It was over a century ago that 17-year-old Philip Bargetto first came to California from the village of Castelnuovo Don Bosco, in the northern Italian region of Piedmont. “My family has been in the wine business here in this country since 1890,” says John Bargetto (pictured, left), the fourth-generation of the family and director of winemaking at the eponymous business. In 1909 Philip’s brother John joined him in California and they set up a winery in San Francisco. “They operated that for about 10 years and then prohibition came in 1919.”
Undeterred, the brothers moved to the town of Soquel and began producing wine for their own consumption. “And then in 1933 on 5 December, the prohibition was repealed and Bargetto winery was founded on that day,” says 51-year-old John. “That makes us the oldest winery in the Santa Cruz mountain region (pictured, right). And it really makes us one of the oldest wineries in California.” To celebrate its 80th anniversary the winery is producing a special sparkling blanc de blancs, to go with its flagship La Vita and chardonnay wines.
Although it’s been going strong for decades, the business has not been without its tricky moments, not least when John’s father died in 1982. “He was the head of the winery and he ran it very hands-on,” says John. “That was a very challenging time for our family because we kids were in college and high school. My mother had no experience running the winery, so she had to step in and take over the reins of the business with really no experience. And we sort of had to finish our education and come back and help.”
Despite a poor harvest that year, the business survived and John has worked there ever since. He describes himself as a “gentleman farmer” who oversees the working of the vineyard, and takes a close interest in production – from the blending to the design of labels – and also in the marketing side. John is not the only fourth-gen in the business. His brother Martin works on marketing, while their sister Loretta is president.
These days the Bargettos own two vineyards – the original in Santa Cruz is now complemented by another nearby called the Regan Estate, named after a grandmother with Irish roots. The two vineyards employ around 40 people and produce about 35,000 cases per year. Over half are sold in California, but customers as far afield as Guatemala and Japan have bought their wines through the website. John is clearly bullish about the business and has ambitions to increase production to 60,000 cases. “We do have room to expand,” he says.
And what of the fifth generation? John’s son, Kevin, is currently studying winemaking and seems to have ambitions to follow in his dad’s footsteps. So does John have any advice for his boy? “I say to him, if you want to go back to the winery, if I have anything to say about it, you have to go work elsewhere for five years.” In a business with roots as deep as this one, there’s no rush.