S.F. Declares V. Sattui Day

Mayor recognizes winemaking business, started 125 years ago in San Francisco

by Kate Lavin
V. Sattui Winery San Francisco
Dario Sattui shows family and friends the spot where his great-grandfather founded St. Helena Wine Cellars in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood.
San Francisco, Calif. -- Francis Tsang, community liaison for Mayor Gavin Newsom, on Thursday presented Dario Sattui with a city order declaring March 25, 2010, to be V. Sattui Winery Day, in celebration of its distinguished history in San Francisco. Just 375 yards away from North Beach Restaurant, where Sattui chose to hold an anniversary luncheon to mark the occasion, his great-grandfather Vittorio Sattui turned his winemaking hobby into a business in 1885, when he quit his bakery job to make wine full time in the cellar of what would now be 722 Columbus Ave. -- had the building not been felled by the great 1906 earthquake.

The California State Assembly also honored V. Sattui’s accomplishment with a proclamation, sponsored by Sen. Patricia Wiggins and Rep. Noreen Evans. John De Luca, chairman of the Ernest Gallo and Research Center, former San Francisco deputy mayor and former Wine Institute president, spoke about his inaugural meeting with Dario, when the winery owner greeted him by saying, “You’re De Luca? Come help me pull these hoses in.”

A family business
North Beach wasn’t the only corner of the city touched by the Sattui winemaking business. Vittorio and his wife Katerina Sattui also ran a boarding house in the building on Columbus Avenue (then known as Montgomery Street.) But when their landlord delivered on a promise to raise the rent, Vittorio also made good on his word to pack up and move out. The family’s next stop was 23rd and Bryant streets in the Mission District, which at that time was home to much of the city’s Irish population.

Dario Sattui shared these and other bits of family history with a group of 80 members of his family, the trade and wine enthusiasts on Thursday, as part of a yearlong series of events to celebrate V. Sattui’s 125th anniversary. Of course, as anyone familiar with U.S. wine history knows, a cataclysmic event befell the wine industry between 1885 and 2010, and the 18th Amendment changed the course of the Sattui wine business for generations.

A change of fortune

Refusing to take part in any illegal activity, Vittorio shuttered his winery in the early 1920s and, although Dario remembers the smell of wine lingering at the Sattui’s Mission District home, his great-grandfather never re-opened the winery.

Dario Sattui
Owner Dario Sattui and president Tom Davies of V. Sattui Winery hold a proclamation from the California State Assembly honoring the winery.
It wasn’t until 1975, after years of soliciting funding and working at Napa Valley wineries such as Beaulieu Vineyard and Christian Brothers, that Dario was able to revive Vittorio’s winery business and break ground on the St. Helena property that became V. Sattui Winery.

Money was tight in the beginning, Dario told his guests. Early on, he bought a deli case from a nearby business and covered it in redwood so that customers couldn’t see its rusty exterior. But what V. Sattui lacked in money, Dario made up for with vision. While other wineries at the time posted signs commanding “Stay Off the Lawn!” V. Sattui encouraged customers to picnic out front.

“When it was raining, I’d pay customers to go sit on the picnic grounds,” he said, “so that people driving by could see them from the street.”

Another difference: Sattui’s business model always revolved around selling directly to customers visiting the tasting room. Others, he claims, didn’t warm to this idea until years later.

“They were thinking about making a good impression for when customers got back to New Jersey,” he said. “Selling wine directly to the consumer, I think, is a really good thing. It’s not just a faceless label.”

Years later, tasting room sales and wine club memberships mean big business at every winery, and Dario Sattui is keeping his great-grandfather’s name alive.

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