• The People Tell the Story

    December 20, 2019 16:41

    The People Tell the Story

    A few of my earlier posts focused on how some part of our grapes or wine tells the story. As we wrap up the year and look forward to 2020 I’ll focus on a few of The People Who Tell The Story.

    Our story always begins with my grandparents Giovanni & Julia, who founded the winery in 1927. It came with a shuttered winery, a farm and a home. They brought with them their three young children Margaret, Marianne and John and put down roots in what would become known as the Dry Creek Valley American Viticultural Area. My dad Jim was born 5 years later and completed the family. They all worked together to grow and sell the grapes during Prohibition and once it was over they began to make wine. Their story is very similar to many immigrants of the time. They worked hard especially as the Great Depression started just two years after they bought the property. The farm sustained them. My grandmother made cheese, butter, canned vegetables and created a dynasty of wonderful dishes. My grandfather and uncle hunted or managed the animals on the farm to feed the family. Everyone chipped in even if they didn’t want to like my dad milking the cow every day before school. He finally convinced his parents, once he was 18, that he didn’t need milk anymore. They made it through the lean times by working the land themselves. Stories like John waiting by the Model A full of grapes while his father went into town to find help; Marianne and Margaret both working in the vineyard or plowing with the horse, Jim chipping off tartrates from the redwood tanks in order to support the munitions during the war and Margaret becoming a grape grower with husband Al Pedroni. These are just a few from the family lore which shaped the future of the family business.

    Hard work paid off of course and the story continued. Surviving the 1930s and 1940s, where there were some bleak years, only made them stronger and more resilient. Word grew about the wines being made and soon Giovanni was purchasing more land to expand the business. He created many choices by introducing a varietal Zinfandel in 1948 and soon a Rosé along with Riesling and Pinot Noir. He was most comfortable out in the vineyard working among his beloved vines. My grandmother was known for her hospitality but she also was the bookkeeper for many years. They retired in 1963 and sons John and Jim took the reins. Their story is next, the second generation.

    Giovanni & Julia with Margaret

    Margaret, John and Marianne circa 1927

    Young Jim and his trusty companion

    Father and son in the cellar

    A marvelous alfresco family dinner circa 1950s

  • WOW: Pedroncelli is a Women Owned Winery

    February 27, 2018 16:38

    WOW: Pedroncelli is a Women Owned Winery

    Family businesses are different than others because most of our co-workers are spouses, siblings or cousins. You know, when we were growing up here at the winery, women outnumbered my Dad 5 to 1. With four daughters and my Mom he survived but as my sister Lisa put it “his lifetime achievement award was well deserved-he survived four teenage girls”. He was raised in part by his sisters Margaret and Marianne who were 10 and 9 years older than he was so he had a good start in the girl department.

    Women over the years have played an important part in this family business of ours. My grandmother Julia helped everywhere from the vineyard to administration to maintaining the family home and the countless dinners they hosted. Don’t forget my aunts who not only took care of my dad but they also worked with their parents to run the vineyard and farm. Later on Margaret and my uncle Al grew Zinfandel and Petite Sirah for the winery. My mother Phyllis and aunt Christine, from the second generation, also had roles in the running of the business from market visits to weighing in grape trucks, bookkeeping to hospitality.

    Because of the hard work and dedication of the first two generations the third and fourth generation became owners. Those generations are predominately women (see note above about me and my three sisters and includes cousins too).

    I was asked a great question at the #winestudio discussion earlier this month when the tweet up was the subject of women owned wineries. How did I find my voice and my calling amidst a family business? When I was attending college my parents encouraged me to do what I wanted to do-to pursue my dream. I majored in English with a Writing Emphasis and thought I’d go into the publishing world. A weekend side job of helping my sister in the tasting room had me commuting between El Cerrito in the East Bay to Geyserville-where I realized how much I missed Sonoma County. A few months later my dad and I had a chat in the case goods warehouse and he asked me if I’d be interested in working for the winery. I had had enough of the city life (cue Green Acres music) and came back home armed only with an English degree and willingness to learn.

    Part of the blessing of a family business is when we are hired we are encouraged to take a part of the business that speaks to us-sisters Cathy and Lisa work with administration-they are numbers ladies. I found my voice by writing for the winery-newsletters, background stories, fact sheets, press kits and a blog. Good thing I majored in English w/writing emphasis. I was also afforded the freedom to find my passion about wine not only by writing about it but also traveling around the U.S. markets. When I was growing up in the heart of the winery operations I took for granted what takes place in the vineyard and the cellar. I don’t anymore—I have learned much about the process and if it is possible I have become even more of a wine fan than ever before because there is a world of wines to discover.

