Women's History Month

  • Women's History Month: Julia Child

    March 25, 2016 16:10

    In celebration of Women’s History Month, I take a look at the late Julia Child who influenced so many people with her cookbooks and cooking shows. One of the most impressive facts about her life is, at the age of 50, she changes course and delves into the world of French cooking. She was a writer (near and dear to my heart) and served in World War 2 working with highly classified information as chief of the OSS Registry. Her life was one of many adventures and I admire her bold choices. While I never met Julia Child I have three stories about her that involve Pedroncelli in one way or another.

    When I began looking through newspaper clippings in my early days at the office, I came across a 1980s Parade article which focused on what was in celebrities’ refrigerators. The photo of Julia’s included, serendipitously, a bottle of our Chardonnay.

    The wine connection continues with a story from one of our retailers in the Cambridge area where she and her husband Paul lived. A couple of years ago, when I was calling on Murray’s Liquors in Newton, the wine buyer, Rich Cataldo, told me a story about his experiences with Julia herself. At the time he was working in a wine shop near her home, one that Ms. Child frequented. He regaled me with this story and did a great impression of Julia asking about where to find Pedroncelli Gamay Beaujolais, a light red wine we don’t make any longer. She did love wine and it is so nice to be reminded of how much she liked ours.

    Lastly we were honored a few years ago to have one of our family photographs installed in an exhibit at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum. The photo is an alfresco BBQ here at the winery in the 1950s. The name of the ongoing exhibit is FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000 and Julia’s home kitchen serves as the opening to the major exhibition on food history. A toast to a great lady with some of our Pinot Noir, a wine I know she would enjoy!

    Our Chardonnay in the door of Julia's fridge!

    Julia Child with Pedroncelli

    And the photo exhibited at the FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000

    1940s Family BBQ


    Juilia Child Smithsonian exhibit


  • Women's History Month: Sisters

    March 23, 2016 16:51

    Women’s History Month is designated each year to celebrate the achievements and contributions by women in the history of our great nation. We seem to celebrate women everyday here-we are a large part of the staff from our office manager Kathy Cross to our winemaker Montse Reece. Women in my family have played an important role at the winery and in the vineyards from my grandmother Julia, who worked hard to ensure the success of their shared dream to the second generation including aunts Margaret, Marianne, Christine and my mother Phyllis who all played important roles from grape grower to businesswomen and advocates. There is a solid layer of us in the third generation including my sisters Cathy, Lisa & Joanna along with cousins Carol, Connie and Maureen. Fourth generation includes our daughter Adrienne who is a winemaker in Solvang CA and Denise MacNeil our graphics designer along with Erin & Sarah, Lisa's daughters and Katrina & Felicia, Cathy's daughters.

    We four grew up together here at the winery-you might remember that my office is formerly my bedroom, the one shared with Joanna, my youngest sister. We played in the vineyard, traipsed through the cellar, pestered my uncle and dad with questions, ‘picked’ grapes, later on gained respect for the work done by the first and second generations and then followed in their footsteps, each blazing our own trail into the family business and beyond.

    We now work together at the winery and our jobs are as diverse as we are. I took on marketing and travel almost from the start, after having honed my skills in the tasting room and offic. My sister Cathy, who owns her own bookkeeping and payroll service in San Francisco, has always worked with numbers-I used to call her The Collector because she was diligent in tracking those who were slow to pay. Lisa began in the tasting room when she was 18 and going to Santa Rosa Junior College taking viticulture courses. Hers’ is an administrative position balanced with care for her grandsons. Joanna began here in the office taking on many administrative duties but has cut back and is following her passion of animal rescue and care.

    A toast to sisters everywhere but especially to my own. We all have our favorites-mine is our Mother Clone Zinfandel, Cathy's & Joanna's is Sauvignon Blanc, and Lisa likes the Dry Rosé of Zinfandel.

    Clockwise from the top are Lisa, Cathy, Joanna and me.

