Monday, March 29, 2010

The Sattui Wine Family Celebrates 125 years in America

March 25,2010

By John M. Olney
(photo’s by John Olney except where acknowledged)

Copyright, all rights reserved by
Wine Country Marketing and Promotions,
1370 Trancas St., #409, Napa, CA 94558
Phone: 707-299-9548

Dario Sattui sits to on the left hand seat of the Napa Valley wine industry seesaw while Robert Mondavi held the right hand seat with Napa Valley at the fulcrum.  Both men shared one major theme in their approach to wine, food and life and that is that they are passionate in their beliefs and never ceasing goal to offer that pleasure to their followers - their consumers. The fundamental difference between the two men is their perspective as to who the wine consumer is.

If you had been fortunate enough to be included in the V. Sattui media and industry related groups to celebrate the 125th year of the Sattui Family, you would have witnessed a man speaking with immense enthusiasm, joy and passion about producing wine. But that is not the only passion he expresses. He spoke in terms of food and the simple enjoyment of company with whom to share these pleasures. In his exuberant presentation of his philosophy, he made a very simple comparison between the right hand seesaw rider and his left hand approach and I quote, "While they post signs 'Keep off the Grass,’ we at Sattui encourage all to sit, stand, sprawl, and picnic on the lawn!’ Dario went on to say, “We are certainly interested in making money but that is not our only objective. We want our consumers to enjoy both our facilities and themselves.”

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up and report on the media/trade event 125 years since they first started wine production in San Francisco (1885) and then followed that with a resurrection of wine production in Napa Valley, California (1976).

The North Beach Restaurant (Click here for full details: ), located near the corner intersection of Columbus, Green and Stockton, was only a couple blocks away from Dario’s Great Grandfather’s original winery site back in 1885, which was our meeting place at high noon. Here is what “Open Table” has to say:

“Since 1970, the North Beach Restaurant has been renowned as San Francisco's #1 Italian Restaurant for its Tuscan culinary excellence, relaxed ambiance, warm hospitality, and great service by Bay area families, tourists, romantics, conventioneers, business managers, politicians, sports celebrities, and movie stars!”
We were seated in the downstairs banquet room; about 60 of us representing just about every form of media outlet to the consuming public; magazine and newspaper columnists, TV/radio, bloggers, twitters and all the rest of the social media communications links as well as in-the-trade representatives.

I arrived a few minutes after noon and was among the first about 20 guests milling around after Pat Krueger, Sattui’s VP of Sales & Public Affairs, escorted me to my seat located among Veronica Stone (District Director, State Assembly Member Noreen Evan’s office ) on my right, and Tom Luther, (former owner of Food and Beverage Magazine) on my left. Across the table from me were Robert O’Malley (Vice President at V. Sattui) and Eric Christoffersen (Executive Director of “The Mint Project.” Click here for details:

I started looking at the extensive media package when I noticed that there were pictures hanging in front of the wine racks behind the seats and tables and my curiosity required me to go look at then. Click here to view the picture: . They were all of the San Francisco winery operations and are presented herein courtesy of V. Sattui Winery and family.

Dario called the group to order and then provided an outline of the speakers who would fill us in on the celebration of 125 years and their knowledge of Dario in relation to the wine industry. He then introduced his President of V. Sattui operations, Tom C. Davies.

Following his opening remarks, Tom introduced Francis Tsang, community liaison for Mayor Gavin Newsom, who read and presented Dario with a proclamation dedicating March 25, 2010 as “V. Sattui Day.”

This was followed by the introduction of Professor Victor W. Geraci, Ph. D. Author, Food and Wine Historian, from the Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley (Click here for background: ) , who provided us all with a presentation that featured the importance of the Italians who had migrated to America, specifically California, and their impact on the wine industry.

While he spoke, we were treated to a magnificent lunch accompanied by five fabulous V. Sattui wines as described here:  

The beginning portion of Dr. Geraci’s presentation was most interesting but this speaker was difficult to hear for many attendees seated towards the back of the long tables stretching the length of the room. Consequently many of those distant from the speaker broke off in side conversations. I however, was close enough to be able to pay attention to his excellent historical and statistical review of the Italians and their contributions. This was easier for me than most because I am a student of the history of wine in America, particularly California and especially Napa Valley. But, it may have been a little too technical for many others in attendance. From my standpoint, I hope to contact the Professor and try to obtain a copy of his verbal and slide presentation for future reference purposes.

The Professor was followed by another Proclamation presentation and this time it came from the office of the State Assembly and was presented by Laurie Puzo, (Field Representative/Principal Consultant, Select Committee on Wine) representing Assembly Member, Noreen Evans (7th District - encompassing Napa Valley)

Speaking next was the genius behind the creation of the modern day Sattui wine production empire, Dario Sattui. In only a style that fits Dario very well, he carefully laid out the chronological history of the Sattui Family’s arrival in American 125 years ago and their start up in the wine industry. (Click here: ). His great grandfather used grapes from the St. Helena area in the production of his wines.

