It’s hard to imagine what Napa Valley’s culture, economy and social fabric would look like without the influence of Italian immigrant families going back to the 1870s.
That’s why we’re so excited about the celebration of Italian Heritage Month this October, starting with a big party from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5, at Lyman Park.
The idea originated with Anthony Micheli, whose Italian grandfather bought land on Hudson Avenue in 1918. Micheli has vivid childhood memories of making olive oil, vinegar and wine and butchering poultry on the family property – the daily toils of traditional rural life that often get obscured nowadays behind the glamour of the modern wine industry.
Rightfully proud of his Italian-American heritage, Micheli has spent the last three months devoting his considerable energies to organizing a series of Italian-themed events and asking people to contribute.
He’s been thrilled with the response. More than 20 local Italian-owned wineries will pour on Saturday, and Micheli is encouraging each of them to tell the stories of their Italian-American roots. Sunshine Foods, which never seems to turn down any good cause, is donating a keg of Peroni beer imported from Italy. The St. Helena Rotary Club, St. Helena High School Interact club, Nimbus Arts, and Sons & Daughters of Italy in America are all involved.
As a community, we’ve done a good job celebrating the contributions of Mexican-Americans, but it’s a little bewildering that Italians are only now being recognized. We hope this sparks a trend of other cultures getting their moment in the spotlight. (As Micheli noted, the Chinese who built our railroads and wine caves should be next.)
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Italian Heritage Month actually celebrates two distinct groups: Swiss-Italians (Nichelinis, Salminas, Giugnis, Beltramis, Pestonis, etc.) and Italians (Brovellis, Tripolis, Usibellis, Montellis, and two separate Micheli families).
Mariam Hansen, research director for the St. Helena Historical Society, told us about the substantial contributions those families made to the wine industry – not just the obviously Italian-rooted wineries like Mondavi and Martini, but also ones like Ladera and Markham that were founded by Italians under different names.
A lot of those wineries will pour at Saturday’s event, which also features a 120-pound roast pig, an art project for kids courtesy of Nimbus Arts, music, and food from Sorensen Catering, the Particelli family and Dario Sattui. The festivities start at 10 a.m. with the raising of the Italian flag on the ceremonial flagpole outside City Hall, with Katie Hopgood-Sculatti singing the Italian national anthem.
At Micheli’s insistence, the whole event is completely free, right down to the pair of food trucks that will hand out free food, thanks to generous sponsors.
Italian Heritage Month continues with a $20 spaghetti and meatball feed at the Native Sons Hall on Oct. 12 and a $5 screening of “It Started in Naples” (starring Sophia Loren and Clark Gable) at the Cameo Cinema on Oct. 28.
We applaud Micheli for getting a great idea and then running with it, and we thank the long list of participants and donors for helping him put on the first of what we hope are many celebrations of the Napa Valley’s rich Italian-American heritage.