Travels in Wine / Sonoma

Travels In Wine Sonoma, a family story


Sarah Knowles MW Sarah Knowles MW / 17 January 2019

The Pedroncellis

When I am in Sonoma, I always make time to see Jim Pedroncelli. Last year the winery celebrated its 90th birthday and Jim, in his 80s, still always hosts our meetings, updating me on the family, the wines and the vintage. His father purchased the vineyard during prohibition in 1927 and sold the grapes to home winemakers and those few wineries with a licence to produce communion wine until prohibition was lifted in 1933.

Pedroncelli family bbq in the late 1940s
Pedroncelli family bbq in the late 1940s

In the 1960s Jim and his brother John bought the winery from their father. They expanded the vineyard holdings and began to focus on national sales across the USA. Now, the winery is run by the third generation, Jim and John’s children, with the fourth knocking on the door!

The Pedroncelli clan with Jim at the centre
The Pedroncelli clan with Jim at the centre

This family feel is still very much in evidence: from the more homely cellar door, the focus is on producing wines in a consistent style, and there’s a real determination to offer value to loyal customers that have enjoyed the wines for many decades.

The tasting I have with Jim proved once again why I really rate these wines. Offering genuine value-for-money and drinkability, Jim’s Friends Red is often my go-to wine for a big party!

Founder of Marietta Cellars Chris Bilbro’s stated aim was to make ‘Tuesday-night wine that complements food’
Founder of Marietta Cellars Chris Bilbro’s stated aim
was to make ‘Tuesday-night wine that complements food’

…and their neighbours the Bilbros

This trip I visited Marietta Cellars for the first time. They are another long-term family owned winery and handily only two minutes’ drive from Pedroncelli.

Chris Bilbro founded the winery in 1978. He had a passion for old vineyards, and for value-for-money. His often-stated aim was to make the best ‘Tuesday night wine’; one that complements food, is easily enjoyed, and doesn’t break the bank so that you can have it again on Wednesday if need be!

Scot Bilbro and Davis graduate took over as head winemaker 10 years ago
Scot Bilbro and Davis graduate took over as head
winemaker 10 years ago

Scot Bilbro, Chris’ son, who took over as head winemaker around 10 years ago follows this same philosophy. Old-vine, estate-grown tenderly cared for grapes are gently picked then naturally fermented in concrete tanks before being moved to French and American oak barrels (only a small percentage of which are new).

What Marietta have done for many years, which is now coming back in vogue across California, is to make a very popular non-vintage red blend. This involves huge winemaking skill, which is recognised in Champagne but often overlooked when making multi-vintage still wines. Scot, like his father before him, aims to make a very complete red blend that has a consistent house style. The OVR blend (Old Vine Red) is their most popular wine, and is the one I was there to taste.

Old Vine Red

It didn’t disappoint and being able to see back lots, and separate components allowed me to really understand the complexities in maintaining this wine year in year out.

The quality and value though was undeniable and so I look forward to introducing you to it in the spring, and to working with another family winery where I hope to build a long-term relationship based on Tuesday night wines!

Browse our current range of USA wines

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Members' Comments (2)

"Dear Sarah,

I love the Pedroncelli wines but the pinot noir never seems to be in stock!

Also cannot find the Old Vine Red referred to in this article.

It seems all very well going over to visit these wineries but a bit of a waste if the members cannot sample their wines?

Can you source some more mid-priced Californian pinot noirs please?


Paul Kerry"

Mr Paul Kerry (02-Apr-2019)

"Hi Paul - I have passed on your comments to Sarah (she is travelling at the moment). I regret the Pedroncelli Pinot Noir did sell out rather quickly and unfortunately the price of the next vintage is quite a lot more, but no doubt Sarah will be keeping an eye out for other good pinots. We are just about to offer the Old Vine Red which will be live on the website from next Tuesday 16th April (ref US8371/£12 - for a limited period, then £14.50) -... Read more > hope this helps!
Jo Goodman (News & Content Editor)

Miss Joanna Goodman (11-Apr-2019)

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