Sangiacomo Steps into the Limelight

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Sangiacomo Steps into the Limelight

© Wine-Searcher | The bottles are from the wall display in their office. All of them include Sangiacomo fruit, whether they say it on the label or not.

© Wine-Searcher | The bottles are from the wall display in their office. All of them include Sangiacomo fruit, whether they say it on the label or not.

After years of growing and selling grapes, California's Sangiacomo family finally release their own brand.

By W. Blake Gray | Posted Wednesday, 16-May-2018

If you follow California wine, you might think this isn't news: after 50 years of growing grapes in Sonoma County, the Sangiacomo family has released a new line of Sangiacomo wines.

It doesn't sound like news because this is such a familiar name on wine bottles. Steve Sangiacomo says currently 16 wineries make 30 different Sangiacomo vineyard-designate wines, and their grapes also go into many other wines. But it is news. The family that farms 13 vineyards of more than 1600 acres in four Sonoma County AVAs has finally decided to create a wine brand of its own.

"The timing was right," Steve Sangiacomo told Wine-Searcher. "We have a next generation coming on board. This is important from a legacy standpoint."

I wonder how many new boutique wineries have ever had access to more estate fruit. But other Sonoma wineries shouldn't worry about their vineyard partners hogging all the best vines, Steve Sangiacomo says.

"Wineries often have to reset their allocations," Steve says. "Less than 0.5 percent of our vineyard production goes into these wines. No one lost any fruit."

Visiting the Sangiacomo family to taste these wines was a treat. Brothers Mike and Steve Sangiacomo and their brother-in-law Mike Pucci are farmers foremost, and they have the weatherbeaten humility that comes with the profession: a trait that's not always on display in modern wine country.

"You know why they call it 'farming'?" Steve says. "Because 'gambling' was already taken."

Steve and Mike's father Angelo Sangiacomo, who still visits the offices but doesn't speak much anymore, got into wine grapes out of desperation. His father Vittorio, an immigrant from Genoa, Italy, bought his first ranch in 1927 and acquired more land during the Depression, when it was cheap. He planted pears which he sold to the then-thriving canned pear industry. In the 1950s, when Vittorio handed over the business to Angelo, it was 350 acres of pears.

"In the '60s, there were 50 fruit canneries near here," Steve Sangiacomo says. "Now there are five." Americans lost their taste for canned fruit. Angelo had to go in a different direction, so he planted his first wine grapes in 1969. A few years later he told his father, who planted most of the pear trees himself, that the pears were losing $100,000 a year.

"Pull the suckers out," Vittorio said, according to Steve.

The surprising decision Angelo made in the 1980s was to plant mostly Pinot Noir. At the time, the grape was found in few places outside of Burgundy, and wine experts called it "the heartbreak grape" because they thought it would be impossible to capture Burgundy quality elsewhere.

"The thing about having a multigenerational wine business is you have a multigenerational wine cellar," Steve said. (More on this in a moment.) "We had a lot of old Pinot Noirs that my father had bought, old Hanzells. They were beautiful wines and they showed the promise of Pinot Noir."

Even if Americans weren't ready to pay premium prices for domestic Pinot, the Sangiacomos had a market as sparkling wine producers were willing to buy the grapes.

"Sparkling got a lot of Pinot Noir in the ground," Mike Sangiacomo says. "Once we got a lot of Pinot Noir in, people experimented with it. As clones have improved, Pinot Noir is the variety that has improved the most."

The Sangiacomos know this as well as anyone. Every year they hold a big tasting for the producers who buy their grapes. It's a chance for winemakers to discuss with each other how they're making the wine, but it's also important for the family because they hold right of approval on whether or not their name can be used as a vineyard designate.

"We've been trademarked since '85," Steve says. "Wineries have to submit samples to get approved. We have turned them down but a very small percentage. It's art. We're not telling people what to do. We're looking for flaws."

You would imagine that the Sangiacomos would have their choice of winemakers to make their first branded wines. They chose consulting winemaker James MacPhail, who sold his eponymous Sonoma County winery and now works on a number of projects.

The first vintage, 2016, has seven Sangiacomo wines: three Chardonnays, three Pinot Noirs and a Cabernet Sauvignon from their lone vineyard in Napa Valley. That wine has not yet been bottled. The Chards and Pinots are ripe and rich, but they all have good natural acidity. And you can bet they were all meticulously farmed.

"Picking at maturity is a trend," Mike says. "Picking at ripeness, sure, but still maintaining acidity."

The first vintage of wines come in tiny quantities, under 100 cases each. Even though the family doesn't have a tasting room, or any plans to distribute the wines, friends in the wine industry have been signing up on their website to buy them.

"We've made a lot of contacts over the years," Steve says. "People say, 'If you ever start a wine label, put me on the list'."

To get an idea of how strong their connections are, you can just look at the display of bottles in the entrance to their main building: many list Sangiacomo Vineyards as a designate, and some do not. It's a who's who of Sonoma County wine.

But it's more fun to visit their family wine cellar – just a sprawling basement with scores of boxes of upside-down bottles of wine. It's not one of the most valuable in northern California, because they don't have Bordeaux first-growths or rare Burgundies. What they do have is a fascinating hodgepodge of noncollectibles that they are happy to pull out and taste.

We drank a 1974 Geyser Peak Pinot Noir that might have come from one of Angelo Sangiacomo's first plantings – it was brittle but still had some fruit – and a 1997 Chateau Souverain Merlot that hadn't aged all that well. Our interview concluded, the genial farming family insisted I take home a bottle of 1986 Joseph Phelps Late Harvest Riesling. I don't know what Angelo paid for it back in the day – probably under $10 – but now it's humble yet priceless. Like its former owners.

Sangiacomo Family Announces a Series of Wines under Their Own Label



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The third generation of the Sangiacomo family recently introduced the release of small-production wines grown from the Carneros, Napa and Sonoma Coast regions. They intend to craft the finest wines possible from their estate vineyards while positioning themselves as the best producers of new world California chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon.

“We want to create wines that express our vision through our vineyards,” says Steve Sangiacomo. “For 50 years our family has grown chardonnay and pinot grapes for some of the finest wineries in California.”

The Sangiacomo family plans to complement their wine offerings with those of their various wine partners.

In addition, the Sangiacomos wanted to honor the family’s rich history in Sonoma County, as well as create a legacy for generations to come. “We’re getting to the point where the next generation is coming up, and we thought having our own wine label would be a nice addition to the family business,” says Mike Sangiacomo. “We love what we do and we now have the opportunity to share our wines at the table.”

Vittorio and Maria Sangiacomo started the family business in 1927 with the purchase of a 52-acre fruit tree ranch. The family’s next generation carried the apple and pear business forward, and in the late 1960s converted the fruit orchards to premium grape vineyards. Today, they have over 1,600 estate acres in Sonoma and Napa.

Most of the wines under the Sangiacomo label are sold direct-to-consumer and will be made available in select restaurants. Prices range from $55 to $125 per bottle.

Sonoma Barrel Auction honors Bundschu, Sangiacomo

By Kathleen Hill

At last week’s Sonoma County Barrel Auction, led by Sonoma County Vintners director Jean Arnold Sessions of Sonoma, fifth generation Sonoma winemaker Jim Bundschu and Angelo Sangiacomo were recognized for their “lifelong contributions to winemaking and grape growing in our region.”

A little background: Jacob Bundschu bought 400 acres southeast of Sonoma in 1858 and named it Rhinefarm, for his Bavarian origins, which makes it the oldest continuously operating winery in California. In 1868, Bundschu and friends planted 60,000 vines and eventually made wine in their San Francisco factory at Second and Bryant streets.

The 1906 earthquake dealt Gundlach its first setback by destroying its San Francisco production facility, after which they moved family and what was left to the Sonoma property.

During Prohibition they couldn’t sell wine, so they let the vines go, replacing that crop with cattle under the leadership of Jim Bundschu’s parents, Mary and Towle Bundschu.

In 1969, Jim Bundschu started to replant the vineyard in the cow-fertilized soil, and then became president of the company in 1970, establishing it as a leader in sustainable winemaking. So many of us enjoyed Jim’s early vintages as the house wine at the Swiss Hotel.By

Jeff Bundschu took over as president in 2000.

Growing up on the family farm, Angelo Sangiacomo helped convert his family’s pear orchard into vineyard on prime land in the 1960s, now leading the family enterprise covering more than 1,600 acres.

