Kunde, who died earlier this year at the age of 66, was known for her generosity, her deep roots as a grower, and yes, her lively hats.
The most sentimental part of Sunday’s Harvest Awards Night was when Saralee Kunde’s black and silver Derby-style hat was auctioned off. While plenty of people bid, with the hope of taking the hat home, the top offer at $2,600 was made by Kunde’s brother, George McClelland of Santa Rosa,
Kunde was a Sonoma County icon and producer of prize-winning grapes, and she is sorely missed.
As Mike Martini, president of the fair board, put it:
“This is the 40th anniversary of the Sonoma County Harvest Fair, but the first year without Saralee McClelland Kunde and we miss her so much,” said Martini, who doubles as co-vintner of Sebastopol’s Taft Street Winery. “She was at the first one, and her example is what keeps us going.”
The locals will tell you Kunde championed Sonoma County in a unique way, bridging the gap between ranchers and farmers, a devoted member of both worlds as the dairy ranchers’ daughter who became a producer of top rate grapes.
For years a parcel of land on Slusser Road, then known as Saralee and Richard’s Grove, hosted benefit events, and I remember thinking on more than one occasion how lucky local organizations were to have the goodwill Kunde turf at their disposal.
The last time I saw Saralee was at last year’s Awards Night Gala, and she had plenty to say about harvest and hats. She told me then that the late night picking was grueling for the crews, although harvest was going well. As for the hats, she loved to shop for hats, the more outlandish the better. She ate briefly, in-between chatting and shuffling her index cards, rehearsing her speech that would introduce some of the agricultural honorees.
When Saralee got up to speak, she didn’t need to rely on her index cards one bit; she just improvised, played on her instincts with humor and charmed the crowd with her eye-catching hat.