Part I – Introductions
Vittorio Sattui started his family’s winery in 1885 at 722 Montgomery Street in North Beach, San Francisco’s Italian neighborhood.
Yesterday, Dario Sattui, the great grandson of winery founder Vittorio, filled the Wine Cellar at the North Beach Restaurant to capacity with people to celebrate the 125th anniversary of V. Sattui Winery, as well as share some of the milestone achievements of the winery, all within the context of the enormous importance of Italian family winemaking in America.
Owned by the effusively welcoming Lorenzo Petroni, the North Beach Restaurant has been one of the best Italian restaurants, specializing in Tuscan dishes, since the early ’70’s. The North Beach Restaurant’s Wine Cellar dining room was the perfect place to hold the day’s affair. Heavy white tablecloths and napkins, multiple wine glasses at the ready, holding over 500 wines from the Wine Spectator Top 100 wine list, decorated with framed pictures of iconic San Francisco Italian families (including a great picture from the North Beach V. Sattui cellars), and staffed by black and white clad professional waiters; the location lent weight to the moment we had come to celebrate.
Scheduled events included three speaker, Professor Victor W. Geraci, Ph. D., John A. Deluca, Ph. D., and Dario Sattui himself, a wine reception, and a multi course lunch with paired wines for each course, and an after lunch walk a few blocks to the site of the original winery.
I was in the presence of several notable wine writers including two 2010 Symposium for Profesional Wine Writer Fellowship recipients; as well as Carl Nolte who writes the SF Chronicle’s Native Son column and is maybe San Francisco’s journalistic soul since the passing of Herb Caen.
Arriving a little early, V. Sattui winemaker Brooks Painter, President Tom Davies, and V.P. of Sales and Public Affairs Pat Krueger each personally greeted me with warmth and genuine friendliness.
Carli Rose, V. Sattui Winery Director of Weddings and Special Events, Courtney Mitros, Asst Director of Special Events, and Claudette Shatto, Vice President of Marketing greeted me warmly as well.
The one person I immediately recognized was Danica Sattui who does more Social Media Marketing, and is better at it, than many professionals. Frankly, I was surprised that @DanicaSattui was not also @VSattui1885 on Twitter. It was a pleasure to finally meet Danica in person. I look forward to meeting Nicole Marino, who does handle V. Sattui Winery’s Social Media Marketing one day; V. Sattui Winery’s Social Media Marketing seems to improve in breadth and reach day by day, a genuine testament to Nicole’s dedication to learning and applying each new skill learned in this evolving field of marketing.
A glass of reception 2008 Vittorio’s Vineyard Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc in hand, I made my way to where I would be seated for lunch. I noted that I would be seated with Carl Nolte to my left, and San Francisco Chronicle Editor-in-Chief Ward Bushee to my right. Seated on the other side of Bushee was Bruce Kelley, Editor-in-Chief of the San Francisco Magazine. Seated across from us were Dario Sattui, his wife Yana Albert-Sattui, San Francisco Chronicle President Mark Adkins, and his guest Past President of the University of Southern Mississippi Foundation Melanie Hunsberger.
Fairly amusing to me, I heard a significant accent when speaking with Melanie Hunsberger, her Mississippi accent is sweet Southern music. Dario’s wife Yana comes from a little farther away, the Ukraine, and yet I heard no accent. I only hope my nose for wine is better than my ear for accents. These two women added a healthy dose of grace and beauty to our table.
