Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cribari Family

In 1904, Benjamin Cribari purchased a 40 acre parcel in what is now Morgan Hill. Together with his three sons, Fiore, Angelo and Anthony, they planted vineyards and established the Cribari winery. The winery itself was built at Madrone and El Camino Real.

The winery stayed open through Prohibition, producing sacramental and medicinal wines. In addition the family shipped their "Sonnie Boy" branded grapes across the country by rail. The Volstead Act allowed up to 200 gallons of "non-intoxicating cider and fruit juice" to be made each year at home, and the definition of "non-intoxicating" was very leniently applied.

The quality of Sonnie Boy grapes was so good that despite Prohibition the Madrone winery expanded and additional vineyards were planted in Santa Clara and San Benito counties. The family acquired a winery and a number of vineyards in Fresno, including the Las Palmas Vineyard which dated back to the 17th Century. Following Repeal the Madrone and Fresno wineries continued to expand and additional vineyards planted in the foothills of San Benito County, with sweet wines being produced in Fresno and quality table wines in the Santa Clara valley.

The Madrone winery and vineyards were sold in 1944 to the Lucky Lager Brewing Company. In 1951 Lucky decided to get out of the wine business and the Madrone Vineyards were sold to Almaden. Today that land is an industrial estate and all that remains of the winery is an old water tower (pictured), located at the corner of Monterey Highway and Madrone Parkway. (See map.)

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The Cribaris moved their headquarters to the old William Wehner Mansion and winery in Evergreen, a couple of miles south of the Mirassou Winery. In 1954 the Fresno winery and vineyards were sold to Gallo, who continue to produce altar wine under the Cribari brand. Production at the winery at Evergreen continued until 1991 when it was sold to Constellation Brands, Inc. The property is now a golf course and housing community, though the historic Wehner Mansion is still standing. (See map.)

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