Jim Pedroncelli of Sonoma County’s Pedroncelli Winery wins lifetime achievement award

Pedroncelli Winery was born in the middle of Prohibition and before the double-punch of the Great Depression and World War II, but second-generation proprietor Jim Pedroncelli has been upbeat and outspoken voice for the prospects of Sonoma County wine in the decades since.

His parents, Giovanni “John” and Julia, purchased a 25-acre Dry Creek Valley vineyard, shuttered winery and home in 1927. Pedroncelli became known for zinfandel, the valley’s signature grape variety, and the winery today grows 13 varieties of grapes on 105 owned vineyard acres and produces roughly 65,000 cases annually.

“We’ve always felt that regional production is very important and the designation of Sonoma County is very important,” said Pedroncelli, 85.

North Bay Business Journal recognized Pedroncelli with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Wine Industry + Spirits & Beer Awards event Nov. 28.

After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, less than 50 Sonoma County wineries survived out of 256 before, and only 160 remained in California, from more than 700 previously. As the wine business came back to life post-Prohibition, Pedroncelli and other vintners were mostly selling wine in bulk or by the jug, and costs were kept low by having the vineyards managed and the wine made by family.

Pedroncelli was the youngest of four children. Older brother John Jr. took over winemaking from their father in 1948. Jim worked his way up from vineyard and cellar tasks until he became head of sales and marketing in 1957. In 1963 Jim and John Jr. purchased the operation. John Jr. died in 2015 at age 89.

Post-Prohibition, dessert-wine producers outnumbered table-wine makers such as Pedroncelli. Winegrapes from the Central Valley were commanding the same price as those from the North Coast.

In the 1950s, the winery started putting “Sonoma County” on the label, one of the first to do so. It was a way to communicate that the growing conditions, varieties and winemaking practices in the county were different from those throughout California and could command higher prices, Jim Pedroncelli said.

“In the early days, people did not really know where Sonoma County was,” he said. “We used to say we’re north of San Francisco.”

The 1950s brought a shift from budget bulk to premium bottle, with the Pedroncelli name going on bottles for the first time. It was zinfandel. Later came California’s first zinfandel rosé, decades before the rosé wave of recent years. Pinot noir, riesling and red blends followed. Pedroncelli was among the first to plant cabernet sauvignon in Dry Creek Valley.

But the shift to premium called for education of consumers and trade buyers on why the wine was worth the higher prices. In the 1970s came a focus on tasting tours, as Napa Valley vintners were doing. Pedroncelli and other pioneers of Sonoma County wine such as Simi, Foppiano, Sebatiani, Rodney Strong started embarking on winemaker tours to major wine markets like Chicago, New York and Boston. One major in to Boston came when David Stare, who started Dry Creek Vineyard in 1972, worked Harvard connections to set up tastings in the area.

Pedroncelli has been actively involved in Sonoma County and Dry Creek Valley promotional efforts for decades. He is a charter member of Sonoma County Vintners, Wine Road, Sonoma County Winegrowers and Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley. The valley became an American Viticultural area in 1983.

Jeff Quackenbush (, 707-521-4256) covers the wine business and real estate.

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