Sonoma County Farm Bureau

Rich and Saralee Kunde Inducted into the Sonoma County Business Hall of Fame

Couple Recognized for their Many Contributions to Agriculture and the Community

Sonoma-Marin Farm News, September 2011
Story by Tim Tesconi

Agriculture Leaders Rich and Saralee Kunde will be honored Sept. 15 with the Sonoma County Business Hall of Fame Award. (Picture by Steven Knudsen of the Farm Bureau Staff.)

Rich and Saralee Kunde, regarded by many as the first couple of Sonoma County agriculture, are being inducted into the Sonoma County Business Hall of Fame for their many contributions to the economic, cultural and civic life of Sonoma County.

The award, sponsored by the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, recognizes the Kundes’ vision, energy and community involvement in shaping Sonoma County. Indeed it was Rich and Saralee’s vision that transformed Sonoma County into California’s premier wine and food region.  As community leaders and benefactors, Rich and Saralee are legend for their generosity in supporting agriculture, farm youth and other causes dear to their big hearts. They routinely donate their property, Richard’s Grove and Saralee’s Vineyard, for fund-raising events that over the years have generated millions of dollars for non-profit organizations like Farm Bureau, 4-H, FFA, Russian River Valley Winegrowers and many others.

The Kundes will be honored at a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 15 at the Sonoma County Museum’s Person Sculpture Garden, 425 Seventh St., Santa Rosa. Tickets are $50 per person. Reservations are due by Sept. 9 and can be made by logging onto the EDB’s website, www.SonomaEDB.org/events.

In addition to the Kundes, the event will honor the two other Sonoma County Business Hall of Fame recipients, Bill White of Basin Street Properties in Petaluma and Don Green, the telecommunications entrepreneur and major donor to the Green Music Center at Sonoma State University.

The Business Hall of Fame award is one of many honors and awards the Kundes have received as community leaders. They received the first 4-H Foundation of Sonoma County Shining Star Award for their dedication and support of the county’s 4-H program.
For Richard some of the awards include the Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Hall of Fame, the 2008 Award of Distinction from the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at the University of California Davis and the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce’s “Leadership in Agriculture Award.” Last year Rich, a former director of the Harvest Fair, was honored with the Harvest Fair’s “Lifetime Contribution to Sonoma County Agriculture Award.”

Saralee has received numerous awards as well including Farm Bureau’s Agriculturalist of the Year Award, the Silver Hope Award presented by the Multiple Sclerosis Society, the 2008 Sonoma County 4-H All Star Mentor Award, the FFA Distinguished Service Award and the Girl Scouts’ Jewel of a Woman Award.

These awards express the esteem and value that Sonoma County holds for Rich and Saralee, whose selfless dedication to agriculture and the community has made them living legends as well as iconic leaders.

The Kundes, who both have deep roots in Sonoma County agriculture, are dedicated to preserving the county’s rich agricultural heritage for the generations to come. That’s why they work on so many fronts to support agriculture and farm youth programs. In addition to providing their ranch and resources they also bring energy and respect to anything they do or any cause they support.

Their main and enduring cause has been preserving Sonoma County agriculture and to that end they have expertly guided and pushed to keep farms, ranches and vineyards part of Sonoma County’s landscape and economy.

“Luther Burbank said Sonoma County is the chosen spot of all the earth and I couldn’t agree more,” said Kunde, 69, a member of a pioneer Sonoma County agricultural family. “A place as beautiful and agriculturally diverse as Sonoma County must be preserved forever. My mission has been to keep agriculture strong and the farm land in production for the generations to come.”

When the Press Democrat, the region’s leading newspaper, went searching for the most influential Sonoma County people of the Twentieth Century, Rich Kunde made the top 100 of the century. He rose to the top for his role in transforming Sonoma County to Wine Country.  Kunde was in the company of such great leaders and visionaries as Luther Burbank, Frank Doyle, Jack London and Gaye LeBaron for his legacy in shaping Sonoma County during a century of remarkable change.

The newspaper noted that Rich Kunde was the first to promote the European notion of appellations for the vineyards that were sprouting up throughout Sonoma County. The vineyards were taking the place of crops like prunes and apples that were no longer agriculturally viable. The triumph of grapes saved agriculture while placing Sonoma County on the world’s wine stage, right up there with Burgundy, Bordeaux and Tuscany. Kunde believed that appellations would secure Sonoma County’s reputation as a world-class wine grape growing region and he vigorously campaigned to put them on the map.
“Kunde led the charge to establish “appellations of origins,” the legal designations of the areas where a wine’s grape are grown. Appellations helped to identify the fine wines coming from Sonoma County, bolstering the prestige and price of grapes,” the newspaper wrote.

The story described Kunde “as a leader in American viticulture and a strong voice for county agriculture.”  The Press Democrat’s special section also recognized Saralee McClelland Kunde as a powerful force in agriculture and part of the dynamic Kunde duo.
Rich and Saralee Kunde “emerged over the past decade as Wine Country’s most visible hosts, using their money, influence and leadership to promote Sonoma County’s image as an agricultural Eden.”

Both Rich and Saralee grew up in farm families that valued hard work and cherished the land as something to be nurtured and passed to the next generation. Rich said his work ethic and love for the land were instilled by his parents, the late Arthur “Big Boy” and Honey Kunde who raised Hereford cattle and cabernet sauvignon grapes at the family’s ancestral ranch near Glen Ellen in the Valley of the Moon. The ranch was settled in 1904 by Kunde’s grandfather.

“My parents always taught us to put our heart into whatever we did,” said Kunde. “Then when I got to U.C. Davis, my professors said only work at what you really love to do.”
Saralee was born in Marin County where her parents, the late Robert and Lillian McClelland, ran a family dairy and home delivery service for their milk sold in bottles with the theme, “From She to Thee.” Later the family moved to a ranch in Petaluma’s Two Rock Valley where Saralee assisted on the family dairy while becoming active as a 4-H member. She showed dairy cattle at area fairs and for many years worked as the exhibit and premium supervisor for the Sonoma County Fair and Harvest Fair. She started her career working at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma.

Today, the Rich and Saralee’s family backgrounds are merged in their ranch logo, which is a heart with a smiling cow and a twisting grapevine.

Rich and Saralee Kunde grow grapes and raise a few dairy cattle on more than 300 acres in the Russian River Valley, selling their premium grapes to dozens of top wineries.

But for decades Richard Kunde owned and operated Sonoma Grapevines nursery.  In 1982, Kunde took ownership of a bankrupt Santa Rosa nursery and built it into the largest grapevine nursery in the United States. The nursery grew from nothing to annually producing up to 14 million vines during the boom years. The 14 million vines carpeted more than 20,000 acres of vineyards in one year alone.

Kunde put his heart and soul into the nursery that supplied the cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay and zinfandel vines planted in California during the explosive growth period of the state’s wine industry. At the millennium, Kunde, concerned about health issues, started phasing out of the grapevine business and in 2002 sold the nursery that had been his life.

Since his retirement, Rich and Saralee, who manages the family vineyards, have continued to advocate for agriculture and farm youth. Saralee is a director of the 4-H Foundation of Sonoma County and the Sonoma County Fair as well as other wine grape and dairy organizations.

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