    Amy Bess Cook has started a WoW: Women Owned Wineries website highlighting Sonoma County WoW. Check it out here.

    A toast with a splash of Zinfandel in my Dino-the first wine I ever tried.

  • 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

  • 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

  • Matchmaker: Wine + Food

    December 9, 2015 11:44

    My partner in life and wine is my husband Ed. We were married 26 years ago today. 11 years ago we began working together here at the winery (and survived!). So what does this have to do with wine? It brings to my mind the relationship between wine and food and why this is such an important factor when I talk about our wines. It has to do with tradition and style.

    Coming from an Italian-American family, and a wine family to boot, food and wine have always been together as far back as I can remember. And by the looks of family meal photos predating my birth it seems it always has been. Traditions are begun at the table for most of us-whether it is who is here for the holidays (and where they sit) or a standing date night dinner out. Family traditions are begun by each generation echoing those of their predecessors and then making their own. For my family one of our traditions is a Prime Rib dinner on Christmas Eve. The table has grown as family is added but the importance for Ed and me are the faces around the table. The wines we pick to go with the meal are important too as they add so much to the celebration.

    The style of our wines is one which pairs well with food (or your glass as my husband likes to add). They stand on their own and the experience is heightened when added to a meal. Acidity in our wines helps bridge the wine with food because when in balance-between the fruit, tannins and acid-there is a great match made. Traditions and style go a long way in both our marriage and that of wine & food. Wine is the centerpiece of our lives and pairing with food is as natural to us as a loaf of bread, a bottle of wine, and thou. A toast to 26 years with a splash of champagne in my Dino!

    My parents Jim and Phyllis, Ed and me at a holiday dinner mock up this summer-thanks to Dianna Murphy Photography!


    Holiday Dinner with Family

  • Veteran's Day Honors

    November 11, 2015 12:53

    Here is a photo of my grandfather when he served on behalf of the U.S. during World War I. His service later on helped him acquire a Veteran's loan to buy the property in Sonoma County and he brought his young family to live here where he sustained them by selling grapes during Prohibition and later on opening a winery. 88 years later his heritage continues.

    Giovanni Pedroncelli Soldier

    My dad served in the Army during the early 1950's in Germany. His stash of letters, saved by my grandmother, is a great snapshot of life during this time. They also saved part of his uniform, seen below. During World War II, when he was a youngster, he was known to climb inside the wine tanks and scrape out the tartrates for munitions.

    Giovanni Pedroncelli Archives

    A salute to all the veterans past and present for providing freedom sometimes at great cost.

  • Wrapping Up 30 Years

    June 30, 2015 15:54

    When my husband Ed and I were talking about what you learn over 30 years working for a family business we agreed it is hard to quantify all the changes because experience and know-how take time.

    Getting comfortable in your own skin: I am who I am. When I took a public speaking class many years ago I learned the how-tos of presenting our story to a crowd but it took me a while to be myself. Some additional coaching by my husband Ed helped to find my voice but the experience of doing it over and over again made me the most comfortable, becoming more confident over time. While traveling to markets my dad had established, I’d hear stories and urban legends about him. He, like me, is an introvert, and had his ‘on the road’ persona JP that was known far and wide. I blazed my own trail and I appreciate the time it took to shape my story.

    Family business means family is your business. A while ago I went to a seminar and learned the statistics are against a family business succeeding beyond the second generation, by a large margin. Yet my family-with great thanks to the first two generations-has prospered now to the third generation. Taking care of each family member will be challenging as we get to the expanding fourth and fifth generations but the lesson learned is family is your business.

    Really know wine and love it. Know it like the back of your hand. I love wine-all kinds especially Champagne with a capital C. I have spent my life tasting through our wines and have what we affectionately refer to as a Pedroncelli Palate. Having a house palate is great but a bit limiting because there are so many more wines to discover. I often find myself at wine events advising new-to-wine tasters to try everything because you can always pour out the wine and move on to the next one. You have to start somewhere!

    30 years of working in my family’s business has gifted me with a deep knowledge of our family’s history as well as that of the Dry Creek Valley. I wouldn’t trade it for anything and am thankful for the opportunity to continue our legacy. A toast to 30 years with Zinfandel in my Dino.

    My sister Cathy and me at a tasting in 1988-as far back as I will go!

    Cathy and Julie 1988

  • Two Virtues and a dash of Intuition

    June 19, 2015 15:59

    Finding out the best way to go about working side by side with family developed certain attributes in me. Working with my cousin Richard in the tasting room, where we were literally side by side, I learned we both have completely different personalities and different ways of telling the story. I realized it was okay to have our own stories because they were told from our experiences.

