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The Martinelli family are part of the historical fiber of the Russian River Valley. They have been growing grapes and apples in Sonoma since 1887, planting their first Pinot Noir in 1970. The family patriarch is Guiseppe Martinelli who, at the age of 19, along with Luisa Vellutini, age 16, made his way to California from Tuscany to find farmland and to start a winery.
Guiseppe had been a winemaker in Italy and with his viticulture knowledge, he was hired to plant a vineyard for a farmer in Forestville. Within two years, he earned enough money along with borrowed money from a local wood cutter to buy land of his own. Working side by side on a 60 degree slope, Guiseppe and Luisa planted Zinfandel and Muscat Alexandria vines in 1887 on a steep, non-terraced hillside that became known as Jackass Hill Vineyard. The name derived from their son Leno who said, "nobody but a jackass would plant a vineyard there." This famous vineyard is the steepest non-terraced vineyard in Sonoma County.
When Guiseppe died, he left his spouse Luisa with four children. The youngest son, Leno, was determined to be a farmer and carry on the family tradition and after finishing school, farmed the Jackass Hill Vineyard. Leno continued to work the land and tend vines until 1949 at the age of 89 and turned the vineyard over to his son, Lee Sr. Today, Lee Jr. maintains the vineyard, representing the fourth generation.
During the 1980s, Lee Martinelli Sr. converted the family's apple orchards to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, noting a decline in apple sales due to competition from Washington State.
Two historic hop barns that grace the estate property were converted into a tasting room and winery and, the Martinellis began producing Pinot Noir under their own label in 1993, with Helen Turley as the winemaker. She introduced new viticultural and cellar practices to the Martinelli family and all new vineyards were planted with the consultation of John Welaufer and Helen Turley. Over time, older vineyards have been transitioned to high-density plantings.
Lee Martinelli, Sr. along with his two sons, Lee Jr. and George, oversee the management of the Martinelli family vineyards. The Martinellis own 20 vineyards and 400 acres of prime vineyard land in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast appellations. 75 acres are planted to Pinot Noir. The Matinellis sell more grapes - about 90 percent - than are used to make their own wines.
Bryan Kvamme a University California Davis-trained winemaker was Turley's assistant at Martinelli Winery beginning in 1997, and became the winemaker beginning in 2008 (with Turley as consulting winemaker). Turley left in 2010. Natural native yeasts are used in fermentations and the wines are unfined and unfiltered.
Current production is 7,500 cases which includes nine Pinot Noirs (Bella Vigna, Blue Slide Ridge, Bondi Home Ranch, Martinelli Vineyard Reserve, Mooshine Ranch, Russian River Valley, Seven Mules Vineyard, Three Sisters Vineyard and Zio Tony Ranch). Other varieties include the well-known Jackass Vineyard Zinfandels, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Muscat Alexandria and Gewüztraminer. A total of 25 wines are currently in release under 15 labels, most named after the ranch vineyard they came from.
The Martinellis first planted Pinot Noir in the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA in 1995 (about the time they began producing wine under the family name). Lee Martinelli Jr.'s grandfather, George Charles, planted Chardonnay there in 1981.
After 42 years as CEO, Lee Sr. stepped down in February 2015, and was replaced by David W. Hejl, formerly of Kosta Browne and became the new CEO and General Manager. Lee Sr. continues to participate in the vineyard farming, along with his two sons, Lee Jr. and George. His daughters, Regina and Julianna, maintain their leadership roles.
The Pinot Noirs are bold, fruit-driven and highly structured wines. They are sold primarily through a mailing list with some wines available through the tasting room.
A tasting room, located in the Martinelli's historic Hop Barn is open daily from 10:00 to 5:00. 3360 River Road, Windsor. An adjacent hop barn has been converted into a winery. 707-525-0570. The wines are sold through a mailing list with some bottlings available at the tasting room.
2012 Martinelli “Bella Vigna” Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., 738 cases, $40. · Moderately light reddish purple color in the glass. Aromas of cherry, red plum and sweet oak lead to a mid weight core of red and black cherry fruit. Very polished, with an aggressive oak overlay that dominates the finish. The fruit is vibrant and well-ripened and the wine is blessed with soft tannins that make it very approachable. Score: 89. Reviewed April 20, 2015 ARTICLE »
2011 Martinelli Bella Vigna Sonoma County Chardonnay
14.4% alc., 384 cases, $40. One of the coolest growing years on record in the last 30 years resulting in a late harvest. · Light golden yellow color in the glass. Pleasing aromas of fresh-squeezed lemon, honey, briar and petrol. Somewhat creamy on the palate, with catching flavors of lemon, poached pear, green apple, toast, burnt caramel and butterscotch. Score: 89. Reviewed April 20, 2015 ARTICLE »
2010 Martinelli Three Sisters Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir
14.5% alc., pH 3.85, TA 0.59. 1100 feet elevation on average, south and east aspect, 0-35% slope, clones Pommard, 115 and 777 on 101-14 and 3309 rootstocks, Josephine and Goldridge soils. Average Brix 23.8º, 100% whole cluster, aged 10 months in 57% new French oak. · Moderately dark reddish-purple color in the glass. Effusive aromas of black cherries and black raspberries with generous notes of toasty oak. Oak-dominated core of plush, sappy dark red and black fruits with a highly seductive, velvety mouth feel. Very ripe in character. Alcohol peaks out on the finish. Reviewed August 14, 2013 ARTICLE »
2006 Martinelli Bondi Home Ranch Water Trough Vineyard Green Valley Pinot Noir
14.9% alc., $70. · The nose is loaded with oak toast and char which carries over on the palate. A rich core of dark fruits is quite pleasing but the toasted oak accent just doesn’t appeal to me. The wine drank much better the next day from a previously opened and re-corked bottle with more oak integration and a brighter display of fruit. At room temperature, the finish is a bit hot. Decent. Reviewed February 15, 2010 ARTICLE »
2001 Martinelli Bondi Home Ranch Water Trough Vineyard Green Valley Pinot Noir
14.7% alc.. · Secondary aromas of rotting leaves and barnyard. Austere plumy fruit, mushrooms and leather. The tannins are completely resolved and the wine is pleasingly soft. Drink up. Reviewed October 1, 2008 ARTICLE »