Prohibition

  • Repealed!

    December 3, 2019 16:11

    Repealed!

    December 5 marks the anniversary of the end of a long dry time in America. Each year, especially in wine country, we celebrate the end of Prohibition by raising a glass or two on the anniversary of Repeal of the 18th Ammendment-December 5, 1933. Prohibition itself played an important role in how we got into winegrowing. In fact, if Prohibition hadn’t happened I’m not sure we’d be in the wine business today.

    The tale has been lost to history as to why my grandparents bought 90 acres in 1927. I think it is because my grandfather, who arrived to the U.S. from Italy as a teenager, wanted a piece of land he could call his own after working on other farms. The property included 25 acres of vineyard, a home and a shuttered winery. It was sold by the Canata family who could no longer shoulder the debt of owning the land-and there may have been more to the story there as well, also lost to history. Even though Prohibition began in 1919 if you still owned vineyard you could sell grapes to home winemakers if they were a ‘head of household’ and obtained the permit from the federal government. Each household could make 200 gallons of wine per year.

    Now let’s think about this for a moment: this totals 84 cases or about 4 gallons per week. 20 bottles a week, or just shy of 3 bottles per day. Big families? Tradition? Thirsty? Many of these home winemakers had wine in their DNA-or at least were accustomed to enjoying wine with their meals every day. These were families from the old country with traditions which included wine on the table. Thanks to these home winemakers who bought grapes they also kept some vineyards growing through this period—and helped wineries reboot once Repeal rolled around. Statistically, the story is a sad one for Dry Creek Valley. Before 1919 there were 17 wineries making just over 1 million gallons of wine. Business was booming and then the hammer came down. Many of the vineyards were taken out and planted to prunes and other orchard crops. While there was still a market for wine grapes the bottom fell out by 1925 or so and part of the reason for the sale of the property. Gratefully December 5, 1933 ended this nationwide dry spell and we were poised at the right time to enter the winemaking business. Only 2 other wineries survived the next decade and it wasn’t until the 1970s when our county and valley saw a resurgence of wineries. Raise your glass, enjoy a bit of history and be thankful we are a nation that believes we should have wine on our tables.

    For those who love details I found this blog post from the Consitution Center and National Archives is a blog post on the 21st Ammendment and 5 things you may not have known!

  • 7/22/27

    June 25, 2019 14:56

    7/22/27

    Happy anniversary to our family business. This date marks our 92nd year. Here are some highlights over those years with some fun and serious moments. They all add up to four generations over farming over 9 decades in our corner of Dry Creek Valley.

    On July 22 let’s all raise a glass to our 92nd year here in Dry Creek Valley. What does it take to span 9 decades of farming and winemaking? Beginning with grandparents Giovanni and Julia and including fourth generation member Mitch Blakeley in the fold how did we do it?

    First generation founded the place in 1927 in the middle of Prohibition and 2 years before the Great Depression-quite a challenge. Selling grapes from 1927 through 1933 put food on the table and supported a young family including my dad Jim, youngest of four along with his older brother John and sisters Margaret and Marianne. There are tales of working together, getting lost among the vines, learning the ropes both in the vineyard and in the cellar-it was all hands on deck. Jim driving to town at the age of 12 without a license, John fishing with his brother Jim and big brother wouldn’t let him get the big fish, Jim convincing his parents he didn’t need milk anymore so he didn’t have to milk the cow.

    The brothers, as the second generation, split the business between them. John took on the vineyard and winemaking duties while Jim became the face of the winery in sales and marketing. They grew the business beyond selling to friends and neighbors and bought more land, planted vineyards, bought grapes from neighbors and eventually developed a worldwide network to distribute the fruits of our labors. All the while maintaining a business relationship for more than 60 years. One that rode the waves of change without rocking the familial boat.

    Third generation members and owners have worked alongside the second generation and are learning and growing in different ways than the first two. Along with my role as brand ambassador, my sisters Cathy and Lisa have their own along with my husband Ed (Sales & Marketing) and Lisa’s husband Lance (Operations and Vineyard Management). Our goals for going forward include remain relevant, keep our authentic voice, learn the way forward and keep our eye on changes in how wine is sold now (as compared to the first 8 decades). This keeps everyone on their toes.

    Mitch Blakeley, fourth gen and a Millennial, has worked in the vineyard since he was in eighth grade. His Ag Business degree puts him in the position of working both in the vineyard and in the market. He works alongside his father Lance as well as soaks up the other side of the business by working with grandfather Jim and uncle Ed. He makes forays into the markets where he is most needed and has already made connections with the people he works with there.

