Cheri and Phil Marcucci Create Documentary on Family History and Sonoma County Agriculture
Article and photo by Rachel LaFranchi
Published July 1, 2016
|Cheri and her grandson Jake who is involved with the family’s agricultural business. The two stand in front of the Four Cousins Vineyard where they grow Pinot Noir.|
Both Cheri and Phil Marcucci come from agricultural families. They were married in 1965 and purchased Phil’s family’s property from his grandparents in 1973. Phil’s family originally grew grapes before the prohibition era and later switched to apples. Cheri also came from a family that grew apples.
However, with all the changes the Sonoma County agriculture industry experienced, the couple now only has two acres of apples left. The remaining 18 acres on Laguna Road are planted in grapes as the land originally was a hundred years ago. Most of the apples were removed with the decline of the industry and loss of processors in the late 1980’s, and the remaining acres (with the exception of the two acres surrounding their house) were removed in 1994.
Phil’s family has been farming on the property for nearly 110 years. The family’s ranch was originally 40 acres but later split in half between family members.
Marcucci Farms released their first vintage of Zinfandel in 2005 under the Fava Brothers Vineyard label; a few years later they expanded to produce Pinot Noir under the Four Cousins Vineyard label. Cheri and Phil sell their two acres of apples to Manzana, the county’s only apple processor.
Despite the success of grapes throughout Sonoma County, the Marcucci’s path to producing wine has not been easy. They lost money as the apple industry collapsed in Sonoma County and processors closed. Eventually, alongside 24 other families, they filed a class-action lawsuit against a local bank and the Sebastopol Cooperative Cannery’s board of directors. The lawsuit was settled the day before it went to trial, and although the Marcucci’s received a payment, it didn’t make up for what they had already lost. Cheri said the lawsuit was hard as they had friends and family who were on the other side, but people do what they have to do to make it through.
Despite the Marcucci’s struggles, the couple still sees the agriculture industry as positive. They have built a successful grape business which their grandson Jake is now involved with. And as Sonoma County becomes increasingly urbanized, Cheri has more and more of a desire to educate the general public about Sonoma County’s rich agricultural history.
Two years ago, Cheri began the process of making a documentary about Sonoma County agricultural history through the eyes of her and her husband’s families.
“I’m not a writer,” said Cheri. “When I first started, I think it was therapeutic. Everything just poured out – there were a lot hard feelings about the lawsuit. But how Sonoma County agriculture used to be – that’s a story worth telling.
“When Phil and I travel, our favorite thing to do is to find the history of the places, and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish here.”
The documentary is narrated by Phil and Cheri and contains historical photos, video clips and other forms of media. It starts with the history of agriculture more than 150 years ago as immigrants from around the world came to settle in California.
The documentary discusses how both Cheri and Phil’s families came to end up in Sonoma County after immigrating from Italy. It goes on to talk about how major historical events shaped the history of agriculture, both throughout Sonoma County and specifically relating to their families.
The video discusses prohibition and its effects on agriculture, particularly the wine grape industry. Coupled with the grapevine disease Phylloxera, these factors were what sparked the Marcucci family to plant apples. The documentary moves on to discuss the effects of the Great Depression and WWII. The war caused a labor shortage on two fronts: many young men were off fighting the war and the Japanese were sent to internment camps. The video discussed the family’s Japanese neighbors and how the community banded together to keep their farm operational.
As the documentary moves into more recent times, it tackles the newer struggles of the ag industry including urbanization and the Right to Farm Ordinance.
Additionally the video discusses the decline of the apple industry in Sonoma County and the lawsuit the Marcucci family was involved with.
Cheri and Phil hope to share their film titled Grapes to Apples to Grapes with the ag industry as well as the general public. They are making an event of the viewings and have scheduled four dates this summer. The lunch or dinner viewing will include a catered meal, a vineyard gondola tour and a screening of the documentary.
“Every time something came up and someone complained about farming, I remembered what a great childhood I had. I wanted to create something educational which would share that,” said Cheri.
“People were eager to leave city life for the slower pace of country life not realizing or having an understanding of what farming practices in agriculture were. We hope to help others learn through sharing our family history.”
For more information on Marcucci Farms or reserving a spot at one of their viewings visit marcuccifarms.com.