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Fresno-San Joaquin Valley - Notable Wineries By District And Region

[Fresno-San Joaquin Valley - Part 1]  [Fresno-San Joaquin Valley - Part 2]  [Fresno-San Joaquin Valley - Part 3] 
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(Note: Information Originally Published In 1955 - Presented For Historical Perspective!)


Alta Vineyards Company, Fresno

This corporation, also doing business as Cameo Vineyards Company, is the successor to many a famous name in the history of the California wine industry. Beverly W. Goldthwaite is president and general manager of the company, D. S. Davis vice-president, and Margaret Shahenian secretary and treasurer.

In 1949 the corporation, then newly formed, purchased the brands and listings of the old Alta Winery, formerly of Dinuba, Tulare County, where the colorful personality of Charlie Dubbs was for many years its leading light. The next year Alta bought the Cameo Winery, its present location, along with the Cameo brands and inventories. The vineyards were planted by Ed Melikian, president of the old Cameo Vineyards Company, Aram Melikian, and Ed Merzoian. Cecil Melikian, the nephew of the former Cameo president, is Alta's assistant manager.

Alta Vineyards Company is also the successor to the Mattei name and interests. It was around a89o that Andrew Mattel, a native of Switzerland, founded his enterprise, planting vineyards near Malaga, southeast of Fresno, and building his winery nearby. For many years the Mattel name loomed large in the California wine industry and one of Alta's brands still carries his name.

A new co-operative of wine grape growers was formed in the fall of 1954, Cameo Growers, who contracted with Alta for the making and selling of wine from their grapes.

The winery's two principal brands are Alta and C.V.C. (Cameo Vineyards Company), used for a full line of dessert and table wines, while Croix Royale is used for the older wines. Dessert wines are the company's primary business.

Aperitif and Dessert wines:

Alta and C.V.C.: Sherry, Port, Muscatel, Tokay, and White Port; Alta: Dry and Sweet Vermouth; Croix Royale: Pale Dry Sherry, Tawny Port, Muscatel; Dry and Sweet Vermouth.

Table wines:

Alta and C.V.C.: Burgundy, Zinfandel, and Claret; Sauterne and Rhine.

Alta Vineyards Company also has a number of other brands, including Cameo, Mattel, Mattevista, Scatena, and St. Charles, some of which have been famous at one time or another in the history of the California wine industry.

Bisceglia Brothers Wine Company, Fresno

This enterprise was founded in 1888 by four Bisceglia brothers, Joseph, Pasquale, Bruno, and Alphonse, who came from a family of vineyardists and wine makers in their native Cosenza in the province of Calabria, Italy. The family first settled in California in the Santa Clara Valley, where they went into the wine business and also operated a large cannery. In 1939 the canning operation was discontinued and their attention fully directed to their wine enterprise.

The winery the Bisceglias are now operating was started in 1945 and completed in 1947, and is one of the most modern, with a capacity of some eight million gallons. Standard-quality table, sparkling, and aperitif and dessert wines are produced, and are distributed throughout the United States.

The last of the original founders, Alphonse F. Bisceglia, passed away in 1952 and the family members now interested in the wine business are Bruno T. Bisceglia, president, and Joseph A. Bisceglia, an officer and director of the company.

Paradise is the leading brand, while Golden Chalice, introduced in I953 after five years of research, is used for marketing wines with a character all of their own, the dessert types being very sweet.

Aperitif and Dessert wines:

Golden Chalice: Pale Dry Sherry, Cocktail Sherry, Sherry, and Creme Sherry; Port, Muscatel, Tokay, and White Port;

Paradise: Pale Dry Sherry, Sherry, Port, Muscatel, Tokay, White Port, and Angelica;

Table wines:

Golden Chalice: Burgundy, Sauterne, and Vin Rose; Paradise: Burgundy, Zinfandel, Claret, Barberone, and the featured Vino Rosso; Sauterne and Rhine Wine;

Berry wines:

Paradise: Blackberry and Loganberry.

Vermouth, both Dry and Sweet, is marketed under the Bisceglia label, while La Croix is the brand for bulk-fermented Champagne (on the sweet side) and Sparkling Burgundy.

