Former Mayor of Lakewood Ron Piazza Introduces His Brand New Winery in Santa Ynez
By John Grossi
Great grapes make a great glass of wine. A good story makes it even better. Piazza Family Wines has both.
Ron Piazza’s latest overnight success resembles his earlier achievements in that those also didn’t exactly happen overnight. If you’re not familiar with Ron Piazza, his footmark is all over the Greater Long Beach area, especially in Lakewood where he lives.
When Ron was 15 years old and growing up in Lakewood, he got a part-time job grilling burgers at McDonald’s. It paid $1/hour, which he used to help out his family. Ron stayed at that job, where he worked and worked until eventually moving up the ranks to attain the position of supervisor and then store manager.
Ron’s persistence, hard work, and thrift (ability to save money) paid off in a big way when he was able to purchase that McDonald’s franchise as a young man still in his twenties. From that auspicious start, Ron expanded his business for decades, eventually owning [close to] a dozen McDonald’s franchises around his hometown of Lakewood, as well as to other ventures.
The success of Ron’s businesses always centered around his dual goals of 1) providing the best service and products to his customers; while 2) mentoring and supporting his employees, proving that if they worked hard they would be promoted, just like he was.
Along with Ron’s ever-expanding restaurant empire came a deep sense and purpose in giving back. Piazza’s unwavering support is one of the major reasons Long Beach Memorial has a Ronald McDonald House – a place where families of terminally ill children can stay free of charge while their child receives medical treatment. He not only made generous donations toward establishing the house, which opened in December 2011, but still today works hands-on with the home, regularly visiting with the families staying there and offering his help during their time of need.
Ron’s dedication to his life-long hometown of Lakewood runs even deeper. He has transformed the McDonald’s at the corner of Palos Verde and Del Amo Blvds into a Lakewood Sports Hall of Fame promoting the athletic achievements of the city’s youth. He also served on countless boards throughout the region including being elected Councilman and eventually Mayor of Lakewood.
Ron’s story is truly amazing – having come from nothing and having done so much. Many articles could be written about his dedication to Lakewood.
But this article is about Piazza’s next step - a step outside the familiar environs of Lakewood. Ron has established a winery and vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley.
Ron and wife Nancy started growing grapes way back in the 1980’s. The wine growing began as a hobby into which they ventured with a close friend. At the time, the Santa Ynez region had not exploded into the wine country it is known as today, but Ron was discovering for himself the region’s capabilities.
One day, he read an article in the Press Telegram about a group of Carmelite Nuns who were selling their property on Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach in the hope of moving their monastery to the Santa Ynez Valley. The only problem was that, according to law, they had to grow a product if they wanted to occupy the land, as it was reserved for agriculture.
Ron struck a deal with those nuns, agreeing to be the grape grower for their monastery. Together they founded Mount Carmel, a slice of grape-growing heaven now renowned across California for producing some of the finest Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes in the region.
For decades, even while running his McDonald’s franchises and various philanthropic ventures around Long Beach and Lakewood, Piazza was also producing grapes for some of the top winemakers in California. Always Pinots and Chardonnays - Mount Carmel was soon famous for its superior growing conditions.
Around 2012, Ron and Nancy decided they wanted to start making their own wines. Thus was launched Mail Road Wines, a small wine growing facility at the edge of “Mail Road” in Santa Barbara County, a winery that makes an exquisite batch of fine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay each year. Mail Road Wines retail for $100 per bottle and they sell out each year.
While Ron is still a partner at Mail Road Wines and still owns the Mount Carmel brand, that was not his ultimate vision.
Ron’s love for wine stems from his Italian roots. He fondly remembers Sunday night family dinners - his grandfather enjoying a glass of wine with the traditional Italian pasta, regaling them all with his stories from the past. Everything Ron’s whole life long has been about hands-on involvement accessible to all. He dreamt of a vineyard next to a winery with a home he and Nancy could enjoy on retreats away, but a place that could provide wine for both his Lakewood neighbors and friends of all backgrounds.
The Piazzas searched until they found the perfect vineyard. After three years of laying groundwork- finding the right varietals and a renowned regional winemaker, upgrading all the equipment on the property, and - as of this year in 2021 - producing their first wine, Piazza Family Vineyards is proud to broadcast their product to the world. Or at least the region for now.
Your Glass Awaits
If you plan to visit the area, you can now taste Piazza Family Wines at a tasting room in Solvang called Clean Slate. In the future Piazza Family Wines may have their own tasting room, but for now, partnering with Clean Slate makes a lot of sense for their wine brand.
For those staying local to the Long Beach and Lakewood area, stop by Foggia Italian Deli, the exclusive Long Beach/Lakewood retailer of Piazza Family Wines. The family owned deli has graciously agreed to provide Piazza Family Wine’s broad selection available for retail at their store on the corner of Bellflower and Del Amo.
Our magazine is proud to introduce you to some of the best grapes in California, combined with one of the best local stories we know. We raise our glass to Ron and Nancy Piazza for everything they’ve done locally, and for everything they’re doing just a sip away.
Current offerings from Piazza Family Wines include:
2019 Carbonic Graciano: $30
2019 Estate Grenache: $38
2018 Pinot Noir: $48
2018 Estate Graciano $42
2018 Nancy’s Vuvee $42
2018 Reserve Syrah $75
Follow piazzafamilywines.com for more info!