    Lisa, Cathy, Joanna and Julie

  • Women's History Month: Women Winemakers

    March 18, 2016 16:57

    Women’s History Month is proclaimed by our President each year to celebrate the achievements and contributions made to our great nation's fabric. Women winemakers are very innovative and ground breaking the world over and yet unsung in their own right. Three women who chose winemaking in one form or another can be found in my family and winery. My cousin Maureen graduated from UC Davis with her degree but chose another path by also attending culinary school in New York and becoming a pastry chef. Our daughter Adrienne graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a chemistry degree and is now the winemaker for Rideau Vineyards in Solvang. Montse Reece, a native of Spain who was hired by John Pedroncelli (Senior Winemaker, 1925-2015) and was named winemaker a year ago after working 8 harvests here.

    For great information on these and other women winemakers there is a website founded and maintained by Professor Lucia Albino Gilbert, Ph.D, Santa Clara University, entitled Women Winemakers of California. There she, and her husband Professor John Gilbert, Ph.D, collect data, articles and studies on the number of women in this male dominated area of the wine industry. As it says on their website, "Our searchable web-based resource introduces you to California’s talented women winemakers and their accomplishments. We also provide the most comprehensive and accurate information currently available on women winemakers in California, the wineries for which they craft their wine, where they are located within the state, and the evolution of their careers."

    I encourage you to read a case study published last May by the Gilberts from a sampling of 480 wineries in California. It showed an increase of about 4% between 1999 to 2014 in the number of women hired as winemakers. While this seems to be a small increase it is considered an important one. In another 10 years I hope more are added to this number. For now we are proud of the wines made by Montse and Adrienne. They are exciting to taste and we are looking forward to future achievements on behalf of our family and family of wines. A toast to them and the women winemakers here in California and beyond!

    Montse taking a sample from the Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon during the 2015 harvest.

    Montse samples 2015

    Adrienne in the cellar at Rideau Vineyards.

    Adrienne in Rideau Cellars

  • What Would Carrie Nation Say?

    March 16, 2016 17:04

    We are now halfway through Women’s History Month and I’ll spend the next few posts focused on the women of Pedroncelli Winery and their accomplishments. While reading over one of the first proclamations for this important national celebration I noted that the women of the temperance movement were included as playing an important role in our nation’s history. I am in the wine business as you know, a third generation family owner, and in retrospect I see the impact these women made by urging the passing of the 18th Amendment which began a 13 year ban on alcohol. Paradoxically it also was the reason we went into the wine business.

    My grandparents, Giovanni and Julia, were looking for land to put down permanent roots. 89 years ago they bought a defunct winery, 25 acres of vineyard and a home mid-Prohibition. The Italian family they bought the property from, who had begun their winery in the early 1900s, could no longer make it by selling grapes because the bottom of that particular market had fallen out. It would be another 7 years before wine was made again upon Repeal and the 21st Amendment. Even during Prohibition all was not dry-there was some wiggle room. Heads of households could make 200 gallons of wine a year if they had access to grapes. My grandfather was able to sell the grapes and support his family and, at the same time, save the vineyard. My grandmother, who was a stalwart lady, raised four children and helped her husband farm the grapes. She later on became the bookkeeper for the winery, ensuring its success. So I’ll raise a glass to the Temperance Movement, the reason we make wine in one of the greatest wine regions in California. What would Carrie Nation say now?

    My grandparents, Giovanni and Julia, in the early 1920's.

    Giovanni and Julia 1920s

  • Making history: A new winemaker

    March 31, 2015 14:35

    Changes don’t happen too often here. We are a family-owned three generation business. When you lose someone like John Pedroncelli it has a deep and lasting effect on us all. His strength as a quiet leader as well as his depth of knowledge cannot be replaced. I was looking through our website and ran across a photo of John Pedroncelli and ‘his team’. I was reminded of the last few years whenever he was asked about who made the wine, he’d answer “the team, of course”. His years of experience combined with his team of Lance, Polo and Montse created consistently remarkable wines. While one legacy has come to an end, we, as a family, need to take the next step and announce that Montse has been promoted to winemaker.