Crest View Winery, Inc., Fresno

The winery was founded in 1935 bby John B. Perenchio, who built it. A few years later Joseph Gazzara, the present owner and general manager, purchased part interest in the winery and in 1947 bought the whole of it.

Joseph Gazzara has had long experience in wine making and merchandising. He was born in Italy of a winegrowing family, one might say practically in a vineyard. He gained experience in the wine business in his native land, in France, and for many years also in this country. He was already engaged in it before Prohibition and started once more after Repeal, selling sacramental wines during the dry years, as allowed by the laws.

Dessert wines are the specialty, while some dry table wines are also available. Crest View is the main brand and under that label and its variations, such as Crest, the following sound standardquality wines are produced and marketed:

Aperitif and Dessert wines: Sherry, Port, Muscatel, Tokay, White Port, and Angelica;

Table wines: Burgundy, Zinfandel, Claret, and Vino Rosso Gustoso; Sauterne.

B. Cribari & Sons, Fresno

The nationally known "House of Cribari" was founded in 1904 by Benjamin Cribari and his three sons Fiore, Angelo, and Anthony. In that year Benjamin Cribari, a native of Cosenza, Calabria Province, Italy, bought some forty acres of land in Paradise Valley near Morgan Hill in the foothills of southern Santa Clara County and converted them to vineyards. From this modest beginning a great enterprise was to grow.

The original holdings were gradually enlarged over the years until it became necessary to find new quarters. These were established nearby at Madrone on El Camino Real, some sixteen miles south of San Jose, and here at Madrone the Cribaris operated their winery for many years, making their products famous throughout the nation.

During Prohibition the family concentrated on the production of sacramental and medicinal wines as allowed by the dry laws. Even during the dry years it became necessary to enlarge the Madrone winery owing to the popularity of the Cribari products. Additional vineyards were planted in Santa Clara and San Benito counties; in Fresno a winery and extensive property were acquired, including the famed Las Palmas Vineyard, started in the early eighteen nineties by Benjamin R. Woodworth. The Cribari firm now was able to produce dessert wines in one of the great sweet wine centers of San Joaquin Valley and table wines in the Santa Clara Valley, always regarded as one of the finest districts for the production of dry wines. After Repeal the Madrone and Fresno wineries were further enlarged and additional vineyards planted in the rolling foothills of San Benito County.

In 1944 another move was made. The Madrone establishments were sold and the Crimaris moved their Santa Clara County headquarters to the Evergreen area east of San Jose, where they purchased property in addition to what they had already acquired a few years before. It is at Evergreen (the winery originally built by William Wehner before the turn of the century) that the Cribari table wines are still produced today.

The present owners and operators of the Crihari enterprise include Fiore and Anthony Cribari of the older generation, with their main center of activities at Evergreen. The younger generation is established at Fresno, of whom Theodore S. (Ted) Cribari, the son of Fiore, is president of the concern, K. W. (Ken), and A. B. (Al), both sons of the deceased Angelo, are respectively plant manager and production manager-wine maker, and Robert (Bob) heads the Cribari sales interests for the Eastern part of the country in New York.

In 1954 the Las Palmas holdings in Fresno were sold to Gallo. The Cribaris continue to produce a full line of table, sparkling, aperitif and dessert, and altar wines, maintaining their headquarters in Fresno and continuing to operate their Evergreen holdings, mainly for the production of table wines. The dessert wines are now produced at the Alta Vineyards Company winery at Fresno, while the plans are for a gradual merger to take place between the Cribari and Alta enterprises.

The Cribaris produce and market a large variety of sound standard-quality and higher-quality wines which enjoy a national distribution. Cribari Reserve is the brand used for the higher-grade wines, with Cribari Family, Sonnie Boy, and Famiglia Cribari the more prominent labels for wines of sound standard quality.

The following wines are available under the Cribari Reserve brand: Table wines (from Santa Clara Valley grapes mostly) :

RED: Pinot Noir, Ruby Cabernet, Grignolino; Burgundy and Claret; WHITE: Pinot Blanc, Emerald Riesling; Sauterne, Dry Sauterne and Haut Sauterne, Chablis, and Rhine Wine; ROSE: Grignolino Rose and Vin Rose.

