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Family History


It seems like I was destined to be a winemaker. My great grandfather originally came from Switzerland in the 1870s and settled in Solano County. On my mother's side, my grandfather and grandmother owned a small winery in the Spring Mountain District above the Napa Valley in 1906. I remember my grandmother telling me about how hard they worked in the vineyard in those first few years, the 18-hour days, the years with no rain, the rattlesnakes in the vines... times were tough back then. The Vellas, my father's side of the family, came to Stanislaus County to start farming grapes in 1920.

Prohibition and the Start of a Beautiful Friendship

Prohibition shut down our spring mountain vineyard and winery in 1919, which was around the same time that my father's family moved to Stanislaus County. While wine couldn't be produced commercially during Prohibition, it was legal for the Head of a Household to make 200 gallons of wine for personal consumption. There was a demand for California grapes by European Immigrant Heads of Household to make wine for family use. My grandfather and father, as did other grape growers in the area, saw a ready market for their grapes. So, the decision was to raise grapes and ship them to the east coast.

My father went east on the train every year to sell our family's grape crop along with many other winemakers, so an intimate community of grape growers began to develop. It was around this time that my father started building a relationship with Julio Gallo, who also traveled to the New York area to sell a portion of his family's grape crop. Ernest Gallo, on the other hand, sold their crop in the Chicago area.

Prohibition Ends and the Winemaking Tradition Begin Again

In 1933, when Prohibition ended, the Gallos started making wine and my family got into it a few years later in 1938. My grandfather and father built a state-of-the-art winery off Kiernan Avenue in Modesto. Unfortunately, one year later, when I was only 6-months-old, my father died in a winery accident.

My father's death was a huge blow to the family, but my grandfather decided to keep up with the business and, finding it more economically sound, sold our wine in bulk to the Gallos, who were well on their way to building a national reputation for fine winemaking. We had a wonderful relationship with the Gallo family by this point, so in 1957, when Julio talked us out of making wine, we agreed that it was the right decision to continue growing high-quality grapes and selling the grapes to the Gallo family.

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