Kathy                           Al                          Sam 

History of Al Torrieri's Ranch on Nun's Canyon Road

Al Torrieri's ranch was north of Sonoma, at the end of Nun's Canyon Road and over looked the valley of Kenwood. I understand it is now called Nun's Canyon Vineyard. I lived three years on the ranch, my son, Torre (Al's stage name) was born there and I trained a horse called Saki. My dog Duchess, that I brought from Miami, had her first litter on the ranch.

It was beautiful country; his wine won wine-tasting contests everywhere it was entered. For many years I helped him harvest and make wine. We made about 500 gallons every year on the ranch and delivered the rest of the grapes to the Julius Pagani Winery (Now Kenwood Winery) at the foot of the mountain, then years later, to the Sebastiani Winery in Sonoma. Both wineries recognized the value of Al's grapes. When we brought the grapes to the winery, they always put them in separate vats from the other local vineyards. They were special.

During our relationship, I lived in Hollywood for many years, and traveled up to the ranch to help with the harvest. I always brought wine back with me. Many people tasted the wine and wanted to buy it. One surgeon, a wine connoisseur in Beverly Hills, said he would pay any price for all Al could produce.

About the wine: There were many reasons the wine won so many wine tasting contests and it had nothing to do with the way it was made or the wine master. As a matter of fact we used old equipment and old vats that sat in open buildings (a barn and an equipment storage shed.) the wine fermented in a 500 gallon wooden vat until it was almost finished fermenting. Then stored in old fifty gallon, used, whiskey barrels until it stopped fermenting, Then it was bunged tight, and racked every three or four months to clean out the sediment. Racking is the process of siphoning the wine from one barrel to another so that the last drops are held back in order to eliminate the sediment.

Finally it was bottled and corked. In the final step, the bottles were stored on their sides for the ageing process. In the beginning we used a hand bottle corker. Then some years later we took the finished wine to The Valley of the Moon Winery, and they bottled it for us. With all of that crudeness it still beat the other wines. It was the grapes, not the wine maker ( I don't mean to take anything away from Al, but he would tell you the same thing.) So anyone taking credit for being a great winemaker and not giving credit to the grapes is an egotistical phony. 

Here are the reasons the grapes were so good:

First, the vineyard was situated, climate wise and water wise, in the perfect setting. The vineyard was near the top and on the west side of the mountain so that the sun came slowly over the mountain and shone full on the vines for the full day until sunset. When there was frost in the valley, it did not effect Al's ranch.

Second, there was no need for irrigation. There were many underground springs that kept the volcanic rock and the vines moist year round. The vine's roots found the water and brought a winning flavor to the grapes. I used to make home brew on the ranch and it was the best tasting home brew ever, all due to the fresh spring water. The beer was so good, visitors to the ranch could not believe it was home brew.

About the vines:

Al's father came to California from Italy and brought vines with him. The first section, which was north of the Olive Trees in the center of the vineyard, was a field blend of Zinfandel and  a Verte (white grape.) There were two varieties of wild grapes (can't think of their names) that were used to graft the varietals.

Later more Zinfandels were planted south of the olive trees and up on the slopes. When Al retired and moved on to the ranch, he planted Pino Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.  The Kunde Brothers, who owned the ranch below Al, had large vineyards, they taught us how to graft to the wild grapes. They also showed me the best way to prune the vines each year.

I looked forward to each year when we harvested the grapes. After Al retired we did it together. There were a group of Mexicans, who came up each year and picked the grapes. Al and I would punch their cards, (they got paid per bucketful) as they were dumped into a hopper. Then I would load the full hoppers (3) onto a flat-bed truck and drive them down to the Sebastiani Winery in Sonoma. 

We had a mutual friend Dr. Joe Huston, his wife, Kathy, is pictured above. Joe was a dentist who died in a plane crash while serving the Mexicans. He bought grapes from Al and made his own wine with Al's crusher and vats. The three of us spent time in Baja drinking, looking at the girls and wandering around Baja. Memories.

This all happened in 1981. Al and I had just returned from a visit to Dominic at his ranch in Gardnerville, Nevada. We were only back one day and Al was in the hospital. My first visit to the hospital, Al told me he knew he wasn't going to leave the hospital alive. He also asked me to marry Barbara. I was embarrassed and knew I would not be a good husband and also couldn't think of any reason she would want to marry me.

The next day I received the news about the plane crash in Mexico. Al and I both cried. The last time I saw Al, I was getting in the elevator, he nodded to me as he was getting on to a gurney, our eyes locked, then the elevator door closed;  I knew he was going and I would never see him again. On the way down, in the elevator, I was repeatedly saying, "No, Al. Don't go."

I helped Al's wife, Barbara, harvest the following year and that was my last year on the ranch. Thank you Al for fond memories.

At some time soon, I will gather the photos I have of the vineyard and post them. I hope you enjoyed this as much as have enjoyed writing and reliving it.

From what I  have been told, a so-called friend of Barbara's, who was a realtor, and purported to be doing her a favor, sold the ranch for $800,000.00. The ranch was worth three times that much. Someone stole that from her.



Published on Sunday, November 12, 2000
2000 The Press Democrat

During the height of the Las Vegas gangster years, Barbara Ann Torrieri Brooner savored the fun of working as a chorus girl under the city's bright lights. 
``It was a very fun, exciting life. She loved the light, she loved the excitement, and she loved dancing,'' said her daughter Gina Torrieri.
Brooner died Wednesday after a stroke. She was 64.
Brooner was born in Quincy, Ill. and attended high school in Castro Valley. She was named Miss Castro Valley in 1952.
She danced in Las Vegas for 20 years. While there, Sonoma County landowner Al Torrieri captured her heart. He was working as a performer with the Vagabonds at the Flamingo Hotel.
``They were very close. He would still pinch her after 20 years of marriage,'' her daughter said.
Together, they raised five children on the road while he was performing with the Vagabonds in Atlantic City, Chicago, New York and Las Vegas.
They finally settled on the Torrieri family ranch in Nun's Canyon.
He died in 1981.
She met her second husband, John E. Brooner Sr., at a big-band dancing night at a local restaurant. The couple danced through their first evening together. On their first date, they went roller skating.
``They were partners, too,'' Gina Torrieri said. ``They did everything together.''
Brooner enjoyed many hobbies, including gambling in Reno, deer hunting, sewing and home decorating.
She taught jazz and tap dancing throughout Sonoma County. She also owned the Creative Cuts and Nail Salon in Sonoma.
Brooner is survived by her husband, John E. Brooner Sr., daughters Gina Torrieri of Santa Rosa, Trina Harder of Sonoma, and Linda Bucholtz of Fairfield; her son, Michael Torrieri of Santa Rosa; her stepchildren, John E. Brooner Jr., Jammie Brooner and Janese Brooner, all of Santa Rosa; two sisters; two brothers and six grandchildren.
A memorial service will be at 1 p.m. Friday at Duggan's Mission Chapel, 525 West Napa Street, Sonoma.
Donations can be made to the Valley of the Moon Boys and Girls Club, Performing Arts Division, P.O. Box 218.