    In the early years of working with my dad, I was impatient, thinking I had a better idea for one of our wines and couldn’t understand when the answer was ‘no’. Over time I realized I needed a different approach. I developed a plan and I called it ‘planting seeds’. When I want to discuss a new idea with him I plant seeds of ideas. We have a chat and I usually float an idea I have knowing there won’t be a quick solution-we’ll both take time to consider it and work through the variety of outcomes a change in the line-up of wines would make or in how we market a particular wine.

    11 years ago my husband joined the marketing and sales staff. Since then, and even before this time, we worked on the ‘after hours’ approach to home life. Meaning the time it took to walk our dog was the only time we discussed business outside of office hours. It has worked well-but sometimes we slip into the ‘did you hear about what happened in the office today’ followed by an apology for bringing up work at 9pm. Patience and wisdom have been my teachers over the years. Intuition kept me out of trouble. A splash of vino in my Dino helps. Maybe tonight it will be our Wisdom Cabernet.

    Throwback photo from a wine club gathering in 2001.

    Julie 2001

  • Learning by Example

    June 12, 2015 16:03

    As I mark my 30th year in the family business of wine, my post today is a reflection on learning the ropes of sales and marketing from my dad. Once I graduated from the tasting room to the office I began to learn the intricacies of the wholesale business through my dad Jim who had established this network over the previous 30 years. He and his brother John had hit their stride at this point in the second generation’s story; vineyards and production had expanded and there was wine to sell. The beauty of my dad and uncle’s partnership was they had divided the business almost in two with John taking care of the vineyards and winemaking and dad heading up the selling side. They met in the middle when one or the other overlapped. These meetings are legend among us because they literally met in the yard between the offices.

    So I took a page from my dad’s book and plunged into his end of the business. Plunge is the right word-I had no idea what I was doing but soon put my degree in English to work because I began producing a newsletter which in turn helped me to communicate our story to wholesalers and customers alike. I also began to travel much as my dad had traveled. During this time the Sonoma County Winegrowers put tours together and sometimes it was a week or two in various US markets. One moment I cherish to this day is when Rodney Strong (himself!) walked into one of the event venues where the wines weren’t in place yet and trade would soon be lining up to taste. He said to the small group of winery reps “we are all in this together to promote our county so let’s get to work (delivering the wines to all the tables)”. From that point forward I have seen working with other wineries to broaden the message and working together as the ultimate one-two punch of marketing a region.

    I learned to present wines at sales meetings, to develop materials the market needed and to find the right balance of what was actually needed-this was during the days before internet and you shipped pounds and pounds of sales kits, back-cards and fact sheets. If you visit our case goods warehouse there are some relics of those days stored there even now. There are some great moments and cringe-worthy moments during these formative days-sometimes my enthusiasm or impatience ran over and are stories for another post. A toast to learning by example with some Zin in my Dino!

    Another throwback circa 2005. Stepping back in time is fun-less grey hair! Oh, Ed is the guy next to me. We have worked side by side for 13 years.

    Ed and Julie 2005

  • All in the Family

    April 28, 2015 13:30

    I remember when my dad used to go on wine deliveries in the early years while we were living in the midst of the winery operations. When he joined the family business officially in the 1950s he took on the day to day sales and marketing responsibilities while his brother John took care of the wine and vineyards. Delivering the goods was one of the many areas of his expertise. One magical day I was invited to go with him on deliveries in the huge Dodge truck with the winery name emblazoned on its’ doors. I remember meeting many of our accounts as we made various stops on our way to San Francisco. I must have been about 5 or 6 years old at the time. While he no longer delivers wines directly, this day remains in my memory because of the shared time on the day-long drive (and the stop at the Doggie Diner on 19th in the City). I don’t think it had anything to do with my future career choice but as I look back it certainly cemented another facet of the business in my mind. When I was raising our children we involved them in various activities including wine tastings. Now our daughter Adrienne is a winemaker in Solvang, California! Our son Joe loves wine and is our ambassador in the Reno, Nevada area. My nephew Mitch has been working with his dad Lance in the vineyard for many summers while in school and is graduating from college next month. He'll begin his work at the winery shortly thereafter. I look forward to future generations joining us as we continue our family legacy. In celebration of Down to Earth Month I think sustaining a family for going on four generations is downright sustainable! I’ll celebrate with a toast to family with some Zin in my Dino.

    Visit our Family Gallery here-you'll see me and my sister Cathy at a wine tasting in downtown Healdsburg in 1972! John Soule and my dad Jim are there too-doing the pouring.

    2nd and 3rd generation Pedroncellis. We're writing the next chapter for future generations.

    2nd and 3rd Generation Family