Part 3: One ranch, many lives
We started during the Great Depression. We’re still here, making
connections and shaping lives.
In 1896, decades before the first World War, a teenager from Ticino, on the Swiss-Italian border arrived in the Napa Valley with a dream of starting a new life in America. Joining a growing community of immigrants looking for a brighter future in a new world he spoke little English and knew no one.
Gaetano Regusci found work on a dairy farm on the Silverado Trail. In 1932, hoping to secure the future of his young family he took the gamble of a lifetime, cashing in his life insurance policy and purchasing a foreclosed 286-acre property across the road in what is now known as the Stags Leap Wine District. The property offered land enough for cattle and a dairy, and included a distillery and the imposing three-story stone Occidental Wine Cellar built in 1878 by T.L. Grigsby as well as 8 acres of Zinfandel planted around the turn of the century. Gaetano added value to the existing land by planting orchards of prunes and walnuts, fields of hay, livestock, and butchery in addition to ongoing dairy operations. He and his wife, Livia, raised their son Angelo and his daughter Isabelle in the original Grigsby house. When Isabelle married Amador Simone they remained on the property and Angelo and his wife Mary followed suit. Over the course of the next three decades six grandchildren were born and raised on the Ranch — — two Simone daughters, Sandy and Linda, and four Reguscis, Martha, Bernadette, Joe, and James.
Although Prohibition was repealed shortly after Gaetano purchased the ranch, it was not until the late 1960s and early 70s that the family reintroduced wine grapes to the property as a commodity. Son Angelo Regucsi had continued his father’s entrepreneurial tradition and as dairy prices declined turned to meat processing, operating a slaughterhouse and processing operation that served customers in three counties. But as the economy slid into a recession times were tight, and holding the land would require that every dime be rung out of it. Angelo’s youngest son, Jim was in junior high school when his father first leased 120 acres on the West end of the property to John Goelete for the purpose of planting vineyards for the newly established Clos du Val winery. An additional 120 acres across the road was leased to the Robert Mondavi Winery. In 1970, with an eye on the neighbors, Angelo put in 50 acres of his own, planting Bordeaux varietals in hopes of leveraging an emerging trend. And although they owned the oldest purpose-built winery in the newly minted Stag’s Leap Wine District, the Regusci family did not officially enter into winemaking pursuits until the next generation took up the cause in the 1990s.
Jim Regusci established his vineyard management company in 1986 shortly after graduating from high school. He started with 8 acres and built on his reputation for hard work in a tight knit Italian farming community to create a thriving business. In 1990, with a young family to provide for, Jim leased the entire family ranch and took over the farming. With the support and encouragement of friends and family he made the first vintage of Regusci Wine with his father, Angelo, in the old Occidental Wine Cellar on the property in 1996. Their first bottlings, 1,000 cases of Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Zinfandel were released in the Fall of 1998. Gaetano and Livia Regusci, and Angelo and Mary Regusci are now gone, but at 86, Aunt Isabelle still lives on the ranch in the same house she and her husband Amador (who passed in 2015) refurbished as newlyweds. If you ask Jim, he’ll tell you that the way he sees it, Gaetano’s job was to acquire the ranch, Angelo and Isabelle made sure the land remained in the family, and his role is to create the kind of lasting infrastructure that establishes a future for his children and grandchildren. In all things, Jim and his wife Laura lead by example. Their presence and passion shines through in all things Regusci, especially their unmatchable hospitality and welcoming nature. All those who visit the winery arrive as friends and leave as family. Laura’s sons Jake and Andrew Mendes are growing up amid the same vines and trails as Jim’s grown children Alicia and James Jr. and are an active part of daily life on the ranch. With a recently earned degree in sustainable horticulture, James Jr. is poised to follow the family model of younger generations bringing new thinking to ongoing farming operations. Sister Alicia and her husband, Viticulturalist Matt Hardin use Regusci/Hardin fruit to make wine for their critically-acclaimed labels, Matthew Wallace and Caterwaul. As the family continues to grow (Alicia and Matt’s young sons, John and William Hardin represent the fifth generation of Reguscis) so does their commitment to the Ranch
“Family” may just be the Regusci’s proudest accomplishment.
In addition to the three generations of Reguscis that currently call the ranch home, an essential extended ranch family also calls this land home, starting with Armando Perez, who joined Jim to help with vineyard operations more than 30 years ago. Armando and his wife Trinadad raised 6 children here, and in his late 70’s now, he is the most seasoned veteran of the Regusci Vineyard Management team — a team which also includes two of his five sons – Jacobo and Jorge. Sons Martin and Carlos Perez work in the Regusci Winery cellar. Oldest son Angel followed a culinary path, working in some of the Valley’s most revered kitchens before returning 11 years ago to oversee the ranch kitchen and serve as the winery chef. Araceli, the only Perez daughter, works with Angel in the kitchen.
In an industry familiar with high turnover, the Regusci team measures their tenure in decades rather than years. From the vineyard crew to tasting room staff, winemaking team to administrative workers, longevity and loyalty are common themes amongst Regusci employees. Jason Lauritsen, Regusci Vineyard Management’s Director of Vineyard Operations, joined the team out of college in 2005 and can now finish Jim’s sentences. Jason’s dad, Bob, and brother, RJ, work transportation for RVM. Ranch Manager, Vicente Navarrete, started with the winery in 2001 and his brothers, Cesar and Fabian, currently work for RVM. In 2000, Jim formed a business partnership with James Harder, a former marketing executive from Canada. Together, they brought life to brands such as the Nine North Wine Company, T-Vine Winery, Fortnight Wines and Tank Garage Winery. In 2010, marketer Ed Feuchuk joined the partnership’s Farm Collective, which oversees several of their winery brands.