Joe Graziano was born in Ukiah, California on April 3rd, 1928, the third and youngest child of Vincenzo and Angelina Graziano and brother to Adelena and Edward (Hugo). He grew up working in the family vineyards in Calpella and Redwood Valley with his brother Hugo, brother-in-law Augie Solomon and his father Vincenzo. He graduated from Ukiah High School in 1946. Ironically, I graduated from the same high school and was the last class, 1972, to use some of the same buildings at Ukiah High School as my father. Things change pretty slowly around here.
As a child, Joe was well liked and known for his sense of humor and his crazy contagious laugh. Years later, when I met some of the women he went to high school with, they would make comments on how funny, nice and good looking he was; he had a very Robert De Niro kind of look and swagger. At an early age he learned how important a good work ethic was as he worked in the vineyard with his father Vincenzo. This work ethic was passed down to his children, my brother Mark and me.
In the early 1950’s my father joined the army and was sent to serve in the Korean War, where he was a MP (military policeman). After the war, Joe met my mother Monte Lee Elkin while he was stationed in the military in San Pedro, California. They were married in 1953 and soon moved to Calpella, his hometown. I was born the next year and my brother Mark the year after that. During these early years we lived on the ranch for a while then in Ukiah. My dad held several types of jobs as well as helping his family in the vineyard, including working as a construction worker and a driver for a local food delivery company. In the early 1960’s my grandfather Vincenzo Graziano passed away and his three ranches were passed on to his children, my father, my uncle Hugo and my aunt Adelena. During this time my father also had a bar-restaurant with his partner John Petro, called the Pok-A-Dot. He would bartend at night and work all day in the vineyards, and I have fond memories of going down to the Pok-A-Dot with my dad on a Saturday or Sunday morning, drinking soda out of the dispensers as he cleaned up the bar from the night before. When my brother Mark and I were teenagers, we were expected to work in the vineyard on the weekends and during the summer. As I look back, the time we spent together in the vineyards was not much fun for a kid, work was for grown-ups. As I would later understand, this was a time where I really learned many valuable lessons about growing grapes and more importantly it was a time I got to spend with my father. Then one day when I was sixteen and at a track meet, I was told that my father was killed on our ranch in an electrical accident. My mother lost the love of her life and my brother and I lost a father we were just getting to know. After my father’s death my mother leased out our vineyard for a few years until she remarried. My stepfather Mike Quillen took over the running of our vineyard and did a good job doing so. Because I was too young and not yet up to the task of running a vineyard, I decided to study winemaking and grape growing in college. I often think one of the reasons I am doing what I am was to somehow extend the life of my father and to live all the dreams he was unable to. Being a wine grower is a difficult life, full of hard work but also one of great reward. I feel very fortunate for the opportunities of my life in the wine business, a life I enjoy greatly and one that I look forward to passing on to out children if they what to experience it. – Gregory GrazianoMonti Lee:
If I have had any success in my life, whether as a winemaker, winery owner, grape grower or even as a person, then I feel that most of the credit should go to my late mother, Monti Lee Graziano. Known to her many friends as Terry, mom was born the daughter of a professional Navy man, and later was the step-daughter of a Commander in the U.S. Navy. Like many children in military families, she traveled extensively and lived around the globe, from California to Baltimore, Maryland to Tsingtao, China. As a result of her time spent growing up in China, she later became an avid collector of Chinese statues, dishware, art and antiques. She also collected furniture, paintings, books, glassware and her favorite, German beer steins. And, she was one the most generous people I have ever known, frequently donating her time and money to many causes during the course of her life.
Her family background was rather ethnically diverse, which means, of course, that mine is as well. Her father traced his roots to the Jews of Eastern Europe, while her mother came from a Protestant ‘Daughters of the American Revolution’ type family, and later in her life she discovered, through some research into her ancestry, that she was distantly related to Daniel Boone.
She met my father, Joseph Graziano, while he was in the U.S. Army, stationed at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro, California, and they soon fell in love and decided to marry. I’m sure neither family was very happy that they were both marrying outside of their faiths, but they were undeterred, as my brother Mark and I were subsequently raised to follow neither religion. But they were loving parents and concerned themselves with raising us to become good people. Soon after they married, they moved to the small town of Calpella to live and raise their children in the Graziano family vineyards.
Then tragedy struck. On April 1st, 1970, my father was accidently electrocuted in our vineyards when he was only 39. I was 16. That day, my mother lost the love of her life and my brother and I lost our father. Two teenage boys were a lot to handle alone, but my Mom worked very hard at it, just as in everything she did. She remarried several years later, and she and my step-father, Mike Quillen, managed the family vineyards until he passed away some years later. Mom then passed away from cancer in October of 2001.
Mom always ran her home with an iron fist and lots of love. She taught the important lessons, the value of hard work and honesty and also many of the day-to-day things that follow you into adulthood – her love of food and cooking, being clean and neat, having some sense of organization in your life, and, one of her greatest lessons, to never give up. I often think that’s why I’ve never given up on this crazy wine business and why I keep on making all these different varietal wines. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me these wines would never sell, that no one would ever buy them, and I have to admit there were times when I thought they might be right. But, here we are today, one of the world leaders in the production of Italian varieties. It still isn’t easy, but I will never give up, thanks to my Mom. –Gregory Graziano