    Having worked in wineries from the Penedes and Montblanc regions of her native Spain, Montse earned her degree in enology from the Rovira I Virgili University in Tarragona. Once finished with college she came to California and joined the harvest crew at Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves in Sonoma in 1998. After that she was hooked and held positions at both Ferrari-Carano and Rodney Strong Vineyards. She joined the winemaking team at Pedroncelli Winery in 2007.

    She considers it an honor to have worked with John for 7 years and says he truly was an icon. In an earlier interview for a local wine writer, she was asked what she has learned from him. Having learned about the valley, the grapes and his style, her answer was, “to keep it simple”. In fact she has taken John’s expertise and created her own stamp on the wines through her focus on detail, by zeroing in on the unique qualities of each vineyard block and creating singular small lots. She has the continuity of vineyards, staff and the team behind her. We've begun to see her passion and style in the 2014 vintage. It gives us great comfort and pleasure to know that John's legacy, and ours, is in good hands. Join me for a toast to Montse and all the women winemakers around the world!

    Montse Reece winemaker


  • Women's History: Living History

    March 31, 2015 14:29

    Julie has been posting things about the women in her family all month as a tribute to Women’s History Month. There have been some great insights to the quiet strength of the women before her. It is no surprise, then, to find ourselves at the end of the month with no mention of one of the strongest, most humble of the Pedroncelli women to date. That would be, of course, my bride. Forgive me if I gush a bit here.

    Having been raised here in the center of the winery, in what is now affectionately known as “World Headquarters of J. Pedroncelli Winery, Inc.” Julie lives and breathes Pedroncelli. She is the voice of Pedroncelli to the world, but more importantly, she is the guiding force behind all our hospitality—public and private. Given a choice, Julie would be in the kitchen or shuttling food, or taking out the trash—whatever she can do to serve others. She is, as she puts it, an introvert who has had to become a “professional” extrovert. She loves going on the road to sing the praises of Pedroncelli, but when she gets home she much prefers quiet times with Dirk the Dog and me. And sometimes I’m not so sure about me!

    Julie is also the family archivist. She is the one who has files and boxes and lists and photos from generations of Pedroncelli achievements. From distant cousins in the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Olympics to letters home from the family when they were serving their country in the armed forces. From family photos (now in the Smithsonian) to boxes and boxes of gold medals and ribbons spanning our nearly 90 years of winemaking awards. If you ask her about something she’ll say “give me a minute, I think I have a picture…”

    As a wine lover (since age 4, she’ll tell you) Julie was thrilled to be invited to be a wine judge for the first time this year. We have a running joke that we can’t afford to go to a wine bar together. It isn’t the couple of glasses of wine that we have—it’s the several BOTTLES she discovers and wants to take with us when we leave! She has a great palate, a great wine vocabulary and has heard about every wine mentioned by some wine geek who is just testing her—she answers them with her trademark smile and sparkling eyes. She’s always happy to share her thoughts, but you’ll have to ask. She would never impose them on you. By the way—if you produce a Catawba, thanks for the offer, but I think Julie has had her share…that’s what you get when you are the rookie judge!

    Julie’s quiet nature belies the depth of her knowledge about the wine business. She’s been around it all her life and in the thick of it for about 30 years. She’s quick to listen, a voracious reader and student of wine. She knows the history of Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma County like the back of her hand. As well she should, she’s lived it. And for that matter, written a good part of it herself. She is past president of the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley and Sonoma Vintners and recognized with the Spirit of Sonoma Award. She’s served on countless boards including the Wine Road, California Wine Institute and Healdsburg Shared Ministries. She is a perennial volunteer with various community service projects and most of all, beloved Grammie to our two grandsons—there is a wonderful picture of Julie looking at a grapevine with Jordan, our oldest grandson. That’s how it all begins, isn’t it?