    It is hard to tell where the next generation will end up-right now there are four of them-my two grandsons and my sister Lisa’s two grandsons. They have each had their share of vineyard and winery visits. Who knows? Those grapes they’ve tasted at a young age may bear fruit one day-the seeds have been planted and the fifth generation may indeed continue the family business.

    So how does this all get accomplished? I think we as a family learned it is one step at a time. Being conservative when needed and taking chances-where some ideas work and some fail. Resiliency is a word we talk about in wine country in the aftermath of the fires but I think it can be applied to my family and our business. Ed likes to put it this way “Blessed are the flexible for they won’t be bent out of shape.” Raise your glass to 92 years so far!

  • December 5: The 85th Anniversary of Repeal!

    November 19, 2018 15:10

    December 5: The 85th Anniversary of Repeal!

    Just as the holidays go into full swing there is a day we should all take a moment to celebrate. December 5 is the day, 85 years ago, when the 21st Amendment ended what the 18th Amendment began: Prohibition. This is a very important day to all of us in the Pedroncelli family for obvious reasons.

    Without this act we would be farming prunes or walnuts. There would be no “Pedroncelli Winery” or Pedroncelli wines to drink. A bleak thought!

    My grandparents, Giovanni & Julia, bought the property mid-Prohibition and probably thought the dry time in America would end much sooner than it did. A couple of things happened however. Let’s go back to the fact that my grandparents, even though they came from Italy, had never owned vineyard let alone make wine. The good news is they learned from the ground up-by tending the vineyard they bought, selling the grapes to heads of households who were permitted to make 200 gallons of wine (84 cases!) during this dry period and finally learning to make wine alongside all these ‘vinpatriots’.

    Without the fortitude to stay the course the third and fourth generations would not be here continuing the heritage begun 91 years ago and we wouldn’t have the legacy of wines worth celebrating the day 85 years ago when the 19th amendment was repealed. Much like Open That Bottle Night (last Saturday of February) this is a day those of us in the wine biz enjoy the most. So let's celebrate with a glass of Zinfandel!

  • Thoughts on the 21st Ammendment

    December 4, 2015 11:54

    The 82nd anniversary of the Repeal of the 21st Amendment is December 5. Prohibition itself played an important role in how we got into winegrowing. In fact, if Prohibition hadn’t happened I’m not sure we’d be in the wine business today. The Italian family who owned the property before us (roughly 1906 to 1927 when my grandparents purchased it) may never have considered selling it. The winery had been shut down in 1919 but they could sell grapes during this time holding and were holding out hope the ban would be lifted. During this time they could sell their grapes to head of households, who in turn could make 200 gallons of wine. By the mid-1920’s the bottom of the grape market fell and the family was struggling to make ends meet.

    Enter my grandfather Giovanni who was looking for a piece of land to call his own after living in California for 20 years. Originally he came here as a companion to his sister Caterina who was betrothed to John Zandonella. My grandfather worked at many jobs in the early years including dairy, farming, railroad and other work he could find. He also served in the U.S. Army during World War I. His love of the land along with a Veteran’s Loan and down payment helped him find and purchase the property. The land sustained his young family through the ensuing years that included the Great Depression and began our journey into a four generation winegrowing family.

    Today the next three generations call this home in part thanks to the period known as Prohibition. A toast with a splash of Zinfandel in my Dino to my grandparents’ hard work and being in the right place at the right time. Who knows? They could have put down roots in Bakersfield…

    The first page of the title for the property purchased July 19, 1927. G. Canata represented the family who originally owned the property and is a relative of Louis M. Foppiano, of Foppiano Vineyards in Healdsburg.

    Title to Property 1927

  • View from the Soapbox

    November 20, 2015 12:25

    I am posting the speech I wrote up and read at a public forum on winery events held by the County of Sonoma’s Permit and Resource Management Department. Attendees included wine and grape growers as well as neighborhood groups and concerned citizens as we look to the future of marketing wine here in the county.

    88 years ago my grandparents purchased vineyard and a defunct winery in what would become known as Dry Creek Valley. They arrived with their young family and began selling grapes to support their family because Prohibition was in place at the time. You should know that Prohibition was also the reason the first family had to sell and give up their dream. Upon Repeal my grandfather dusted off the winery equipment and began making wine out of the grapes he farmed. Ag, at its most basic, sustains a family through good and bad times-Prohibition, Depression, recession, bountiful harvests and wine booms. Today second, third and fourth generation Pedroncelli family members are make a living and live here in Sonoma County.

