The Martinelli family has been growing grapes in the Russian River Valley since 1887. At the ages of 19 and 16, Giuseppe Martinelli and Luisa Vellutini eloped from their small village in the Tuscany region of Italy, making their way to California looking for land to farm and start a winery. Giuseppe had been a winemaker in Italy and with his viticultural knowledge, he was hired to plant a vineyard for a farmer in Forestville. Within two years he earned enough money, and borrowed some from a local wood cutter, to purchase some land. Working side by side on a 60-degree slope, Giuseppe and Luisa planted a small area of Zinfandel and Muscat Alexandria vines, which later became known as the Jackass Hill vineyard. More than 100 years later, this south easterly exposure remains the steepest non-terraced vineyard in Sonoma County.
After Giuseppe’s death in 1918, the youngest son, Leno, accepted the sole responsibility of farming the Zinfandel vineyard. His family told him that only a jackass would farm a hill that steep. Hence, he and his vineyard earned the name Jackass. In 1973 Lee, Sr. took over management of his Uncle Tony Bondi’s estate, which was comprised mainly of apple orchards, and began planting vineyards in the rich soil of the Russian River Valley. Realizing the exceptional potential to create superb wines from these grapes, Lee and his wife, Carolyn, decided to start their own winery. Two old historic hop barns that grace the property have been converted into the wine making facility and tasting room, keeping with the original feel and structure of the centurion buildings.
The winery’s new vineyards are all planted with the professional consultation and specifications of John Wetlaufer and Helen Turley. Lee Sr. and his two sons, Lee Jr. and George, do all of the farming, keeping the business traditionally family owned and operated. Helen Turley is the winemaker and Bryan Kvamme is assistant winemaker.