Six Generations of Agriculture
The Mauritson Family is Farm Bureau’s Farm Family of the Year
Article by Rachel LaFranchi, Photo by Steven Knudsen
Published June 1, 2016
|The Mauritson Family from left to right: Cameron, Ashley, Patrick, Clay, Carrie, Blake, Leigh Skizewski, Thom, Jessie Skizewski, Courtney, Joe Richards, Linda, Deanna, and Bob. In the front row, Clay and Carrie’s children Davis, Ella and Brady; Bob and Deanna’s children Luckas and Leah; Courtney and Joe’s children Grayson Richards and Peyton M.
The Mauritsons are at thier family vineyard on Dry Creek Road in Healdsburg.
Like many multigenerational farming families, the Mauritson Family’s story starts nearly 150 years ago with the great great grandfather of Thom Mauritson. Sven Parker Hallengren, known as SP, emigrated from Sweden, landing in New York before coming west.
SP settled in the Dry Creek Valley raising sheep, growing grapes and making wine to ship back to Sweden. For the next 100 years, the family continued on, but everything changed in 1968.
That year, the Army Corps of Engineers (CoE) bought most of the family’s land. The family had had no interest in selling their property, but the CoE was been able to acquire it through eminent domain in the process of building Lake Sonoma. That transaction caused the family to lose 90% of their estate, which included all of their grape land.
Despite the loss, the family was quick to purchase new land in Alexander Valley and again later in Dry Creek. Up until the CoE had purchased their land, the Mauritson’s primary business had been sheep and wool; however, the loss of their land proved to be a turning point for the family. Today Mauritson Farms grows more than 600 acres of grapes, farming half their grapes in Sonoma County across three appellations and half in Lake County.
They purchased their Lake County property in 1994, the same year Thom bought a cattle ranch in Oregon. Four years later, Thom started raising beef. Now, Thom is one of seven owners of Painted Hills, a national distributor of beef in Oregon, and his children also run small herds of cattle in Sonoma County.
“It’s funny how it all intertwines – the wine business is always running into the beef business,” said Thom. “What I’m proud of is taking two ag commodities and putting them on the table.”
Thom is the President of Mauritson Farms, overseeing the management of all the family’s vineyards. Thom and his ex-wife Linda raised five children: Cameron, Bob, Clay, Courtney and Blake. Cameron and Bob work alongside their father to manage the day to day vineyard operations for more than 600 acres plus an additional 100 they manage for friends and family. Courtney works at Francis Ford Coppola Winery, and Blake farms citrus in Visalia with his wife’s family.
Thom’s son, Clay, began making wine in 1998. When the Mauritson Family Winery was built in 2004, Clay became the primary winemaker in addition to managing the family winery.
“The vertical integration has been a great opportunity for us to expand our presence in the wine industry,” said Thom.
Although the family is now making their own wine, only 3% of the grapes they grow are used for their wine. The winery also purchases grapes, and many of the people they are purchasing from are multigenerational family friends.
The remaining 97% of grapes are sold to more than 60 wineries. The family used to sell the majority of grapes to one winery, but have moved away from that to build and maintain relationships with others in the wine industry. Thom said the family highly values their relationships with other winemakers and grape growers, and these relationships are the main reason they buy and sell to other individuals.
“One of the most valuable things our business has is good relationships with other growers,” said Cameron. “Having good will and good relationships is one of the key successes to our business.”
Cameron and his siblings are part of the sixth generation to farm in Sonoma County. Thom currently has nine grandchildren that compose the seventh generation of Sonoma County residents.
Thom acknowledged that while the current generations running the business are predominantly male, the family has had a deep history of being female lead and run. He said his grandmother, Pearl, was always forward looking and enjoyed the business side of ranching. Although he was too young to know it at the time, Thom can now look back and see how Pearl was the source of many of today’s ideas.
“One of the things my grandmother motivated me to do was to build something that could be passed on. But even more than that, to raise a next generation that would want to carry on,” said Thom.
Thom has always felt it’s his responsibly to pass the business onto the next generation. He said the family is dedicated to growing grapes and they are in the wine business for the long haul.
“When you’re raised around it,” said Cameron, “you appreciate where your livelihood comes from. Everyone is invested in what we do, and we’re just fortunate to do what we like.”
Cameron said his personal experience growing up with family in the wine business allowed him to figure out where he fit in best. He knew he wasn’t interested in wine processing or wine sales, he wanted to work with the people he was raised with – the people out farming the land.
“Going to work every day is a whole lot easier when you love the people you’re working with,” said Cameron.
The family has had many long term employees. They even have some multigenerational employees with the first generation supervising the second generation.
The family considers their bread and butter for success to be hard work, discipline and family above all else. It’s important to them that everyone in the family shoulders the responsibility.
“Nine out of ten times we get along,” said Cameron, “the rest is just family.”
The Mauritson’s are Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Farm Family of the Year for 2016. They said they are humbled to be receiving the award and it was a nice honor. The family knows that part of what makes Sonoma County special is the people, especially people in the agricultural industry.
The Mauritson Family will be presented an award at Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Love of the Land event on July 15th at Saralee’s Vineyard and Richard’s Grove. They will be honored alongside the Hughes Dairy Westview Jerseys receiving the Luther Burbank Conservation Award and Tim Tesconi who will be inducted into the Farm Bureau Hall of Fame. Tickets are on sale at sonomafb.org.