Eugene "Gene" Cuneo

Farewell to a long-respected California winemaking pioneer.

January 4, 2007

Eugene "Gene" Cuneo, a pioneering Dry Creek Valley grapegrower whose father, John, planted some of the region's oldest Zinfandel vines, died January 3, at the age of 94.

Cuneo belonged to the generation of Italian-Americans that established Sonoma County as a powerhouse in California viticulture and winemaking. Among the Cuneo family's oldest friends were famous wine names like Seghesio and Foppiano, still heave hitters in the California wine industry.

In 1963, Cuneo co-founded the California North Coast Grape Growers Association, now part of the California Association of Winegrape Growers, the state's leading grapegrowing group. He also was prominent in establishing the North Coast as one of California's earliest American Viticultural Areas. The Cuneo-Saini Vineyard, co-owned with his cousin, Eugene "Si" Siani (who died in October), has long been a respected source of Zinfandel for local wineries, especially Mazzocco.

Although little known to the wine-drinking public, Cuneo was a much loved presence to his peers. "He was one of the great pioneers of our industry," said Pete Seghesio, from Seghesio Winery, in Healdsburg. Seghesio's family bought grapes from Cuneo for decades. "He did so much for Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County and growers."

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