gmhTODAY 18 gmhToday Feb March 2018 - Page 82

The Vine Written By Bev Stenehjem Fortino Winery's Rich History T he Fortino family story is a classic American Dream story. Ernest Fortino was just 23 when he immigrated from Italy to the United States from Italy in 1959. Not speaking a word of English but looking for a better way of life in America, Ernest eagerly accepted work in the canneries and vineyards of Santa Clara Valley. By the early 1970s, he and his wife, Marie, had started a family and established Fortino Win- ery in Gilroy. They worked long and hard hours to make their winery a success, and established one of the very first wine clubs in California. In 1995, they retired and passed the winery down to their children, Gino and Teri. Gino’s strategic decision to obtain wedding and commercial kitchen permits launched their busi- ness to a whole new level—with weddings booked solid from spring through fall. Today, Fortino Winery has a total of 50 planted acres including estate Merlot, Cabernet, Carignan, Charbono, Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir. Their award winning red blend, Maribella, is named in honor of Marie, the family matriarch. TODAY recently caught up with Gino, the Fortino famil y winemaker, for the following interview: gmh What are the pros and cons of owning a winery? How did you get started in wine? With my mom and dad owning a winery, I’ve never worked anywhere else. I have always worked here. Since we were little, my sister, Teri, and I always did whatever needed to be done. After finishing junior college in 1987, I started working here full-time. I became the assistant winemaker and in 1995, Teri and I took over the winery. I guess you can say I was roped into it. Now I think maybe I should have done something else. Do you have a degree in winemaking? I learned to make wine by getting my hands purple. From a young age I received on-the-job-training from my dad and his assistant winemakers. I learned by doing. What do you drink when you are not drinking your own wine? I like Jack and Coke or tequila. When I can get it, my favorite is an almond-flavored tequila; a south-of-the-border bootleg. 82 GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN Some people say, “You’re so lucky, you must make millions of dollars!” Which, of course, is not true. But, one of the pros is the gratification of taking a simple grape and turning it into a wine that people will like to drink. And for the cons—it is all the overhead costs and regulations that take me away from making wine. What has surprised you about being a winemaker? The business side of winemaking brought the biggest surprise. There is a lot more involved than the romance of making wine. You have to run a winery as a business—complying with all the state and federal rules and regulations—all because alcohol is supposedly “sinful.” The bigger your business, the more it’s hit by government agencies wanting to audit you for compliance. For example, the state’s health department checks our drinking water because our water comes from a well. It’s not a bad thing; it just requires a lot of paperwork and time. FEBRUARY/MARCH 2018