Presidents and their favorite wines

Nathan, Vivienne, Roni Jo and Jess of Castillo’s Hillside Shire

In honor of Presidents’ Day Monday let’s take a quick look at our presidents’ favorite wine.

Certainly, not every president enjoyed wine, but many did and none as much as Thomas Jefferson, our third president. According to historical documents, Jefferson spent more than $11,000 on wine during his two terms as president, a sum that would today, equal about $175,000. Jefferson was partial to Madeira (a fortified Portuguese wine).

In fact, the Founding Fathers toasted the signing of the Declaration of Independence with a glass of Madeira.

Andrew Jackson, John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon all enjoyed French wines and Champagne. Ronald Reagan’s favorite wine was Cabernet Sauvignon.

And President Obama, on occasion, has been said to enjoy sparkling wine with dinner.

Although Lyndon Johnson wasn’t very interested in wine, during his presidential term he approved a White House decision that only American wines would be served at official functions. It has been so ever since.

Local Winery Buzz

Castillo’s Hillside Shire Winery, 2215 Liberata Drive in Morgan Hill, is an amazing wine destination. As you make your way up the drive way, you’ll pass the owners’ magnificent English manor home. Next door to the home is an English-style cottage (it resembles a “Hobbit” house) where the wine tasting takes place. The grounds are lush with roses and lawn leading to a gazebo overlooking a picturesque pond.

Roni Jo and Jess Castillo are the owners of Castillo’s Hillside Shire Winery. Their story started when Roni Jo and Jesse were high-school sweethearts. Their parents (Roni’s were white, Jesse’s were Hispanic) were prejudiced and kicked them both out of the house. Against all odds, Roni Jo and Jesse worked multiple jobs to pay for rent and get them through school. A few years later they married, started a family and their successful construction business.

They never imagined owning a winery. Roni Jo and Jess didn’t drink – not even wine. But all that changed in 2004, while they were building their dream home and learned that their property needed to comply with the Williamson Act – an act that required the property to have income-producing agriculture.

To comply with their land requirement, Roni Jo and Jess decided to grow grapes and sell them to the local wineries. While they were at it, they made a few barrels of wine just for fun. It was a great plan until the day that Gene Guglielmo (Guglielmo Winery) stopped by to purchase some of the grapes. Upon tasting the Castillo’s wine, Guglielmo exclaimed, “Wow, this is great wine for someone who isn’t even Italian! You should be in the wine business!” And, as they say, the rest is history.

In this year’s San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition (the largest competition for American wine), Castillo’s raked in eight medals. Their Petite Sirah and Port both won gold and their Chilicious Merlot, with a hint of chili peppers, won bronze. Their Cabernet Franc, which won Best in Class (the highest award possible at the competition) last year, is still available for sale. With 13 wines to choose from their menu, a generous tasting flight is only $5.

The Castillo wine business is truly a family affair. Jess and son, Nathan, tend the vineyard and winemaking. Nathan also manages the tasting room. Roni Jo handles the office. Their daughter, Vivienne, creates the artwork for their labels. Vivienne, Roni Jo and Nathan all sing and play guitar for their guests – ranging from folk to hip-hop to light opera.

They have acquired an appreciation for wine mainly because of the way it has brought people together at their home. The Castillo’s quickly came up with their slogan, “We blend the wine that blends people!”

Castillo’s is open Saturdays from 12 to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 12 to 5 p.m.

On Saturday, Feb. 25, an Alaskan fishing guide will give fly-fishing demonstrations at the Castillo’s beautiful backyard pond. A wild Alaskan fish and game buffet will follow. For details, call (408) 595-3145.


Cherry Wine Cake
– 1 package cherry chip cake mix
– 1 package instant French vanilla pudding mix
– 4 eggs
– 3/4 cup vegetable oil
– 3/4 cup Madeira wine (can substitute cream sherry or portwine)
Mix in order. (Do not omit pudding mix, even if pudding is inthe cake mix). Bake at 325 degrees approximately 1 hour in greasedbundt cake pan. Does not need frosting.

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