Ang’s father, Vittorio Sangiacomo, left Genoa, Italy for America in 1913, and started his first job at age 17 working at Bay Farm Island in Alameda County, followed by scavenger (garbage) jobs in San Francisco. Ready to get back to the land, he purchased 52 acres of fruit orchard in Sonoma Valley in 1927, now called Home Ranch. In 1928 Vittorio married Maria, also from Genoa.

Eventually grapes replaced pears and now Ang, Buck, Lorraine, and next generation Mike, Steve, and sister Mia’s husband, Mike Pucci, manage the enterprise, which produces some of the most valued and sustainably grown grapes in California.

Jim Pedroncelli of Pedroncelli Winery in Geyserville was also recognized.

From the Sonoma Coast, Chardonnays of Energy and Memories

By Eric Asimov

The Sonoma Coast has been on my mind quite a bit lately.

Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast.  Credit Dan Neville for The New York Times

Chardonnay from the Sonoma Coast.  Credit Dan Neville for The New York Times

First came a wine panel tasting in February of pinot noirs from the region. Now, we have followed up with a tasting of 20 Sonoma Coast chardonnays from recent vintages.

In both tastings, we found wines that combined intensity with balance and subtlety, indicating that the Sonoma Coast is a region of great promise. The region remains difficult for consumers to grasp, partly because it is geographically unwieldy, encompassing a stretch not just along the Pacific coastline but also extending far inland, bringing together wildly different vineyard areas.

[Eric Kent Sangiacomo Green Acres Hill Chardonnay] rich with tropical fruit and oak flavors though lively nonetheless.

The jumble of regions means that racy wines from the coast and richer, fruitier wines from inland may wear the same appellation. Even among the wines made near the ocean, stylistic differences abound. That’s both a problem and an incentive for consumers to get to know the producers and their styles rather than pay strict attention to appellations.

As far as wines that come from the coastal region, I feel as if we are just beginning to understand its potential. While the region has concentrated on Burgundian varieties like pinot noir and chardonnay, it also produces superb syrahs and whites from Rhône grapes like marsanne and roussanne. I’ve had an intriguing trousseau, a red mostly associated with the Jura, and a terrific Sonoma Coast cabernet sauvignon.

But I would not be telling the whole story if I did not add that I have my own emotional reasons for pondering the Sonoma Coast. It may be my favorite area in the world, for reasons that have little to do with wine.

My wife, Deborah, and I were married on the Sonoma Coast, at the tiny Sea Ranch Chapel, several miles to the north of the house where Deborah’s older brother and sister-in-law had a house for many years.

Their house, just north of Fort Ross, was a gorgeous, low-slung sprawl that practically hung on the edge of a cliff over the gray Pacific. The coastal winds blew incessantly, weathering the cedar shingles and battering the cypress trees surrounding the house into a permanent tilt inland, concealing it from cars on the Pacific Coast Highway to the east.

Deborah and I had been traveling out there for almost as long as the Sonoma Coast has been an American Viticultural Area, as it was declared in 1987. Back then, most of the grape-growing activity was well inland. Nobody thought much about coastal wines, although a few visionary pioneers, like David Hirsch at Hirsch Vineyards and Daniel Schoenfeld at Wild Hog Vineyard, had already staked out land precariously close to the ocean.

Sadly, this brother-in-law, Peter Henschel, died young, at 53. While we still cherished the house, the region and our many friends in the area, spending time there for me became emotionally complicated. Several years ago, my sister-in-law sold the house. Though there is no longer a Sonoma Coast family outpost, the area continues to resonate with me in unexpected ways, as do the wines.

I mention all this to make the point that wine has an uncanny ability to touch the emotions. Like music, wine can arouse long-buried memories and jolt them awake with all of their baggage: raw, jagged, tender or painful.

Marketers know this. They understand the power of establishing direct, personal connections between wine producers and consumers through winery visits, and do what they can to shape lasting associations. In a more general way, when I drink a wine that I love from the coast, I imagine I can feel my brother-in-law’s presence.

I kept those feelings to myself at our tasting, where Florence Fabricant and I were joined by Alex Alan, an owner and wine director at Freek’s Mill in Gowanus, Brooklyn, and Kristie Petrullo of Petrullo Wine Company, a wine-education consultancy.

