Once common, multigenerational family wineries are a dwindling breed. But, along the Wine Road you can still find dozens multigenerational family wineries. So many in fact, it will take us awhile to explore them all.
Almost A Century Old
We’ll start with a wine family that goes back almost 100 years! The Pedroncelli family has been growing grapes and making wine in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley since 1927. One of my earliest memories of wine tasting was at Pedroncelli Winery, and it continues to be one of our favorite stops.
Started by John Pedroncelli, Sr. with the purchase of a small winery and vineyard, the winery survived Prohibition, and John was able to slowly grow the business during the ensuing years. The second generation eventually joined the operation and in 1963, brothers John Jr. and Jim purchased the winery from their father.
Today, 70% of the winery ownership has been transferred to the third generation, and a few fourth generation Pedroncellis have joined the family business.
Considering their patriarchal Italian heritage, it is wonderful to know that Pedroncelli is a 70% female owned company and has a woman winemaker! If you haven’t tried their wines, or haven’t in a while, I’d recommend checking them out soon.
The Roots Run Deep
Robert Young Estate Winery’s roots run deep in Sonoma County’s Alexander Valley. Since 1858, generation after generation the Young family has farmed their ranch, at first raising wheat, prunes cattle, and sheep.
It wasn’t until 1963 that Robert Young planted grapes, but before long his Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay grapes were highly sought after and showing up in vineyard designate wines for many other wineries. In 1997, Fred Young, Robert’s son, founded the Robert Young Estate Winery with the blessings of his father and his siblings.
Today multiple generations of the Young family work in the vineyards, winery, and tasting room. If you are seeking an extraordinary sensory experience, check out the wines and views at the Scion House. Your host might just be Robert Young II (Fred’s son and Robert’s grandson), one of the fifth generation family members.
Building a Legacy
Sight unseen, Harry and Maggie Wetzel purchased the historic Cyrus Alexander homestead in Alexander Valley in late 1962. (Cyrus Alexander, Alexander Valley’s namesake, was an early settler and the first to grow vines in the area.) The following year, the Wetzel’s moved to their new home and Harry began planting vineyards, enlisting the help of his young son, Hank. During those early years, the grapes were sold to other wineries. In 1968, the Wetzel family bottled their first wine—a few cases of Cabernet Sauvignon produced from their grapes.
By working along side his dad in the vineyards and interning at another winery, Hank realized this was his life’s work. In 1969, Hank enrolled in the UC Davis Fermentation Science program, and by 1975, he and wife Linda started Alexander Valley Vineyards. Over time, sister Katie Wetzel Murphy and brother John joined the family business. Today, third-generation family members and brothers Harry Wetzel IV and Robert Wetzel have key roles at the winery.
Alexander Valley Vineyards produces many wines, including Cyrus, a spectacular Cabernet Sauvignon named for the site’s original owner. Other options include a variety of estate and reserves wines, large format and half bottles, and a delightful Gewürztraminer, a rare find along the Wine Road. Be sure to check out this winery seeped in local history and one of the early wineries in Alexander Valley.
Blazing New Trails
When Dave Stare came west in the late 1960s, the Sonoma County wine industry was still recovering from the long-term effects of Prohibition, with only very few wineries open for business. Following his dreams, in 1972 Dave found the perfect location in the heart of Dry Creek Valley to start his Dry Creek Vineyard.
Ignoring sage advice, Dave followed his instincts, planting Sauvignon Blanc, among other varieties like Zinfandel, which is a natural fit for the terroir of Dry Creek Valley. It wasn’t long before Dry Creek Vineyard’s Sauvignon Blanc was turning heads and garnering accolades. Soon winegrowers throughout Dry Creek Valley were planting Sauvignon Blanc, too.
While still a teenager, Dave’s daughter Kim worked at the winery doing a variety of tasks and getting an overview of the business. After college and a career in the fashion industry, Kim returned to the winery in 1986 as the director of marketing, and in 2011 became the winery’s president. Kim, together with her husband, Don Wallace, share a strong commitment to leave the winery and vineyards to the next generation.
Dry Creek Vineyard produces a wide range of wines, including two styles of Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc reminiscent of Vouvrays from the Loire Valley, Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Bordeaux varietal blends. The knowledgeable, friendly tasting room staff, delicious wines, gardens, and expansive picnic grounds will draw you in and keep you coming back again and again.
Historic Multigenerational Family Winery
Martinelli Winery’s lineage dates back to the 1880s, with three generations of Martinellis now working in the winery and vineyards. To understand the depth of their family line, you need the aid of a family tree. Luckily they have one on their website.
Once the family’s crops were more diversified, growing apples, prunes, and grapes. Although apples are still in the mix, the focus shifted to grapes many years ago. In 1986, Lee Martinelli Sr. and his wife, Carolyn Charles Martinelli, opened their tasting room in a historic hops barn along River Road in the Russian River Valley.
Four of Lee and Carolyn’s children—Julianna, Lee Jr., George, and Regina—work with the family business. Plus this year, fifth generation Tessa, Julianna’s daughter, joined them as the Marketing Manager.
If you’re not familiar with Martinelli’s wines, this is a good time to start. This past March, Antonio Galloni’s Vinous gave 20 of their wines scores of 93 – 97 points. But, it is always best for you to try them for yourself and be your own judge.
A Common Thread
The thread that binds all these wineries together is their founders’ pioneer spirits, tenacity, and passion. These qualities are still reflected today with the current generation that embraces their place in their families’ legacy.
I encourage you to visit the websites of each of these multigenerational wineries, and also consider booking a reservation* the next time you find yourself along the Wine Road.
* During COVID-19, wineries along the Wine Road require reservations to ensure their guest have a safe tasting experience.
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Cover photo credit: Martinelli Winery