“I am an Italian American. My roots are deep in an ancient soil, drenched by the Mediterranean sun, and watered by pure streams from snowcapped mountains. I am enriched by thousands of years of culture. My hands are those of the mason, the artist, the man of the soil.” – Angelo Bianchi, Esq., 1982
October celebrates many things: an end to winegrowers harvest season, a shift to cooler temperatures and the first rains of the season. It kicks off the holiday season with Halloween and Dia De Muertos. But we’re also celebrating Italian American Culture Month. Here in Dry Creek Valley, many wineries and families are rooted in Italian culture. You can notice it simply in the winery names as your drive through – Passalacqua, Forchini, Rafanelli, Teldeschi, Pedroncelli, Seghesio…the list continues.
We’ve found one of the most meaningful ways to celebrate not only Italian-American culture but all cultures is to make certain the stories of our families and their traditions are kept alive. Passing these stories along to our readers ensures a continuing legacy and is just one facet to maintain the rich history and stories you’ll find in Dry Creek Valley. We reached out to a couple of these family owned wineries for Italian American Culture Month to ask them about simple stories of family, food and wine. We present them to you in their own words:
Jim Forchini – Forchini Vineyards & Winery
“My full name is James Franklin Forchini; I am a second generation Italian born in 1938 in Bakersfield, CA. I was named after my paternal grandfather Giacomo Forchini and former president Franklin Roosevelt. My maternal grandparents were Pietro Bernacchi and Artemia Barggetini who both came from Tuscany in the region of Luca. My paternal grandparents were Giacomo Forchini and Severina DiGiorgis who came from the regions of Piedmonte & Lombardy in northern Italy. They immigrated to the US in the early 1900s in search for a better life & opportunity.
Both of my grandparents made family wines in Italy & CA. Our family was centered in Bakersfield where my father was from a family of 8 and my mother from a family of 5. My father came north during WW2 and was a welder at Mare Island Naval Shipyards then worked in a Ford dealership after the war and later owed a service station in the Bay Area. Working for my father in the gas station on cars led me to a degree in mechanical engineering and my first career. I spent however a lot of time with my maternal grandfather as a young boy during the summers and he was a major influence in my second career as a winegrower & winemaker.
Our family daily meals growing up were simple Italian cuisine with dishes of pasta, polenta, risotto, meats, vegetables, fish, salads & soups. For the Holidays we would assemble as many relatives as possible and prepare fancier Italian cuisine featuring handmade ravioli, gnocchi, prime rib roasts, various antipasti & seafood salads. Wine was always on the table but nothing fancy. They were dry red & white table wines either homemade or wines purchased in gallon jugs even on the Holidays. Food was always prepared by the women in the family but the men would BBQ the meats when served.
I discovered premium wines after transferring jobs from Southern California to Northern California in 1963. The 1st premium wines I purchased were from Sebastiani and Pedroncelli.
I made my 1st homemade wine in 1969 with friends using grapes from a vineyard owned by one of my friend’s father. My amateur winemaking interest continued to grow that led me to purchase an old vineyard in 1971. In 1976 after 15 years of engineering I started a 2nd career as a winegrower. In 1996 I built our winery and became a commercial winemaker. I am grateful to my Italian heritage and family genes for the values and work ethics taught me that led to my 2nd career as a winemaker.”
Forchini Vineyards & Winery, 5141 Dry Creek Rd, Healdsburg.
Julie Pedroncelli St. John – Pedroncelli Winery
My full name is, “Julie Renee Pedroncelli St. John; I was named after my mom’s best friend Juliette. My grandmother’s name was Julia so I like to think it was a blend of the two; no not until later in high school and college when it was JP or Jules.
I grew up in the house my dad and his family grew up in since 1927. My grandparents came here and bought acreage (25 acres of vineyard), a defunct winery (prohibition) and a home-which we now call World Headquarters for Pedroncelli Winery Inc. The family home became our offices in the early 1980s, my office is actually my old bedroom I shared with my sister Joanna. Happily I don’t have to share it with anyone now.
[Dinners] usually included a grandparent or two and depending on the time of year also included garden fresh vegetables and fruit. Weeknights we always sat down to dinner together. Sundays were reserved for the bigger family dinners with aunts and uncles. My mom did the cooking-unless it was a BBQ then my dad grilled. Holidays were different because they always included special and delicious foods like homemade ravioli, risotto or polenta. There were many huge feasts usually alfresco during the summertime in the 1950s (before I was born) but when my grandparents retired in the mid-1960s these turned into smaller family dinners.
Recently we have revived those Sunday afternoon meals with family down on our Dry Creek property-those who can make it come and bring a favorite dish and there’s always something tasty on the grill.”
Pedroncelli Winery, 1220 Canyon Rd, Geyserville, CA.
How are you celebrating Italian American Culture Month? Share with us on our social channels using #drycreekvalley or by tagging us at:
Dry Creek Valley is celebrated for being home to wineries that are family owned and have rich history just like Jim Forchini & Julie Pedroncelli. Plan your own Italian American Culture Month tour on our winery page.
Many thanks to Jim & Julie for sharing their stories with us for this blog!