Historical Wineries in Gilroy - Kirigin Cellars & Fortino Winery

Gilroy wineries have a beautiful story, each unique all on their own. A large part of Gilroy’s community are the wineries, considering it’s where we make so many memories! Our scenic wineries are where we choose to gather and raise a glass to celebrate a loved one’s birthday or go on a date. Many of Gilroy’s wineries are also wedding venue locations for many Bay Area couples. Similar to our first blog post going over Solis Winery and Guglielmo Winery, we hope you enjoy learning the stories of Kirigin Cellars and Fortino Winery.

Kirigin Cellars

Photo by Kirigin Cellars.

Kirigin Cellars is one of California’s oldest wineries and has been an enduring part of California’s wine country since 1916. Starting from the beginning, Pietro Bonesio was born in Cardona, Italy in 1877 and learned how to make wine from his father, Giovanni. Pietro came to the United States in 1903 with his wife, Massimina, and started making his way west while working construction and farming jobs. In 1916, Pietro went back to what he knew and started Uvas Winery on a piece of land called Rancho de Solis in Gilroy. For the next 60 years, Pietro’s winery and 500-acre ranch stayed in his family. In 1932, Pietro turned over the day-to-day business operations to his three sons, Louis, Charlie and Victor.

The Bonesio Family around 1920.
Photo from Wineries of Santa Clara Valley by Bev Stenehjem.

The winery was then renamed to “Bonesio Brothers,” which produced numerous varieties including Zinfandel, Grignolino, French Colombard, Grenache, Sauvignon Vert, and Golden Chasselas. When the Bonesios retired in 1976, they sold the winery to Nikola Kirigin-Chargin, a winemaker from Croatia with degrees in enology and chemistry. Nikola was known as a distinguished winemaker while working at numerous wineries in and around Almaden. Bonesio Winery reminded Mr. Kirigin of his family’s winery on the island of Brač, so Nikola and his wife purchased the historic Bonesio Winery in 1976 and renamed it Kirigin Cellars.

Top Photo: Louis Bonesio Sr. with his shelves bearing the Uvas brand wine.
Bottom Photo: Bonesio Winery’s tasting room with Louis Jr. pouring a glass of wine.
Photos from Wineries of Santa Clara Valley by Bev Stenehjem.

Nikola abhorred wine snobbery and built his foundation on his belief that good wine should always be affordable. He began producing unique, high-quality wines using old European techniques and new American technology. Kirigin Valley is one of the most delightful parcels of Santa Clara County: 33 acres of rolling vineyards, nine acres of cricket lawns, over 1,000 rose bushes and 100 redwood trees are surrounded by hills and rangeland. Kirigin’s old buildings and wine-tasting areas, as well as their new Tuscan-style Club House building, exude old-world charm. Nikola passed away in May 2011 in his hometown on the island of Brač, and Kirigin Cellars continues to proudly create wine Nikola Kirigin’s way.

Photos above are of Kirigin Cellars “Sales Room” and what it looks like today. 

Photo by Kirigin Cellars. 


Fortino Winery

Photo by Fortino Winery. 

Fortino Winery was first established in 1970, when Ernest and Marie Fortino purchased a vineyard that had been growing since the early 1930’s. Ernest was drawn to the vineyard because the surrounding land was highly reminiscent of his hometown of Calabria, Italy. The original vineyards were all dry-farmed and included Ruby Cabernet, Zinfandel, Carignan and Grenache grapes. In 1975, Ernest produced an exceptional Ruby Cabernet, which won Double Gold in the Los Angeles County Fair and led to an article about the winery in the New York Times.

Photo from Wineries of Santa Clara Valley by Bev Stenehjem.

In 1995, Ernest passed on the responsibilities of running the winery to his son, Gino, and daughter, Teri. Over the years, the vineyards have expanded to about 50 acres—some of which are still dry-farmed to produce flavor-intense grapes. Visitors to the winery these days might be greeted by Gino or his two sons, Nick and Kevin, while on their breaks or weekends away from college. In the Tasting Room, you are likely to see Teri’s son, Austin – the Tasting Room Manager. Nick, Kevin and Austin represent the third generation of Fortinos to contribute to the family business and are an integral part of winery operations.

Photo by Fortino Winery. 


Whether you’re planning a bay area road trip or going wine tasting in the bay area, make sure to visit Gilroy’s wineries! Almost all of our wineries offer delivery and curbside pick up options. Show your support to some of Gilroy’s local businesses and buy a bottle or two! Check back on Visit Gilroy’s blog for the next stories on Hecker Pass Winery and Fernwood Cellars.