Photo contributed
Delicato wine tasting room staffer Lee Ann Larson shares just some
of the offerings that are available at the Manteca winery that is the
ninth largest winery by sales in the United States.

High growth winery is major Manteca employer

BY DENNIS WYATT

Manteca’s biggest global reach in terms of commerce is wine.

More than 13 million cases of wine created from grapes grown in California’s three leading vineyard regions — Napa-Sonoma, Monterey, and San Joaquin County — were sold worldwide in 50 countries during 2018 by Manteca-based Delicato Family Wines.

The bulk was produced at the Delicato Family Wine’s main winery just north of Manteca south of French Camp Road and west of Highway 99. It was at that site 95 years ago that immigrant Gaspare Indelicato planted his first vineyard, which ultimately led to a family-owned enterprise that now records more than $500 million in annual sales making it the ninth largest winery in the country.

The Indelicato family owns more than 4,000 acres of vineyards in the three-wine grape growing regions with wineries in King City as well as Black Stallion in Napa Valley. But it is the Manteca winery that is the juggernaut that produces wine that has been enjoying double digit annual growth and making 450 fulltime local jobs possible with an additional 125 seasonal jobs during the crush season. That reflects a local payroll of $25 million that is more than double what Great Wolf Resort anticipates paying when they open their 500-room hotel and indoor waterpark in Manteca in mid-2020 that will offer 250 fulltime jobs and 250 part-time jobs. Companywide, the winery has 850 fulltime employees.

The Manteca winery is in the midst of a three-phase expansion that when completed will roughly double its capacity and create about 15 percent more jobs. The biggest visible impact of the expansion is a 700,000-square-foot plus building — currently the largest in the Manteca area — that will serve as a warehouse with several bottling lines along with a lab. When completed Delicato Family Wines will no longer be leasing a 533,000-square-foot plus warehouse in Spreckels Park between Ford Motor Co. Small Parts Distribution Center and Lineage Refrigeration Logistics. That will free up that space to allow Manteca to compete for more distribution jobs.

The Delicato label per se has been retired in favor of 18 basic brands with the biggest three sellers being Gnarly Head, Noble Wines, and Bota Box. The explosive growth of Delicato Family Wines — it was the 25th largest winery just 12 years ago and is now in the 9th largest — is attributed to a decision by the current generation to switch primarily as a winemaker’s winemaker producing wines for other wineries to concentrating on creating and marketing their own labels. It has allowed Delicato to far outpace the industry in terms of growth.

Being a winemaker’s winemaker is what powered the winery’s strong growth from the 1950s to the early 1990s. Among the notable labels they produced were Almaden Wine and California Coolers.

Delicato launched its inaugural vintage of 2016 Three Finger Jack
East Side Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon
in February.
The wine is sourced from vineyards on the rugged east side of Lodi.

Delicato’s various labels feature price points from $15 to well past $100. Their wines have been showered with hundreds of honors by international and national wine connoisseur organizations, wine magazines, wine critics, and the wine industry.

The fact Delicato Family Vineyards for most of its existence was a wholesale producer as opposed to a retail concern may account for its low profile for much of those in the Manteca community who were unaware they have one of the nation’s largest and most successful wineries in their own backyard.

It goes hand-in-hand with the fact few realize that the largest wine grape growing area in California is not Napa, Sonoma, or Monterey. It is San Joaquin County. In the latest United States Department of Agriculture stats, San Joaquin County in 2017 had 73,285 acres planted in wine grapes or more than 15 percent of the state total. That is followed by Sonoma County with 59,508 acres, Monterey County with 45,416 acres, Napa County with 45,339 acres, and Fresno County with 40,108 acres.

The world’s largest winery is E&J Gallo in Modesto. There are two other top five wine companies in San Joaquin-Stanislaus counties — The Wine Group along East Highway 120 midway between Escalon and Manteca and Bronco Wines in Ceres.

When most people think of wineries, they think of boutique wineries. But Delicato Family and the aforementioned area wineries are big businesses that provided much sought-78after head of household jobs in the Northern San Joaquin Valley and do so in sizeable numbers.

Jay Indelicato, who oversees the Manteca winery, notes the local operation has an average of 400 truck trips year-round and operates 24/7 with accompanying noise as well as lights at night.
“You need to be able to see as well at night as you do during the day,” Indelicato said.

Several years ago Delicato secured approval through the lengthy process needed to have the Frontage Road from the Lathrop Road interchange in Manteca to the northern edge of their property designated as a STAA route. The designation allows longer trucks used in interstate commerce to use local roads in California. Also on Frontage Road is Perry & Sons that also operate numerous trucks from their Manteca operations that is ranked as the No. 1 broker of watermelons, melons, and pumpkins in the United States.

They also crush grapes on site — something that Gallo no longer does at its Modesto winery that is somewhat isolated by the Tuolumne River, a nearby industrial area and the fact the company over the years purchased many nearby homes and uses them as rentals.

Delicato disposes of water they use on site as well as grinds up stems and skins.

Those are important points to Indelicato as Manteca makes plans to eventually urbanize the area between the city’s current city limits just north of Lathrop Road almost all the way to French Camp Road.
Making sure development is compatible is a key point the family has tried to make at various meetings designed to shape the general plan update that serves as Manteca’s blueprint for growth.

The light, noise, truck traffic and intense agricultural operations such as crushing grapes is not something that Delicatio believes would sit well with future residents if Manteca ultimately allows homes to be built in the shadows of the winery and its large tank farms that are draped with lights.

Indelicato noted despite Manteca being a right-to-farm city he knows almond growers who have been the repeated target of complaints for kicking up dust and working at night in their orchards — two things that are part of acceptable standard farming practices under the law.

“You can’t just pull up a winery and relocate it,” Indelicato said.

Even if you could, you might not be able to start over in another location — at least not in California. That’s because the state Air Resources Board has slapped a moratorium on new wine tanks. And since they secured permits before the moratorium went into effect, they opted to build most of the 80 new tanks now even if they aren’t needed for a few years instead of running the risk that once the permits expire they may not be able to obtain new approval from the state to build them.

Delicato Family Wines’ roots
Gaspare Indelicato — who immigrated from Sicily in 1911 — was responsible for planting the vineyard in 1924 that started the winery that today more than 575 Manteca area households rely on for income as well as numerous trucking firms.

Gaspare worked his way across the United States. He first worked in a coal mine in Pennsylvania, then a lumber mill in Washington, a brick yard in Oregon, and then helped build the O’Shaughnessy Dam in Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park before establishing a dairy where the main family winery is today.

Even though the Prohibition was in full force, Gapsare planted wine grapes as the law allowed people to produce their own wine at home. He ended up selling wine grapes to home winemakers. Once Prohibition ended, Gaspare expanded his wine making into a commercial winery.