In 1882, a twenty-four-year-old Albino Pestoni immigrated from the small Swiss village near the Italian border where he grew up to the unknown wilds of Napa Valley, California. He first settled next to some cousins in Bell Canyon, an area at the base of Howell Mountain, then referred to derogatorily as ‘Dago Valley.’ Around this time, wealthier and more distinguished vintners such as Frederick Beringer, the Chaix Brothers and Gustave Niebaum were also moving to Napa with dreams of producing wines in this new, lush, uncharted world. Luckily, Albino was undaunted by his competition.
In 1892, he, his wife Maria Madonna and their four sons planted their first vineyard and built a hand-hewn stone and redwood winery to reproduce the wines of their homeland.
Bonded Winery 935 became enormously popular – particularly with other Swiss Italians from the area who would make special trips to Albino’s winery from as far as San Francisco to refill their bottles with his fine wines. His were family wines – grown and crafted on the property – and although Albino’s achievements may have gone largely unnoticed at the time, his winery marked the beginning of artisanal winemaking in the Napa Valley.
Albino’s original property on Crystal Springs Road has since been sold to the city of Saint Helena to provide a reservoir. However, his winery still stands as a monument to this artisan’s spirit.
Henry Pestoni would follow in his father’s footsteps. He married Lena Domingos, whose family vineyard was on the western slope of Howell Mountain. Joined by her brothers, Henry and Lena would form a vineyard management crew, planting and managing vineyards throughout the upper Napa Valley. This experience taught them how soil, sunlight, rootstock, and varietal selection could affect fruit quality, and as well as one of the most valuable lessons in winemaking: the right grape in the right place. In 1923, Lena and Henry purchased what is known today as the Pestoni Ranch on Whitehall Lane. Here they raised chickens, hogs, dairy cows and continued to farm grapes, make wine, sherry and bootleg brandy. Today, the Pestoni Ranch is home to our Estate Sauvignon Blanc Vineyard.
Lena’s brothers, Uncle Fred and Uncle Manual, acquired the Ehlers’ Estate in 1923 where they bootlegged until Prohibition ended. In 1933 they renamed it Old Mill Winery and produced wines until 1958.
A descendent of two winemaking families whose roots in Napa Valley reach back nearly a century, Bob Pestoni was expected to follow in his parents´ footsteps. Of course, he did become a winemaker – but not at first. Instead, he did what any red-blooded boy in the 1950s did: he rebelled.
In 1963, Bob and his brother Marvin created Upper Valley Disposal Service, becoming the refuse hauler for the upper Napa Valley. Coming from a family of farmers who depended on the land for their survival, they understood and practiced the art of sustainable farming: planting the right crops, observing proper rotation, and always striving to achieve a balance with the land. It was these same lessons and values that propelled their introduction of an aggressive recycling program long before it was fashionable.
In the late 1970s two problems began to weigh on the local wine industry. The first: what to do with the pomace, the grape skin, pulp, seeds, and stems left over after crushing. At the time, local wineries were dumping it back into their vineyards or at their property´s edge where it would seep into groundwater. The second problem was how to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers, which were also having negative effects on the Napa Valley. Bob began to experiment with an age-old farming practice that had somehow gone out of style: composting. By the 1980s, Upper Valley Recycling was processing nearly all the discarded grape seeds, skins and stems from the Up Valley wineries into compost – an innovation that landed Bob a centerfold appearance in National Geographic Magazine.
In the mid-1990s, Bob and his wife Sylvia were presented with a rare opportunity. A small winery adjacent to their family´s Rutherford property had become available for purchase. Over the years, Bob and Sylvia had always grown grapes on their land, but they had always sold their fruit to other wine producers. They hadn´t been interested in becoming vintners before, but the acquisition of this new property renewed Bob´s admiration for his family´s business – and for his heritage. In 1994, they opened the doors to Rutherford Grove Winery and resumed making the single vineyard, hand-crafted artisanal wines Bob´s father and grandfather had created there for more than a century before him. In 2017, in celebration of their 125th anniversary of Napa Valley winemaking, the winery was renamed Pestoni Family Estate Winery.
Andy began making wine at Pestoni Family Estate Winery in 1993, overseeing production of many award-winning wines until he departed to focus on his own label, Jelly Jar, in 2011. In spring of 2017, Andy returned to oversee winemaking at Pestoni Family Estate Winery.