Old And Sold Antiques Auction & Marketplace
Antiques Digest Browse Auctions Appraisal Home

Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Escalon-Modesto - Notable Wineries By District And Region

[Escalon-Modesto - Part 1]  [Escalon-Modesto - Part 2] 
[Back To Regions] 

(Note: Information Originally Published In 1955 - Presented For Historical Perspective!)


This district covers the winegrowing areas and wineries of the southern part of San Joaquin County, from Stockton south and southeast to Manteca and Escalon; it takes in Stanislaus County from Salida on down to Modesto and also includes the Livingston area in northern Merced County.

The Escalon-Modesto district, located in the northern San Joaquin Valley, is best known for its dessert wines, but table and sparkling wines are also produced. Some of the California wineries with the largest distribution are located in this district.


Franzia Brothers Winery, Ripon

This family concern, located about halfway between the towns of Manteca and Escalon in the southernmost part of San Joaquin County, is owned and operated by the five Franzia brothers. They are the sons of the late Giuseppe Franzia (Joe Sr.), a native of Genoa, Italy, who immigrated to this country, settling first in San Francisco and then moving to Stockton. He purchased the Franzia ranch in Ripon in I9o6 and was for many years prominent in the grape-shipping business and from 1933 until his death in 1952 in the wine-producing field.

Giuseppe Franzia's sons carry on the family wine-making tradition, Joseph, the youngest son, better known as Joe, Jr., being the president of the firm, John the secretary and treasurer, and Frank, Louis, and Salvador vice-presidents in charge of the various departments. Fernando Quaccia is the wine maker and chemist.

The Franzia policy is to produce and market sound standardquality wines at popular prices. The dessert wines are all produced exclusively from San joaquin Valley grapes and so are the white table wines. The red table wines are blends of San Joaquin Valley and north coast counties wines, the latter mostly from the Napa Valley.

The main brand is Franzia Special Reserve and is used for the following wines, of which the Port and the Burgundy are especially featured:

Aperitif and Dessert wines: Port and Tawny Port; Pale Dry Sherry, Cocktail Sherry, Sherry, and Cream Sherry; Muscatel, Tokay, White Port, and Angelica;

Table wines: RED: Burgundy, Zinfandel, Chianti (a select, light Zinfandel), Claret, and Barberone; WHITE: Sauterne and Haut Sauterne (from the Palomino grape mostly), Rhine Wine, and Chablis.

The Franzia labeling is used for the featured Vino Rosso da Famiglia of the mellow Italian red table type, for the marketing of Champagne (Extra-Sec) and Sparkling Burgundy (produced according to the bulk process) and for Vermouth, both Dry and Sweet.

Petri Wineries, Escalon

Petri Wineries (and Mission Bell Wineries at Madera, Madera County, are the operation and production names of Allied Grape Growers, a co-operative winery association composed of some three hundred members, owners of medium-sized or small wine-grape vineyards in the San Joaquin Valley. It was to this organization that Louis Petri, the youthful president of Petri of California, sold the Petri and Mission Bell Wineries in 1951, retaining the exclusive marketing rights for the whole of the co-operative's output. Two north coast counties wineries are owned and operated for the production of dry table wines, the Forestville Wineries at Forestville and the Northern Sonoma Wineries at Geyserville, both in Sonoma County.

The organization of Allied Grape Growers was created to permit both the grower and winery to share in the profits and risks of winegrowing and wine marketing. The arrangement made available to the growers a nationally advertised brand of wine in which millions of dollars were invested in advertising and sales promotion. With Allied Grape Growers producing the wine and Petri Wine Company selling it, the growers dispose of a complete sales organization headed by a family of experts and, in acquiring the wineries, the growers have come in as partners.

For the marketing of top-quality wines the Petris established Signature Vintners of San Francisco (see there). In that city, also, the headquarters of the various Petri enterprises are located. In 1953 the Petri interests acquired from National Distillers the famed Italian Swiss Colony at Asti, Sonoma County (see there) in a winehistory-making transaction.

The Petri Wine Company, which markets one of the most popular of the nationally advertised brands of sound standard-quality wines under the Petri labeling, is headed by Louis Petri as president with Angelo Petri, his father, the chairman of the board. Albert Petri, Paul Petri, L. N. Bianchini, and Clair N. Fishell are vicepresidents and B. Mortara is secretary-treasurer. Plant manager of the Petri Wineries at Escalon is James Gott while Thomas Leong is the chief chemist.

The Petri story is one of enterprise and success, the result of hard work coupled with the necessary flair for accomplishment. Founder of the family enterprise in California was Raphaelo Petri, a native of Tuscany, Italy, who came to San Francisco in the early eighteen eighties, bringing with him the family tradition for hospitality, good food, and wine. He first entered the hotel business and his Toscano Hotel on Broadway and later his Cosmopolitan on Green Street became popular meeting places where good meals and wines could be obtained at reasonable prices. Raphaelo Petri also started a wine enterprise, buying a small winery in San Joaquin Valley and founding the Petri Wine Company in 1886. He shipped wine to numerous members of the Italian-American colony in California and elsewhere, including New York City. Gradually his wine business expanded until it claimed the major share of his business attention. In 1916 he purchased a large vineyard in Escalon, near the site of the principal Petri winery at Alba Station.

With the coming of Prohibition Raphaelo Petri retired from the wine business and his son, Angelo, concentrated his energies on the Petri Cigar Company, founded by Raphaelo's brother, Amadeo. During Prohibition the Petris had another interest, the manufacturing of Italian-style boots in Tennessee.

