A Story of Warnecke Ranch
Written by Alice Warnecke Sutro

In 1984, Warnecke Ranch’s 80 acres were entirely contracted to Gallo. We were growing mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, but also Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. My grandfather John Carl Warnecke owned and supervised the vineyard at that time. He inherited it from his grandparents who originally bought it in 1911 for grazing sheep and fishing access. He was intent on creating a world class vineyard for his family property, while also placing it at the center of his international architectural career. With the help of local consultant Bob Dempel, he planted 80 acres in 1973, transitioning what was previously a dairy farm owned by Arnold and Odile Rassmussen into vineyards, the future of Alexander Valley. This was featured on the cover of Time Magazine in 1972 showing a double portrait of Ernest and Julio Gallo and declaring “American Wine: There is Gold in Them Thar Hills”.

Time Magazine cover

Below, is another double portrait of current Warnecke Ranch & Vineyard management team: Margo Warnecke Merck and me. This picture was taken some time in the eighties. Margo took over when grandpa passed away in 2010, and I have worked with her for 14 years. When we were looking into what was happening here in 1984, we called two people: Bob Dempel and Bertha Baldwin, our long-time bookkeeper. Bob said it was all Gallo then, and Bertha said that my grandfather knew them personally, and that one time they “arrived via helicopter”, much to everyone’s surprise, for Rudy’s 90th birthday party.

A woman holding a child

Margo Warnecke Merck and Alice Warnecke Sutro sometime in the 80’s

That was news to me! Margo then remembered that grandpa had done an architectural project for the Gallos in Modesto. She disappeared into the archives and texted me later with a picture from the project list binder: 1977 design work entitled “Gallo Winery”, Bin No 264, Roll No. 4. Then my Dad Fred filled in some more of the story: “Yes, Dad was working with Gallo on a poured concrete slab, tilt-up building the size of three football fields and completely buried.” We tracked down Chris Gallo who assured us that such a building did get built “sometime in the mid-seventies”, and was still in active use, holding a big place at the heart of Gallo’s winemaking in Modesto. We’ll leave it at somewhat of a mystery, and hope to confirm with photos soon, when I get a chance to visit Modesto. We also found this great correspondence, emblematic of grape growing in the seventies and eighties.

vineyards from a sky view