When Dario Sattui re-launched V. Sattui Winery in March 1976, it was the realization of a life-long dream that continues today as he celebrates 40 years in the business.
Sattui's great-grandfather, Vittorio Sattui, originally started V. Sattui Winery in 1885 in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood. Sattui purchased grapes from St. Helena, the same town where V. Sattui Winery stands today. Sattui was forced to close his winery in 1920 when Prohibition became law.
V. Sattui Winery was the 46th winery to open in the Napa Valley after the repeal of Prohibition.
Dario Sattui grew up listening to his relatives reminisce about the family winery, showing him old photos and artifacts. He dreamed of one day resurrecting the business. That day came on March 4, 1976.
"I was really nervous," Sattui said. "My wife at the time thought opening a winery was a crazy idea. I was optimistic. I knew I was willing to work hard, and I was determined to reopen my family’s winery. We made $141 in nine hours on that first day. We collected the money in a wooden box since we didn’t even have a cash register. I started to think maybe my wife was right."
But Dario persisted. At the end of the first year, he’d sold 1800 cases of wine, and made a small profit. From the beginning, Dario and his employees watched every penny.
"You name it, we didn’t have it," says Tom Davies, who was hired in 1980 as one of the first 10 employees at the winery. Today, he is the president and a co-owner of V. Sattui. "When we used the phone to contact vendors, we called them collect. We used pitch forks to move our grapes from the gondola into the hopper during harvest. We didn’t have equipment for that."
The fledgling winery crew even corked and labeled their early vintage bottles of wine by hand using a rented hand bottler and a 90-year-old corking machine that belonged to Vittorio Sattui.
Although budgets were tight, Davies recalls it was a thrilling time to be at V. Sattui and in the wine industry.
"I wanted to be in the wine business, and it was exciting! Any given day we were doing something different, and we were learning as we were doing it. There was a lot of innovation and we were pioneers. We had to be."
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That innovation led to V. Sattui being the first winery to sell 100 percent of its wine directly to consumers, a practice that continues today. It was also the first winery to offer wine futures, and create a Italian deli with picnic grounds where wine and food could be enjoyed with friends. V. Sattui was one of the first to create a wine club and host events for members.
Innovation and hard work led to success. In 1983, V. Sattui won its first medal, a bronze, for a chardonnay.
"I was the winemaker, and I wasn’t a very good one," says Dario. "I couldn’t afford a winemaker, so I learned from my mistakes, and got help from people along the way. I was elated when we won that bronze medal."
The medals kept coming, and by 1990 Dario promoted Rick Rosenbrand, whose father was a winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyard, to winemaker.
In 2006, Brooks Painter was hired as winemaker and continues his reign today, making 60 different wines. Recently V. Sattui's 2014 Los Carneros Chardonnay received a 92-point score from the Wine Spectator and won the Sweepstakes for White Wines at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition.
The San Francisco Chronicle Competition also awarded V. Sattui two "Best of Class" categories, 4 Double Gold medals, and 11 Gold medals.
Sattui and Davies said they plan for V. Sattui Winery to persevere in making the best wines possible, and continue to create a great experience for guests sharing the wines and house-made foods in a warm, unpretentious atmosphere.
In 2016, look for new experiences like First Friday Tastings in the winery's Cellar Club, where members and guests may taste featured flights of wines the first Friday of each month. Visitors can also learn how wine and food complement each other in V. Sattui’s Weekend Wine & Food Pairings.
This summer, Gourmet Pizza Nights with Italian Michelin-star chef, Stefano Masanti, will bring an authentic taste of pizza, made with unique flours and ingredients, paired with V. Sattui wine.
V. Sattui Winery is located on a 38-acre estate in the center of the Napa Valley, along Highway 29 (at White Lane) in St. Helena. The winery welcomes visitors daily for wine tastings between 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily (9 a.m.-5 p.m. during the winter months), as well as barbecue on weekends in the warmer months of the year. Information for V. Sattui Winery is available at www.vsattui.com or 707-963-7774.