Repeal saw the return of the Petris to the wine industry. Vineyards and wineries were acquired in various parts of California and wine stocks were built up. The third generation of the family now entered the wine picture. Louis Petri, born in San Francisco in 1913, the son of Angelo, had planned to become a doctor. He had studied chemistry and physics at Stanford and at the University of California and Repeal found him a medical student at St. Louis University. He decided to use his chemistry training in the family tradition of wine making and joined his father and grandfather in rebuilding the Petri wine enterprise. He started at the bottom, rolling barrels in the firm's San Francisco warehouse, but soon rose "from dirt to decanter." In 1945, at the age of thirty-two, he was president of the company.

During the first years after Repeal the Petri Wine Company confined its activities to shipping wines in bulk, according to specifications of other firms and bottlers. It was then decided to bottle at the winery and to reintroduce the Petri brand and label to the public, reviving the tradition set some fifty years previously by Raphaelo. By 1941 the Petri name was starting to become a familiar one on the retailers' shelves. In the early fifties the Petri organization, while retaining the family's name and label and brand, decided to devote its main energies to the merchandising end of the business, using modern advertising and marketing techniques, leaving the production end of the business to a co-operative, as described above.

Under the Petri brand a full line of sound standard-quality table, sparkling, and aperitif and dessert wines is marketed:

Table wines:

RED: Burgundy, Zinfandel, Chianti, Claret, Barberone, and Sweet Burgundy;

WHITE: Sauterne, Dry Sauterne, and Haut Sauterne, Chablis, Rhine Wine, and Muscat Wine;

ROSE: Grenache Vin Rose;

Sparkling wines (bulk process) : Champagne (medium sweet) and Sparkling Burgundy;

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

A featured table wine is the Vino Rosso Pastoso, one of the earliest wines of the mellow red Italian type produced, which is marketed under the Marca Petri label. Other Petri wines are: Light Sweet wines (Petri Party wines) : red and white; Berry wines: Blackberry, Currant, Loganberry, and Strawberry.

Solera Cellars (Bianchi Cellars, Inc.), Escalon

While Solera Cellars so far has not marketed its wines directly to the public, it is included in the Guide because of its specialized operation, the large-scale production of flor Solera sherries, and the first California winery to have done so.

Solera Cellars is part of Bianchi Cellars, producers of table and dessert wines, owned by C. G. Bianchi & Company, of which Chauncey G. Bianchi is president and general manager. The Bianchi wine dynasty in California was founded by Giuseppe Bianchi, a native of Lucca, Italy, who came to this country in 1889 and farmed near San Jose in Santa Clara County. He had vineyards near Saratoga, but sold out when Prohibition came. He later bought vineyards in Manteca, San Joaquin County, and went into the grape-growing business. After his death in 1932 his son, Chauncey G. Bianchi, took over the enterprise and, together with his brothers Rinaldo, Joseph, Enrico, and his son William, went into the wine business at Lodi. The company bought what was known as the Village Winery at Escalon in 1950, which became Bianchi Cellars. In 1946 the Village Winery had started Solera Cellars in conjunction with Parrott & Company, the well-known wine- and liquor-distributing firm. Solera Cellars, in turn, was purchased by Bianchi Cellars, Inc., in 1951.

In the production of the winery's flor Solera Sherries, Palomino grapes only are used, grown on the Bianchi ranches in the triangular area formed by the cities of Manteca and Escalon in San Joaquin County and Modesto in Stanislaus County to the south.

The grapes, picked at the proper stage of ripeness, are crushed within six or eight hours, depending on the temperature. The wine is then drawn off and allowed to ferment completely dry in vatswith the fermentation temperature held at 65 Fahrenheit by refrigeration-and brought up r5.5 per cent alcohol by volume through the addition of brandy. It is then moved to the special flor vats, where the flor yeast does its miraculous work, covering the wine with a thick flower crust and imparting the typical nutty flavor of true flor sherries. When fully matured the wine is brought up to the traditional strength of 2o per cent alcohol by volume and moved for full aging and blending to the Solera system.

The Solera consists of four superimposed rows of large oak barrels or butts reclining on their sides. Three times a year, when sufficiently matured, approximately half the wine contained in the lowest row of barrels is drawn off for bottling purposes. These barrels are then replenished with sherries contained in the row immediately above it, and so on to the top row, which in turn is filled with wine brought over from the flor vats.

The first Solera was started by the Solera Cellars in 1946 with sherries that had already been aged. The average age of the sherries is about four years, including approximately six months under flor film and the balance in the oak butts or puncheons. Three types are produced, the very dry, pale, Cocktail type, the medium-sweet Golden, and the sweet Cream sherry. The Cream sherries are aged longer to impart more oak character to the wine and the sweetness is achieved by adding sufficient blending wine to accomplish the purpose.

A small amount of Angelica, produced from the Palomino grape exclusively and also aged according to the Solera method, is probably the only of its kind. This light golden, liqueurlike wine is very sweet, brandy having been added during the early stages of fermentation, as is usual with this type, the wine thereby retaining the natural sweetness of, the grape.

The flor Solera Sherries and the Angelica produced by this winery easily rate among the finest of the state. Much credit is due to the well-known wine maker Leonard J. Berg, who is also the plant manager, and to Julius Fessler, the chemist.