But this has been the case since Marcia Mickelson’s father, the late Bob Kunde, began raising registered Herefords as a young man, all while growing grapes with his family in California’s Sonoma Valley, the birthplace of that state’s wine industry.

History tends to repeat itself and these days the tradition started in the pastures by Marcia’s family continues at Kunde Family Estate through the Mickelson’s Sonoma Mountain Herefords (SMH), which includes Marcia, Jim, their son Bobby and daughter Jamie.

Kunde Family estate winery

A passion for cattle

“Sonoma Mountain Herefords really developed from Bobby and Jamie’s 4-H projects,” Marcia explains.

“Between the two of them, they own a significant number of the Sonoma Mountain herd. It’s the way they’ve paid their way through college, and it’s been a great education for them.”

Bobby, 24, newly married to Heidi, and Jamie, 22, a senior at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, are passionate about the cattle.


In 2003, Jim and Marcia purchased 30 cows from her dad when he passed his Hereford legacy onto the fourth and fifth generations, adding to Bobby and Jamie’s growing herds.

The siblings have worked together to continually upgrade their herd’s genetics much like their granddad did.

In the 1970s, when Marcia was a teen, her family’s Kunde Hereford Ranch, located near Kenwood, marketed bulls and females to commercial customers through annual production sales.

Her dad became a leader in the American Hereford Association (AHA) and Marcia followed in his footsteps, also as a board director, but for the then-American Junior Hereford Association in the early 1980s.

Marcia and her two brothers showed cattle and that’s how she met Jim at the Sonoma County Fair.

Sonoma Mountain replacement heifers graze on Kunde pasturelands

As their family’s fun pastime has grown into a viable business, the Mickelsons named their Sonoma Mountain Herefords about 10 years ago.

Their logo is a true image of their operation, Marcia says. Their family lives on Sonoma Mountain and their cattle are raised in the mountains.

“They’re not like Montana mountains but, for us, they’re significant mountains,” she says. “They’re run on volcanic soil full of rocks and, if they’re going to forage and make it, they have to go up and down hills.”

The Mickelsons’ No. 1 goal is to raise bulls for commercial cattlemen, the same goal Marcia’s father had with his Kunde Hereford Ranch.

They also strive to breed functional females they can add back into their herd, and, secondary, to turn out nice show heifers, which Jamie especially enjoys.

In doing so, SMH is recognized for its diligent performance data collection and tracking as a Total Performance Breeder (TPR) by AHA, and also as a Dams of Distinction breeder for this family’s growing number of efficient, productive females.

The Mickelsons select for moderate-framed females with excellent udder and teat composition.

“Fertility also comes to the top of the list and we utilize EPDs and ultrasound data to help with our culling decisions,” Jim says.

This family runs both spring-calving and fall-calving herds to meet their bull buyers’ needs for both yearling and long-yearlings.

All females are artificially inseminated once before being turned out with herd sires selected from nationally recognized Hereford programs.

The bulls are sold each October in the Sonoma Mountain production sale known as the Next Generation Bull Sale.

Marcia and Jim are developing a following for their bulls; they believe it’s because their bulls are developed on forage and in tough environmental conditions similar to those in which their customers’ cattle are run.

Jim describes SMH’s typical bull customer as a commercial cowman with a herd anywhere from 20 to 1,500 head, most running black or black-baldie cows.

Their customers range from southern California to the northern Oregon border – and several of their current-day customers once bought bulls from Marcia’s father.

“Like everyone else, we are seeing more black herds coming back to Hereford bulls,” Jim remarks.

The Mickelsons summer pairs on dry mountain pastures and winter on fields near Petaluma.

But they try to calve all cows at their headquarters on the Kunde Ranch, family land that has been sustainably farmed and stewarded by generations to the benefit of both cattle and grape production.

The three E's of sustainability

A sustainable mission

“Sonoma Mountain Herefords is very much a family operation built around sustainability,” assures Marcia, as is Kunde Family Estate Winery and Vineyards, which includes 1,850 contiguous acres, 700 acres in grape production.

The family plants new vineyards to keep their winery growing but, even so, only 40 percent of their land is in production, explains Marcia, the marketing and communications manager for the family business.

“When you look at the ranch, there are a lot of grapes. But there is a lot of natural beauty here, too.

And that really works well for the cattle.” She says the estate includes everything from native grasslands to oak woodlands, canyons and seven lakes.