St. Helena Wine Cellars at 722 Montgomery (now Columbus Avenue),
North Beach, S.F., 1899 (Photo courtesy of V. Sattui)

What I particularly appreciated about Dario’s team preparation for our time with him, was the inclusion of a detailed paper document (12 pages) in the media package. It essentially provided the story in the same detail as he verbalized, but for obvious reasons wasn’t nearly as interesting as to hear his enthusiasm and passion through his voice inflection and intensity as he described his drive to build his dream winery. Click here for the web site:

Dario was not afraid to talk about how he recognized that his peers doubted his potential for success. Nor did he shy aware from describing how he made huge personal sacrifices to accomplish his dream, including the toll it took on his family life. In those early years he was a man driven with a goal and the issue of money was just not going to stop him. I could go on and on about this drive but suffice it to say, Dario’s dedication, enthusiasm and sincere effort to please his visitors is obviously carried over to his staff as can been seen when one tours the V. Sattui winery, deli and picnic site. It is no wonder the winery is so popular. As just one example, click here to follow a tour I recently gave on the property:

As if the building and nurturing of the V. Sattui Winery complex wasn’t enough to ware down most individuals, he then undertook one heck of an ambitious project: The creation of Castello di Amorosa or as tourists and local alike simply call it, “THE Castle,” and all know exactly what they are talking about. Click here:

The property that Dario purchased on which to locate his castle has a rich historical background.   It was originally owned by William H. Nash,   His property was commonly known as "Walnut Grove," named for the imported British walnut trees he grew.  Nash constructed the first schoolhouse in Napa County and it was only the second in the entire state in 1847.  He became a substantial member of the community with one of the larger estates of the times with the mansion (Now the Dario and Yana Albert-Sattui home) containing 10.000 sqft, with a wrap-around veranda of 1,800 sqft.

It is on this veranda where I spent just about two hours back in November 2009   interviewing Dario for my forthcoming book, "The Innovators and Pacestters of the Modern NV Wine Industry." (Click here for an overview:

Nash made a small quantity of wine and it is possible that it was produced and cellared in the small brick building on the property as mentioned by Dario.  But it is more likely that the building was constructed under the Shramp Brothers tenure. I'm still researching this information.  Nash sold the property circa 1870 to the Shramp Brothers who greatly expanded the wine production. and the home was renamed "Maplewood."  The history is scant after this exchange.

When I arrived in Napa in 1985, the estate was named "St. Michael's Villa." 

Enough on that  early history!;  Now back to the Sattui media luncheon presentations.

The final speaker was John A. De Luca, Ph.D. Former President and CEO of The Wine Institute, former San Francisco deputy mayor, and currently he serves as Special Advisor to the Gallo Family as well as chairman of the Board of Directors for the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at UC San Francisco. ( click here for his complete background: These positions are just a couple of his many hats.

Dr. De Luca provided the attendees with a number of interesting highlights of his association to Dario over the years, the impact of the Italians on the California Wine Industry and perspectives of the future of the industry on the whole. A truly remarkable gentleman with an extensive knowledge of the wine industry particularly from the perspecttive of once heading up the largest and strongest wine advocacy trade association in probaly all of America. If there is anybody who should unanimously be installed in the California Vintners Hall of Fame, located and sponored by the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), it is this gentleman.

The final reward of the media briefing was a walk with Dario up the street from the restaurant to visit the location of the original V. Sattui Winery. Dario, in all his tall, lanky figure, with long strides which I could barely keep up with, mesmerized his entourage of about 25 attendees with quips and comments. People along the sidewalk cafes and shops, and business people and local residents who were walking to from work or shopping watched us with question while we attentatively gathered in the comments of the man. We were with the Pied Piper of Wine.

As we were returning to the restaurant. I got a chance to sneak in next to Dario and ask a question; “So, Dario, now that you are obviously successful with both Napa Valley wineries, where are you going to build your next?”

Dario, looking way down at me while placing his hand on my shoulder, responded, “Well, John, I don’t think another winery is in the future. I’m too old now (he is only 68), but another project I might consider.”

I wanted to delve into that comment further but others came up and were quick to ask him their questions.

You know, with all of his talk about and love for Italy, I would not be surprised that we will hear of Dario restoring something in Italy itself.  Perhaps a castle, perhaps something in his father's village, who knows, but for sure, DARIO IS NOT DONE CREATING!

Incidentally, V. Sattui is definitely fully aware of social media propectives. Here are their sites:




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