The Santa Clara Valley’s history is rich with stories of immigrants, including Italian and French families who settled there. As with all immigrants, they brought their traditions with them, including drinking table wine with meals. Local wineries sold younger, fruitier red and white wines than are in vogue today, as the style of wine then was far different from the modern standards of aged wine, especially using oak barrels. Customers brought their own vessels to fill, typically ceramic jugs. Wine was made for home or sacramental use — all of which was interrupted during Prohibition, which began on January 17, 1920, when The Volstead Act, or National Prohibition Act of 1919, went into effect.
Emilio Guglielmo emigrated from the Piemonte Region in northern Italy. He landed at Ellis Island on September 19, 1909, and worked his way across America. He even worked in the silver mines in Oklahoma!
He arrived in San Francisco and sent for his sweetheart, Emilia, after saving enough money for her journey. Looking ahead to the end of Prohibition, they purchased land for vineyards in the Santa Clara Valley. In 1925 they bought the land where the Guglielmo Family Winery stands today in Morgan Hill, California.
Recently, I spent an enjoyable afternoon talking with George Guglielmo, the winery’s president and winemaker. We discussed the history of winemaking in the valley and the remarkable life of his grandfather, Emilio. George offered a tour of the winery’s buildings, including the first, built in 1933 after Prohibition, which still stands and holds original redwood fermenting tanks. Redwood was plentiful and inexpensive at the time.
Known as Emilio to his Italian friends and Emile to his French friends — he was bilingual, growing up in northern Italy near the French border — he made wine in a cellar whose concealed trap door you can still see today in the original winery building. Prohibition laws allowed for the head of a household to make enough wine to last one family for one year, as well as wine for sacramental use. Emilio specialized in hearty, Italian-style wine that he sold to his Italian and French friends for whom wine was an everyday tradition — wine made beneath the secret trap door.
Today the winery makes red, white, rose, sparkling, and dessert wines, some of which are aged in oak barrels. The original redwood barrels remain, where the wine ferments as it has for nearly a century.