Sipping Through Santa Clara Valley

Before tech companies like Apple, Hewlett-Packard and Oracle took root, vineyards flourished in the Santa Clara Valley and produced some of the finest wines in California.

In fact, before Napa’s meteoric rise to fame and fortune back in the early 1970s, the Santa Clara Valley produced more premium wine than its northern counterpart.

Semiconductor companies and software developers reign supreme in today’s Silicon Valley, but pockets of winemaking excellence exist in places like Morgan Hill, Gilroy and San Martin.

There are more than 20 Santa Clara Valley wineries, including the Emilio Guglielmo Winery in Morgan Hill.

Gene, George and Gary Guglielmo

Three brothers — George, Gene and Gary Guglielmo — grow grapes and make about 30,000-40,000 cases of wine per year from an 80-acre vineyard  just off Highway 101, about 30 minutes south of San Jose.

This is a family-run business. Gene handles sales, George is the winemaker, and Gary is general manager.

Their grandfather, Emilio, emigrated from Italy to New York in 1908 and arrived in San Francisco in 1910. He made wine from purchased grapes for friends and family before eventually buying the Morgan Hill property and starting the winery in 1925. In the 1940s, the winery was passed down to the boys’ father and mother, George W. and Madeline Guglielmo.

The quaint family home now houses the winery business office, which sits over a large basement filled with old redwood tanks used to store red wine.

Several outbuildings contain the main storage tanks, bottling line and winemaking equipment. There’s also a special events facility and tasting room alongside a brick plaza and fountain. Looking over the adjacent vineyard, with glass of wine in hand, you’d never know the high-tech revolution was humming along just a few miles away.

Old Style, New Age

The Guglielmos have come a long way from the 1950s and 1960s when the boys rode into San Francisco with their dad to deliver cases of one gallon jugs of “house red”  to homes, restaurants and bars in North Beach.

“The cost was $27.77, I remember that, for five cases,” George said in an interview at the winery. “We’d pick up the empties and re-use the bottles. We started doing recycling before it was popular.”

The business made a significant turn when the Guglielmos began bottling wines by varietal instead of the generic blends that had been the norm. Today, the winery produces 13 different varieties of wine.

Pursuing Petite Sirah

The first varietal wine bottled by Guglielmo was a 1969 petite sirah, which they continue to make from old vines next to the winery.

The latest release of petite sirah is a 2007 private reserve ($19 retail). This is a by-the-book rendition of the grape. It’s got a nice peppery back beat, strong but controlled tannins and great fruit. It’ll get even better with some short-term aging (6 months to 1 year).

I’m a big fan of zinfandel, and the Guglielmo’s private reserve zin is top-notch and fairly priced at $19/bottle for a bottle of wine that’s built to go with hearty pasta, grilled meats and interesting cheeses.

I also liked the 2007 cabernet sauvignon ($19), which is made from “backyard” estates around Morgan Hill, and a 2007 Santa Clara Valley syrah ($25) made from the San Felipe Vineyard southeast of Gilroy.

If you’re in the neighborhood, the winery hosts its annual harvest festival Saturday (Aug. 21) featuring grilled steaks, plenty of pasta and wine plus live music and a grape stomping contest. Tickets are $55 apiece, available from the winery in advance or at the door. Daily tastings are also available to winery visitors.

For more information on other Santa Clara Valley wineries, click here.

Free Tickets to Family Winemakers of California Tasting

This weekend there’s a great event going on at Fort Mason in San Francisco, where more than 300 family wineries will provide samples of their best wine as part of the annual tasting sponsored by the Family Winemakers of California. Tickets at the door cost $65, but we’re giving away free tickets to the event, which will be held Sunday from 3-6 p.m. For a chance to win tickets, click here for more information. I’ll  be covering the tasting, so please check back next week for a full report.

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