    Imagine how much has changed for us over 8 decades of selling wine. Word of mouth, as in my grandfather’s day, is still important but the scope has changed. We incorporate educational activities and events to promote and sell our wine. Regulation of these will only curtail or even kill off present and future efforts of marketing our product to visitors in Sonoma County. What is required is greater enforcement of the General Plan’s policies. We are creative in how we market our wines. Please don’t prohibit our creativity of emphasizing the lifestyle and wine’s part in Sonoma County.

    I ask on behalf of the next generations of my family and other families who dream of putting down wine or grape roots here in Sonoma County. I encourage you to gain a complete understanding of what we do on a daily basis-and gain an understanding of our history and how we got here-with beginnings as far back as the 1850’s. I found a quote from History of Sonoma County by J.P. Munro-Fraser, 1879: “(Dry Creek Valley) is without peer in the production of wheat, corn and staple products while the hill land on its border produces all kinds of fruit, being especially adapted to grape culture.” Agriculture and product sales is what keeps a diverse culture in our county. We don’t want to become like Santa Clara County which to this day regrets the loss of agriculture to Silicon Valley.

    My hope is to preserve our family business so my grandsons have a chance to continue the heritage begun by their great-great-grandparents. Here's to family traditions with a splash of Zinfandel in my Dino!

    Couldn't resist including a shot of Jordan and Weston in the barrel room-future winemakers? salesman? Time will tell.

    Jordan and Weston

  • Prohibition Revisited

    December 4, 2014 12:37

    The tale has been lost to history as to why my grandparents bought 90 acres, mid-Prohibition, in 1927. I think it is because my grandfather wanted a piece of land he could call his own after working on other farms and dairies once he had arrived in the U.S. as a teenager. The property included 25 acres of vineyard, a home and a defunct winery. It was sold by the Canata family who could no longer shoulder the debt of owning the land-and there may have been more to the story there as well, also lost to history. Even though Prohibition began in 1919, if you still grew grapes you could sell them to home winemakers if they were a ‘head of household’. Each household could make 200 gallons of wine per year. Now let’s think about this for a moment: this totals about 4 gallons per week. 20 bottles a week, or just shy of 3 bottles per day. Big families? Tradition? Thirsty? Many of these home winemakers had wine in their DNA-or at least were accustomed to enjoying wine with their meals every day. They at least kept some vineyards growing through this period and helped support my family. It also helped wineries reboot once Repeal rolled around. Statistically, the story is a sad one for Dry Creek Valley. Before 1919 there were 17 wineries making 1.5 million gallons of wine. Business was booming and then the hammer came down. Many of the vineyards were taken out and planted to prunes and other orchard crops. While there was still a market for wine grapes the bottom fell out by 1925 or so. Gratefully December 5, 1933 ended this nationwide dry spell and we were poised at the right time to enter the winemaking business. Only 2 other wineries survived the next decade and it wasn’t until the 1970s when our valley saw a resurgence of wineries and vineyards. From my Dino to yours, let’s celebrate 81 years of Repeal!

    Daily Mirror Prohibition Ends

  • BW 113

    October 2, 2014 15:26

    You could say we inherited a piece of history when my grandparents purchased the property in Geyserville in 1927. We were the second family to own a winery and vineyard here. The first one, who were also Italian, applied and received the Bonded Winery number from the Federal Government.They made wine from 25 acres of grapes for their store in North Beach in San Francisco. Why do we need a number to produce wine? "Bonded winery licenses are issued by U.S. Tax and Trade Bureau for the purpose of designating a tax-paid environment for wine." (thanks to the Wine Institute for the verbiage) This means we pay tax on wine before it leaves the winery. The amount ranges between wine made under 14% alcohol where we pay $1.07 a gallon to wines over 14% but under 21% cost $1.57 a gallon. We make around 165,000 gallons of wine each vintage, to put this in perspective.

    So how did we 'inherit' the original bonded winery number? When my grandfather purchased the property mid-Prohibition he bides his time selling grapes until Repeal in 1934. He set about making wine under his name and applied to the government for the original number. He received a letter, the framed version hangs in our tasting room, granting him the use of BW-113. The heritage of this place began with the Canata family and continues through four generations of Pedroncellis, 110 years of winegrowing.

    Fun fact: by 2012 there were 3754 wineries in California and 8806 in the U.S. The year I was born, 1960, there were 256 wineries in California and 500 in all of the United States. The year my grandfather started his winery there were 3 wineries in Dry Creek Valley. All these numbers make me thirsty, I'm pouring some Vino in my Dino.

    Bonded Winery 113