“It feels good to have that help because I know I can lean on the SBDC for advice. It’s hard when you are just starting out, you don’t have money to hire consultants. So it has been a really big help.”
After a century of her family growing grapes for others, Maria Martinson was finally ready to make her own wine.
Testa Vineyards has a long and hallowed history as part of the fabric of Mendocino County. Established in 1912 by Gaetona and Maria Testa, the vineyard had been growing grapes for other wineries for years but now boasts its own winemaking operations and vintages, a three-bedroom farmhouse rental, another vacation home, wine club and wedding venue.
Gaetona and Maria Testa came over from Italy to San Francisco in 1906, where Gaetona 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,” says Maria Martinson, the current owner of Testa Vineyards. After a few years Gaetona had saved enough money to buy property, and took 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 the 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.
The vineyards were always active but it has only been in the last decade that the Martinson (Testa) family returned to their winemaking roots. “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,” explains Maria.
Receiving positive feedback and support from the community Maria decided to continue, “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, husband Rusty Martinson and four children joined in. “Our daughter, Kassandra, 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,” remarks Maria.
Shortly after opening commercially, Maria reached out to West Business Development Center for help with marketing, accounting, and hiring of employees. She says West was instrumental for building her confidence at running the business.
“It feels good to have that help because I know I can lean on the Mendo-Lake SBDC for advice. It’s 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 invaluable and if they don’t know they will find out for you,” said Martinson.
Maria says that they are doing more production than before and now keeping 10 percent of the grapes harvested for their own crushing and selling 90 percent to other wineries.
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 also waiting on county permits to start new construction. Once they have the building they are hoping to increase production but growth has been intentionally measured to make sure they don’t overextend themselves.
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’ve also won many awards including double gold in the 39th Annual Mendocino County Fair Wine Competition and silver in the 2017 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
Maria takes a lot of pride in her community. The vineyard partners with local festivals and businesses to showcase the vineyards, and you will frequently see their latest community grape stomping pictures posted on Facebook. As in all of Mendocino County, showcasing all that the area has to offer is key for success, small business owners here understand that the wins of their neighbors are also their wins.
“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.
Testa Vineyards is located in Calpella, CA.