Serres Family will be honored as Farm Bureau’s Farm Family of the Year at Love of the Land
By Tim Tesconi
A bronze plaque on the ranch’s gatepost simply states “Serres Ranch, established 1924.” It’s proud acknowledgement of the generational sacrifices and stewardship that have kept this 200-acre property in the Serres family for six generations over the last century.
Serres Ranch, a landmark along Highway 12 in the Valley of the Moon, is like a bustling little village where, today, three generations of the Serres family live and work. The ranch is home base for the family’s agricultural operations and Serres Corporation, a Bay Area mainstay in the building trade since 1929. With bulls-eye-focus, family members set out each day to meet the challenges that allow them to be on land that is both a source of income and their identity.
First and foremost, the Serres, longtime members of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, are farmers and ranchers, engrained with a farmer’s dedication to family, land and the community they call home. The idea of ever selling or subdividing the ranch is simply out of the question.
“This ranch and our name are what drives us every day to excel. Then, we get up the next day and do it all over again. That’s the way it’s been for generations,” said John Serres, 70, who grew up on the ranch and now oversees the family farming and business operations.
“No matter if it’s our wine, cattle, blueberries or construction business we strive for quality because that is what will keep all this going,” said Serres. He is joined by his wife Judy and their three children, John, 39, Buck, 37, and Taylor, 33 in the family businesses.
Everyone has a role in keeping the operations going and growing. Taylor, who graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where she studied enology, viticulture and agriculture business, oversees the wine and agricultural operations including the cattle ranch, with Buck, and blueberry farm in Laytonville, Mendocino County. In her role, she wears many hats related to farming, marketing and food safety.
John Jr. runs the family’s civil engineering construction company that has 50 employees. Buck works in various capacities on the ranches including farm machinery repair, cattle ranching, fabrication and anything else that is needed.
Family patriarch John Serres is proud of the direction and dedication the next generation is taking to expand and enhance the family’s agricultural and business endeavors. It’s all aimed at keeping the ranch in the family. Members of the Serres family consider themselves caretakers of land that will one day pass to the next generation.
“This ranch is my haven. No matter where or how far I go, I always take a deep breath and say “I’m home” when I drive through that ranch gate,” said John Serres, who developed a strong work ethic early on milking cows and driving tractors on the ranch his great grandfather John Pierre “Toots” Serres acquired in 1924.
Like many longtime farming families, the Serres have survived boom-and-busts, droughts, economic downturns, the impacts of global wars and political turmoil to keep their land.
The Serres’ 100 years as multi-generational farmers is a rarity for a family business. Studies show that only 30 percent of family businesses survive their founders and make it to the second generation. The statistics grow slimmer as family businesses pass into succeeding generations. Only 12 percent of family businesses make it to the third generation and three percent to the fourth generation and beyond, putting the Serres family in a rare category as they move into their sixth generation.
The Serres family will tell you their survival isn’t through luck but the willingness to work hard and adapt to market changes. Over the last century the Serres Ranch has produced a variety of crops while operating as a dairy and beef cattle ranch. In 1977 the Serres planted their first winegrapes, gradually expanding their vineyards to 126 acres. In 2017 the family produced its first Serres Ranch Wines, focusing on robust red varietals.
The Serres family’s business acumen, dedication to farming and prominent place in the agriculture community have earned them Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Farm Family of the Year Award for 2023. Farm Bureau leaders say the Serres are exemplary entrepreneurs focused on economic viability and environmental stewardship while being involved in building community and preserving the county’s rich agricultural heritage.
“Members of the Serres family are genuine, down-to-earth good folks, not the least bit scared of the hard work it takes to make things work. They’re as generous and trustworthy as you can ask for. I always feel comfortable talking to John Serres, regardless of what we’re talking about,” said Sonoma Valley hay rancher Norm Yenni, a director and past president of Sonoma County Farm Bureau.
The Serres Family, along with other “Stewards of the Land” award recipients, will be honored at Farm Bureau’s Love of the Land celebration on July 27 at Richard’s Grove and Saralee’s Vineyard, the Windsor vineyard estate that is now part of Jackson Family Wines.