This is a synthesis of the day’s menu and wine notes provided each guest:
V. SATTUI WINERY
Returns to North Beach
Celebrating Our 125th Anniversary
North Beach Restaurant
Thursday, March 25, 2010
John A. De Luca, PH.D. Former President and CEO of The Wine Institute
Professor Victor W. Geraci, Ph.D. Author, Food and Wine Historian
Dario Sattui 4th Generation Owner of V. Sattui Winery
Burrata con Pomodoro e Basilico – Burrata (Creamy Mozzarella from Puglia) with Tomatoes, Basil, and Olive Oil & Vinegar
Calamari Fritti e Prosciutto – Fried Calamari and Prosciutto
2008 Vittorio’s Vineyard Napa Valley SAUVIGNON BLANC – Layers of Honeydew, pear and citrus flavors. 773 cases produced. $22
Linguine alle Vongole e Salsa di Vino Bianco – Linguine with Baby Clams in a White Wine Sauce
2007 Reserve Stock Napa Valley CHARDONNAY – A full-bodied and exquisitely balanced blend of the very best of our Carsi and Henry Ranch vineyards, displaying excellent depth and body and toasty vanilla notes from new oak and part malolactic fermentation. 418 cases produced. $39
Spaghetti alla Carbonara con Prosciutto, Una Specialita del Ristorante North Beach – Spaghetti Carbonara with Prosciutto, A North Beach Restaurant Specialty
2007 Crow Ridge Russian River ZINFANDEL – 80-year-old Russian River vines produce this single-vineyard Zinfandel with ripe raspberry, dried plum and cherry cola flavors leading to an expansive and lingering spicy finish. 720 cases produced. $39
Osso Buco con Riso e Verdure – Baby Veal Shank braised with Tomato Sauce, served with Rice and Vegetables
2004 “Steve Lee” Reserve Stock Napa Valley CABERNET SAUVIGNON – Rutherford-bred from the finest stocks of Preston and Morisoli Vineyards, this Reserve Cabernet exhibits rich loam and currant flavors and smooth, plush tannins. 214 cases produced. $125
Zabaglione con Fragole Fresche – Cold Zabaglione (custard with V. Sattui Madeira) with Fresh Strawberries
California MADEIRA – Wood-aged, port-like wine fortified with brandy. A small amount of this solera-made Port was originally produced by Vittorio Sattui prior to 1900. Our solera is over 129 years old, one of the oldest in the U.S. Intense, nutty and luscious, with flavors of almonds, toffee and caramel. $42
I will admit that between manic note taking, camera work, information absorbing, table conversation sharing, and wine enjoying, I did have to fend the waiters off, protecting the plate I had fallen behind on from being taken away, and rushing to finish one course before the next was delivered.
My course lagging was nothing compared to the falling behind of Dario Sattui. Dario kicked off the event with introductory remarks, and acted as the Master of Ceremonies and kind host. Initially welcoming everyone, then introducing the first speaker, Professor Victor W. Geraci, Ph.D., Dario was called back to the podium immediately after to receive a proclamation from a representative of San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsome announcing the day was “V. Sattui Winery Day in San Francisco.” Dario then delivered his own speech, a passionate, informative, personal, and entertaining look into the history of V. Sattui Winery through Dario’s eyes. Before being able to return to the lunch table, Dario was awarded, through the offices of State Assembly Member Noreen Evans and State Senator Pat Wiggins, a resolution presentation from the California Assembly. Dario then introduced John A. De Luca, Ph.D, and was finally able to rejoin his lovely wife and enjoy some of the food that had accumulated in his absence.
The two speakers of the day not named Dario Sattui spoke about the wine industry past and future.
Part II – The Past
Professor Victor W. Geraci, Ph.D is the Food and Wine Historian at the Regional Oral History Office for the Bancroft Library at the Universiry of California at Berkeley.
Professor Victor W. Geraci, Ph.D
Professor Geraci spoke on the history of Italians in the U.S. wine industry, which is the same thing in large measure as saying he spoke about the wine industry period.
Geraci spoke of failed attempts to make wines in U.S. colonies and states, limited or qualified success in a small handful of states, and then the first real success when Northern italians settled in Northern California and started making wines.
Beginning with Andrea Arata who planted his grapes in Amador County in 1853, Italians and wine in the U.S. would become forever linked. By 1882, Vittorio Sattui joined a host of Italians making wine in Northern California, and opened his family winery in North Beach at 722 Montgomery Avenue. By the 1890’s, Italian families own over 100 wineries and California produces over 80% of the nation’s wine. By 1900, Italian Swiss Colony, near Cloverdale, was California’s largest producer of wine.
In 1900, prior to prohibition, dry wines were consumed over sweet wines, 2 to 1. At repeal, sweet wines were consumed 4 to 1 over dry wines. Consumer tastes had changed, and wineries were not producing the fine wines they had produced before prohibition.
Nonetheless, within three years of repeal, 1,600 wineries are operating. Within 25 years, by 1960, the number of wineries operating in the U.S. had shrunk to just 271. Italians owned a dominant percentage of these wineries.
Consolidation occurred; in 1947 the 8 largest wineries controlled 42% of the market, and by 1971 that number had risen to 68%.
In 1972, half of the wine consumed in the U.S. was considered premium, or dry, wine.
Consumption of wine in the U.S. doubled between 1963 and 1974.
In 1966, Robert Mondavi opened his Oakville winery. Mondavi goes on to create an incredibly positive perception regarding the quality of California wine.
Giuseppe Franzia, one of the original Italian winemakers of California wines has a descendent who makes enormous waves in the industry, Fred Franzia of Ceres wine giant Bronco makes 2 Buck Chuck.
Part III – The Future
John A. De Luca, Ph.D. served as Deputy Mayor of San Francisco under Mayor Joseph Alioto from 1968-1975. De Luca served nearly 28 years as President and CEO of The Wine Institute. In 2001, De Luca was named “Agriculturist of the Year” by the California State Fair. Wine Spectator gave De Luca their “Distinguished Service Award,” while Wine Enthusiast gave him a “Lifetime Achievement Award.”