Sparkling wines (bulk process, from Santa Clara Valley grapes) : Extra Dry Champagne and Demi-Sec Champagne; Pink Champagne, Red Champagne, and Sparkling Burgundy, Sparkling Muscat (all types except the Red Champagne also being produced under the Saratoga brand).

Aperitif and Dessert wines (mostly from San Joaquin Valley grapes) : Palomino Pale Dry Sherry (varietally from that grape), Pale Dry Sherry, Cocktail Sherry, Golden Sherry, and Cream Sherry; Port, Ruby Port, and Tawny Port; Golden Muscatel and Muscatel.

Vermouths, Dry and Sweet, are marketed under the Cribari label while popular table wines of the Italian "homemade" type, called "Vino Rosso da Pranzo" and "Vino Bianco da Pranzo," are available under the Famiglia Cribari brand, as well as a "Mellow Zinfandel."

The standard-quality wines bottled under the Cribari Family and Sonnie Boy labels include:

Table wines:

RED: Burgundy, Claret, and Barberone; WHITE: Dry Sauterne, Sweet Sauterne, Chablis, and Rhine Wine.

The Cribaris have a long tradition in the production of sacramental wines. Cribari altar wines (available only to the clergy) include:

Dry wines: Claret, Burgundy, Dry Sauterne, and Haut Sauterne; Sweet wines: Port, Sherry, Muscatel, Tokay, Angelica, and Meloso.

Golden State Winery, Fresno

Golden State Winery is the name of the operating winery, with California Champagne Cellars, Inc., that of the family-owned corporation.

Wallace A. Dunton, Jr., the owner, of German-Swiss origin, has outside of his family two great interests, the Army and wine making. He has been interested in the wine business for over thirty years, in both Southern and Central California. His career in the Army Reserve dates back t0 1917, when he served in the 75th Coast Artillery, outfitted with the rare railway artillery guns. During the Second World War he served with the 37th AAA (Anti Aircraft Artillery) Brigade and later spent nearly three and a half years in the jungles of New Guinea. He ended the war with a colonel's silver eagles and is still active in the Army Reserve.

After the war Dunton turned to his wine-making hobby and purchased from John Borello the Golden State Winery at Fresno, founded in z9o8 by Frank Stefanich. The colonel is his own wine maker and specializes in sparkling wines made by the French Charmat process and in certain, often unusual, varietal table wines. He is also interested in the production of commercial brandy. The winery is small but modern, and custom bottling for others is also done. The main brands are Golden State Winery and California Champagne Cellars for sparkling wines and Dunton and Borello for table and dessert types.

Sparkling wines (bulk process) : Champagne, Sparkling Burgundy, Sparkling Roses (including Grenache), and Moscato Spumante (Sparkling Muscat) ;

Varietal table wines: Carignane, Mission, Grenache, Palomino, and Dry Muscat.

Other table wines, varietal and generic, are produced and include blends of San Joaquin Valley with Napa and other north coast county wines.

Aperitif and dessert wines are also available.

A. Nonini Winery, Fresno

This small family-owned and -operated winery is located some ten miles northwest of Fresno in the Rolinda district. It produces dry table wines only, made from San Joaquin Valley grapes, which are good examples of sound "country" wines of the Fresno region.

Antonio Nonini, head of the family and owner and wine maker of the enterprise, was born in Italy in the village of Cercino in the Valtellina district, province of Sondrio in Northern Italy. He came to the United States around the turn of the century and first engaged in California in the dairy business. In i9ro he returned to his native country and brought back a bride, Angelina, and settled with her on his ranch. In 1916 he planted his ranch to vines and the family became active in the growing and shipping of grapes. The family increased over the years to five children, three boys and two girls, all born on the home ranch.

The enterprise is run by Antonio and the family, of whom Reno is in charge of sales, Gildo of the vineyards, while the girls, who both had business training at college, take care of the bookkeeping. The youngest son, Geno, on return from the service, will also take up his duties again on the ranch. A third generation of Noninis is growing up and helping their parents in the business. Angelina Nonini, the bride Antonio went to fetch in r9ro, assists when necessary and is otherwise busily engaged in being a good wife and a good mother for the ever-growing family.

