JEFF BENZIGER/209 Business Journal
Former Assemblyman Bill Berryhill of Ceres is well known in the Valley
and is enjoying his new role as wine maker.
The long-time wine grape grower enjoys politics but prefers being in the seat of a tractor compared to being on the floor of the state Assembly.

Many passions define William Ronald “Bill” Berryhill, 61, and often they’ve run in seasons.

The son of legendary state Food and Agriculture Director Clare Berryhill, Berryhill is a former California State Assemblyman, accomplished water color artist and successful wine grape grower.

Today, his current passion lies in promoting his new wine. As a fourth-generation grape grower, Berryhill said it was time to “take things to the next level” in a very competitive industry. In the past, about 90 percent of Berryhill’s grapes were going to the Woodbridge Winery started by Mondovi in Acampo. About 20 years ago Bill and wife Triana bought a ranch in Clements to grow grapes for others. They still do but recently they decided to keep their operation sustainable by creating their own label. Berryhill pulls some of his stock to be processed as wine at Bob Colarossi’s Estate Crush, a custom Lodi wine press while his first-ever batch of Chardonnay was processed at a Ukiah crush facility.

Using 2016 crops, the Berryhills bottled red wines for the first time this past summer – Merlots, Zinfandels and Cabernet Sauvignons. They also produce a Sauvignon Blanc and a Chardonnay. The labels on Berryhill’s bottles feature artwork from family members – including watercolor ducks accomplished by Bill and flowers painted by his great aunt Edith – as well as a short tribute to his father, the late Clare Berryhill.

He has been pleased with the reception in the world of wine. His chardonnay was rated a 90 by Wine Enthusiasts magazine and a 91-rating attached to its Sauvignon Blanc.

Right now, the Berryhills are knocking on a lot of doors to get the label promoted.

“It’s not all that different than politics,” said Berryhill.

The wine is sold at about 40 venues, including Save Mart in Ceres, O’Brien’s Markets in Modesto and Riverbank and Village Fresh Market in Turlock. The wines are served at Centre Street Grill and Bistro 234 in Turlock.

For a season Bill’s life was all about politics. Born March 18, 1958 at Memorial Hospital Ceres to Clare and Maryellen Berryhill, Bill grew up fascinated by his father’s political involvement as he served in the California State Assembly and Senate before being appointed as secretary of the Department of Food and Agriculture.

“I think it would be really hard for a kid if they didn’t enjoy politics. I enjoyed it and I enjoyed the time, particularly when he was in the Senate. I missed him as my baseball coach … when he was in the Assembly in the early years. I didn’t have the luxury of having my dad around when I was going through Little League where he coached my brother. But I did enjoy the political side.”

Bill was the youngest of five children. The oldest, Betsy Berryhill, a 1969 graduate of Ceres High School, did some stage acting and appeared uncredited in two films. Tom Berryhill, a 1972 CHS graduate who was in state politics and now a member of the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors, was second. Next came Lynn Berryhill Trio, a 1973 graduate of CHS who died of cancer in 2018. Janie Berryhill, the fourth, graduated CHS in 1974.

In 1978 Bill and Tom partnered to own and operate BB Vineyards. Bill was president of Berryhill Orchards. Determined to not always answer to Tom, Bill worked decided to take ag business courses at Butte College in Oroville in 1980. While there he got involved in student government and became politically interested. Bill became a page at the 1980 Republican National Convention in Detroit which nominated Ronald Reagan for the presidency.

“I still get tingles when I think about it.”

Bill served as the chairman of the Stanislaus County Young Republicans from 1984 to 1986.

Tom and Bill pressured their dad – who was in his 60s at the time – into running for the 1989 special election to fill Tony Coelho’s unexpired Congressional term – an election lost to Gary Condit.

“He didn’t really want to do that at all but the party pressured him. Tom and me pressured him badly.”

Bill’s first run at elective office was for the Ceres Unified School District Board of Trustees in 1996. He served until 2007.

“It was my best years in politics.”

Bill Berryhill represented the 26th district in the California State Assembly from Dec. 1, 2008 to Nov. 30, 2012. During the same time, Tom Berryhill had been serving in the neighboring 25th Assembly District since 2006. The Berryhills were the first brothers to serve concurrently in the California State Legislature in almost 60 years.

The Republican’s exit from the Legislature occurred when he sought the state Senate seat in 2012 and was defeated by Democrat Cathleen Galgiani in a 51 percent to 49 percent margin outcome.

As an outsider now and chairman of the California Association of Wine Grape Growers, Berryhill is watchful of the continual onslaught of bills out of Sacramento which adversely affect his business of growing grapes and making wine.

“They set a new record this year for the number of bills that are proposed,” said Berryhill. “It’s some ridiculous amount. They’re absolutely nuts up there. I am so glad I don’t serve up there right now.”

While he is eligible to run for the state Senate, Berryhill says he has “no desire” to get back into elective politics.

“It’s not my cup of tea, personally. I’d rather be on a tractor. I enjoy the farm and enjoy being back home and enjoy Ceres.”

Berryhill is chairman of the California Association of Wine Grape Growers this year and holds membership in the Lodi Grape Growers Association and the Stanislaus and San Joaquin County Farm Bureaus. He also is a member of the Ceres Lions Club, Ceres Chamber of Commerce and the National Rifle Association (NRA). Berryhill has been a board member on the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, 1992-97. Since 2005 he has served as a board member for the Allied Grape Growers.