Ag Leader Domenic Carinalli Honored with Farm Bureau’s Hall of Fame Award

Written By: Tim Tesconi
Published: May 1, 2020

Sebastopol dairy rancher and grape grower has devoted more than 50 years of his life advocating for agriculture

For more than 50 years Domenic Carinalli has been a recognized leader on the farm front, spending countless hours away from his Sebastopol ranch to fight for the interests of all farmers in Sonoma County and beyond.

In his straightforward, no-nonsense way, Carinalli, who is 79 and still going strong, emerged as the voice of reason on topics ranging from land-use to milk marketing and wine grape promotion to animal welfare. And he did it all while running the family dairy and vineyard with his wife Lynda, a working partner in their farm business. 

In many ways, Domenic and Lynda Carinalli are the profile of today’s American farm family, hardworking stewards of the land who are pillars of the farming community and ambassadors for agriculture. They are involved in Sebastopol’s St. Sebastian’s Catholic Church and many community organizations while supporting farm youth groups like 4-H and FFA that are nurturing the next generation of farmers and agriculture leaders. 

 Farm Bureau leaders say Domenic Carinalli’s extraordinary contributions to agriculture will be honored with his induction into the Sonoma County Farm Bureau Hall of Fame. The prestigious award recognizes individuals who have made a real and lasting difference in preserving and protecting Sonoma County’s agriculture industry and the county’s 500,000 acres of farmland. 

“Domenic has been a longtime leader for Sonoma County agriculture and has served on Farm Bureau’s board of directors for more than 50 years. He is passionate and gives much of his time to the agriculture community. I truly value the knowledge and experience he brings to Farm Bureau,” said Jeff Carlton, president of Sonoma County Farm Bureau. 

Carlton said Carinalli’s longevity on the Farm Bureau board of directors is legendary. He said Carinalli was involved in building Farm Bureau’s former office on Piner Road more than 50 years ago and was active again when the organization relocated several years ago to its new headquarters on Westwind Boulevard near the Sonoma County Airport. For many of the younger directors on the Farm Bureau board, Domenic Carinalli is the organization’s institutional memory and elder adviser, putting the issues of the day into perspective based on the historical past.

Carinalli will be honored at Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s annual meeting in November.

The Hall of Fame award recognizes Carinalli’s deep and enduring commitment to agriculture and his dedication to a way-of-life that he believes is worth preserving for generations to come in Sonoma County. 

“Sonoma County is a great county, it’s a nice place to live and farm. But we will always have challenges as we work to keep agriculture viable and farmers on the land,” said Carinalli, a second-generation dairy farmer on the Sebastopol ranch established in the 1920’s by his parents, Domenico Carinalli, an Italian immigrant, and  Evelina Carinalli, who was a member of the Albertoni family and born in Sonoma County.

In addition to the dairy, the Carinalli family also produced White Leghorn breeding eggs from 1956 until 1972 for H & N Hatcherye in Petaluma. 

Meeting the challenges that farmers face is what drives Carinalli to devote so much of his time to Sonoma County Farm Bureau and Western United Dairymen – organizations that collectively represent the interests of agricultural producers. He said farmers can’t tackle the issues alone and must work collectively through strong and credible organizations to protect their interests whether it’s burdensome regulations, land use, transportation, markets or the many other issues that threaten farmers’ survival.

Carinalli has been a director of Sonoma County Farm Bureau since 1968 and is the longest serving director in the history of the organization, which was founded in 1917. He served as Farm Bureau president in 1987-88. Additionally, he has served twice as the representative for Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties on the board of directors of the California Farm Bureau Federation in Sacramento. During both stints on the CFBF board he was involved in decisions about building new headquarters for the state organization.

Carinalli also served more than a half century as a director, and now delegate, of Western United Dairymen, a dairy industry organization, and was that group’s president. For many years he was a director of the California Milk Advisory Board.

A busy man, Carinalli was a volunteer with the Hessel Volunteer Fire Department and now is on the board of the Gold Ridge Fire District. As a grape grower he is alternate board member on the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission. 

Carinalli’s survival in the dairy industry is testament to his determination and resilience to keep producing milk in what is a very challenging industry. He said when he graduated from Analy High School in 1960 there were 300 dairies in Sonoma County and 150 dairies in Marin County. Today there are 70 dairies in both counties, with the number of dairy farms in the two counties expected to further decline because of shrinking profit margins.

“Dairy farming is a tough industry and keeps getting tougher. Milk prices are way down from what they were,” said Carinalli. “The number of dairies will keep whittling down.”

