Skip to main content

- Advertisement -

Bobby Bianco had a lifelong love affair with the produce industry

By
Tim Linden

Speaking about the career of recently deceased Robert “Bobby” Bianco, Dominic “Cookie” Bianco repeatedly connected the two with the same phrase: “Bobby was a great brother and a great partner.”

Bobby Bianco
Bobby Bianco with his father, Anthony.

Cookie, who was eight years older than Bobby, clearly took him under his wing more than a half century ago as Bobby was starting his farming career. Cookie cherished the big brother/little brother relationship for each of those years. This tribute is about Bobby, but the business and personal relationship was so intertwined that it is necessarily a tribute to a resilient grape growing family.

Bobby Bianco was born March 16, 1942, in The Bronx, NY, to Anthony and Rosa Bianco. The youngest of eight children, he made the family a perfect match of four boys and four girls. When he was still an infant, the entire Bianco family moved to California, settling in Fresno. His father and older brothers got into the growing business, initially farming in the San Joaquin Valley and establishing the Bianco Fruit Corp. Cookie, who was born in 1934, remembers working as a teenager, and establishing a grape vineyard in the Coachella Valley in the early 1950s.

His father, he said, had the vison of having a geographically diverse farming company with operations in Fresno, Bakersfield and Coachella in California and a fourth operation in Phoenix, AZ. He wanted each of his four sons to move to one of those cities and run that operation. The goal wasn’t quite achieved, but it was that family dynamic that pre-ordained Bobby Bianco’s career.

After graduating from Bullard High School in Fresno, Bianco continued his education at the University of Notre Dame where he received a bachelor’s of business administration with a concentration in finance, in 1965. He then served about five years in United States Army National Guard in California, mainly stationed at Fort Ord.

bobby cookie
Dominic “Cookie” Bianco and Robert “Bobby” Bianco.

As Bianco exited the Army, the Bianco Fruit Corp. was going through hard times. The family lost control of the company and basically lost everything they had. Anthony Bianco and his sons pooled their resources, bought a piece of land and began farming under the moniker Anthony Vineyards in tribute to the patriarch. Cookie Bianco recalled that he managed the operation, but no one took a salary. They all had other jobs and invested the profits from their initial grape crop back into the land.

Out of the service, Bobby Bianco moved to Coachella and began working for another grape grower. As time went by, one brother tragically died, and another wasn’t an active participant in the operation. In the early 1970s, Anthony Vineyards continued to expand from its 160-acre beginnings with Cookie and Bobby being the active family partners. Cookie set up his own company, Produce Dynamics, with Howard Marguleas as a silent financial partner. By the mid-1970s, Marguleas, Carl Sam Maggio and Cookie Bianco launched Sun World, with Cookie being the third largest shareholder, albeit quite smaller than the other two. He soon brought Bobby into the Sun World family and Anthony Vineyards continued to add to its acreage in both the San Joaquin Valley and the Coachella area. Bobby ran the Coachella Valley vineyards while Cookie was in charge of the Bakersfield operation. For many years, both brothers held executive positions at Sun World, while continuing to expand the Anthony Vineyards farming footprint.

Anthony Vineyards became Sun World’s largest grape grower and one of the world’s leading table grape growers. In 1994, the Biancos left Sun World and expanded Anthony Vineyards into a fully-integrated company with a sales and shipping department. The company has continued to expand and now includes nearly 10,000 acres of organic and conventional table grapes, dates, citrus and peppers. Additionally, they have partnered with Prime Time International since its initial founding, and they are co-owners of SunDate, both in Coachella, CA.

For the past 50 years, Bobby Bianco was an icon in the Coachella Valley. The company has employed thousands of farmworkers over the past 50 years, providing opportunities to support the economic growth of the Coachella Valley. Cookie said Bobby was a hands-on farmer who enjoyed getting down in the dirt.

bobby and wife
Bobby and his wife, Harlene.

“He was a magnificent grower. He was like a chef,” Cookie Bianco added, speaking to the recipe Bobby created for success as a grower.

Bobby Bianco was instrumental in the development and expansion of the Red Flame Seedless grape. This new grape variety came to its prominence in the mid-1970s. Prior to its release, most of the grape varieties contained seeds. The Red Flame Seedless was a major advancement in the evolution of the grape industry. Grape growers from around the world came to the Coachella Valley to learn about this new grape variety, and Bobby was more than pleased to share his knowledge and experience. Cookie said Bobby helped perfect the growing of the new variety while Howard Marguleas tirelessly merchandised the new grape variety and created a market for it.

The company’s official obituary called Bobby Bianco “a powerful leader and a talented mentor. His decades of hard work, dedication and passion for both Anthony Vineyards and the grape industry will never be forgotten. His ability to devote himself not only to his work life but to make his family a priority serves as an inspiration to everyone who knew him.”

Bobby Bianco was a longtime member of the boards for the California Table Grape Commission and the California Grape and Tree Fruit League. In addition, he was president of the California Desert Grape Administrative Committee and also served as chairman and director of American AgCredit Bank for 15 years. He was a well-known philanthropist in the desert and was most heavily involved with the Boys and Girls Club of Coachella Valley. Bianco became a member of the board of directors in 1974. He increased his support by continued service on the board up until the time of his death. He also served on the Southwestern Growers Golf Committee, which in 2018 awarded him the inaugural Friend of the Southwestern Growers Award.

He was heavily involved with other local charities including YMCA, Big Brothers Little Sisters of the Desert, and Desert Arc among others. He also took great pride in his Catholic upbringing and faith. Throughout the years Bianco supported the creation and/or expansion of several Catholic schools and churches in the area and was always proud of his Notre Dame affiliation. 

“He very much enjoyed Notre Dame. He graduated from there and so did his daughter,” said Cookie. “He would go to three or four football games a year.” Recently, Bobby and Notre Dame established the Bobby & Harlene Bianco Grant in Aid, which is an annual scholarship awarded to a football player who comes from a farming family.

He was also an avid and very successful golfer. A week before his untimely death, Cookie relayed that Bobby and his golf partner came in third in his country club championship tournament.

Bobby was devoted to his family, including his recently deceased wife, Harlene, and his son, Anthony, and daughter, Francesca Gist, as well as his many grandchildren. While Francesca followed his footsteps to Notre Dame, Anthony has followed his lead in the vineyards and currently oversees Anthony Vineyards’ Coachella operation.

 

Tagged in:

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -

- Advertisement -