Karen Ross, president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers for the last thirteen years, has accepted a position with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. Ross’ last day with CAWG is November 30 as she starts in the new position next month. In addition to her extensive background in California with specialty crops, Ross grew up on a family farm in western Nebraska where her brother still farms, and started her career in the mid-west. Ross is a graduate of the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.
“I saw a lot of change and loved every second of the (CAWG) job,” she said in a brief interview with winebusiness.com. “For me, a lot of it is about the people and the relationships and the opportunity I’ve had to work with amazing growers who give so much of their time to do service to the industry.”
Reflecting briefly on CAWG’s accomplishments, Ross among other things cited progress obtaining funds for invasive species exclusion programs, including the program to protect the industry from Pierce’s Disease; the creation of the National Grape and Wine Research Initiative and its national research strategic plan; a continued commitment to research though the American Vineyard Foundation; the strengthening of a national coalition of grape growers though the annual U.S. wine and grape policy conference; as well as joint efforts by CAWG and Wine Institute to promote the California First and California Wine Month activity. Ross also reflected on the leadership role growers played in helping to create WineVision 20-20 a few years ago in reaction to some of the activity that was going on within Australia at the time.
“We did it very differently and it’s a reflection of the entrepreneurial spirit of the U.S.” she said. “Ours was not about setting specific numeric goals for growth, but really about setting goals that required action by lots of individuals and organizations."
Much of the work that ultimately led to the success of California’s Sustainable Winegrowing Program was inspired and supported by Winevision, which also focused on growing exports of California wine and making wine an integral part of the American culture.
Ross said CAWG has enjoyed a continued growth in membership, though it can always use more members. She also cited the effectiveness of CAWG’s government relations program at the state and national level, saying, “We’ve got a lot of friends in the legislature and in congress.”
Ross said the biggest challenges facing California grape growers as a group include competing globally, fending off invasive species and continuing to produce a quality product while minimizing the environmental footprint.
“The desire of consumers for lower priced wines is a challenge given the cost structure in California,” Ross said. “That’s going to continue to demand ongoing research and innovation and adoption of technology to be as efficient as we possibly can be.” The search committee for Ross’ successor is being headed by incoming CAWG chair Kim Ledbetter-Bronson. CAWG also plans to use a firm to assist with the search.