De Luca spoke of V. Sattui Winery generally, and Dario specifically, before moving on to more a more general discussion of the present and future environment in which wineries will compete.
De Luca said that V. Sattui Winery was, “controversial,” and recounted being warned by his staff at The Wine Institute against visiting the winery, as they had, “no finesse,” and were, “one of a kind.
De Luca also shared how when he was being considered for the top post with The Wine Institute, and many big names in the industry were displaying typical contentious behavior, Dario came into the meeting, walked to the front, turned and addressed the assembled members, “I think this is the guy we need, and I don’t want any of you to fuss around with him.” Message delivered, Dario then walked out.
About the present and future of wine, De Luca said, “face to face is the past, facebook is the present.” Without using the words, the change De Luca referenced is at the heart of Social Media Marketing.
Speaking to continuing challenges, De Luca said, “No one in America has to deal with States, because of the commerce clause, except wine and liquor.”
De Luca noted that last year Gallo shipped 1 million cases of wine to China.
George Tabor, the Judgement of Paris journalist, approached De Luca about Fred Franzia’s Two Buck Chuck, which has sold over 500 million bottles. De Luca countered that the larger story of family winemakers is the story of wine now, that together, “they hold the center in this economy.”
“If our wine had not gone global, we would have gone the way of Detroit.”
“Beer has been the most impacted beverage during our current recession.”
“The one product category that grows in this economy, the health care debate and diet helps, is wine.”
De Luca described a battle between the midwest and the their corn people and California and fresh vegetables, fruit, the Mediterranean diet with wine.
“There is a new period of assertion facing our industry now.”
“The one thing about the wine industry is we see change as a period of renewal, while other industries fear change.”
Coming back to V. Sattui, De Luca said, “We’re here to celebrate Sattui; there is only one. I only want one, they’ve broken the mold”.
I’ve taken things a bit out of order, saving the words of Dario for last. The food was great, the company was great. The wine was great. The other speakers, awards, proclamations, resolutions, all of it was great. I appreciate being witness to it, sharing it.
Compared to Dario’s speech, they all fade into the background, they are the oak and tannin, Dario’s speech was the forward fruit.
Part IV – Dario Sattui
Dressed in a blue seersucker suit, with a white pocket pocket kerchief, Dario Sattui is at once the handsome patriarch, the public face, the heart and soul, and the flesh and bone of V. Sattui Winery.
Passionate, speaking from a giant heart, hands in constant motion, Dario entertained and captivated all those present. Not a trained or polished speaker, he was incredibly effective because he spoke to, not at, his audience.
Dario told of how his great grandfather came to the U.S. from Italy, lured by stories of men becoming wealthy, “picking up gold from the streets.”
Vittorio baked bread, and made wine on the side. His wife Katerina took in washing, and cooked for single men on the side.
Together they leased the Cellar at 722 Montgomery Avenue, and by 1885 were making wine full time.
Faced with a landlord threatening to raise their rent, they moved the winery out of North Beach to 23rd Street and Bryant Avanue in the Mission district, and renamed the enterprise V. Sattui Wine Company.
All of the wine made was sold directly to consumers, delivered in barrels and demijohns by horse-drawn wagon.
In 1920, a horrible thing happened, the country went dry. Prohibition stopped the V. Sattui Wine Company as Vittorio said, “I’ll do nothing against the law.”
The winery remained closed until 1975 when Dario decided to restart his family’s winery.
Dario was in a perfect position to restart the winery, he was “living in a van,” had, “no knowledge, no money, ” and his experience with wine involved “cheap wine in college.”
Everyone, including his future ex-wife, predicted failure for Dario, but he believed in himself.
Working as a substitute teacher, Dario became, “known as the Enforcer, because I kept the kids quiet so I could work on my business plan.”
Times were particularly difficult, fighting with his wife often, everyone predicting failure, Dario took to long walks where he worked on his plan in his head.
“If you try hard enough and long enough, you can only fail so many times.”
Dario admits in retrospect that his is an “unlikely story of success.”
The main elements of the business plan for V. Sattui Winery included selling the wine direct, and having a deli with picnic grounds.
Dario worked out precisely what he was looking for in a commercial winery property, location, location, location. In the entire Napa Valley, only 3 sites fit the bill. Choosing the ideal one, Dario obtained a lease option and lived in his VW Van on the property, with no furniture, no money, no equipment, no nothing, “you name it, we didn’t have it,” Dario bought 600 gallons of wine from Mondavi, bottled them the same day, and was selling them the next day.
The winery was reborn in 1975. The building started July 3rd, continued on the next day’s holiday, and was complete early in 1976.
Lack of funds meant hand bottling, hand labeling, and no aging; wines were sold immediately.
To survive at the beginning, Dario slept and lived in his office, with a $15 Burroughs manual calculator and $3 desk. Every call made was made collect, and Dario checked the bill each month.
Repeatedly, Dario talks of his ex wife, “that was the beginning of the end,” and I think that he brings up his ex in a negative light so often in his speech to indirectly cast a light on how much he loves his current wife, Yana, who he described as more beautiful inside than outside – which is a whole lot of beautiful.
V. Sattui Winery had $141 in receipts for day 1, and about $100 less on day two; but at the end of the first year had sold 1,800 cases of wine direct to the customer.
The entire family participated, Dario’s sister worked in the tasting room, his mother helped with the books, and his father was used outside as a picnic ground shill. Cars were parked, and people were paid to sit outside, even in bad weather, near the highway, to create traffic within the winery.
Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home acted as Dario’s personal savior, saving his rear end time after time in the early years.
Long before the Napa Valley became a foodie Mecca, Dario was using Acme bread, truffles, and aging Cheddar cheese two extra years for his deli operations.
V. Sattui Winery “sells more wine each year, and our wines are better each year.”
Dario doesn’t read the writing of any wine marketers, or attend any marketing seminars, because he doesn’t want to contaminate his “wrong” thinking. From the start, Dario “did things differently, [he] gave the average guy what he wants,” proclaiming, “V. Sattui is everyman’s winery.”
The marketing plan for V. Sattui Winery is simple, “a little wine education, but not too much; good wine, and a fair price.”
Dario’s marketing plan is what it is because he, “didn’t know better and couldn’t afford different.” The result is that V. Sattui Winery is on their 3rd generation of consumers buying wine directly from the winery.
Dario stressed that, “wine goes with food, without pretension.”
City people could escape to V. Sattui, for the day, “enjoy food from our deli, with our wines, on our picnic grounds in Napa County…it is not about the wine, other wineries make that mistake. It is about the entire experience. People are trying to recreate at home what they experienced at the winery.”
Dario is anti-pontificating, whether it be wine writers, wine markerters, or wineries themselves.
Other insights from Dario include:
“You don’t have to take [out] a second mortgage to buy our wine, but that doesn’t mean compromise, my name is on the bottle.”
“Some things you don’t do for money, you do because it’s right.”
“The secret is there are no secrets.”
“Family wineries are the difference, always look to the long run.”
“If you work for passion, the money is going to come. If you work for the money, well…”
Accomplishments cited by Dario include:
V. Sattui Winery has over 400,000 customers per year.
More wine is sold out of the tasting room than any other winery.
First to host weddings.
Second to have a wine club.
First to have picnic grounds.
First to sell all their wine direct.
More medals than any other winery year after year.
Profitable from first year.
Dario finished his incredible speech with two thoughts:
“V. Sattui Winery is all about family, from our family to our family of customers.”
“If V. Sattui Winery is not a success in the wine industry, I flat out don’t know what is.”
This was Dario’s day. His speech was a huge success. As a writer, I was in Heaven, every thing Dario said was quote worthy. I was taking notes as fast as I could, working to keep up with Dario, sixteen pages of my notebook filled with gems.
Dario had mentioned recycling during his speech, and promised to recycle the pages of notes he used for his speech. When he returned to our table, I asked him if I could have his notes if I promised to recycle them when i was finished, and he kindly let me take them for this piece. I have to tell you that many of the notes that weren’t included in the speech were just as great and quote worthy as the ones that were. Sadly, I will not be writing the “Dario, self edited” speech bits; I can’t use the extra gold when Dario himself chose not to share it with everyone else.
I can share the look of happiness as Dario himself helped pass out the Zabaglione and Strawberry dessert, and the sheer joy he had as he ate multiple helpings. I was happy for him, on his day.
A wonderful surprise treat for the invited attendees was a commemorative label bottle of port to help the 125th Anniversary celebration in the minds of each invited attendee.
After lunch, I joined Dario and other lunch attendees on a three block walk to the site of the original family winery and cellar. Sometime in the last 125 years, 722 Montgomery Avenue became 722 Columbus Avenue, but it was amazing to be able to visit the place where it all started.
Each of us gathered there and then were inhabiting the same Vittario Sattui had been 125 years earlier. All in all, so many changes, but a great day sharing history, and a family’s dedication to their family of customers through direct sales of wine.
There will be more gatherings in the next year to celebrate V. Sattui Winery’s 125th Anniversary, any gatherings that allow Dario to showcase his passion are sure to be equally successful.
DISCLOSURE: I attended this event as a guest of V. Sattui Winery, largely owing to outside consultant Julie Ann Kodmur’s recommendation.