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Safe-keeping Sonoma's story

  • Julie Pedroncelli St. John holds up a stencil used on wine barrels at the Dry Creek Valley's Pedroncelli Winery that will be donated to the Smithsonian archives for possible future use. A photo from Pedroncelli is part of a current Smithsonian display on wine in California. (KENT PORTER / The Press Democrat)

Soon to join such iconic items of Americana as the Star Spangled Banner, Dorothy's ruby slippers and Abraham Lincoln's stovepipe hat at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., is a tiny slice of Sonoma County history — Italian immigrant John Pedroncelli's original winery sign.

The old family heirloom will soon be professionally packed by museum staff and shipped to Washington, where it will join 137 million other artifacts in the national museum's permanent archives that collectively tell the vast American story.

The Pedroncellis are one of several prominent old California winemaking families who have been approached about contributing ephemera, photos and historical items to the Smithsonian. That group includes the Gallos, Martinis, Bundschus locally, and the Wentes of Livermore.

They all have been invited to the nation's capital in October to participate in a special invitation-only winemaker dinner at the museum, in advance of the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition on Dec. 5. The dinner, overseen by Darrel Corti of the famed Corti Brothers Italian Grocery in Sacramento, will raise funds for the museum's expanding American food and wine history project.

“The Smithsonian wants to expand their collections and they want to reflect the whole American experience,” said Julie Pedroncelli St. John, whose father, Jim, was one of four children of winery founder John Pedroncelli. “We have this great heritage. Why not share it?”

In addition to the “John Pedroncelli Winery” sign that hung on the original building from the 1930s to the 1970s, the family will send a wooden grape box stamped “Pedroncelli,” a stencil used to mark the old tap barrels, the copper polenta pot Grandma Julia Pedroncelli used to cook up huge meals for family and crew and a copy of the property bill of sale from 1927. Giovanni “John” Pedroncelli paid $11,000 for a failing winery and 90 acres of Dry Creek Valley land.

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