February 27, 2018 16:38
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.
August 25, 2016 12:31
My uncle John was winemaker for nearly 60 years. His first crush, 1948, was captured in the oral history J. Pedroncelli Winery: An Ongoing Family Tradition about that first year on the job as winemaker. He had just completed his World War II service and attended Santa Rosa Junior College. He was ready for his first harvest.
“Well it was (a monster crush) for three people. We crushed maybe 800 plus tons of grapes with the three of us, and the good part about it was that we had only one red variety to do. We didn’t have to separate any varieties. Now we need to separate all these different varieties and it takes a lot more work. So we got the grapes crushed that year and probably sold it in bulk to someone. We were selling a lot of bulk to Italian Swiss Colony, Petri and Gallo was on the scene. We weren’t making a lot of money doing that, probably got about forty-two cents a gallon for it. I don’t remember what the price of grapes was at the time.”
Brother Jim filled in the pricing: “I think grapes peaked out at $120 a ton during the war, then they dropped down to $40 or $50 a ton. I remember that one batch of wine I think we sold for about thirty-two cents a gallon.”
John continued, “The cooperage was all redwood tanks. In future years, 1955 or 1956, we got our stainless steel tanks. But in the forties everything was redwood including the fermentation tanks.
Winemaking used the standard old-style method, adding yeast. I had a helper from Fessler Laboratories who tested all our wines for us. He took the sugar and alcohol, which are things I didn’t do at the time. I had the poor guy do every fermenter, which was up and beyond the call of necessity.”
A toast to John with some Zinfandel-which comprised the ‘red variety’ he refers to in the oral history.
Here John is standing in the cellar with his father Giovanni. The redwood tank to his left was one of many that lined the cellar. This photo is circa early 1950s.
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.
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