ST. HELENA — A short walk from the hustle and bustle of St. Helena lies Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery, the final resting place for many members of the prominent families that have shaped Napa County for the past 111 years.
St. Helena Historical Society organized a recent tour of Holy Cross, which opened in 1901 after St. Helena priest Father Patrick Blake bought 5 acres and built the burial ground thanks to a $3,000 donation. Holy Cross, on Spring Street, is next to the bigger and older St. Helena Public Cemetery.
Docents including Mariam Hansen, research director and board member of the St. Helena Historical Society, pointed out grave markers during the one-hour tour, which featured the final resting sites of John Ghisolfo, a Calistoga mayor who built Mount View Hotel in 1912 and was known as “Mr. Calistoga;” Hanns Kornell of Kornell Champagne Cellars; and Frederick Beringer, who died in 1901 and was among the first to be buried at the cemetery.
Jackelen Boyer, a former teacher whose great-grandfather came to St. Helena in 1845 from Tennessee, was among the visitors who came out last Saturday. She said she knew most of the families buried at the cemetery.
“I think it’s going down memory lane for me,” she said.
Among the speakers Saturday were descendants of winery founders. Nat Komes spoke about grandfather Jerry Komes, who founded Flora Springs in the late 1970s and named it after his grandmother, Flora, now a centenarian.
Other speakers included Anthony “Tony” Torres of Trinchero Family Estates, and Doug Patterson, whose great-grandparents — two Italian-Swiss immigrants — homesteaded land in Chiles Valley. Their Nichelini Family Winery on Sage Canyon Road remains family-owned.
Torres, principal and senior vice president of Trinchero Family Estates, told his family’s history, standing on the grass near his grandparents’ markers.
Torres spoke about his grandfather’s decision to move his young family from New York City to rural St. Helena to join an older brother who had just bought a winery.
Torres said his grandparents, Mario and Mary, came from New York in 1948 to join one of Mario’s brothers, John.
Mario was born in Italy in 1899 to a family that grew grapes. He and his family immigrated to New York City in the early 1920s.
Mary Trinchero was born in Pittsburgh, Pa., but was raised in a convent in Italy only to return to the United States in 1932 as a young woman. Mario and Mary Trinchero met and settled in 1935 New York City, where Mario worked as a waiter and bartender, making $250 a week.
That princely sum allowed him to live in a nice brownstone building in Manhattan, Torres said. But at age 49, Mario decided to come to St. Helena, to help his brother John run Sutter Home Winery, and chart his own course. John Trinchero, a winemaker, had bought the winery in 1946.
Mario Trinchero, his wife and their three children moved into an unheated cabin behind the El Bonita Motel. The family shared a communal bathroom with other tenants. Their entire family worked at the winery, Torres said.
“It was a mom-and-pop operation,” he said.
“We had 52 varietals but only two tanks — one red, one white,” added Torres, who has worked for 30 years in the family business.
In 1968, Sutter Home’s Amador County white zinfandel put the winery on the map. In 1982, Trinchero had four non-family employees and produced 25,000 cases of wine; in 2012, Trinchero Family Estates will produce 18 million cases, Torres said. It is the second-largest family-owned winery in the U.S., after E. & J. Gallo Winery.
Mario and his son, Bob, bought out John Trinchero’s interests in 1960. Mario Torres died in 1981 and Mary in 1999.
“Did a guy from New York City, an Italian immigrant, think he would ever get this big? No,” Torres said. “But he had one concept — work hard, play fair and charge a good price for your product, and people will buy it.
“And we’ve been very, very lucky.”