The Kundes have always kept pastureland, covered with ancient valley oak trees, next to blocks of vineyards as part of their sustainable mission. “Sustainability is what we do,” Marcia remarks.

The family’s commitment to improving environmental practices, from vineyard management to winemaking, administration and hospitality, hasn’t gone unnoticed.

For example, in 2008 the Kunde Family Estate received the state’s highest environmental honor, the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award. And in 2010, the estate received one of the first Certified California Sustainable Winegrowing certifications from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance.

But where do cattle fit? They are part of the certification, Marcia explains, because they’re used within several vineyard sustainability practices.

One of these is with fallow vineyards.


Jim, the president of Kunde Family Vineyards, their grape-growing company, explains, “We are continuously rotating vineyards out of production to replant with newer technologies and vine types.

When a vineyard block becomes fallow, instead of using tractors to mow off the cover crop, we use solar electric fences and grazing. This reduces the carbon footprint and naturally fertilizes the block.”

He says, “Since Hereford cattle tend to be very docile, it makes it easy to move them around the vineyard blocks, although occasionally there is an escapee who likes to munch on a Barbera vine.

Where we use cattle to graze those blocks, which in many instances is on hilly terrain, we rotate through our spring and fall cow-calf pairs and our replacement heifers.”

Composting is another sustainable practice that involves the bovines. Manure and straw scraped from corrals, along with stems and skins from grape crushing, are all composted and spread back on the vineyards.

From a pasture standpoint, their grasses are dryland and include native rye, clover and vetch. Jim says because their ground is so rocky, they don’t have the ability to enhance pastures as they’d like.

But this coming winter, they are planning to develop a system to deliver treated wastewater from the winery production facility to irrigate their calving pastures.

Marcia also notes that part of the Kunde family’s sustainable mission (see inset) is carried out from a consumer standpoint.

“For the winery, cows are a pretty unique thing to the general public. When guests go to Mountain Top (a wine-tasting site at 1,400 feet above the valley floor), and there’s a whole herd of cows lying under the trees, it’s a pretty cool concept.”

The cattle, she says, help visiting consumers connect the dots to farming and ranching. “It evokes that image of ranching.”

While these two industries are very different, “in many, many ways they are very much alike,” she says. “I think that’s why, for us, this program works so well.”

The Kunde family also offers a Sustainable Tour program, which includes people hikes and dog hikes through the family’s vineyards.

Depending on the time of year, they’ll gather a group of 60 to 70 hikers. Dog hikes fill up fast and there may be as many as 100 on leash.

“The goal of the hikes,” Marcia says, “is to get people out into the vineyards so they can physically see what it takes to grow a grape vine.

Along the way, they’ll walk right through the middle of our pastures.” Depending on the season, there may be cows with young calves at side or big bulls whose curiosity gets the best of them.

“It’s a pretty fun moment when your average consumer who likes wine can really get up close and personal with cattle. It’s good PR. They need to see the true story of how cattle are raised,” she remarks.

Marcia adds that the sustainability factor is becoming “more and more important” to their clientele and that hikes are a big part of their sustainability certification.

“Being able to get consumers out to understand what agriculture is and how we farm and farm responsibly – that’s a big part of sustainability.

People want to know what you’re doing; if you prove and show them that you’re doing it right, they’re going to support you.

A new chapter

While the association of cattle and grapes is of benefit to the Kunde Family Estate and their guests, Bobby and Jamie’s close association with the cattle and agriculture, as a whole, has been influential in their career paths as well.

Jamie’s interests lie in agricultural marketing. Currently she co-manages the Cal Poly Bull Test and is SMH’s website and bull sale marketing manager.

Bobby and Heidi, on the other hand, recently opened a new chapter as the fifth generation to return to the ranch.

“Bobby definitely has ideas of growing the herd, not only in numbers but in quality,” Jim comments. “For a student returning home from college, you can bet he has big ideas!”

All which is well and good, as the Kunde’s symbiotic tradition of Herefords and grapes, and their commitment to stewardship, continues in the pastorally pristine Sonoma Valley.  end mark


PHOTO 1: Cattle grazing and grape growing have been intertwined on the Kunde Family Estate since the 1950s

PHOTO 2: Kunde Family Estate Winery.

PHOTO 3: Sonoma Mountain replacement heifers graze on Kunde pasturelands that stretch from the valley floor up to 1,400 feet.

PHOTO 4: Grapes on vine. Photos courtesy of Mickelson family.