SIMI Winery entered the California winemaking scene in 1876, marking the beginning of a brand that has lasted for over 140 years. SIMI (pronounced see-mee) prides itself on being led by female pioneers in an industry historically dominated by men.
Today, the winery offers more than 20 red, white, rosé, and sparkling options — including several reserve wines — with a range of price points to boot. You don’t have to travel all the way to California to get a taste, though. SIMI’s wines are widely distributed across the country and odds are, you can pick up a bottle at your local wine shop.
Here are 10 more things you should know about SIMI Winery before you open up your next bottle.
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The California winery has Italian roots.
SIMI Winery’s Sonoma County location came to be when brothers Giuseppe and Pietro Simi left their home in Italy to strike it big during the California Gold Rush. They found themselves in San Francisco in 1849 and eventually realized their passion for wine outweighed the allure of the gold fields. The duo then moved to Healdsburg, Calif., in 1890 to hone their craft. The city remains the home of SIMI Winery to this day.
The brand’s story really begins with Isabelle Simi.
While Giuseppe and Pietro were the first to make wine under the Simi name, it is Giuseppe’s daughter Isabelle whose winemaking legacy is perhaps most important to the brand. She took over the winery when she was only 18 years old, after her father and uncle both passed away in 1904. Today, SIMI credits Isabelle’s business savvy and determination to preserve the winery for the company’s long-lasting success.
Isabelle saw SIMI through some pretty tough times.
Isabelle inherited SIMI Winery in the midst of her father and uncle’s tragic deaths, but the hurdles didn’t end there. The business was rocked yet again (literally this time) two years later, when the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake sent intense shocks though Sonoma County. Fortunately, Isabelle had the foresight to build strong structures and use steel reinforcements in the vineyards, preventing SIMI Winery from sustaining significant damage.
Even more trouble came her way when Prohibition threatened California’s winemaking industry. Isabelle pivoted quickly to keep SIMI’s doors open, opting to sell sacramental wine to churches. She also kept a supply hidden away in her cellars so that when Prohibition was repealed, SIMI was ready to sell wine again almost immediately.
SIMI Winery shares a cinematic version of this story in its “Goodness from Grit” campaign, which features a 4-minute video chronicling Isabelle’s winemaking legacy, as told in part by two-time Oscar-nominated cinematographer Seamus McGarvey.
There’s been strong female leadership ever since.
SIMI’s current winemaking team is entirely headed by women; director of winemaking Melissa Stackhouse and winemaker Lisa Evich bring a combined 50 years of experience to the table.
This legacy of female winemakers extends back to former SIMI winemaker MaryAnn Graf, whose accolades included being the first woman in the U.S. to earn a degree in oenology and the first female board member of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture. California wine trailblazer Zelma Long is also on the list of SIMI winemakers, joining the team in 1979 and serving as the winery’s president and CEO from 1989 to 1996.
SIMI’s first tasting room was fashioned out of an actual wine cask.
How did Isabelle promote her cellar full of wine post-Prohibition? She opted to open a new, eye-catching tasting room that was impossible for passersby to ignore. The “room” was actually a 25,000 gallon Champagne tank that was placed near the winery’s cellars and opened to the public in 1934, becoming SIMI’s first official retail outlet. The original tasting room was replaced by a new hospitality center in honor of SIMI’s 100th anniversary in 1990.
There’s a grudge-filled story behind the winery’s rose bush collection.
While the rose garden at SIMI Winery certainly isn’t the main attraction for visitors, it does have a backstory that just might make you want to stop by between sips of wine. Isabelle made a tradition out of planting a rose bush for every sitting president during her time overseeing the winery. She never missed a bush — until one president got the boot. She refused to plant one for Prohibition-era President Herbert Hoover out of spite. According to SIMI wine educator Kim Phillips, Hoover heard about the garden and didn’t want to be left out, so he personally sent a rose bush to Isabelle in his name. Not one to give in, Isabelle sent the rose bush right back.
SIMI is one of California’s longest continuously operating wineries.
SIMI accomplished the difficult task of surviving Prohibition (take that, Hoover), a result of Isabelle’s quick pivot to selling legal sacrament wine. Other California wineries weren’t so lucky. Of the roughly 700 that were reported to be open prior to Prohibition, only 140 survived. SIMI was one of the lucky ones, making it one of the state’s longest continuously operating wineries, with over 140 years under its belt.
The winery was sold out of family ownership in 1981.
The same year that Isabelle Simi passed away, at 95 years old, SIMI Winery was sold to multinational conglomerate Moët-Hennessy. In 1999, it was sold again to Constellation Brands in a roughly $50 million deal. SIMI has stayed with Constellation Brands ever since and is now owned by the company’s fine wine division, Icon Estates. SIMI is part of Constellation Brand’s large portfolio of well-known wines, including brands like The Prisoner and Robert Mondavi.
SIMI is big on food and wine pairings.
Wine lovers know the power of a good wine and food pairing can elevate a dining experience. SIMI recognized this early on, too, becoming one of the first wineries in California to bring on a full-time chef. SIMI has its own on-site restaurant and offers plenty of opportunities for the hungry and thirsty to indulge themselves. Options include a family-style pizza meal, a three-course lunch, and a small bite experience, among other food offerings (all paired with sommelier-selected SIMI wines, of course).
It’s also trying out a new combo: wine and books.
SIMI’s new partnership with Reese’s Book Club, a site helmed by actress and producer Reese Witherspoon that offers monthly female-centered book recommendations, aims to bring wine and book lovers together. The goal of the collaboration is to “spotlight diverse narratives and deepen connections within the community by offering readers and drinkers more ways to engage with these stories and each other,” according to a press release.
Bookworms who buy the special-edition wines are encouraged to pour a glass to enjoy the next time they open up a new story. The first installation of the partnership is a box that features a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Chardonnay, and a branded bookmark.