We all noted the broad range of styles that included brawny, fruity examples, and leaner wines that showed more savory, stony flavors — “sea spray,” Alex said at one point. The crucial quality that separated my favorites from the also-rans was energy.

You might ask what energy means in the context of wine, and it’s a good question. For me, energy is the quality that impels you to take another sip. It’s a forward thrust, a sense of tangy vitality that is lip smacking and thirst quenching. It’s texture as well. Some wines feel so good in the mouth that you want another sip to regain the feeling.

Energy is sometimes mistaken for acidity, which levels out sweetness in fruits and is necessary for balance in wines. While energy without acidity is difficult, we found several wines with plenty of acidity but no energy. What accounts for that? Kristie suggested that acidification, the process of adding acid to wine if the grapes are not sufficiently acidic, may cause the imbalance.

Acidification is permitted in California and many other warm regions where ripeness can result in acid deficiency. Usually, tartaric acid, natural in grapes, is used. Kristie may have been correct, as some of these wines lacking in energy tasted sharply acidic. I don’t know if acidification was the reason.

Lack of energy was not a problem in our favorite wines. Our No. 1 bottle was the 2014 Joy Road Vineyard chardonnay from Rivers-Marie, deep, savory and stony, a lovely wine. No. 2 was the 2014 Charles Heintz Vineyard from Ceritas, rich, resonant and harmonious.

The Joy Road Vineyard, near the town of Occidental, and Charles Heintz, to the east, are both near the coastline, and you can feel it in the wines with their raciness and well-integrated acidity. Our No. 3 bottle, the 2014 Sangiacomo Green Acres Hill from Eric Kent, came from a vineyard southwest of the city of Sonoma, considerably east of Highway 101, and closer to Los Carneros and San Pablo Bay than to the coast.

We thought the Kent was a fine wine, but it was completely different in character from the Rivers-Marie and the Ceritas, rich with tropical fruit and oak flavors though lively nonetheless. Yet the label says it’s a Sonoma Coast wine.

The rest of our top 10 were largely from vineyards near the ocean. The 2014 Flowers chardonnay, our No. 4 bottle, was fresh, bright and tangy. When we learned the identity of the wines, I couldn’t help but recall visiting Flowers with my brother-in-law in the late 1990s not so long after the winery was constructed in Cazadero, just about two miles from the ocean.

Rivers-Marie had a second wine on our list; the lively but slightly oaky 2014 B. Thieriot was our No. 5 bottle. Also worth noting were the richly textured 2013 Freestone Vineyard from Joseph Phelps; the savory, slightly funky 2013 Red Car; the lively 2014 Failla; and the bright, tangy 2013 Ramey.

I should point out that the wines from Failla, Ramey and Red Car were the producers’ entry-level wines. Each makes more expensive single-vineyard designates that are often deeper and more complex. What’s more, chardonnays from top producers like Cobb, Kutch, Littorai and Radio-Coteau were unavailable.

The Pacific Coast in Sonoma is an isolated place. Wineries like Flowers or Hirsch Vineyards, on the ocean, are difficult destinations for supplies and repairs. Many Sonoma Coast producers, like Peay Vineyards and Failla, have more accessible winemaking facilities inland. Even so, these wines are rarely inexpensive and none seemed worthy of being designated best value.

Nonetheless, the top wines can be superb. And for me, it’s hard to put a price on memories.

Tasting Notes: Sonoma Coast Chardonnays


Deep and energetic, with savory flavors of citrus, herbs and stony minerals.


Harmonious, rich and resonant, with aromas and flavors of citrus, flowers and minerals.


More typically Californian, but lively and well made, with flavors of tropical fruits, citrus and oak.


Fresh, lively and rich, with bright, tangy flavors of lemon, herbs and a touch of oak.


Lively flavors of citrus and minerals, but slightly oaky.


Richly textured, with aromas of hot stones and flavors of apple and lemon.


Idiosyncratic, with savory flavors of citrus and herbs and a touch of funk.


Richly textured and lively, with flavors of citrus, nuts and herbs.


Bright, tangy and clean, with flavors of lemon, herbs and a bit of oak.


Broad, rich and stolid, with flavors of citrus and nuts.




Sonoma County Barrel Auction Honors Icons of Wine


The Sonoma County Vintners association will honor three winemaking veterans at the annual Sonoma County Barrel Auction Friday at the Vintners Inn.

