In Sonoma County, the Dutton name is to farming, what Clover is to milk and Kendall-Jackson is to wine.
For nearly 200 years, the Dutton family – now in the sixth generation and firmly rooted in Sonoma County’s good earth – has farmed everything from potatoes and prunes to barley and apples in the region’s changing agricultural landscape. To stay in farming and keep their land, the Duttons were among the first fruit farmers transitioning to wine grapes as the markets died for prunes and pears.
Today, fifth generation Duttons, brothers Steve, 55, and Joe, 53, manage money and manpower to farm 1,200 acres of sustainably farmed certified wine grapes and 200 acres of certified organic apples. Their agricultural operations are anchored at the Dutton Ranch headquarters along a stretch of Graton Road between Graton and Occidental.
The Dutton brothers farm in partnership with their mother, family matriarch Gail Dutton, who co-founded the Dutton Ranch farming operation in the 1960’s with her late husband, Warren Dutton Jr. a born farmer like his sons who followed him into the business. Today Gail Dutton is retired from day-to-day farming activities but oversees operations, lovingly acknowledged by her family as Chairman of the Board and Chief Adviser.
“Our mom is the tie breaker,” Steve Dutton said of his mother and her keen interest in the family farming operation.
The Dutton family sells their wine grapes, primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grown in the cool, fog shrouded Russian River Valley, to 95 different top-tier wineries in Sonoma and Napa counties, with some of their select grapes crushed for their own wine labels, Dutton Estate and Dutton-Goldfield, both in Sebastopol.
While the crops they grow have changed with the evolving times in agriculture, the Dutton family’s respect and care for the land remains at the core of their farming philosophy. Theirs is a remarkable legacy of dedication to land, family unity and the agricultural community in which they play an important role as leaders and innovators.
The Dutton Family’s passion for farming and their outstanding leadership in Sonoma County’s agriculture community made them the unanimous choice as Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s 2022 Farm Family of the Year. The award annually recognizes a family that is an integral part of the economic and social fabric of the county’s close-knit farming community.
“Farm families like the Duttons are the heart and soul of Sonoma County agriculture, working hard to keep their land for future generations and to uphold our county’s farming heritage,” said Santa Rosa dairy rancher Jennifer Beretta, president of Sonoma County Farm Bureau. “In addition to being strong and supportive members of our Farm Bureau family the Duttons are respected leaders in conservation, resource management, sustainability and employee housing.”
Beretta said she also admires the Dutton family’s focused efforts to position the next generation to carry on the family’s farming operations well into this century.
The Duttons will be honored at Farm Bureau’s Love of the Land Celebration on July 13 at Richard’s Grove and Saralee’s Vineyard, now the La Crema wine estate owned by Jackson Family Wines. It will be a night to celebrate the people and the land that have made Sonoma County the premiere wine and food region in California.
In addition to the Dutton Family, Farm Bureau will honor Jordan Vineyards & Winery with the Luther Burbank Conservation Award and Ed Grossi, owner of Sweet Lane Nursery, with the Friend of Sonoma County Farm Bureau. The late Steve Reese, a champion for agriculture and dedicated volunteer on the farm front, will be posthumously inducted into the Farm Bureau Hall of Fame.
Steve Olson, retired educator and SRJC administrator, will receive the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber’s Leadership in Agriculture Award in recognition of his decades as a tireless advocate for agriculture, ag education and farm youth.
It’s fitting that the Duttons will be honored at the Love of the Land celebration because it’s their family’s love for the land that has propelled them for 180 years.
The Dutton farming legacy traces back to the 1840s when pioneer Warren Dutton moved from the Boston area and settled in Tomales. Later he relocated to Santa Rosa and in 1881 purchased 200 acres, which he and his brother Reed – Steve and Joe Dutton’s great great grandfather – planted to prunes because they were in such high demand.
In a deal that made the history books, the original Dutton brothers ordered 20,000 prune trees from Santa Rosa horticulturist Luther Burbank who was able to propagate and deliver the trees within one years’ time, a remarkable feat. The rush order delivery was big news and further elevated Burbank’s international reputation as a plant wizard.
The ranch continued to thrive for the next two generations, first under the management of Reed’s son, George, and later under George’s son, Warren, who was named for his great uncle. Both George and Warren Dutton had day jobs at Exchange Bank, helping in the prune orchards after hours and on weekends. Warren’s wife Linda and her son Warren Dutton Jr. ran the prune orchards day-to-day.
