family 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.

  • Wine + Julie: In a relationship

    March 9, 2015 16:49

    This revelation should come as no surprise to many of you. I enjoy wine. I know it is a funny thing to admit here, in a winery blog, after all. It must have begun long ago when I would play in the vineyards during harvest and taste the grapes, see wine included at dinnertime, experience the camaraderie in sharing with friends and family on holidays and Sundays. My passion for wine developed over the years-after spending 30 of them working for my family’s winery it seems I have it in my DNA. Perhaps it is from focusing on our wine over this long period where my perspective was broadened and my palate sharpened. My life of wine led to trying ‘Other People’s Wine’ or OPW as Ed and I like to say. It also led to being adventurous in my scope-trying varietals or appellations I had never heard of before (I’ll admit I had a brief fling with Paso Rhone blends not too long ago). I have shared before how much I love Champagne and other sparkling beverages and will continue my search for the next delicious glass of red, white, or rosé. I think of it all as an adventure and a very fun side of my career. How many people do you know who taste wine at all times of the day or night? Hmmm, which wine will I choose this evening? Dear friends gave us a bottle of Chardonnay to try and tonight it will be enjoyed!

    Sharing my passion for Pedroncelli (it’s all in the hands) at a sales meeting in Chicago last week for Louis Glunz Wines.

    Julie at Glunz Wines

  • Uncle John

    January 6, 2015 17:53

    Uncle John Pedroncelli


    Dry Creek wine giant dies 

    Second-generation vintner helped transform Dry Creek into noted appellation 



    John Pedroncelli, a second- generation vintner who was instrumental in building Sonoma County’s wine industry, particularly in the Dry Creek Valley that he called home for almost all of his life, died Sunday at home after a months long battle with cancer. He was 89. 

    Pedroncelli, along with his brother, Jim, was a key figure in the history of the county’s winemaking as it emerged from a craft business practiced by a few families after World War II to today’s multi billion dollar industry known worldwide. He was 2 when his family purchased the winery and moved to Geyserville in 1927. With the exception of serving two years as a radar man in the Coast Guard, Pedroncelli spent almost all of his life around the winery and was a daily fixture up until last year, even providing advice on 2014’s early harvest. 

    “He preserved the past while looking ahead to find innovative solutions in a changing winemaking environment,” said Honore Comfort, executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners. “John’s legacy will be his unwavering commitment to the land, to winemaking and to his family which epitomizes the spirit of Sonoma County’s great wine families.” 

    Pedroncelli studied chemistry and botany at Santa Rosa Junior College and took enology courses at UC Davis, and in 1948 assumed winemaking duties from his father, John Sr. 

    It was nearing the end of an era where the Pedroncelli family would make, sell and deliver its wine to grocery stores, local ranchers and families. Buyers could pull up to the winery and fill up a gallon of red or white wine for 45 cents. 

    A year after taking over winemaking, Pedroncelli made a zinfandel for release bottled under his family’s label, a variety that the winery would become well known for throughout its history. He also produced California’s first zinfandel rose.

    The winery began a major expansion in the mid 1950s with installation of an automatic bottling line and an increase in storage capacity. Jim Pedroncelli became head of sales and marketing in 1957. It also became the one of the first wineries to market Sonoma County’s appellation on its label. 

    PEDRONCELLI: Freely offered advice to new vintners

    The family winery transitioned from a bulk wine producer into a premium winery, but with affordable prices, and later branched out into pinot noir, riesling and red blends. 

    In 1963, John and Jim Pedroncelli purchased the winery and vineyards from their father, and a year later began to vintage date its wines. They also began purchasing prune parcels around West Dry Creek Road and turning them into vineyards, helping put the Dry Creek Valley on the map as a winemaking destination. The area is mostly northwest of Healdsburg, where the creek is a tributary of the Russian River. 

    David Stare, founder of Dry Creek Vineyards, became familiar with the Pedroncelli brand as a student at UC Davis in 1971 when he organized a tasting of a bunch pinot noirs. The Pedroncelli brand was the favorite among the group even though it was much less expensive than the other competitors at a price around $5 to $6 a bottle at the time. 

    “Their wines have always been reasonably priced,” Stare said. Many of its wines today are priced at $20 or less. 

    When he started his winery in 1972, Stare said, the Pedroncelli brothers were always helpful about providing advice to him. He would occasionally take wine samples that did not turn out well over to the Pedroncelli’s lab and ask John for his opinion — a thought unimaginable today in the industry’s competitive marketplace. 

    “If I had a problem wine, I could always take it over there,” Stare said. “He was always helpful on giving me his opinion ... He was a very lovely man.” 

    The hard work of the Pedroncellis in the Dry Creek Valley paid off in 1983 when the region was named as an American Viticultural Area. It now has more than 9,000 acres of vineyards that blanket a 16-mile long stretch that is two miles wide. Overall, the Pedroncelli winery has 105 planted acres and produces 65,000 cases annually, said Julie Pedroncelli St. John, vice president of marketing and John’s niece. 

    Pedroncelli was noted as a humble man, who preferred the behind-the-scenes work compared to his brother, Pedroncelli St. John said. 

    But he carried so much respect and trust in the Dry Creek region that he helped set market prices for grapes in the area in the early 1970s, before brokers, pricing models and crush reports became commonplace in establishing rates, said Duff Bevill, founder of Bevill Vineyard Management. 

