As a member of one of California’s oldest winemaking families, Cheryl Indelicato has a rich heritage of family tradition to draw on when it comes time to celebrate the holidays.
Her grandfather, Gaspare Indelicato, planted a vineyard in Manteca in Central California after arriving in this country from his native Sicily more than a century ago. Along with his three sons, he established what today is Delicato Family Vineyards and Cheryl is part of the third generation leading the way for an up-and-coming fourth wave.
Cheryl began her career in wine as a little girl helping out with odd jobs, although in keeping with family tradition she got a college degree (in Registered Nursing) and worked elsewhere for some years before returning to the family business. She worked in HR, sales and marketing at Delicato but always had the dream of making her own brand. That goal came to fruition in 2010 when she joined veteran winemaker Alicia Ysais to develop HandCraft Artisan Collection, wines that are fruit-forward, approachable and pair easily with food.
When she’s not working with Alicia or on the road promoting HandCraft, Cheryl likes to spend time in the kitchen with her husband and son in coastal Monterey. She’s a member of Les Dames d’Escoffier, a philanthropic society of women leaders in food, fine beverage and hospitality, and a past president and board member of the Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association.
You might think a schedule that packed would leave no time for seasonal festivities. But you’d be wrong. Cheryl is famous in the family for her holiday spirit. We asked her a few questions about her favorite things to do as the days grow short and the “to-do” lists grow long.
What are some of your childhood memories of holidays at home?
As long as I can remember, food and wine have been welcome partners at the family dinner table, with favorite homemade dishes and wine paired in an artful blending of flavors. For our family, our wines express appreciation: for our family heritage and for the simple joys in life.
What inspires you when you’re making plans for the season?
Speaking like a true Italian, food and wine are the cornerstones of all family occasions and traditions. I learned cherished family recipes from my aunts, Mary and Francy. I really wanted to know how to make the foods that brought Dad happiness. Just one whiff of a dish he loved would bring a smile to his face. From my father’s Easter Biscotti to Cazzola to Italian pizza, preparing dishes from recipes handed down has been a memorable holiday tradition for the entire Indelicato family. At Christmas we would make Sablé cookies. My aunts and I would make the dough in the afternoon and then congregate in the evening, baking them and serving them to the family hot from the oven, sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.
What are some ways your family traditions have changed?
Over time, our family’s beloved Italian dishes met new, California ingredients—with delicious results. I take the heritage that is my soul, and broaden it to include my own touches. It’s all in the art of blending, just like in wine! California classics like Dungeness Crab get the Italian touch in our family’s recipe for tomato-basil crab bisque, and local sausages meet their match in our creamy Gorgonzola polenta. Likewise, in each of the wines in my HandCraft portfolio, we add a dash of Italian grape varieties. In our Chardonnay, for example, we added a touch of Malvasia Bianca, an Italian varietal that adds lovely floral aromatics. And in our Pinot Noir, we added the famous Tuscan varietal, Sangiovese, which highlights and intensifies the red berry and cherry flavors.
What’s on tap for the future?
I teach my son, Dominick, the same family recipes and fresh approach to cooking that my Aunts, Mary and Francy taught me. I’ll ask Dominick, “What’s for dinner?” and he answers, “Let’s go to the garden and find out!”
Around the holidays, Dominick has started a tradition of his own: a personal Christmas tree, decorated head to toe with his handmade ornaments. I have saved them all, in their macaroni and tinsel glory, writing the year on each one so that Dominick can hand them down to his own children someday. Family traditions are especially important to me—that’s what I like to keep close to heart.
Here’s a recipe from the Indelicato Family: