Today we celebrate the day V. Sattui winery opened its doors in Napa Valley, 40 years ago!
A Dream Come True
Dario Sattui’s Great Grandfather originally started V. Sattui Winery in San Francisco in 1885. The winery was forced to close in 1920 when Prohibition became law. But on March 4, 1976, Dario’s dream of resurrecting the family winery in Napa Valley became a reality. He remembers opening day well.
“I was really nervous,” says Dario. “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 had dreamed of reopening my great grandfather’s winery for years. We made $141 in 9 hours on that first day. We collected it 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 and made a small profit. But it came at a cost. Dario and his wife lived very frugally. At one point he needed to store barrels of wine, and the only extra space he had was the living room of the tiny house behind the winery. The weight of the barrels was so heavy, the floor started to sink, and eventually the foundation had to be fixed!
“You name it, we didn’t have it,” says Tom Davies, who was hired in 1980 and 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, we called people collect most of the time. We used pitch forks to move our grapes into the hopper during harvest. We didn’t have equipment for that.”
The small winery crew even corked and labeled their bottles of wine by hand.
Innovation Leads to Success
Although budgets were tight, Tom says 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.”
That innovation led to V. Sattui being one of the very first wineries to start a wine club and events for members like our annual Harvest Ball. V. Sattui was the first in Napa Valley to offer wine futures, host weddings, and create our world-famous Italian deli, expansive cheese case, and gorgeous picnic grounds.
Success followed. 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 a bronze medal!”
The medals kept coming, and in 1990 Dario promoted Rick Rosenbrand, to winemaker, whose father was also a winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyard. Eventually Brooks Painter was hired as winemaker and continues his reign today, making 60 different wines. Just 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 SF Chronicle Competition also awarded us two “Best of Class” categories, 4 Double Gold medals, and 11 Gold medals. We believe our winemaking skills have definitely matured with us!
Dario and Tom plan for V. Sattui to continue making the best wines we can, and will continue to provide a great experience when you come to visit us. The V. Sattui staff loves to share things we love: good wine, hand-crafted foods, and gathering with friends. We plan to keep doing that for at least the next 40 years!