Family, business and Italian heritage are not separate subjects for Michel Ponzi. They are tightly intertwined as fabric, with the threads of each element crossing each other strongly supporting the life that he knows. Born into a first-generation American-Italian family, his old-world, European roots were at the forefront of his upbringing. Michel grew up in a household where the Italian immigrant work ethic met the American possibility. His grandparents sacrificed their own familiar life and culture in Italy in hope of a brighter future in America. Their American born children practiced the importance of hard work and following a dream. Michel’s parents, Dick and Nancy Ponzi, followed their ideals that led them and their young family to Oregon. Michel was only six years old when his parents pursued an idea that had yet to be proven – to grow pinot noir grapes in Oregon and make world-class wines.
In the late 60’s, early 70’s, Oregon was timber country filled with lumberjacks, hunters and farmers, with plenty of property available for purchase. He remembers moving up from Los Gatos, California with his parents and two sisters with adventure on his mind. Through trial and error, like a handful of other wine enthusiasts, his family started a winery. As a boy, he planted sticks in the ground called vines on the rugged property and worked throughout his childhood, pruning vines and picking grapes at harvest. Later in his teenage years he turned to row boss, tractor driver, worked the bottling line as well as complete packaging and product delivery. As an adult, after he had a business degree in hand, it continued to transpire into a lifelong career of developing the family business into a prosperous entity side-by-side with his mother and father Dick and Nancy Ponzi, founders of Ponzi Vineyards and his two sisters, Maria Ponzi, Director of Marketing and Luisa Ponzi, Winemaker. For more information see www.ponziwines.com.
Michel created systems and policies to establish an infrastructure that is used throughout the company and wine industry to this day. As the company grew, his responsibilities expanded. Daily accounting operations, liability insurance, human resources and technology development soon made room for legal compliance and operational strategy as the company and wine industry exploded with growth once word was out that Pinot grapes loved Oregon rain, sun and soil. Michel found and negotiated the acquisition of property and secured expansion financing for the winery’s latest growth spurt showcasing a new tasting room with nearly a 360 view of the Willamette Valley and Cascade Range as well as new administration offices. Within the 43 years of its existence, Ponzi Vineyards grew from a hobby, garage based winery into a state of the art production facility producing more than 40,000 cases annually.
In between the multiple decades of building the Ponzi brand and business, Michel also oversaw the daily operations and management and eventually the sale of the Ponzi family owned enterprise and Oregon’s oldest microbrewery, Bridgeport Brewing. In addition, he implemented and oversaw for several years all systems, financials and human resources activities for another family venture called The Dundee Bistro, a restaurant located in the heart of wine country to complement their second tasting room, the Ponzi Wine Bar, in 1999. For more information see www.ponziwinebar.com www.dundeebistro.com www.bridgeportbrew.com.
As of January 2013, Michel decided to step down as C.E.O. of Ponzi Vineyards to spend more time with his wife and two sons and to pursue other business ventures in hope to bridge his Italian life with his American one through the development of a new brand of Italian olive oil, Casal Cristiana. He currently lives in Porto San Giorgio, Italy, about an hour away from the Ponzi family Italian origins.
“Growing up with Italian grandparents, I feel as though I am taking my family heritage full circle. I can’t think of a better place to enrich the lives of my children, to live a creative life and most importantly, to truly know my roots as it is the core to all the decisions I make.“