The Gianelli Vineyards Story
It has been said that in some of the oldest wine growing regions of Europe, a person can actually taste the story of a vineyard with each sip they take. At Gianelli Vineyards & Winery, their wines capture that same essence of place and tradition. Although Ron and Lorie Gianelli have been making their wines for just a few years, the history of their family, their land, and even their winemaking practices are part of a legacy that stretches back through countless generations.
The story truly begins with Giovani Rocca, who married into the Gianelli family in the late 1800’s. After his marriage, Giovani purchased a large amount of acreage just outside Jamestown – land which today is used in part for the Gianelli vineyards. In Giovani’s day his property was the site for a working cattle ranch, gold mining camp, and was a major stagecoach stop for supplies coming into Jamestown. Giovani was quite a character, and was even reported to give food and aid to the infamous Joaquin Murrieta when he’d pass through town.
With each new generation the land was worked and cherished, becoming an extension of the family and a testament to their commitment and love for the area. In 1980 Ron Gianelli purchased the property from his grand aunt Edna Collard. Having grown up in an agricultural family, Ron always knew that he would one day return to farming and to his family’s roots in Jamestown. He had realized half of the dream, and now he and his wife Lorie had to determine what they would do with their newly acquired 53 acres and how they could make a living off the land.
With strong ties to their family’s homeland of Liguira, Italy, the Gianelli’s were regularly traveling back and forth in order to find inspiration and advisement on how they should farm their property. It was during one of these many trips when Ron and Lorie decided they wanted to carry on the winemaking techniques and vineyard stewardship that the Italians had practiced for thousands of years. Everything about their Foothill appellation seemed to mimic that of Italy. They even had a sample of their Jamestown soil sent off to a laboratory in Italy which was returned with the simple note: “mirrors that of Tuscany.” With each successive trip to Italy, Ron and Lorie learned more and more about the varietals that would suit their area, methods, equipment, winemaking practices and the history of Italian wine. Early on in their planning the couple knew that they wanted to create old world wines that were true to the Italian style and experience.
Having decided to do something wholly unique in not only their community, but the Californian winemaking industry as a whole, Ron and Lorie threw themselves into creating a piece of Italy in their own back yard. Ron began to prepare the ground for planting while Lorie looked into the logistics of putting together a winery and a tasting room. Nothing was done half-heartedly. Every piece of equipment, from the fermentation tanks to the smallest filtration units were purchased in Italy. All of the obscure rootstock varietals that Ron had fallen in love with in Tuscany were sourced from a company who had special ties to a vineyard in Verona, Italy. Down to the smallest detail the small Italian operation in the heart of Jamestown California began to take root.
During this time Ron and Lorie were very fortunate to employ the talents of Mr. Steve Cullum, a well known vineyard consultant and manager in the Sierra Foothills. Steve’s knowledge of the region was encyclopedic, and his reputation for using uncommon old world varietals in many of his vineyards was exactly what the Gianelli’s were looking for. With his help the couple set out mapping their terroir, deciding exactly which varietals would suit their property and how they could use Italian methods and design. In 2003 the first vineyards were planted, and today the Gianelli Vineyards boasts a total of 18 different estate grown varietals. From Vermentino to Fiano, Primitivo to Agliancio, the vineyard has varietals that are not only uncommon in the United States, but some have never been produced before outside of Italy.
Gianelli Vineyards & Winery not only stands as a testament to the past, but also as a wonderful example of the successful balance that can be achieved between old world traditions and modern day innovation. Ron & Lorie Gianelli have become pioneers in their industry, helping to pave the way for other Californian growers who are interested in planting European varietals that have been too long neglected in the American marketplace. As their winery and vineyards continue to thrive, their hope is to educate their fellow vintners and the public about the wonderful, expressive character of Italian varietals grown here in the Sierra Foothills.
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