Would the headline “A Old Man Foully Murdered” ruin your glass of Zinfandel?
Rising above the fog as it rolls in from the Pacific Ocean is the coastal wilderness of the Mendocino Ridge AVA region, just two and a half hours north of San Francisco.
Much of the Mendocino Ridge AVA, which encompasses over 87,000 acres, is far too steep and rugged to be farmed. It’s estimated only 2000 acres of the ridges are suitable for grape production. But that doesn’t stop the local vignerons from braving the rugged terrain of the Mendocino Coast.
Today, these coastal mountains are made up of 15 vineyards, four wineries, and one murder most foul.
“An Old Man Foully Murdered” appeared in the local newspaper on January 6, 1911, to a shocked community. The “old man” of this tragic tale was Joseph Cooper, a 70-year-old “inoffensive” man who had been dismembered and badly burned. The reason behind his gruesome death was a mystery until the police decided to visit a nearby cabin belonging to Peter Gianoli. There, they found Cooper’s coat with money still in the pocket, and Gianoli, sipping wine from a carboy he had taken from Joseph Cooper.
The stolen wine was enough to convince the police of Gianoli’s guilt, but not quite enough for a judge. Due to a lack of DNA evidence at the turn of the 20th Century, there was no proof that the bones belonged to Cooper. And so Gianoli was acquitted.
Luckily for Cooper’s memory, Gianoli didn’t get off that easy. After he began threatening his neighbors who testified against him, he was rearrested and committed to the Mendocino State Asylum for the Insane for six years.
No one knows what became of Peter Gianoli after his release, but his presence can still be felt on the ridge even 100 years later…
Learn more about Murder Ridge Winery’s haunting in The Spirit Guide: America’s Haunted Breweries, Distilleries, and Wineries coming July 2020!
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