family business

  • Going Italian

    April 23, 2018 16:46

    Going Italian

    What do you get when you combine 74 lovers of Italian food, wine and heritage? A wonderful evening where Pedroncelli wines were poured, delicious food was served and great conversations flourished. My parents Jim and Phyllis joined me as we talked about our history in Sonoma County and our roots in Italy to this group at a dinner sponsored by the North Bay Italian Cultural Foundation (NBICF) held at Riviera Ristorante in Santa Rosa.

    My family has deep Italian roots via my grandparents who arrived separately with their families from northern Italy in the early 1900s; my grandmother came with her mother and sister who met up with my great-grandfather in Redding, California. My grandfather traveled as a teenager with his sister when she was betrothed to marry a fellow Italian in Dunsmuir, California. Years later my grandfather Giovanni was selling vegetables to the hotel run by my great-grandparents and met my grandmother Julia on one of his stops. The rest was history and a few years later the young family, with three children-Margaret, Marianne and John, pulled up roots and moved to Geyserville where there was a home, a vineyard to tend and a shuttered winery waiting out Prohibition. I think part of the reason they moved to this area was because of the many other Italians who had made Dry Creek Valley home.

    The connection with NBICF began when my aunt Marianne moved back to Sonoma County in the early 1980s after working for the State of California. She joined this Italian-focused group as a way to network and find new friends. She was very proud of her heritage as an Italian-American, accent on the Italian. She practiced her Italian in small groups, traveled and went to many events over those years. We have kept in touch with NBICF since she passed away. They even started a scholarship in her name for any student wanting to continue their Italian language education at Santa Rosa Junior College.

    All in all we ‘went Italian’ along with everyone else at the dinner and enjoyed making new friends and visiting with old ones as well. Pedroncelli, after all, is Italian for La Dolce Vita. Saluti a tutti.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • You Have to Start Somewhere

    June 10, 2015 16:08

    As I reflect over 30 years of working for my family I think one of the important parts of working with them was having the option of choosing my course, my direction. I know I am very blessed because we don’t always get to choose our path. In my case I had a degree in English with a Writing Emphasis, I had been raised at the winery, and now I was entering into the business from the ground floor, the tasting room. It was a good beginning and gave me a chance to immerse myself in the day to day winery stuff, plunge into wine education and listen to people as they shared their wine experiences and more importantly their preferences. The tasting room at that time was in the front of our case goods warehouse. I remember my commute to work was on foot-from the apartment below the offices where my great-grandparents once lived; working in the middle of winter in the warehouse-you can imagine just how cold; learning tips from John Soule, tasting room host since 1968; having a rush of guests followed by boredom when there was a lull; local winemakers and growers stopping by to talk about how exciting it was that Dry Creek Valley was now an official American Viticultural Area (granted in 1983); the countless conversations about who liked which wine and why; the poster (made by my cousin) with the tagline ‘Don’t bite the foot that stomps your grapes’. I realize now I was following in the footsteps of my grandfather who ran his tasting room out of the wine cellar, building his network in the same way. At the same time I was learning the basics, I was also storing away experiences I would share as part of telling my story in the coming years. Learning to be patient when Peter from LA (who was a lawyer) walked in at 5:02pm and stayed for an hour or helping people to correctly pronounce Pinot Noir (it was the wild west in those days-Americans were being exposed to varietal names rather than the standard 'Burgundy'). A toast to the early years, from my Dino to yours.

    Each photo takes a step back in time-by the end of the month will be the real 'throwback' of 30 years ago. This was taken in 2005.

    Julie in 2005

  • Training Wheels: 1985-1995

    June 5, 2015 16:12

    I’d majored in English, without plans on a wine career, and now was changing direction and going to work for my family. I was eager in those early years of my employment to learn as much as possible and of course put all this knowledge to work right away. Night classes had me studying viticulture and wine marketing. I joined trade groups like the Wine Road to network and widen my scope. A Tasting Class at UC Davis opened my eyes to the many nuances found in white and red wines. My own Pedroncelli education would take the next ten years learning the family ropes, going from tasting room to the office, as well as the industry’s intricacies. By the time I joined in, my dad had been developing our wholesale network for 30 years. I was hard pressed to come up with something other than ‘I’m the daughter of the owner’ and it took time to develop my own voice, my own way of telling our story. I went from being an introvert to an extrovert when I realized no one buys wine from a shy and tongue-tied person, family member or not. I will admit there are times I cringed from some of the situations I found myself in. These days I usually refer to myself as an extrovert by profession because my preference is to fade into the background. Being a perfectionist helped spur me on and made me even more determined to tell a compelling story after a few false starts. The years have refined me to say the least.

    Let's go to the 'way back' machine to refresh your memory with a few milestones between 1985 and 1995: the market moved from jug wines to varietal wines, grape prices doubled, ‘fighting varietals’ were introduced, the French Paradox changed the way American’s embraced wine and consumers demanded quality over quantity. It was a time when we were adding varietals like Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot to our line of wines and replacing Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Johannesburg Riesling. These were exciting times to be in the business and I will toast these with a splash of Sauvignon Blanc in my Dino.

    On the road-doing my thing. With Scott Gayman, our broker in the Northeast.

    Julie and Scott

  • It's a Family Thing

    June 3, 2015 16:26

    Here I am 30 years after making the decision to work full time for my family’s business. Today I am remembering a conversation between my dad and me when I was asked to consider full time work for the winery. We were standing in the Case Goods Warehouse, I was helping out on weekends and living in the East Bay. The place is important because, after all these years, I now realize this was where my dad lives and breathes Pedroncelli, where you will find him at any time of the year either on a forklift or counting cases. He had a plan and I would soon be part of it. So my first thought was how my degree in English would benefit working in this industry and for my family. Come to find out, my liberal arts education came in mighty handy. I went from staffing the Tasting Room and focused on learning the business from the ground up (what is the difference between Zinfandel and Cabernet, viticulture and winetasting classes, learned the importance of the Dry Creek Valley appellation) to Brand Ambassador where the world is my market and sometimes my office chair is 30,000 feet up. What does 30 years working for a family wine business look like? You work closely with family members, taste countless wines, find my voice and then tell our story to thousands of people, travel too many miles to count, give tours of our vineyards again and again without it ever getting ‘old’, live our lifestyle, see the next generation set in place, write millions of words. I can tell you it has been fun, exciting, challenging and rewarding. Sit back and relax as the next month covers a few of the highlights over the years. I’ll toast my Dino, where it all started!

    Julie in 2013


  • 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

  • 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.