Sonoma’s Willie Bird Turkeys sold to California poultry firm Diestel Family Farms

The Schellville plant closed and the 7.5-acre property is vacant.|

Sonoma Valley lost one of its iconic agricultural businesses earlier this summer when Willie Bird Turkeys was sold to Diestel Family Ranch of Sonora for an undisclosed price.

Willie Bird’s processing plant in Schellville has closed, and the once-bustling 7.5-acre property is now vacant. The site was not part of the sale.

While the plant is closed, Heidi Diestel said that the decision to cease operations there was not made by the Diestel family and she is not aware of the Benedetti family plans for it. Attempts to reach the Benedetti family were not successful.

“I picked up my last order in Schellville after 32 years on Monday with tears in my eyes,” said Sonoma chef Sheana Davis, who sells prepared dishes made with Willie Bird smoked turkey and smoked duck at her Epicurean Connection. “It’s the end of an era.”

A fourth-generation rancher, Willie Benedetti began selling Willie Bird Turkeys in 1963 at age 14. As family lore goes, he raised 500 turkeys as part of a Future Farmers of America project while a freshman at Sonoma Valley High School. He graduated from high school in 1967, and then attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Benedetti died in 2018 at age 69.

In its heyday, the poultry farm raised 85,000 turkeys a year, most on a 400-acre ranch just east of Santa Rosa. One longtime customer Chuck Williams of Williams-Sonoma recalled going to the Schellville plant to select the holiday turkeys sold by his company.

Heidi Diestel said her family and the Benedettis are longtime friends and she described the two companies as having similar business styles.

“Over the years, we have shared our admiration for Willie's masterful smoking ways,” Diestel said. “After he passed, we expressed our condolences and kept in touch with the family, letting them know that we'd be honored to acquire the brand and keep Willie's legacy alive.”

Founded in 1949, Diestel is one of the most recognizable natural-raised turkey brands in the U.S. Willie Bird turkeys, smoked duck and other poultry offerings will continue to be sold with the Willie Bird brand name, under the Diestel umbrella.

“From one farming family to another, we take pride in the opportunity to keep his legacy alive and honor Willie by supplying his loyal following with exceptional bacon, deli meats, smoked chicken and smoked duck,” Diestel said.

A staff member at the Schellville smoking, trimming and packing plant, which had been in operation for 50 years, said Willie Bird’s employees all had been offered jobs at Diestel operations in Tuolumne, a fact confirmed by Heidi Diestel. Most chose to stay in Sonoma County and have found other work.

As for Willie Bird’s Restaurant in Santa Rosa, it was sold by the Benedetti family in 2019 and is now operating as the Bird.

The Willie Bird retail store and deli on Sebastopol Road in Santa Rosa is being operated by Diestel, with help from some longtime Willie Bird employees.

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