The Dutton Family has been farming in Sonoma County for more than five generations. Steve and Joe Dutton, brothers and co-owners of Dutton Ranch, farm apples and winegrapes on their home ranch in Graton.
The property was purchased by their parents, Warren Jr. and Gail, in the 1960’s, but the Dutton family’s involvement in Sonoma County agriculture starts long before then. Steve and Joe’s great-great-grandfather, Reed Dutton and his brother Warren, moved from Tomales to Santa Rosa in the late 1800’s. They began farming in the Roseland area, on what is now Dutton Avenue, and Warren worked with Luther Burbank to develop 20,000 prune trees which he grew on their 200 acre ranch.
Reed’s son George and grandson Warren Sr. became gentlemen farmers each having long careers with Exchange Bank. Both generations maintained the family farm in Roseland, leasing the property to farmers or hiring people to farm the land.
Warren Jr. worked on his father’s ranches in high school and quickly fell in love with agriculture. After graduating in 1962, he married his high school sweetheart, Gail, in 1963 and they purchased the first piece of Dutton Ranch the following year.
Steve and Joe Dutton followed in their father’s footsteps developing a passion for agriculture at a young age as they worked on the family’s ranch. Steve Dutton said he’s been interested in agriculture for as long as he can remember.
“I grew up loving farm equipment,” said Dutton. “As soon as I could figure it out, I was driving a tractor. As soon as I could get my driver’s permit, I was driving and hauling apples all summer long.”
After graduating high school, Dutton attended UC Davis. A year and a half into college, he realized his passion wasn’t in going to school but rather working on the ranch and local agriculture.
“After coming back from Davis, my dad put me on a tractor, and I drove a tractor for a month and a half straight every day. He thought he was going to get me to go back to school if he kept doing it,” said Dutton. “I started to count stakes and figure out how fast I was going. I started calculating how many miles an hour I was disking and how many acres an hour I was disking. Within a few days, he figured out it wasn’t going to work. I wasn’t going to get bored and go back to school – I liked farming too much.”
Dutton’s brother, Joe, graduated in 1987 and the two worked side by side on the ranch growing apples and grapes.
After his two children joined the family business, Warren Jr. realized the small farm in Graton was going to have to transition from supporting one family to three families. Warren Jr. set out to lease additional land and increase the amount they were growing, slowly building up the size of the ranch.
Dutton met Theresa Pizzella in the early 90’s. Pizzella was a recent graduate of Sonoma State University and working at a bank in Sebastopol. The couple married in 1993, and had two children, Jake and Jordan, in 1997. Jake and Jordan are both 19 attending Santa Rosa Junior College and UC Davis, respectively, studying in agricultural fields.
Dutton, who is in his 30th year working on the ranch, said as the business grew, he kept taking on more and more responsibility, working his way up in the company. However, at the beginning of his career he wasn’t involved in agriculture off the farm, instead focusing his effort on the business and farming.
When Warren Jr. passed away unexpectedly in 2001, both brothers stepped up and became more involved in the community. Dutton took his father’s seat on Russian River Valley Winegrower’s board and Joe took his seat on the Gold Ridge RCD’s board.
The Dutton brothers bought out their mother Gail in 2008 and have continued to build the business. They now farm 1,400 acres – nearly 200 acres of certified organic apples and 1,200 acres of winegrapes.
There was a time when the Duttons had more than 500 acres of apples, but over time the family has transitioned to predominantly growing grapes. Although they have fewer apples, Dutton said the apples are still an important and vital part of their business.
The Duttons like the idea of being diversified, and Dutton said they’ve grown apples long enough to learn how to make them profitable. More importantly, the apples keep their labor force busy when there’s downtime in the vineyards. Labor is important to Dutton, and he wants to be sure he can always provide work. Dutton said in relation to wine, apples are easier to grow and less demanding.
As Dutton sees his business continuing to thrive and grow, he also sees the ranch replanting some of their orchards. Now that the apple industry is organic, it’s making a comeback in Sonoma County and he plans to continue growing the same acreage of apples, if not planting more.
Dutton has vertically integrated the wine portion of his business. Alongside his wife Theresa, the couple partnered with winemaker Dan Goldfield to start Dutton-Goldfield Winery. He liked the idea of having the ability to control the product all the way to the consumer. The 15,000 case winery primarily produces Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Since joining the Russian River Valley Winegrowers board in 2001, where he has since served as President twice, Dutton has been actively involved in the community and agriculture off the farm. His involvement with the Russian River Valley Winegrowers led to Lex McCorvey asking Dutton if he wanted to join Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s board in 2004 which he has been serving on for the last 13 years.
On the Sonoma County Farm Bureau board, Dutton has held both offices of First Vice President and Second Vice President. For the last four years, Dutton has chaired the membership committee, working hard to maintain Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s status as the largest agricultural association in the county. He was also responsible for the implementation of the successful Premium Membership level which now has 32 members.
Dutton has also served on the board of Sonoma County Farm Trails where he held the office of Treasurer, and he is currently President of the Russian River Valley Winegrowers Foundation. In addition to his agricultural involvement, Dutton is on the board of Exchange Bank. He believes local banks are important, and by serving on their board, he can help direct the bank’s involvement in the community.
Dutton began his term as Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s president on January 1st. Sonoma County Farm Bureau is important to Dutton because it’s the only entity fighting for property rights, farming rights, water rights and to protect agriculture in Sonoma County while representing all agriculture. Dutton said there is no other organization which goes to the extent Farm Bureau does.
“I love growing things, and I just love working outside and working with the land,” said Dutton. “It’s important to me to keep Sonoma County as open space. It’s important to protect agriculture and protect the right to farm. What else would be out in the country if it wasn’t for agriculture? How could you afford to have this land?
“This is where we’re from. This is our home; it’s been our home for five generations. I don’t see myself ever leaving or going anywhere. If it wasn’t us doing this, it’d be someone else.”
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