Deep Roots in Testa Vineyards
“It feels good now to have that help because I know I can lean on them for advice. It is hard when you are just starting out, you don’t have money to hire consultants. So it has been a really big help and I recommend it to anybody getting started."
Maria Testa Martinson, great granddaughter of Gaetona and Maria Testa, who established Testa Vineyards in 1912, explained that her great grandparents came over from Italy to San Francisco in 1906, where her great grandfather quickly found work helping with the clean up after the 1906 earthquake, and later as a ferry driver.
“It was before any of the bridges were in, so he would ferry people to the different areas around the bay,” explained Maria smiling – clearly proud of her great grandparent’s journey.
After a few years Gaetona had saved enough money to buy property, taking the train North in search of land he had heard resembled his homeland. Upon arriving in Calpella, he quickly fell in love with the rolling hills of Ukiah Valley and settled in. Using horses and dynamite, the family worked together to clear the land to prepare it for the planting of their first vines.
At some point, the wine making part of the business left the family and they focused exclusively on growing grapes to sell to local wineries. Just in the last decade did the family pick up the art of winemaking again.
“In 2004 my husband and I were leasing the ranch and one of the wineries wanted me to make some wine. He brought up a crusher and helped me make a barrel of Charbono, which is a rare breed we grow here and then it hit me – this is what we are supposed to be doing. So we started making more and more homemade wine with whatever was left in the fields,” explained Maria.
Receiving a lot of positive feedback and support from the community she decided to continue with it, saying, “The other wineries in the area would help me if I ran into any trouble, they were very generous with their knowledge and have accepted me as a winemaker. I didn’t go to school for winemaking, so the support of the local community helped me build confidence.”
In 2010, Maria got her business license, and soon the whole family joined in -her husband, Rusty Martinson and four children – enjoy and participate in the process of making and selling Testa wines.
“Our daughter, Kasandra, does our marketing and wine sales, and our other daughter, Kortney, went to design school so she is doing all of our graphics, and the boys, Charlie and Chad, are doing the winemaking and the farming. They love it. It is in all of our blood to do this,” says Maria.
Shortly after opening commercially, Maria reached out to West Company for help with marketing, accounting, and hiring of employees. She says their help was beneficial for building her confidence at running the business.
“It feels good now to have that help because I know I can lean on them for advice. It is hard when you are just starting out, you don’t have money to hire consultants. So it has been a really big help and I recommend it to anybody getting started. Their advice is solid and if they don’t know they will find out for you,” said Testa.
Maria says that this year they are doing more production than before. They are now keeping 10 percent of the grapes harvested for their own crushing and selling 90 percent to other wineries. To accommodate the growth, they are currently looking into constructing a building on their vineyard in Calpella. Like many small businesses, success has some challenges. They are running out of storage for their wines and the current storage is not employee safe preventing them from hiring more people to help in the production.
They are waiting on county permits to start new construction. Once they have the building they are hoping to increase production of their wines, explained Maria. “We would like to bring the whole wine making facility to the building, but we might just have it as a storage facility and not the winemaking itself, which will limit us on what we will produce. We have to see what the county will allow us to do,” said Maria.
Growth has been intentionally slow to make sure they don’t overextend themselves. The have been successful at staying focused on building their reputation. Testa Vineyards was selected from a group of local winemakers in the county to be a producer of Coro Mendocino wine, a red wine blend that showcases Mendocino County’s rich heritage. They have also won many awards for their wines. Their 2013 Carignane won double gold in the 39th Annual Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition and silver in the 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
“The legacy of Testa will go on in this county because of our winemaking. I am one of four girls so Testa was going to be lost, but now people know of Testa and what my great grandparents did here. To make that journey from Italy to a new world was huge and they won’t be forgotten,” said Maria
Maria takes a lot of pride in her family and what they have accomplished much like her pride in her community. She started a Facebook page and website (www.HWY101N.com), to showcase all that the area has to offer, understanding that the success of her neighbors is also her success.
“What I realized is that we didn’t have anything that represents wineries in the inland corridor. In Mendocino County there is a lot of variety. The grapes you grow in Anderson Valley are completely different from what we grow over here. So we made a Facebook page and website listing wineries, as well as hotels, restaurants, and fun things to do along Highway 101. People are not going to want to drive all the way up here to just visit our vineyard. They are going to want to do other things as well. They are going to want to know where to stay and where to eat. So this website makes it easier for people to find their way around and to find you and your neighbors,” explained Maria.
“I would like to see more people doing these wineries like we are doing. Keeping the fruit here and representing Mendocino County. The more that Mendocino County gets attention, the more people will start to recognize us as a great growing region, one of the best,” said Maria.
For more information on Testa Vineyards visit their Facebook page or website at testaranch.com.