“The Sonoma County wine landscape has been shaped by a long line of trailblazing visionaries and it is important that the region honor these three modern icons,” said Jean Arnold Sessions, the trade group’s executive director, in a statement.

The honorees are:

Jim Bundschu of Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma. Bundschu in 1969 started replanting vineyards on his family’s lot, and a year later became president of the revived Gundlach Bundschu Winery. The winery has since created a name as one of the most well-known family wineries in the area, with a focus on sustainable winemaking.

Jim Pedroncelli of the Pedroncelli Winery in Geyserville. In 1963, Pedroncelli and his brother, John, bought the winery and he took over as head of its sales and marketing department. Pedroncelli was among the first to add “Sonoma” to its wine label. He has served on the board of the Wine Institute, the Sonoma County Vintners Co-Op and the Sonoma County Winery Association, the precursor to the vintners group.

Angelo Sangiacomo of Sangiacomo Family Vineyards in Sonoma. Sangiacomo helped move his family’s business in the 1960s from growing pears to growing grapes. The company now has more than 1,600 acres of planted vineyards in Sonoma County, one of the largest in the area. He was also a pioneer in establishing vineyard designated and single vineyard wines.

Robert Parker Gives Thumbs Up to Sangiacomo-Designated Wines

The most recent issue of Robert Parker's newsletter awarded the following Sangiacomo-designated wines 90+ scores:

La Follette 2014 Pinot Noir: 91

MacRostie  2015 Chardonnay: 90

Ram’s Gate 2014 Chardonnay: 94

Ram's Gate 2014 Pinot Noir: 90

Roadhouse 2015 Pinot Noir: 90

Saxon Brown 2014 Chardonnay: 93

Sojourn 2015 Chardonnay: 93

Sojourn 2015 Pinot Noir: 92

Sonoma-Loeb 2015 Chardonnay: 92

Sonoma-Loeb 2015 Pinot Noir: 90

Walt Wines 2015 Chardonnay: 92

Buck Sangiacomo, Lifetime Contribution Award

harvest fair

“You don’t want to be patted on the back all your life but it sure feels good to be honored like this,” exclaimed Buck.  “It’s real nice.”

Buck LIfetime achievement

Every morning Buck Sangiacomo meets with his family over breakfast to discuss the daily operations for stewarding their 1,600 acres of vineyards in Sonoma County. Buck’s dedication to his family, the land, and to the greater agricultural community have shaped how grapes are grown today. Through sharing knowledge, honoring tradition, and embracing new technology, Buck continues to mentor the next generation of farmers. It is because of Buck’s commitment to the preservation of land and community that the Sonoma County Harvest Fair is honored to present him with the 2016 Lifetime Contribution to Sonoma County Agriculture award.

A true farmer at heart, Buck understands the importance of sustainability. Along with his siblings, he has carefully cultivated the Sangiacomo land and vines to produce top-tier grapes year after year. Decades of planting cover crops have demonstrated how the natural nutrient levels in soil can be built up to provide rich land for years to come. Seasonal methods of reducing pests, using natural composts, and implementing innovative harvesting techniques have lured farmers from all over Sonoma County to learn from the Sangiacomo family. And as they have done from generation to generation, the Sangiacomos share their knowledge of soil, climate, and technology with local growers to help the region flourish.

As a second-generation farmer, Buck learned to work the land from his father, the late Vittorio Sangiacomo. He worked after school and during the summers alongside his brothers Angelo and Bob and his sister Lorraine. Today Buck continues to mentor the next generation --- Mike and Steve Sangiacomo and Mia Sangiacomo Pucci --- who run the day-to-day operation of the family business. The Sangiacomo family bond is strong and carries a legacy of perseverance withstanding even the Great Depression. It is with this strength and collaboration that the family works together today to preserve their farm and to provide opportunity for the next of kin. Moreover their diverse experience and collective knowledge have earned the Sangiacomos respect and loyalty from top wine producers in Sonoma County and beyond.

Just Add Water...

Just Add Water

by Lenox Magee

Excerpt below from article. Download full article.