Nonini's Select is the prominent brand and under this label the following table wines are produced and marketed:

RED: Zinfandel (ioo per cent varietal), Burgundy (from Barbera and other grapes), Claret (a blend of Grenache, Carignane, Mission, Alicante Bouschet, and others);

WHITE: Sauterne (dry, from 100 per cent Palomino or Golden Chasselas).

Roma Wine Company, Fresno

The largest winery in California, with a correspondingly large production. The Roma Wine Company was established when J. Battista Cella and his brother Lorenzo came to California in 1915 and acquired the small Roma Winery established at Lodi. The move to Fresno occurred in 1933, when the Roma Wine Company acquired the Santa Lucia Winery, which had been founded a few years earlier by N. D. Naman. Roma then began an expansion program which resulted in its becoming the world's largest and most modern winery of its time. In 1942 Schenley Industries, Inc., acquired Roma Wine Company and all wineries and physical assets of the company and embarked upon a further expansion and modernization program.

Colonel Albert H. Burton is in charge of over-all production of the Roma Wine Company and other Schenley wine interests. Richard Auerbach is in charge of production control, while William Shonkwiler is the chief chemist and quality-control supervisor. Sales and merchandising are handled through CVA Corporation of San Francisco under the direction of its board chairman, Harry G. Serlis.

The Roma winery at Fresno has a crushing capacity of 80,000 tons of grapes a season, while total storage capacity is over 16,700,000 gallons of wine. The Roma winery at Kingsburg has an additional capacity of 7,800,00o gallons.

Winery buildings and operating areas cover some fifty-five acres. With minor exceptions all Roma dessert wines are produced from grapes grown in the San Joaquin Valley within a radius of sixty miles of the Fresno winery. White grapes represent about 70 per cent of the total volume crushed and include chiefly Muscat of Alexandria, Feher Szagos, Palomino, Malaga, and Thompson Seedless, the last two varieties being used principally for the production of brandy and grape concentrates. The most important dark grapes used are Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Mission, Grenache, Carignane, and Salvador.

Roma produces sound standard-quality wines which are nationally distributed and also exported to various foreign countries, including the Orient. Roma Reserve is the basic brand, with Roma Estate and Roma Select the two principal variations, conforming to the demand in various parts of the country.

Under the various Roma brands the following wines are available, most of which are bottled in the exclusive Roma dripless bottle, a new merchandising development:

Table wines:

RED: Burgundy, Claret, and Zinfandel; Red Chianti and Vino di Roma (vino rosso type); WHITE: Sauterne, Chablis, and Rhine Wine; White Chianti; ROSE: Vin Rose.

Sparkling wines (bulk process) : Champagne, Pink Champagne, Sparkling Burgundy, and Moscato Spumante;

Aperitif and Dessert wines: Pale Dry Sherry, Cocktail Sherry, Sherry, and Cream Sherry; Port, Ruby Port, and Tawny Port; Muscatel, Tokay, and White Port; Dry and Sweet Vermouth.

Light Sweet wines: Red and White.

Berry and Fruit wines: Blackberry (of the Boysenberry variety), Currant, Loganberry, and Cherry. A Concord grape wine (from out-of-state grapes) is also produced.

A specialty is the Creme de Roma, a liqueurlike wine consisting of sherry with flavoring added and containing 18 per cent alcohol by volume.

Inexpensive Italian-type table wines are marketed under Roma's Pride of the Vineyard label and include Vino d'Uva (red grape wine), Vino Bianco (white grape wine), Barberone, and Chianti.

St. George Winery, Fresno

This famed old enterprise and California landmark was founded in 1879 by George H. Malter, a native of Germany who became well known in San Francisco as a mining engineer. He was a member of the Bohemian Club and the owner of the Emerald, a well-known yacht. He planted a large acreage of vines along Fancher Creek, some five miles west of Fresno. The winery, erected in i884, was enlarged until it became one of the largest producers of wine and brandy of the time.

