Russian River Valley Land History

Since the 1880’s when our ancestors arrived in Sonoma County from Italy, generations of our family have produced a range of crops that reflected market demands at the time. Those crops included apples, cherries, pears, prunes, hops, berries, walnuts, potatoes, green beans, and wine grapes.

Many of our vineyards are in the Russian River AVA, including Zio Tony Ranch, Moonshine Ranch, Bondi Home Ranch, Giuseppe & Luisa, Vellutini Ranch and our Jackass Vineyards. Each vineyard site has a story as to how it came to our family, the decision on what clones, varietals, and direction it was planted, or how it was passed down from generation to generation. Our Jackass Vineyard vines, that are over 100 years old, were there when Giuseppe Martinelli first came to this country and purchased the land. Our Jackass Hill Vineyard is also over 100 years old and it’s the only vineyard that Giuseppe planted that is still in production.

“I feel so fortunate and blessed that my ancestors came to Sonoma County, specifically, the Russian River Valley, with the vision to own and farm their own land,” said Lee Sr.“Our family has been able to continue that farming legacy while respecting and nurturing the land that has made it all possible.”

Like many family farmers, Lee and Carolyn Martinelli consider themselves stewards of the land – caretakers really – who nurture the land until it passes to the next generation. Through judicious estate planning, Lee and Carolyn Martinelli have positioned their children to carry on the family’s agricultural heritage.

“It’s so gratifying that our four children really like being part of a family farming operation and are dedicated to seeing it continue for generations to come,” said Lee Sr. “I am so proud that our family works together in this agricultural business and plays together as a family.”

Sonoma Coast Land History

Our family’s Charles Ranch was established in the 1860’s by George A. Charles and his wife Elizabeth Welsh Charles, following their long migration from the state of Pennsylvania. It was during the Homestead Act that the newlyweds began traveling west in a horse drawn wagon. They were in search of land that they could own and farm. There were requirements for obtaining a land grant by the U.S. Government. An individual had to be at least 21 years of age, pay an $18 fee, build a structure with minimum dimensions of 14×14 feet, and hold residence for five years. It also must be shown by the new land holder that the property was to be developed, made productive, and kept in good care.

At the end of the five year period the United States Government granted George and Elizabeth each 160 acres, bringing their estate to a total of 320 acres. It was ruggedly steep country which made it more practical for the Charles’ to run livestock, cattle and sheep, than to farm crops. George and Elizabeth reared their six children on the homestead ranch.

Throughout the late 1880’s other nearby homesteaders gave up their claims due to the hard existence in the remote hills, allowing the opportunity for George and Elizabeth to acquire more acreage. This set the course for their grandson, George H. Charles, to live his life on the ranch and one day owning the largest sheep ranch in Sonoma County.

The Charles Ranch still remains in our family since George and Elizabeth first staked claim and settled 150 years ago. Although, there are only a few wooly sheep and a couple dozen cows that now grace its hilly pastures, the land is still in operation and supporting the fifth generation of Charles’. The old homestead house has long since burned down, but we Charles descendants still play and camp along those same creek banks where George and Elizabeth staked their claim.

In 1980 George H. Charles retired from the sheep business and planted one of the first vineyards on the Sonoma Coast, the Charles Ranch Chardonnay. Since then the family has expanded its vineyard plantings to our Blue Slide Ridge Pinot Noir, Three Sisters Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards and our Wild Thyme Pinot Noir vineyard.