    So I’ll raise a glass to the woman who is making history every day at Pedroncelli. And I’m proud and honored to call her my wife. Here’s to you, sweetie. Go make some history!

    Julie Pedroncelli St. John

  • Women’s History Month: Weaving the Story of Women’s Lives

    March 25, 2015 14:43

    They say it takes a village to raise a child and I say it takes everyone in a family to run a winery. All four Pedroncelli children worked on the farm and in the winery or vineyards as soon as they were old enough. One of Margaret’s jobs as the big sister was to take care of Jim, 11 years her junior. She married Al Pedroni and through them the Bushnell Vineyard survives today, with over 60 years of grapes from this hillside vineyard. Marianne was the bold one, always offering to drive the tractor and taking on the more challenging jobs. After enlisting in the Marines during World War 2 she worked for the State of California until retirement. She moved home where she became our tireless promoter. John married Christine in 1966 and moved to their home on estate vineyards. She served on the Dry Creek Zoning Committee to help design the zoning regulations and keep agriculture the focus rather than creating subdivisions. She served on the Santa Rosa Junior College Board of Trustees followed by the Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees and the Memorial Foundation. My dad Jim married my mom Phyllis in 1959 and, once they moved to the family home on the winery property, she took on the task of keeping the books as well as other winery duties outside of raising me and my sisters. My mom not only had her hands full here but she also volunteered countless hours at our school while working side by side with my dad as the business expanded. My aunts and mom contributed greatly, one and all, and by their example and hard work the winery continues today. A toast to them for their contributions to the family and to the wine business.

  • Women’s History Month: Weaving the Story of Women’s Lives (1)

    March 19, 2015 16:23

    My grandmother was born in Italy and immigrated with her parents Antonio and Margarita Petrelli and sister Rena to California in the 1890s. They landed in Redding and operated a boarding house. Teaching would be her first profession out of high school and she taught at a one-room school house. Later on, she met my grandfather Giovanni when he sold vegetables from his garden to my great-grandparents. After they married they began to look for a permanent home. In 1927 the young family purchased 90 acres of land, a defunct winery, 25 acres of Zinfandel and a home here in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. Three children came with them and my dad, Jim, was born a few years later at the family home.

    My grandmother’s contributions were invaluable in many ways to the family business. From keeping the books, raising her family, working in the vineyards not to mention her generous hospitality, she was the backbone of our winery's early years. When I was growing up I was unaware of her accomplished life because she didn’t speak much about those days. I imagine they were difficult at first, especially with the Depression settling in two years after they moved to the ranch. Sons John and Jim reminisce in their oral history J. Pedroncelli Winery: An Ongoing Family Tradition about how she made sure her family always had food on the table-canning fruit and vegetables, making cheese and butter, raising chickens and cows to make ends meet.

    Later on, during the heyday of the 50’s and 60's, she hosted many dinners with family and friends, dining alfresco style. We even have a photo of one of those afternoons in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History celebrating FOOD: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000. Her rosemary chicken, venison stew, risotto, ravioli and spinach malfatti remain in a class by themselves.

    Most of all, I remember her as a quiet pioneer. She didn't call attention to the years of hard work and dedication, of working side by side with my grandfather, because she was humble to a fault. You didn’t call attention to the wine, wine was just part of life. If life is good then the wine, like my grandmother, has done its job. She helped create a legacy which proudly continues today. Her philosophy still echoes in our wines and lifestyle. A toast to Grandma P and National Women’s History Month.

    Great-grandparents Margarita and Antonio Petrelli with my grandmother Julia and her sister Rena standing behind her.

    Great Grandparents Petrelli

    This is the ledger my grandmother kept between 1950 and 1960.  We have donated this to the archives of the National History Museum along with her polenta pot as testament to her enduring legacy.

    Ledger 1960

    For more photos of the family click here.