A booklet published around the turn of the century gives a fascinating picture of life at Maltermoro during the Gay Nineties. Profusely illustrated, it shows such diverse activities as rabbit drives, raisin drying, bullfights, and wine making. An eloquent catalogue, it lists and describes the wines and brandies produced at the winery as well as other spirits handled for the benefit of the customers. Such intriguing items are advertised as St. George Tonic Port, Tarragona Port of the Trousseau grape, Porto type of the Malvoisie; Sherry Bitters, Sherry from the Pedro Ximenez grape. Table wines included a Margaux-type claret from the Cabernet and St. Julien from the Grenache. Brandies were of the Cognac type, of the Muscat, of the Cooking variety and a special type for Shampoo and Sponge Baths.

The glory of Maltermoro lasted well into the twentieth century, and then gradually declined. George Malter, when he died in 1928, left only a small acreage and the manor house; Prohibition forced the winery into dormancy. After Repeal Hugo Malter, George's son, rehabilitated the winery and ran it for a while, in partnership with Frank Goldthwaite, until 1939. Beverly Goldthwaite then took over till 1942, when St. George was purchased by the well-known Eastern wine enterprise L. N. Renault & Sons, Inc., of Egg Harbor, New Jersey, the present owners. President and general manager of the winery is that genial personality with great experience in the industry, A. G. Frericks.

Dessert wines are the St. George specialty. Its table wines are supplied by another Renault-owned winery, the Montebello Wine Company of California, with its bonded winery at St. Helena, Napa County.

The main brand of the winery is St. George, with St. George Reserve Stock limited to older wines. Renault (Renault Wine Company of California-Fancher Creek Cellars) is also used for marketing some California table and aperitif and dessert wines, including Vermouth. Sparkling wines, produced in the East, are not included here.

The following wines are available under the St. George Reserve Stock label:

Aperitif and Dessert wines: Pale Dry Sherry, Dry Sherry, Sherry, and Mellow Sherry; Ruby Port and Tawny Port; Golden Muscat (100 per cent Muscat) and Muscatel; Madeira and Grenache (one of the few if not the only Grenache sweet dessert wine of 20 per cent alcohol by volume so far produced commercially).

Table wines: Burgundy and Sauterne.

The St. George wines include the following:

Aperitif and Dessert wines: Dry Sherry and Sherry, Port, Muscatel, Tokay, White Port, and Angelica;

Table wines: Burgundy, Zinfandel; Sauterne, Chablis, and Rhine Wine.

Cella Vineyards, Reedley

Some twenty miles east of Fresno and seven miles north of Reedley, spreading out at the foot of the hills bordering the San Joaquin Valley, lie the main vineyards and winery of the Cellas, a family famous in the wine industry for over a quarter of a century. J. Battista Cella, who reminds one of a Roman emperor and is somewhat of a living legend, was born in Bardi, in the province of Parma, Italy. He came to this country as a youngster soon after the Spanish-American War and one of his earliest recollections in his newly adopted land was Admiral George Dewey's victory parade in New York City, which he witnessed in 1899.

Young Cella first went into the restaurant business in Jamaica, Long Island, and then became a partner in the wholesale wine and liquor firm of Cella and Broglio in midtown New York. When Broglio went to Cleveland to open a restaurant on his own, J. Battista Cella's brother Lorenzo (Lori) took his place. The brothers later decided to go to California and came West in 1915. They have been in the wine business together ever since.

In California the Cellas first made wine from purchased grapes and during Prohibition shipped grapes East. In 1922 J. Battista bought the old Roma Winery at Lodi from the Scatena brothers and after Repeal, established in 1935, with growing ambition, the Santa Lucia Winery at Fresno, which became the Roma Wine Company. It was then that the Cellas made their wines and name famous throughout the nation, with J. Battista the presiding genius at Fresno and Lori in charge of the company's Eastern markets in New York City. Roma was built up and expanded by J. Battista Cella until it became one of the largest wineries in the world and a small empire unto itself.

