The aging tractor at the top of the hill on Silverado Trail marks the entrance to the Piña Napa Valley; the tasting room is stacked wine barrels with aging wine. The only serving table is an upside-down wine barrel.
Unpretentious? Definitely. But the spirit of the winery reflects the four brothers who built it.
Piña — Spanish for “fruit of the pine” — is owned and operated John, Larry, Ranndy and Davey Piña, who grew up on the Silverado Trail.
Ranndy, who has experience in the construction business, built the tasting room. Davey helped with the electrical work and John finished the concrete.
The foundations, however, were put in place by their parents and grandparents.
The Piña family arrived in the valley from Spain via Hawaii. The brothers’ grandparents left Malaga, Spain in 1911 to find gold in Hawaii and in the 1920s moved on to a farm in Rutherford. A son, John Piña Jr. married Arlene Glos, whose family arrived here from Germany and settled on Howell Mountain in the 1880s.
“Our parents came from big families,” Davey said. “My dad came from a family of nine brothers and sisters and my mom’s family had seven. We literally had hundreds of cousins while growing up here in the Napa Valley.”
Their four sons, all born at the St. Helena Sanitarium, grew up on Silverado Trail, playing amidst tanks and barrels, their playground equipment, on what is now Plumjack vineyards.
The brothers remember when they were young, making extra money when people would get stuck in the mud holes on the Silverado Trail.
“We would get the horses reined up and pull the cars out, knowing the cars would get stuck again just a few minutes later down the road,” Larry said laughing. “It was a good way to make a few bucks.”
Their father started a small vineyard management company in 1960.
“The first meetings for our vineyard management company were held in our parent’s kitchen,” Larry said. All four brothers attended California Polytechnic State University, and after assuming the job of running the management company, their step was to start their own winery. They released their first wine, a chardonnay in 1979.
Bob Milat, co-owner of Milat Wines, remembers the Piñas helping his parents with the planting of their vineyards. Milat, who went to high school and college with Larry, said they joined a fraternity while attending CalPoly. He recalls a story about hopping a train that took them all the way to Salinas before it came to a stop.
“It was February and very cold that day,” Milat recalled. “It was one of the best things I think Larry and I experienced, going 70 miles per hour and freezing, just like in the movies.”
The brothers all have different interests that add up to family success.
John, the eldest, knows the vineyards and farming and is the one who likes developing new vineyards and preparing the ground for planting.
“My favorite place to hang out is in the barn,” John said with teasing eyes. “I like tinkering with things.”
Larry, next in line, specializes in marketing, and creates the packaging and labeling.
Ranndy writes Piña’s blog for their website. He also makes sure the corn hull tournament is set up during gatherings.
Davey, the youngest, planned to be a mechanical engineer\ but soon realized he didn’t like sitting behind a desk. He worked for Rutherford Hills seven years as the assistant winemaker and eventually ended up back home working in the vineyards. Now he manages Piña’s vineyard management company.
The Piñas produce an annual average of around 2,000 cases of wine, making one chardonnay and five different cabernets. The chardonnay, Larry said, is still a favorite.
The brothers control all aspects of the winemaking. “We cherry-pick the fruit from 57 vineyards that contain certain attributions. We work towards quality in everything we do. We pay attention to details.”
The Piñas have seen many changes over the years. The Silverado Trail is now paved and much busier, but the community, according to the brothers, hasn’t changed. It is a place, they say, where people know one another and share in the making of good wine.
Ray Tonella, a Rutherford rancher, remembers working with their parents. “What’s remarkable about the four brothers is how well they get along,” he said. “The essence of the Piña’s is you can trust them. They have always provided a fair deal.”
“Their wine is good and they are the most highly respected vineyard management company in the valley,” said Claudia Chittim, executive director of Howell Mountain Vintners & Growers Association. “The Piñas are a throw-back as a small, family-run business and they are nice people too.”