Oakville grape grower and Napa Valley Grapegrowers founder Ren Harris has been named the 2021 Napa Valley Grower of the Year.
Harris began his farming career in the late 1960s, moving from San Francisco with his wife, Napa Valley native, Marilyn Pelissa. They purchased a prune orchard in Oakville, where Harris began working odd jobs for family and friends, growing a passion for agriculture and farming.
Harris became involved in local causes and efforts, dedicating years to advocating for the vineyard and winery workforce. In 1972, he founded the California Grower Foundation (now Ag Health Benefits Alliance), which established affordable health care access for farmworkers and helped improve work conditions for many.
As the Napa County Farm Bureau president from 1975 through 1977, Harris was exposed to a range of issues affecting the industry, and subsequently, his dedication to supporting Napa Valley agriculture grew.
In 1975, Harris, alongside long-time Napa Valley grape growers Andy Beckstoffer, William Jaeger, Jr., John Trefethen, Virgil Galleron, Justin Meyer, and Joseph Miller, established the Napa Valley Grapegrowers (NVG). They had a shared focus — to sustain grape growing in the Napa Valley.
Through the NVG, they set an important precedent, giving growers a voice. Among their accomplishments, they developed the Bottle Price Formula and lobbied for geographical and historical indicators to be used to establish a wine’s appellation of origin. They also initiated the Winery Definition Ordinance, which mandated that 75% of grapes in Napa wine must come from Napa Valley vineyards.
Beyond founding the California Grower Foundation and the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Harris immersed himself in other civic, philanthropic, and professional endeavors, all helping to build a legacy for Napa Valley agriculture and land preservation. He served as governor of the council of California Growers, director of Napa Valley Co-Op Winery, and was a past president and active board member for the Oakville Winegrowers Association. Since 2002, he has been a 1% for the Planet movement member, annually dedicating 1% of his winery’s gross sales toward environmental nonprofits.
A sixth-generation Californian, Harris began as a history major at the University of San Francisco, then pursued additional education from Napa Valley College, UC Davis, and most recently, the University of Bordeaux. In addition to his deep commitment to the Napa County community, Harris’s “day job” from 1980 — 2003 was in vineyard and winery real estate.
Filled every day with genuine gratitude, Harris enjoys riding motorcycles, his Saturday morning breakfast routine with a dear friend, Harold Morrison — a routine that has lasted more than 50 years — and sharing historical anecdotes about the Napa Valley.
NVG President Michael Silacci said, “Ren Harris is an icon — scratch that, a legend in the Napa Valley. His tireless efforts to preserve and protect the land, the vineyards, the people, and the community are woven into the fabric of the Napa Valley. If the Grower of the Year were to receive an Oscar-like statue instead of a belt buckle, Ren would be the model for it.”
Harris and his wife own Paradigm Winery in Oakville.
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