in Lodi and another founding member of the association. “But once CAWG was on solid ground, Richard kept finding more ways to get involved and improve the winegrape industry which helped build his legacy of leadership.”

From 1978-1982, Keehn and wife Karen built a unique 50,000 square foot solar-integrated winery in their vineyards. By 1982, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms recognized McDowell Valley as a distinct viticultural area, the fourth such appellation in California. Their estate-bottled brand McDowell Valley Vineyards was launched nationally in 1980. Over the ensuing years, McDowell’s vineyard and wine production grew to a peak of 118,000 cases and evolved from its original focus on Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon to embrace Rhone varieties of Syrah, Grenache and Viognier. By 1993 there were 137 acres of Rhone varietals planted at McDowell.

In 1983 the Keehns became members of the U.S. delegation to the International Organization of Wines and Vines (O.I.V.) headquartered in France. The Keehns attended a number of General Assembly meetings in different countries over a 15-year period. When the United States hosted the O.I.V. in San Francisco during 1993, the Keehns were asked to chair the opening and closing ceremonies and Gala Banquet.

Keehn, whose leadership and expertise continued to serve a number of agricultural endeavors, was appointed in 1984 to the first California World Trade Commission Advisory Council. He resigned in 1986 to become a director on the California Board of Food and Agriculture, a position he held for eight years. During this time he also served as a director of the American Vineyard Foundation and a director of the California Wine Institute.

Although Richard wore many industry hats, he credits a number of different mentors in the industry who contributed to his winegrape education, including Frank Lagomarsino, Ralph Bunje, Karl Wente, Bob Mondavi, Rodney Strong and Julio Gallo.

In 1998 Richard retired from the wine industry, leaving Karen and her son, Bill Crawford, as partners of McDowell Valley Vineyards. Now able to spend more time with his children and 20 grandchildren, Keehn indulged his love for writing poetry and playing the banjo. His passion for cooking was channeled into creating sumptuous meals for friends and family and cooking for three years at Plowshares, Ukiah’s non-profit organization that serves the homeless and delivers Meals on Wheels.

CAWG’s Leader of the Year award is defined by individuals whose significant record of exceptional leadership has benefited California’s wine industry. Richard Keehn has achieved a legacy of exceptional leadership in the wine industry and CAWG is honored to recognize him as its 2014 Leader of the Year.

CAWG represents the growers of more than 60 percent of the gross grape tonnage crushed for wine and concentrate in California. The statewide association provides industry leadership to advocate for public policies, research and education programs, sustainable farming practices and trade positions to enhance the business of growing California winegrapes. For more information about CAWG, visit their website at www.cawg.org.

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