The wine business has evolved significantly over the past 50 years, growing exponentially from fewer than 200 wineries to 4,391 wineries in California.

Photo by Marty Cheek
Brothers Gene, Gary and George Guglielmo display the certificate announcing the family winery as the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year for 2016.

By Cheri Brown

Cheri Brown

When winemaker George Guglielmo joined the family business in the late 1960s, there were fewer than 200 wineries in California. At that time, the Guglielmo family delivered most of their wine directly to their customers’ homes, with a five-gallon minimum.

The clientele, spanning from San Francisco to Salinas, preferred Burgundy blends that were enjoyed with meals. The wine was often dropped off on people’s porches. “Sort of like the milkman, but later in the day,” George joked.

Guglielmo Winery will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2025.  Like many American success stories, it began with a dream of an immigrant seeking a better way of life in the New World. Emilio Guglielmo left northwestern Italy’s Piemonte region as a 25-year-old and voyaged across the Atlantic to land on Ellis Island on Sept. 18, 1909. He worked his way across the United States to eventually find himself in San Francisco’s North Beach district.

Emilia and Emilio Guglielmo.
Photo courtesy Guglielmo Winery

After saving up money, Emilio sent for his sweetheart, Emilia.  They eventually married in San Francisco and made a new home for themselves among other Italian immigrants.

Knowing Prohibition would eventually end, the couple invested in vineyard land in the agriculturally rich Santa Clara Valley. In 1925 they purchased land in east Morgan Hill and established Emilio Guglielmo Winery, running the business in the basement of their home on Main Avenue. Speaking both Italian and French, Emile (as he was known to his French customers) developed numerous contacts and began selling his hearty Italian-style wines to the large Italian, French and Basque communities in San Francisco.

In 1945, their son, George W. Guglielmo, joined the wine-making business after serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II. George and his wife, Madeline, had three sons – George E., Gene, and Gary – who grew up in Morgan Hill and joined the enterprise after graduating from college.

With George E. producing the wine, Gene focused on management and marketing of the winery’s products. He joined organizations in Santa Clara and South County to promote the Guglielmo, including the Santa Clara Wine Association, Morgan Hill Downtown Association and the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce.  Guglielmo Winery is the longest running member of the Chamber.

At the winery’s site (located across the street from Live Oak High School), the basement still houses the original oak and redwood barrels used to process their wine. The vineyards have since grown to 80 acres and the wine processing facility is far more mechanized than Emilio and Emilia might imagine. Visitors come from around the world to enjoy an outdoor event center, tasting room and indoor event center.  Emilio Guglielmo’s grandsons George and Gene (Gary passed away a few years ago) proudly carry on the family tradition, producing award-winning wines sold in restaurants and stores throughout Northern California.

The wine business has evolved significantly over the past 50 years, growing exponentially from fewer than 200 wineries to 4,391 wineries in California. The palate of wine consumers has shifted toward varietals (wines made from a single grape). The Guglielmo family has successfully adapted to the changes. They wines they produce are mainly varietals. And their winery has been transformed into one of the premier event centers in Santa Clara County.

Guglielmo Winery has become a hub of the community, hosting weddings, birthdays, community events and more.  The Vines & Wines Summer Concert series brings out hundreds of people on Wednesday nights to dance under the stars while enjoying great vino.  One of their newest events is a monthly Trivia Night, everyone is welcome to compete this Feb. 17.

“What makes a community a community is being involved,” Gene believes. He has lived that motto as an entrepreneur willing to share his time and knowledge with his fellow business owners. He cross-markets his partners by promoting their businesses at his location and he has contributed to our community through volunteering as a board member with the Chamber of Commerce, and Visit Morgan Hill. Gene was instrumental in bringing the first Mushroom Mardi Gras to Morgan Hill in 1980.

Cheri Brown is an independent insurance agent specializing in Medicare Insurance. She is a board member on the Morgan Hill Chamber of Commerce. This is the first in a series of local business profiles she will be writing for Morgan Hill Life.