A funeral service honoring Ron Gianelli’s life will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Patrick’s Church in Sonora, followed immediately after by a reception at Gianelli Vineyards and Winery on Algerine Road.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for people to make a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association or Progressive Home Health and Hospice of Modesto.

Ron Gianelli, founder of the award-winning Gianelli Vineyards and Winery in Jamestown, died Monday at Pacifica Senior Living in Modesto after a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Gianelli, who was 68, was an advocate for agriculture regarded by family and friends as always being willing to help others and put in the work necessary to see his vision through.

“He wanted to see other people use their land and grow vineyards, or grow olives, or just do something with their land,” said his wife, Lorie Gianelli.

Ron Gianelli was born as the only child of two Italian immigrants. He grew up in San Lorenzo, where most of his family was involved in growing and selling different types of flowers, and had extended family in Tuolumne County whom he visited as a youth.

He later graduated from Cal State Hayward with a bachelor’s degree in engineering and business and met Lorie in 1972 while they were both working for a company in San Jose. They married in 1984 at St. Patrick’s Church in Sonora.

In 1980, Ron Gianelli purchased 53 acres of land from his great aunt, Edna Collard, that he would later transform into his namesake vineyards and winery in the 2000s.

While the couple was living in Pleasanton for 22 years, Lorie Gianelli said they would often visit the property on the weekends — when it was little else but brush and oak — and he would sit in his truck with his arms folded thinking about his plans to farm the land.

“I would say, ‘What are you looking at? I’m not going to move up here,’ “ said Lorie Gianelli of her initial reluctance to the rural lifestyle. “He had that vision back then.”

Ron Gianelli initially wanted to grow olives, but felt that would be too difficult after learning more about the process on a trip to Italy and instead decided to plant grapes.

He stayed in a pumphouse on the property for nine months in 1996 while building a house overlooking what are now vineyards.

The couple started preparing the land in 2000 and planting the vineyards in 2003 with the help of Calaveras County wine expert Steve Collum.

They just sold their grapes, until 2007, when they hired Chuck Hovey to be their winemaker and produced their label’s first wine called Vermentino.

“We couldn’t believe it,” said Lorie Gianelli. “We took a bottle and two glasses up on a hill on our property, sat on a bench and drank it. We were so happy. Just so, so excited.”

Wines produced by the Gianelli Vineyards and Winery have won numerous awards and medals in the years since the couple uncorked that first bottle.

Ron Gianelli was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at 61 and had to be placed in Pacifica Senior Living in Modesto three years ago.

In July, Lorie Gianelli sold the business and land to Amy Veldstra and Brendt Noon due to her husband’s deteriorating health and medical expenses.

Lorie Gianelli said the pair have told her they plan to keep the Gianelli name and expand the business to host events.

“Someone could have come in and changed the name and changed everything,” she said. “I didn’t even have to list it… I told them they had to be my angels, someone had to send them down.”

Ron Gianelli is survived by his wife and two sons, Michael Gianelli, of Tracy, and Anthony Gianelli, of Ben Lomond, stepchildren Amy Luna, of Livermore, and Richard Luna, of San Jose, two grandchildren, four step-grandchildren, and many friends and employees who worked for him.

A funeral service honoring Ron Gianelli’s life will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at St. Patrick’s Church in Sonora, followed immediately after by a reception at Gianelli Vineyards and Winery on Algerine Road.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked for people to make a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association or Progressive Home Health and Hospice of Modesto.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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