Carinalli has cut back his dairy operation because of the economics of milk production but he is determined to keep cows on the ranch. The Carinallis who once milked 350 cows now only milk 50 cows, maintaining the small herd of registered Guernseys tracing their bloodlines back to 1956 when Carinalli purchased his first Guernsey calf as an FFA project. 

The gentle Guernsey, the old brown cow of children’s storybooks, was a mainstay on family farms for much of the last century because of their rich “golden” milk.  But Holsteins are now the primary dairy breed because of their higher production and efficiency.  Today, the Carinallis have the last Guernsey herd in the North Bay and one of the few in California.

 Each year, their best Guernsey cattle are on display in the dairy barns at the Sonoma County Fair. Their hope is that the prized herd will continue with the next generation of their family.

Carinalli said he wouldn’t be where he is today without the support and hard work of his wife Lynda, his true partner in life, farming and family. The Carinallis, who have been married for 52 years, have three grown daughters – Ann, Gina and Diane – and seven grandchildren.  It’s their hope that someone in the family will take over the family farm business that includes 450 acres of owned and managed farmland in west Sonoma County. In addition to the home ranch on Gravenstein Highway, they farm 100 acres of premium quality vineyards along Llano Road.

“Lynda holds everything together. She raised the family and continues to all the bookkeeping and everything else that needs to be done for the dairy, vineyards and D & L Carinalli Vineyards wine,” he said.  Lynda also manages the family ‘s Laguna Valley Mitigation Bank for vernal pool preservation.

The Carinalli vineyards, located in the Russian River Valley appellation, produce chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot grigio grapes. They sell most of the grape crop to a leading winery but annually produce 1,000 cases of ultra-premium wine under the D & L Carinalli Vineyards label.  The wines have won gold and best of class awards over the years at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, Harvest Fair, the Press Democrat’s North Coast Wine Challenge and other competitions.  

Carinalli said the excellent soil and cool climate at his property offer ideal conditions where chardonnay and pinot noir grapes can attain their ultimate flavors and varietal expression. He said precision farming aimed at producing top quality grapes is another factor in producing the top-flight, award winning wine.

 “The vineyards are along the Laguna de Santa Rosa where the weather is cool and crisp and dominated by morning fog during the growing season. It’s the perfect weather for growing cool climate grapes like chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot grigio,” said Carinalli, who planted his first grapes in 1996 to diversify his agricultural operations. It was a smart move as the dairy industry came under increasing economic pressure.

“The wines grapes have been a real good experience for me and my family. I grew up in the dairy business, became a dairy rancher and have had cows all of my life. But the grapes are something I did on my own. It’s been rewarding to grow grapes and produce wine that is recognized for its quality,” said Carinalli.

The D & L Carinalli Vineyards wines are sold through the vineyard’s website, dlcarinallivineyards.com., and various stores and wine shops throughout Sonoma County and in a number of shops throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.

Carinalli credits his connections through Sonoma County Farm Bureau for his decision to establish a vineyard and, then, getting the expert guidance to properly develop it. He said longtime Dry Creek Valley grape grower Richard Mounts, past president of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, advised him on the varietals to plant in his area and the right way to establish a vineyard.

Although commercial grape growing and winemaking came along years after his decades as a dairy farmer, winemaking has a long tradition in the Carinalli family. For as long as Carinalli can remember home winemaking has been part of his Italian family heritage. Domenic’s father, Domenico Carinalli Sr., came to America in 1921 from his hometown in Germasino, Italy. A picture of the Catholic Church in Germasino, an enduring symbol of the Carinalli heritage and their love of the land, is on the D & L Carinalli wine label.

When he arrived in Sonoma County in the early 1920’s Domenico Carinalli Sr. and his wife Evelina established a family farm in Sebastopol where they milked cows, made homemade cheese, churned butter and produced wine and food for the family table. Domenic and Lynda Carinalli are continuing the family traditions and establishing an agricultural legacy for their children and grandchildren.

Even as he approaches 80, Carinalli has no thoughts of retiring from farming or his active participation in the agricultural organizations that he believes are vital to protecting the interests of farmers and ranchers. He said with so few people actively involved in farming these days, there is little understanding of agriculture production. He hopes that county residents appreciate and value the vast stretches of farm and grazing land that makes Sonoma County such a special place to live.

“Increasingly, people today don’t have a clue about what it takes to produce what they are eating and the challenges that farmers face to keep producing it,” said Carinalli.

He said his work in farming and advocacy is not done.

“We are going to keep it all going,” Carinalli said his no-nonsense way.

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