Technically speaking, Shelly Rafanelli-Felman actually is the second female winemaker in four generations on her family’s Dry Creek Valley farm. The first, her great-grandmother Letizia Tonnetti, came over from Italy in the early 1900s, found her way to northern Sonoma County and planted vineyards and orchards on what would become the family parcel. Letizia taught her husband, Alberto, who in turn taught Shelly’s grandfather, Americo. Americo taught her dad, David. Then David taught her.
This history, this thread through time, is a major part of the experience at a winery that has become renowned for its Zinfandel. We’re lucky to be featuring their wines during our Fall rides.
“What we do here is special in and of its own right, but when you think about the traditions and the legacy it’s even more meaningful and unique,” says Shelly. “I like to think we capture that history in every bottle.”
Despite her upbringing, Shelly wasn’t always so certain she’d go into wine. She was crazy about 4H as a youngster and attended the California Polytechnic Institute for agriculture. After graduating with interest in marketing, she came home and asked her dad for a job at the family business. The rest, as they say, is history—Shelly took on more and more responsibilities until she had taken over as winemaker. Today she lives on the family’s 120-acre ranch in her grandfather’s old house with her husband and 10-year-old son. Her sister, Stacy, also works for the family business.
Having spent most of her life in Healdsburg, Shelly is acutely aware of how the town has changed over the years. She jokes that when she was growing up her friends called it, “Hicksburg,” and marvels at how it’s evolved while simultaneously holding onto its small-town charm. When she’s not making wine, she enjoys the food and culture of the community like many who come to visit from out of town. “I walk around the plaza and simply can’t believe I get to call this place home.”