Labor & Love in Sonoma County

What does it mean to work as a family in the wine industry? Of the 170-plus wineries in Sonoma County today, a large majority are family owned and operated. 

Published: 6/17/2014

What does it mean to work as a family in the wine industry?

Of the 170-plus wineries in Sonoma County today, a large majority are family owned and operated. This is a source of pride for many who name a vineyard block after a son or daughter, craft a blend in honor of their great grandfather, or even include “family” in their winery’s name.

“The words ‘family winery’ stand for a vision and a passion,” says Ana Keller of Keller Estate. A biochemist by training, Ana went to work for her parents when they decided to make wine from the winegrapes they’d been growing since 1989. “Working together as a family gives us a long-term vision—by 50 years! I take a lot of pride in being a steward for the family’s dreams. I also love getting everyone involved, young and old, because there is always a place where each family member’s input is valuable.”

Denise Trione’s family has farmed in Sonoma County for three generations. Since they established Trione Vineyards and Winery in 2005, she has had only positive things to say about working with family members. “We get to see each other in a professional setting and it adds a layer of depth to our personal relationships,” she says. “Besides being a great father, grandfather, and uncle, I now appreciate my elders for their business sense and what they’re like with their work hats on. Likewise, I believe I have earned their respect by taking on the responsibilities I have at the winery.”

“We can be honest about what we like or dislike,” says Lana Mounts, whose husband’s family has been farming winegrapes in Dry Creek Valley for 60 years. They founded Mounts Family Winery in 2005. “We are very respectful of what or how each of us contributes to nurture our business. We are strongly committed to serving as stewards to the land by which we have been blessed with and thereby teaching our children that hard work, determination, and love for what we are doing will provide them with opportunities of creativity, happiness, growth, and beyond.”

Sonoma County is not different from most parts of the United States, where the tradition of family farming originated as an economic necessity. Many of today’s winegrowing families have stories that stretch back generations. Gundlach Bundschu Winery and Vineyards has a history that dates back to 1858, when Jacob Gundlach purchased 400 acres in Sonoma. Today, the winery is still owned by family members eager to carry on the winery’s tradition and legacy. “It sounds somewhat hokey, but there really is a family behind the name—a story behind the family. Find out about the family story and you’ll understand where the wine is coming from.”

Just north of Santa Rosa, the Siebert Ranch has stayed in the same family for more than a century and is now home to Ancient Oaks Cellars, the family winery that practices sustainable farming and prides itself in working with many other family vineyards and businesses in the area. “Our whole story is about circles upon circles of families intersecting with each other in all phases,” says family member Melissa Moholt- Siebert. “We work together as a family, and also as an extended family that includes the families that help grow, prune, and harvest the grapes. Together, we bring out the essence of Sonoma County’s vineyards.”

The same can be said for the Larson family, whose 101-acre ranch has been in the Larson family for more than 120 years. Now home to Larson Family Wines, the land is a legacy to their children and the winery is their way of life. “If our winery wasn’t family owned, it would impact the way we do business in so many ways,” Becky Larson says. “First, we would not be as authentic and real as we are. People have called us the Norman Rockwell of wineries! Our mission statement is to ‘make great memories’ and that not only includes our guests, but our employees, extended family, friends, and vendors as well. It is the way we want to do business. We want to work hard, be respectful, and take in, on a regular basis, all of our blessings.” Becky also points to the contributions her family routinely makes to the community. “We do this on a regular basis, not just with donations, but by participating in the education and awareness of agriculture and viticulture in the community.” The family has been active in a program their daughter started called Vested in Vineyards. The Larsons planted two small vineyards—one at a local middle school and another at a children’s home—to provide the organizations grapes to sell, plus outdoor classrooms where youth can learn more about the county’s largest commodity: winegrapes.

What should consumers feel when they pick up a bottle of a Sonoma County family winery wine? According to Denise Trione, “You should be able to feel like you know the family just by holding the bottle of wine in your hands, drinking the wine with friends, or visiting the tasting room. The family story should be obvious by the pride, passion, and care that goes into creating each bottle of wine—from the cultivating of the fruit, to the handcrafting of the wines, to the experience you have when drinking it. You should feel our story and share in our love for what we do.”

As seen in the issue Summer/Fall 2014 of Touring & Tasting Magazine.

Sonoma Family Wines

Ancient Oak 2011 Zinfandel, Siebert Ranch
Clarbec 2009 Pinot Gris
Dry Creek 2011 Merlot
Gundlach Bundschu 2013 Gewürztraminer
Keller Estate 2010 La Cruz Chardonnay
Kendall-Jackson 2012 Reserve Pinot Noir
Larson 2010 3 Lab Cab
Mauritson 2011 Rockpile Cab
Moshin 2012 Pinot Gris, Morris Ranch
Mounts 2010 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
Sbragia 2012 Home Ranch Chardonnay
Seaton 2011 Zinfandel, Ryan’s Block