Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Historic Wineries of Santa Clara Valley - Guglielmo Winery and Morgan Hill Cellars

Santa Clara Valley is proud of its long and rich history in winemaking.  Mission Santa Clara was producing wine by 1802 and by 1823 Antonio Maria Sunol was making and retailing wine in San Jose.  By the 1850s the concentration of French in the South Bay and the large influx of new people in California due to the Gold Rush also saw a growth in grape plantings in the area, changing the winemaking from use of the native Mission grapes to the Vitis vinifera grapes from New England.  In this period San Jose had the largest concentration of nurseries in the state.  By 1860’s Charles LeFranc’s New Almaden Vineyard was producing 100,000 gallons of award-winning wines.

Grape planting continued at a strong pace for the rest of the century with new names appearing in the area including Paul Masson, Picchetti, Miirassou and others.  But by 1900 the phylloxera disease that had decimated the French grape industry was taking hold in the northern Santa Clara county and winemakers searching for phylloxera-free areas started planting in the south county area, starting in Morgan Hill and San Martin.  The wine industry continued to grow dramatically until Prohibition was passed in 1920.  While winegrowers strived to survive during prohibition through various means, by 1932 there were only 6,500 acres of wine grapes remaining.

As with most of the American wine industry it took decades for the wine industry to return to its former glory following Prohibition.  And, by that time, Silicon Valley was coming into focus and agriculture was forced out of north county and growing in south county.  Almaden and Mirassou vineyards were converted to homes and factories.  But small family run operations that had been in operation in the south county were growing. 

Emilio Guglielmo arrived at Ellis Island from Italy in 1909.  He worked his way to the west coast and established himself in San Francisco before sending for his sweetheart, Emilia, to join him.  By 1925 they had saved their earnings to purchase fifteen acres in Morgan Hill and founded Emilio Guglielmo Winery, producing wine in the basement of their home.   Guglielmo developed quite a reputation with the Italian families of Santa Clara County, delivering wine from his horse drawn wagon while picking up the used bottles to reuse at the winery.

In 1945 the winery was passed on to Emilio’s son George W. Guglielmo and his wife Madeline when George W. returned from World War II.  At this time the winery was changed to Emilio Guglielmo and Son.  The father and son worked together to expand the estate vineyards and distribution channels.  New ideas flowed into the winery including the introduction of refrigerated stainless steel fermentation tanks, small oak cooperage to replace the older redwood casks and production of the winery’s first premium varietal wine. 

Today the third generation, brothers George E., Gene and Gary retain the family tradition of producing award-winning wine from the 100 acres of Santa Clara Valley estate vineyards as well as other vineyards around the county and California.

Guglielmo makes a wide variety of wines including Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane, Charbono, Fiano, Grignolino, Merlot, Pinot Blanc Pinot Grigio Sangiovese, Syrah and Zinfandel under their Reserve Guglielmo label.  Plus they have several wines under their second label, TRE, and their Heritage Table Red and Table While under the Emile’s label.  In addition they produce several private label wines for others. 

The tasting room is really a step back into history offering a wide variety of goods and wines much like a country store.  They will be glad to give you a tour of the facility.  They also host many weddings on the property in their spacious outdoor facility.  Guglielmo Winery is located at 1480 East Main Avenue in Morgan Hill.

Morgan Hill Cellars history dates back to 1913 when it started as Colombano Winery using Barbera rootstock brought from Italy by immigrant Camillo Colombano.  In 1945 the Pedrizzetti family purchased the winery and changed the name to Pedrizzetti Winery.  In 2006 Mike and Maryclaire Sampognaro purchased the winery and renamed it Morgan Hill Cellars.  The Sampognaro’s moved to Morgan Hill when they were searching for a way to have their daughter and grandkids remain close to the family while still coping with the growing costs of housing in Silicon Valley.  Now Mike and Maryclaire live in one home on the property while his daughter and her family live in another home on the property.

In addition to their own wines, Morgan Hill Cellars also produces wines under other labels, ranging from bottles to jugs to bag-in-a-box.  Most of their production is outside of the Morgan Hill brand.  They have a wide selection of White (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Johannisberg Riesling) and Reds (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petite Sirah and more).  In addition they produce a variety of fruit wines and vinegars.

As you pull into the parking lot at Morgan Hill you are surrounded by history.  On the left is the old Pedrizzetti home and to the right are the winemaking facilities. You can tell from the walls where the winery has grown over the
years.  The tasting room in the center is rather new for this 100 year old winery; the original room was destroyed by fire in 1996 and rebuilt.  The new La Fenice (the phoenix arising from the flames) Tasting Room and Gift Gallery is a real delight with Italian-Mediterranean architecture featuring gold and terra cotta walls, tiled floors, and redwood wine bars for tasting the fine wines.  The Gift Gallery is a perfect place to stroll with your wine, checking out the pottery, wine racks and other gift items.  There is a lovely patio out the back for relaxed tasting.

Morgan Hill Cellars also has a location for weddings and events.  They are located at 1645 San Pedro Avenue in Morgan Hill.

Be sure to take the photo tour of Guglielmo Winery and Morgan Hill Cellars via the attached photos.  Stay tuned for the next article covering the historic Thomas Kruse, Fortino and Kirigin wineries.

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