In 1942 the Cellas sold Roma to the Schenley interests for a record figure, J. Battista staying on in an advisory capacity for a few years. In 1944 they purchased the famed old Wahtoke Winery, with its old Indian name, at Reedley, founded in the eighteen nineties by Louis Rusconi, a native of Switzerland. Since then the headquarters of the Cella enterprise have remained at Reedley, the Wahtoke Winery and vineyards being considerably enlarged. The Cellas also own a winery and vineyards at Manteca in San Joaquin County and, for the production of north coast counties dry wines, the Napa Wine Company of Oakville, Napa County, purchased in 1947- In all the Cella family owns some 4,00o acres of vineyards and besides their wine-production activities have one of the finest grape-juice plants in the country.

J. Battista Cella is president of Cella Vineyards, while Lori Cella is executive vice-president with offices in New York and in charge of all sales. Of the younger generation J. (Johnnie) B. Cella II is vice-president and secretary, while B. B. Turner, J. Battista's son-inlaw, has been with him for over twenty years, helping to build the name of Roma and later of Cella Vineyards. Alma Cella, the popular lyric soprano who was discovered by the famed tenor, Beniamino Gigli, is J. Battista Cella's daughter.

Cella Vineyards produce both sound standard-quality and higherquality wines. Mostly derived from northern coastal grapes are the wines marketed under the Napa Wine Company label and these include:

Table wines: Burgundy, Charbono, and Zinfandel; Sauterne, Riesling, and Rhine; Grenache Vin Rose;

Aperitif and Dessert wines: Palomino Pale Sherry, Cream Sherry, and Tawny Port.

Wines marketed in the original and familiar barrel-shaped bottles under the Wine Barrel brand number the following:

Table wines: Burgundy, Claret, and Zinfandel; Sauterne and Rhine; Grenache Vin Rose; and wines of the "homemade" Italian type, the popular Vino Rosso (red) and Vino Bianco (white);

Aperitif and Dessert wines: Sherry, Port, Ruby Port, and Tawny Port; Golden Muscatel and Muscatel; Tokay and White Port, and the high-grade Pale Dry Sherry, Palomino Cocktail Sherry, and Cream Sherry.

Cella Vineyards Private Stock and Parma Private Stock (named in honor of Cella's native province) are other major brands for both table wines and aperitif and dessert wines, the former being older wines and including such rare varietals as the Mission, Mondeuse, and Valdepenas table types.

Vermouth, both Dry and Sweet, is marketed under the Parma brand. Cella's sparkling wines (bulk-fermented), produced and marketed both under the Cella Vineyards and Par-ma labels, include Champagne, Grenache Pink Champagne, and Sparkling Burgundy.

An interesting specialty is Cella Vineyards' Betsy Ross Wine, an American Malaga of 13 per cent alcohol by volume, dark red, rich, and sweet, produced from a variety of grapes selected for their natural sweetness, including Concord grapes grown in Cella's San Joaquin Valley vineyards. The wine, marketed in distinctive decanter bottles, is suitable as a dessert wine or one between meals or as a flavoring wine over desserts. It is a kosher wine, suitable also for sacramental purposes of the Hebrew faith.

Other specialties include Moscato Secco (Dry Muscat), Light Sweet types, such as Sweet Red and Muscat Grape wines, and Loganberry wine, all marketed under the Parma di California brand.

Nicholas G. Verry, Inc., Parlier

This winery, located at Parlier, some eighteen miles southeast of Fresno, near Reedley, is mainly devoted to the production of "Retsina," the resin-flavored wine which is especially popular with those of Greek descent or origin. It is the only winery producing this type of wine in California on a commercial basis.

The Verry family are of Greek origin. The founder and president of the company, Nicholas Verry, was born in Sparta, Greece, in 1896. He came to this country in igo6, but has often returned to Europe on visits and business trips. He learned the art of wine making from his brother-in-law, George Solomos, a well-known enologist and chemist of Sparta. He is assisted in the family enterprise by Mrs. Verry, who bears the noble name of Athena and is secretary-treasurer, and by their son John N. Verry, vice-president.

The Verry family first established themselves in the wine business in California in 1933 with a winery in Glendale, moving to their present location in igqa. Besides Retsina the winery also markets a wine called Philery (said to mean "Quick Love"), a light wine, produced in the same manner as Retsina but without the resin flavoring. It is somewhat similar to a rhine wine, but with its own distinctive bouquet and flavor.