Steve and Joe learned from their father Warren Dutton Jr., a legendary figure in the agricultural industry who died in 2001, that when you prosper as a farmer you continue to buy land but never sell it.
“Our father always told us once the land is sold you can never get it back,” said Steve, who is president of the Dutton Ranch Corp. Joe Dutton is secretary -treasurer of the family-owned corporation.
The Duttons continue adding to their land holdings as opportunities arise – all with an eye for positioning the next generation to farm in Sonoma County. And there is no question that the sixth generation is poised to do just that.
Steve Dutton’s twins, Jake and Jordan, 24, both work at Dutton Ranch. Jordan, a graduate of U.C. Davis, handles human resources and marketing, which includes the relationships with winemakers who buy the Dutton Ranch grapes. In her human resources role, she oversees the needs of the farming company’s 165 employees – seasonal and full-time – who work in the vineyards and apple orchards.
Meanwhile, Jake Dutton, like is father and uncle, loves fine-tuned farm machinery and working with his hands on family land. Jake, who is in charge of ranch and vineyard development, is often seen on or near a tractor.
Joe Dutton and his wife Tracy, who is a member of the Kozlowski farming family in Sebastopol, have three daughters, Kyndall, 27, Kylie, 26, and Karmen, 20, an accounting major at the University of Arizona. Karmen plans to one day use her accounting skills in the family businesses. Kylie is the assistant winemaker at her parents’ Dutton Estate Winery, working closely with her mother Tracy who helped build the winery and continues to manage and oversee day-to-day operations. Kyndall manages the office for the family winery.
Joe and Steve said their children grew up riding on tractors and jumping in the big rigs with their Dads to deliver grapes and apples. They instinctively learned the rhythms of the farming seasons, the impacts of weather on crops and that when harvest rolls around it’s all hands-on-deck to bring in the crops.
The Dutton daughters have a strong role model in their grandmother Gail Dutton who grew up as Gail Rocco in Santa Rosa. She was not born into farming but quickly became a farmer after marrying Santa Rosa High School sweetheart Warren Dutton Jr., who always wanted to be a farmer. Gail became a working partner in the Dutton farming operation, joining her husband in taking on debt to buy more land to plant wine grapes.
In the early 1970’s when they couldn’t sell their pears for a decent price, Gail opened a fruit stand in a converted tool shed on family orchards on Sebastopol Road in Santa Rosa. Gail’s farm store became a popular roadside attraction and one of the county’s first direct-to-consumer farm outlets.
Gail sold pears, apples, walnuts and dried prunes from the Dutton ranches. Always innovative, she created a mailing list -unconventional at the time- to connect with her customers to keep them coming back for her gift packs and fresh fruit.
The farm stand closed in 1985 when the Duttons sold the prune orchards for development and concentrated on expanding their vineyard operations in west Sonoma County.
Like their late father, Steve and Joe Dutton are involved in organizations that represent farming interests and give agriculture a voice. They believe the time spent off the ranch is essential to their family’s farming future.
“We stay involved to protect agriculture and ensure there is a viable farming industry in Sonoma County for our kids and grandkids. We have to stay vigilant because if Sonoma County loses ground and becomes another Santa Clara County it would be a travesty,” said Steve Dutton.
Steve is a director and past president of Sonoma County Farm Bureau, president of the Farm Bureau Foundation and president of the Russian River Valley Winegrowers Foundation. He serves on the board of directors of Exchange Bank where his grandfather also served on the bank’s board of directors. Both his grandfather and great grandfather were employed as farm appraisers at Exchange Bank.
Steve’s wife Karissa Kruse is president of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission and recognized as an international leader in sustainable viticulture.
Both Steve and Joe are on the viticulture advisory committee for Santa Rosa Junior College.
Joe is president of the Gold Ridge Resource Conservation District and a commissioner and past chairman of the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission. He is past chairman and current treasurer of the Sonoma County Grape Growers Foundation, a non-profit that focuses on assisting and supporting farmworkers who are the backbone of grape growing.
The Duttons respect and value their employees and the crucial role they play in the precision farming that is required to produce world class wine grapes in Sonoma County.
“We couldn’t do it without our employees,” said Steve Dutton.