    Bevill said newer wineries at the time were unsure what to pay growers in their contracts, “So they would say we will pay what John Pedroncelli pays.” 

    The winery leadership is in its third generation of Perdoncellis, and a fourth generation also works in the family business. 

    Besides Jim, John is survived by his wife of 48 years, Christine, a former trustee for Santa Rosa Junior College; children Connie (John) Proctor, Richard Morehouse, Maureen Davison; and grandchildren Roseann, Lauren, Christopher, Ian and Elea. A private funeral service will be held.

  • Wine, Family, Food

    November 25, 2014 12:48

    I received a photo via Kay and Diane, two neighbors with deep family roots in Dry Creek Valley, who were volunteering with the Healdsburg Museum. They were asked to compile a selection of stories printed in the museum’s newsletter and this particular edition will cover a 10 year period highlighting many of the local families and business. What I love about this photo from the Pedroncelli article is my family around the dinner table laughing and toasting, just what I talk about when describing our wines and pairing them with food—it is also a photograph I didn’t have in my collection so the bonus of having it now is a priceless addition. I grew up eating meals with my family in this room, just like my dad and his family did. We gather there Monday through Friday (when in town) and eat lunch in this place—I sometimes can almost feel the presence of those decades of family events around me. Especially when we joke with my dad about something we didn’t like to eat or the time we watched the hill slide during breakfast-right outside the window! I am thankful for the food we had, the company of my sisters, parents, and now the gathering each weekday for lunch where we share stories of what’s going on in our lives. Cheers to you all, from my Dino to yours, and Happy Thanksgiving.

    Pedroncelli Dinner

  • Playing with History

    October 31, 2014 14:17

    Artifacts are easy to come by at Pedroncelli since we have been here for 87 years. When I was growing up in our home, which later on became the sales and marketing office, we found a number of things to play with or at least be curious about that my grandfather had accrued over the years. I remember visiting the old barn in back, a little creepy but loaded with discarded tractor parts, winery equipment and history. We have a few items on display in the Tasting Room, an old hand corker as well as a mold for wine bottles. Some of our historical items are destined for display at the Smithsonian (see October 23rd’s post). While we weren’t one of those families to take out the camera and record every moment in our winery history, we do have a few photos around. One of my favorites is a candid shot of my grandfather hosting some guests and they took the photo in front of the old tank building. He built our first tasting room, originally a corner of the bottling room in our cellar, to showcase his wines. He carved out some precious space and put up shelves to carry the products he was so proud of and loved to pour for his friends. Even our is a tip of the hat to those days when he would take a bottle into the cellar and bring back “Giovanni’s Red” in a gallon jug. We also enjoy pointing out we operated the first Tasting Room in Dry Creek Valley! Enjoy this look into our past and raise a glass to my grandfather’s memory and heritage in our corner of the valley.

    Fathers Winery

  • Pedroncelli at The Smithsonian

    October 23, 2014 14:25

    One year ago my family was in Washington DC celebrating the 80th anniversary of Repeal from Prohibition. The event was held at the Smithsonian Castle and was a fundraiser for the National Museum of American History. Did you know that one of our 1950s family dinner photos is included in an exhibit entitled FOOD: Transforming the American Table, 1950-2000 at the museum? It debuted in November 2012 and includes many of the iconic moments taking place during those 50 years including Julia Child’s kitchen and the history of American wine and its place on the table. Here is a photo of the exhibit and will be displayed for another 3 years-plenty of time to go and see it. The family also donated several of our own artifacts after two curators toured the winery in 2013. When curator Paula Johnson turned to me and asked, “Would you rather have hundreds of people see this or thousands?” the opportunity was too good to pass up-a way of preserving our history as well as sharing with America. A cellar door sign, a ledger, a wooden grape box, my grandmother’s polenta pot and a barrel stencil from the 1930’s joined their archives. We feel it is a beginning rather than an ending—when the museum shares our history in a future exhibit! Cheers to our past and future.

    Here is part of the exhibit with our photo in the background.

    Pedroncelli at Smithsonian

  • Three Tiers

    October 16, 2014 15:04

    In the wine business there are three tiers: the winery (supplier) the wholesaler (the middleman) and retail/restaurant accounts. You, my friend, may be a part of any of these layers or are the invisible ‘fourth’ tier because you could be the consumer-the one who buys the wine off the list or from the shelf. If we, Pedroncelli Winery, are known as the supplier, it follows that Classic Wine Imports is our wholesaler for Massachusetts and Wines & More a retail account buying our wine to sell to the public. Having maneuvered this system for almost 50 years, it works well for us. In fact, the bulk of our wines are sold via the three tier network. A more recent category includes DTC or the Direct to Consumer category. We have expanded over the years to reach out through Club Ped, our wine club, and through our website with an online store. We do sell direct (click here) and about 10% of our wine is sold internationally. With our production at 60,000 cases it makes the global distribution of our wines more available to you, the buying public. And the many ways to sell our wines continues to grow. My grandparents would marvel at the avenues we have available now. When they started it was ‘word of mouth’ in those early years selling wine to neighbors and friends. Now for some vino in my dino, toasting our friends far and wide who enjoy our wines. This is my dad Jim, grandfather Giovanni and uncle John circa 1965. Cheers!

    Jim Giovanni and John 1965

  • 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