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Napa Valley's Castello di Amorosa returns its $1.2 million COVID-19 relief loan
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Wine Industry

Napa Valley's Castello di Amorosa returns its $1.2 million COVID-19 relief loan

From the Coronavirus roundup from the Napa Valley Register, St. Helena Star, and The Weekly Calistogan series
Dario Sattui Castello

Dario Sattui, owner of Castello di Amorosa, at an event at the winery in 2017. Sattui has said he will return the entirety of his $1.2 million PPP loan in the hopes the money will be granted to small business owners in greater need of the funds.

Castello di Amorosa will return a $1.2 million dollar loan it received from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), the winery announced.

Several other companies have made headlines for returning their loans; Shake Shack, the New York-based restaurant chain, announced earlier this week it would return $10 million it had received through the program, and Ruth’s Chris Steak House on Thursday announced it would do the same amid public backlash.

But Castello di Amorosa – perhaps better known to the public as “the Castle,” as founder Dario Sattui calls it – is not a publicly owned company, nor was it necessarily granted the funds through loopholes in the wording of the bill.

The company has 135 employees, Sattui said in an interview, and a staggering majority of its wine sales are on premise; Castello di Amorosa doesn’t work with restaurants, and its labels aren’t available on grocery store shelves.

The winery has been “devastated” by the closure of its tasting rooms, which regularly host streams of eager tourists, especially in the spring and summer months. But, Sattui said, the business is well-positioned enough that it’s not at risk of closing immediately as businesses smaller and less profitable than his might be.

“There are businesses struggling to stay afloat before this happened,” Sattui added. “They work hard and they earn a living – no profit, or very little profit – and now they’re devastated. They may go bankrupt.”

And so he returned the loan to his bank.

The decision to turn the loan back was a difficult one, Sattui said. Thirty-five percent of his workforce staffs the now-closed tasting room; many of them are currently furloughed without pay, though the winery did give employees bonuses and encourage them to use accumulated sick days and vacation time to make ends meet until they could receive unemployment.

Both Castello di Amorosa and V. Sattui Winery, a winery Sattui founded but is “basically retired from,” contributed something like $100,000 toward an effort to help employees make ends meet until they could receive unemployment.

Sattui said he did consider his employees before he returned the loan – that he might be able to bring some of the furloughed workers back – but hearing that the fund had been depleted before thousands of needy businesses had been able to access it cemented his decision.

The winery had paid employee’s insurance through the end of April, he said, adding in a followup interview that he had decided mid-day Friday to pay the entirety of his furloughed employees’ insurance through the end of May.

“We’re hoping to bring them all back when this crisis is over,” he said. “I feel we made the right decision.”

In a related development, V. Sattui, that winery that Sattui founded and still has an ownership stake in, initially applied for a loan from the PPP, but never received its requested funds – and won’t be reapplying, according to President and part-owner Tom Davies.

“In the very beginning when the loans were announced, everyone was really nervous about what the future held,” Davies said. He saw a chance to bring V. Sattui’s 80-something employees out of furlough, getting them off unemployment and helping stabilize their finances. The purpose of the program is great, he added.

The winery ultimately did not receive a loan, he said. And then Davies began hearing talk of the other businesses that had not gotten loans, either, and were finding themselves in dire straits.

“I thought, well, boy – there’s no way we’re deserving of that loan when so many other companies need it to stay afloat, and that’s not the case for us,” Davies said. He decided not to reapply.

The government on Thursday announced an additional $310 billion to replenish the PPP. The Small Business Administration the same day issued an advisory (following Sattui’s decision) asking businesses who had received a loan but could not prove their immediate need for funds to return the money they’d been granted by May 7. The terms of the loan require that companies prove they cannot receive other lines of capital before they’re made eligible.

“I’m hopeful those funds will go back into the pot, so that others that really need it will have a chance to secure a loan,” Sattui said. “Possibly this will serve as a precedent, and encourage others who don’t need the funds to do the same.”

Editor’s note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to all online readers. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit napavalleyregister.com/members/join/

You can reach Sarah Klearman at (707) 256-2213 or sklearman@napanews.com.

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Wine Industry Reporter

Wine industry reporter at the Napa Valley Register.

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