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El Novillero and Tallgrass Vineyards share a rich and colorful history.
El Novillero and Tallgrass Vineyards are both part of the Donnell Ranch, an historic agricultural property dating back to the mid-1800s owned by the Donnell family.
Part of the large Petaluma Rancho Land grant issued to General Vallejo in 1834, the land was sold in 1859 by Vallejo to William Bihler who went on to cultivate grapes and build a winery in nearby Lakeville. In 1891, James G. Fair — a silver baron, Nevada Senator, owner of the Southern Pacific Coast Railroad, and namesake of San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel — purchased the entire 9,140 acre Bihler estate.
Senator James Fair briefly owned the
Donnell Ranch from 1891-1894.
Although there is no record of agricultural activity on the ranch during the early days with perhaps the exception of growing hay, Senator Fair did bring in Chinese laborers to build a home for himself, a private race track where jockeys trained his race horses, and jockey quarters. A redwood barn built by Senator Fair still stands on the property today.
Fair’s time on the ranch was brief though as he died unexpectedly just three years after he purchased the ranch. Nine years later his daughter, then married to William K. Vanderbilt, sold the ranch to A. W. Foster, a railroad tycoon who raised cattle there for decades. After his death, the ranch was split and the biggest parcel of almost 4,000 acres was sold to ‘Dewey’ Donnell in 1940.
From that day forward Dewey and his wife Jean lived the rest of their lives on the ranch where they raised Hereford cattle and three kids — Sandra, Nancy and Bruce — two of whom still live on the ranch today. The Donnells named the ranch El Novillero (Spanish for bull fighter) in honor of the bulls they raised there.
Grapes entered the picture in 1993. The Sangiacomo family was faced at the time with the challenge of keeping grape supplies going for long-term relationships while replanting several of the original vineyards due to Phylloxera. Nancy Donnell and Justin Faggioli (Sandra Donnell’s husband) reached out to Angelo Sangiacomo to explore the possibility of a vineyard partnership. A beautiful, long-term relationship between the Sangiacomo family and the three Donnell siblings and their families was born that continues to this day and into the next generation.
El Novillero Vineyard is situated on the hillside slopes that form the southwest boundary of the Sonoma Valley. Tallgrass Vineyard is nearby on the valley floor. The vineyards have more than fifteen clone and rootstock combinations and are the source of grapes for more than twenty wineries. Both vineyards were first planted in 1993.
Certified Sustainable (CSWA)
Planted Acreage: 245
Varietals: Chardonnay and Pinot Noir
Appellations: Carneros and Sonoma Coast