When you’re part of a Sonoma County winery that dates back to the Prohibition era, it’s not a big surprise when the Smithsonian National Museum of American History comes knocking at your door.
Still, when curators from the Washington, D.C. museum showed up at Pedroncelli Winery in the Dry Creek Valley in 2011, the family members were thrilled to hand over several historic artifacts, including the copper polenta pot from Italy used by winery co-founder Julia Pedroncelli, whose husband, Giovanni “John,” bought the winery in 1927.
That copper pot — plus an antique grape box and wooden sign, a metal stencil for barrels and a photograph of a family barbecue — now belong to the Smithsonian exhibit, “Food: Transforming the American Table 1950-2000.”
“There were a lot of Sunday gatherings when my dad was growing up here,” said Julie Pedroncelli, a third-generation member who works in sales and marketing alongside her father, Jim Pedroncelli. “They also took a ledger from the 1950s that my grandmother kept that showed how much everyone made.”
After the winery opened its first tasting room in 1955 in a corner of the cellar, you could fill up your gallon jug from a barrel for 50 cents. Even though the winery transitioned from a bulk wine producer into a premium winery long ago, Pedroncelli is still known for making high-quality reds like zinfandel and cabernet, plus whites like sauvignon blanc and rosé, all at affordable prices, with the majority of the wines still priced at $20 or less.
“The traditional dinner on Sunday was chicken roasted in the oven with potatoes underneath,” Jim said during a casual luncheon with family members at the winery tasting room. “My mother would also make raviolis, gnocchi, Malfatti and polenta.”
As the oldest family-owned winery in the Dry Creek Valley, Pedroncelli celebrated its 90th anniversary this summer with a dinner for friends and distributors that featured Italian favorites like Braised Chicken over Creamy Polenta — just like grandmother Julia would have made — paired with the Pedroncelli Mother Clone Zinfandel, one of its many award-winning wines.
Food has always been at the forefront of this Italian family, especially for Julie, who learned to cook from her two grandmothers — the savory side from Julia, and the baking from her Scandinavian grandmother on her mother’s side. To help preserve the family lore, she has started to gather recipes from the first three generations in the hopes of publishing a family cookbook.
With harvest now underway at the winery, we asked the Pedroncellis to reminiscence about some of their tastiest food memories and share a recipe from each of the three generations that have worked at the winery. There is a fourth generation now on board — Mitch Blakeley is a vineyard assistant — the historic winery is look ahead while keeping its feet planted firmly in its past.
Here are the key members of each generation, along with a recipe from one person in that generation. Together, the dishes create a harmonious menu with for a harvest feast, with wine.
Julia and Giovanni, who later became known as John, both hailed from the same corner of northern Italy near the Swiss Alps, but came to American separately.
“Around 1906, my dad came ot the U,.S. and worked on the railroad in Dunsmuir,” Jim said. “He was from the town of Madesimo ... they didn’t make wine but they drank wine.”