The Serres Family said they are honored to be recognized as Farm Family of the Year, joining such families as the Duttons, Neves, Cranes, Berettas and Ballettos who have previously received the award.
The Farm Bureau award recognizes farming as both a business and way-of-life on family land. For Judy Serres it’s a dream come true to have her children and grandchildren living on or very near the ranch where everyone works to keep the land in the family. There is oldest son John and his wife Nicole Serres and their daughter Victory, 2; Buck and Lizzy Serres and their children Cannon, 8, Rudd, 5 and twins Woody and Tenny, 2, and Taylor Serres and her husband Guido Murnig.
Taylor and Guido live in the original ranch house that was once the home of “Fighting Joe Hooker,” a famous general of the Civil War who came West and settled in the Sonoma Valley. Hooker owned the ranch from 1851 to 1858. Later on was owned by the Watriss family, East Coast transplants, who found their passion in farming. The Watriss and Serres families were in a close-knit farming partnership during the early 1900’s. When the last Watriss died in 1924, the Serres family bought the ranch establishing the farming legacy that continues.
Today, the Serres family focuses on producing high quality grapes that they sell to top-tier wineries like Imagery Estate and St. Francis. When Taylor came back to the ranch after graduating from Cal Poly, she encouraged her parents to start their own label, Serres Ranch, using some of their best grapes.
In 2017, assisted by winemakers Tim Milos and Derek Irwin, Serres Ranch produced its first 21 case vintage, a proprietary red blend of Malbec, Petite Verdot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Today, Serres Ranch produces four different wines that capture the ranch’s sense of place. The Serres Ranch’s Watriss, a Bordeaux style blend, pays tribute to the Watriss family’s pioneering spirit in the Sonoma Valley and their benevolence to the Serres family.
“Our wines are family focused. The family is involved in tasting and blending the best wines that showcase the quality of our estate fruit. We have received awesome scores that helped pave the way for our wines,” said Taylor, who grew up showing cattle at the Sonoma County Fair as a member of the 4-H and FFA.
The Sonoma County Fairgrounds is familiar turf for the Serres family. John Serres served for 15 years on the Sonoma County Fair board where he was known for his work in the livestock barns and dedication to junior exhibitors.
Taylor Serres definitely inherited her family’s farming gene. Last year, the Sonoma County Harvest Fair named Taylor the county’s “Outstanding Young Farmer,” in recognition of her farming production, marketing skills and leadership in the agricultural community. She serves as a director of the Sonoma County Winegrowers and was a leader in reviving the Sonoma-Marin Young Farmers & Ranchers.
Serres Ranch makes about 500 cases a year, focusing on ultra-premium wines. They take the pursuit of excellence very seriously. In 2020, they did not produce a vintage because the grapes were tainted by smoke from wildfires.
Taylor said wine production will increase as they cultivate new markets. They are concentrating on direct-to-consumer experiences and wine clubs to sell their wines.
Being longtime farmers, the Serres know the value of diversity in agriculture. On their ranch in Mendocino County, Buck and Taylor run a herd of beef cattle and grow blueberries, a valuable but labor-intensive crop. The cattle are raised organically and this year will be sold to the Eel River Beef Co.
Before planning the 20 acres of blueberries, John Serres studied climate and soil conditions on the Laytonville property to determine the best blueberry varietal. They planted the Duke blueberry, known for its crunch and intense flavor.
The blueberry harvest runs from mid-June to mid-July and it’s all hands-on deck to pick and deliver the berries to markets throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. The Serres Ranch blueberries have been shipped to markets as far as Taiwan.
Serres Ranch employees who work in the vineyards relocate to Laytonville for the blueberry harvest, which comes during a slow time in the vineyards. The Serres value their employees, considering them the backbone of their farming and construction businesses. Many have been with the Serres family for many years including supervisor Gabino Ramirez who has been on the ranch for 36 years.
In addition to the fresh blueberries, the Serres Family has also developed a line of blueberry products including jams, sauce and a sparkling blueberry rose called Bleuse, a refreshing summer drink.
It’s all part of the family’s move to be innovative and adaptive while contributing to Sonoma County’s image as California’s premier food and wine region.
“We are on this ranch for the long-term and the generations to come,” said Taylor.