Our Story

The History of our founders and by extension our winery starts in Italy. Both of our founders, Ernest (Ernie) and Marie Fortino goes back to Italy where they were born. Marie emigrated from Sicily to the United States with her family at the age of eleven, while Ernie came to the United States at the age of 23 from Cosenza, in the region of Calabria.

Ernie met Marie in Santa Cruz, where their respective families were living. Ernie was immediately taken by Marie, and gave her a promise ring while she was still in school, thus ensuring that she would not date anyone other than him. They married in Santa Cruz in 1964 and started their lives together. Ernie and Marie had two children (Gino and Teri) when they found and purchased a very run down winery in Gilroy in 1970. As young newlyweds and immigrants, they had very modest means, however they were able to purchase the building and the land surrounding it, thus beginning their legacy in the Santa Clara Valley.

In the early years, everything that they earned went back into the vineyards, or the buildings. They lived in the front house for the first few years, doing repairs as they could to make it comfortable and family safe. Gino and Teri grew up in and around the vineyards, sometimes napping alongside their parents as they worked planting, maintaining and picking the fruit during the harvest.

Ernie and Marie tended the winery, selling bottles day and night as people stopped to purchase. Marie tells stories today of hearing a car coming into the winery and running out to take care of a customer looking to purchase a bottle or two.

They gradually built onto the original structure, and managed to grow, crush, ferment, age, bottle and label their wines right here at the winery. They welcomed all as family, and treated every customer as an extension of their own. It is this warmth and friendliness that our winery is still known for today. In 1995, Gino and Teri took over from their parents. Gino runs the winery day to day, while Teri maintains and interest and ownership. Gino’s and Teri’s children are now working towards taking over the winery from their parents, thus continuing the family story for a new generation.

Today, we still grow, crush, ferment, age, bottle and label our own wines just as Ernie and Marie did 50+ years ago.


Fortino Winery was established in 1970 when Ernest and Marie Fortino purchased a vineyard that reminded them of their Italian homeland, but had been shuttered and was in dilapidated condition. Ernest was drawn to the vineyard because the surrounding land was highly reminiscent of his homeland, Calabria, Italy.  The winery itself had been closed for roughly a decade when Ernest and Marie purchased it, and in those early years they worked day and night using Ernest’s knowledge of wine-making from his family’s ranch to turn it into a thriving business.

The original vineyards were all dry-farmed and had Ruby Cabernet, Zinfandel, Carignan, and Grenache grapes planted on twenty-two acres.  Ernest and Marie added to their acreage when they purchased a ranch in San Martin in 1979, expanding their planted acres to 50.  In addition, they added Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Noir and Charbono grapes to the varietals that they cultivated.

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. Reminiscing on this part of the winery’s history, Ernest talks a lot about the wines he created during this time, and the visitors from all over who would come into the tasting room to see what they were bottling.  There is a special twinkle in his eye as he talks about the awards his wines earned in those early years.

In 1978 Ernest began one of the very first wine clubs in California.  At that time, they wanted to be able to offer their customers wine discounts and special events, something that the Fortino family has continued to this day.

In 1995 Ernest passed on the responsibilities of running the winery to his son, Gino, and daughter, Teri. Over the years the vineyards continue to produce some of the best wines in the area, and some of the vines are still dry-farmed to produce flavor-intense grapes. Visitors to the winery these days are likely to be greeted by 3rd generation family members.  Gino’s son Nick is actively involved in making wine alongside Gino, while his son Kevin can be seen around the winery on weekend and special events helping out in the kitchen, or doing any number of details that keep things moving.  Teri’s son Austin manages the Wine Club and helps out with customers in the tasting room, along with a myriad of other activities during events, both public and private. Each of these young men are an integral part of winery business, and will continue to make an impact on the family business in the decades to come.

White Wines

Red Wines

Sparkling Wines


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