When a passion for life, community, and wine bring together a family
Founder & Editor-in-Chief
I had an opportunity to get to know two wonderful people with so much passion about life, community, and wine recently. Julie Pedroncelli St. John, Vice President in Marketing, and third-generation family owner of Pedroncelli Winery and Montse Reece, winemaker at Pedroncelli Winery.
Where it all started
Julie’s grandparents found this piece of property in what would become known as Dry Creek Valley later on. Just a couple of miles west of the town of Geyserville, located in the northern corner of Sonoma County. What is most interesting about this purchase, was that Julie’s grandparents bought it in the middle of prohibition. Not many people did that back in those days.
This was an established vineyard that and was planted in the early 1900s, but the winery went defunct at the beginning of prohibition, but the people who owned the property, another Italian family, had kept the vineyards going. There were about 25 acres of vineyard planted, again, in that early part of the 1900s. In fact, today, the Pedroncelli family still has a few very old vines left on the property. Life definitely changed for the Pedroncelli family and it all started when Julie’s grandparents found this wonderful slice of heaven and brought their three kids to begin there new life. Julie’s father, Jim was born at the winery in the early 1930s, and basically waited out prohibition and the family was ready to go once prohibition ended, and Jim Pedroncelli dusted off the winery equipment, and we went into making wine. The Pedroncelli Winery and family after eighty-nine is still going strong and still remains family owned and operated to this day.
When I was doing my research for this interview, I couldn’t help but think about all of the historical milestones that took place around the world during the time that the Pedroncelli family was following their dreams and building a future together in the wine industry.
I asked Julie when she looks back through the history of the winery and the vineyard, if there were any milestones that stuck out in her mind, from 1927 to present. Julie proceeded to share with me that it started with being positioned at the beginning of being able to make wine legally again in the United States. That was the foresight of her grandfathers, which she still to this day can’t figure out how he came up with that, but Julie was so glad he did.
She goes to explain that the next important milestone was when her Uncle John become the second generation winemaker, in the late 1940s, which lasted for nearly 60 years at the winery. That’s a huge milestone for the Pedroncelli Winery and family because he had the ability to buy property.
Today, the Pedroncelli Family farms 105 acres, including the original 25 acres that was planted in the early 1900s.
Julie’s Uncle John learned to be site specific, he learned what grew best and what didn’t work on the home ranch. Overall, he learned and eventually her Uncle John learned what grapes did best at the vineyard. Then, in the late 1970s, they had to replant their Zinfandel vineyard and they now have two and three generation vineyard on the property. Meaning, that original vineyard planted in the early 1900s gave way to a new planting in the late ’70s and early 80’s. The Pedroncelli’s are now in the process of planting the third generation of vineyard on that spot. For them to do that in 89 years on the same piece of property is pretty amazing.
A few years ago, because of distribution of shares within the family, Pedroncelli Winery became a woman-owned company. In fact, when Montse Reece became their winemaker last April, she also became their first woman winemaker, having only had winemakers before who were family members.
Montse is the third winemaker at the winery in the 89 years’ history and first woman winemaker. Reece hired on at the winery in 2007 and hired a small winemaking team with John Pedroncelli. Reece worked next to John Pedroncelli on the the last seven vintages until 2015 when he passed. John Pedroncelli, impressively served as winemaker from 1948 to 2014. “He was really a mentor. And it was very interesting to work with somebody like John, because he reminded me so much of the winemaking that I learned in Spain. He was very old school, and that’s what I was looking for. It was an honor.” said Montse.
Montse will be celebrating her 10th harvest at Pedroncelli this year and has plans to keep John’s style in tact.
Julie speaks highly of her Uncle John. In fact, she went on to say how he led by example. The loyalty and the longevity of those who worked with them, as a family, are a testament to both her Uncle John and her dad’s character.
John Pedroncelli was extremely proud of what he did and he was most comfortable at the winery, either working out in the vineyard in the early years, or just hanging out in his lab. John Pedroncelli was extremely proud of his wines, and he was extremely proud of his family and all those who worked here with him.
Growing up in the middle of the vineyard
One of Julie’s most memorable childhood memory was her first sip of wine, which was out of a Dino cup. Remember the Flintstones? Her parents always poured water into the wine, and Julie shared that she did not like that combination. Julie preferred her wine straight, but obviously had to wait a few more years.
Julie went on to explain how the winery was their playground as kids. They tried to stay away from heavy equipment and things like that, but she remembers trying to pick grapes, and being so proud of bringing this little, tiny wheelbarrow full of grapes. “It just is funny to think about now, because of how hard everybody works hand-picking in the vineyard, and we were doing it for fun. It was a daily life thing for us. If we weren’t in school, we were wandering around the vineyard.” said Julie.
Julie shared a story about her sister, Lisa, who came back from kindergarten. Lisa got dropped off by the bus at the top of the driveway Julie said. It was harvest. As Lisa began her journey down the driveway, and was visiting where they were pressing off the grapes down by the press area, she walked on top of one of the sumps and fell in. It gave way. It was the cutest thing, Julie said, because at that particular time they were making a wine called Mountain Red. Well, her Uncle John had a sense of humor, so he doctored a label and named it Mountain Lisa. The Pedroncelli family still has that bottle, to this day and they’ve never opened it.
The wine industry is a wonderful place to be
Montse is originally from Spain and grew up around wine. It was an important part of life for her family and grew up with the concept, that when you eat food, you drank wine. Her father’s side of the family were barrel makers back in Spain. They made barrels for wineries. When Montse came to the United States, she found the competitiveness of wine to be something different of Spain. That was intriguing to her, in the sense of how you can rate a wine. It’s wine she says. Montse likes the food pairing side of wine. It’s a very intriguing and interesting concept she says. “It’s something I really enjoy, to match our wines with food, and how they get along, and they can taste different with different food that we…that you can cook with.” said Montse.
Since Montse is fascinated with wine and food, I had to ask her if she had any advice for our audience as to how they can sharpen their own palate in terms of not only selecting, or rating, or reviewing a wine, but pairing it with food. I wanted to find out what makes someone’s palate more trained than the other. Montse explained to me that everything is practice or tasting, in this case. If someone likes to food, then they probably like to cook. You also need to like and enjoy wine. Food and wine come together in amazing ways when you set out to explore your senses. It’s something that you just need to keep experimenting with, so you can find out. She recommends that people need to experiment, and make the food that you like, and try to match it with different wines. See which one will be the perfect match for that kind of food. And it’s a fun thing to do, and it’s wine culture.
To learn more about the Pedroncelli Winery and their amazing family, please visit www.pedroncelli.com/about.
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