Third generation brothers Mike and Steve Sangiacomo and their brother-in-law Mike Pucci have changed the wine game.The Sangiacomos practice a philosophy where, in the grape growing business, slow and steady can win the race. After speaking with Steve Sangiacomo, it would appear that their goal is to under-promise and over-deliver, a mantra that has catapulted them to the top of their game. Their wines offer a deep appreciation for nuance and for specialty. These days, it's not good enough to make wine that is mearly flawless; it has to be distinctive too.

What distinguishes Sangiacomo Family Vineyards is their 100 unique sites spread over 14 vineyards in 4 AVAs, which allows for the extraordinary range of flavors displayed by such classics as their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir...and boy, are they great.

20 Most Admired Grapegrowers in North America

20 Most Admired Grapegrowers in North America

Steve and Mike Sangiacomo, Sangiacomo Vineyards

Excerpt from full article.

Steve and Mike Sangiacomo

Steve and Mike Sangiacomo

As California’s family wineries and vineyards are gobbled up by large corporations, Sangiacomo Family Vineyards remain a shining example of a successful and adaptable family winegrowing operation. 

After emigrating from Genoa, Italy, in 1927, Vittorio and Maria Sangiacomo bought a ranch near the town of Sonoma, where they grew pears, apples and prunes. In 1969, the family planted its first vineyard. 

In the 1970s, the expansion of the grape program was led by the second generation of Sangiacomos: siblings Angelo, Bob, Buck and Lorraine. During the next 25 years, they continued to update their farming practices and increased the quality of their grapes as they developed each new vineyard block. 

Now, Sangiacomo Family Vineyards is run by the third generation, led by brothers Mike and Steve Sangiacomo. Together, they farm 1,600 acres of vineyards and more than 100 sites in the Carneros, Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Coast regions. 

With most of their business coming via word-of-mouth recommendations and handshake deals, the Sangiacomos have never needed to advertise their fruit. They’re known for never cutting corners, and constantly striving to deliver the best-possible grapes to their clients. 

Sonoma's Gundlach Bundschu winery was the first to bottle a vineyard-designated Sangiacomo wine, in 1979, and Joseph Phelps Vineyards followed in 1981. Today, more than 50 producers purchase Sangiacomo grapes and 35 produce vineyard-designated wines bearing the family name. These include La Follette Wines, Steele Wines, Ram’s Gate Winery, Ten Acre, Neyers Vineyards and Eric Kent Wine Cellars, among others. 

Blocks are custom-farmed to meet the needs of individual clients, whether they’re looking to showcase distinctive flavor profiles through vineyard-designated wines, or to create a consistent core of complex flavors from vintage to vintage by blending fruit from multiple blocks. 

Even with the company’s long history, the Sangiacomos’ farming practices are not stuck in the past. The family continuously conducts vineyard trials on everything from clone and rootstock combinations to vine spacing to advanced trellis systems. Through the decades, the family has changed its methods from straight cultivation to sustainable farming, reducing the use of pesticides, planting cover crops between rows and utilizing owl boxes for rodent control. 

“The Sangiacomos have always made me feel like an important partner, even though I am one of the smaller guys,” said Greg La Follette of La Follette Wines. “I have always truly appreciated their care and attention. Perhaps the best thing about them is that they are the most integrity-filled family I have ever met. They are among the best people in our industry 

Sustainability makes good wine business sense

Sustainability makes good wine business sense

Mike and Steve Sangiacomo and Mia Pucci are third-generation winemakers at Sangiacomo Vineyards. The entire Sangiacomo family are honored as the Sonoma County Farm Bureau's Farm Family of the Year on July 16, 2015. (Bill Hoban/Index-Tribune)

Mike and Steve Sangiacomo and Mia Pucci are third-generation winemakers at Sangiacomo Vineyards. The entire Sangiacomo family are honored as the Sonoma County Farm Bureau's Farm Family of the Year on July 16, 2015. (Bill Hoban/Index-Tribune)

More than three out of every five acres of vineyards in Sonoma County — 62 percent of the 60,000 acres — have been through the first phase of Sonoma County Winegrowers’ campaign to have all the acres self-assessed for sustainability by 2019.

“Sustainability reporting takes time and effort, but it’s worthwhile because you learn about your business and how to be more productive, protect the land and take care of people,” said Steve Sangiacomo, a Sonoma Valley-based winegrape grower and advocate for the program. “You put your business in a position to pass it to the next generation.”

Sonoma County Winegrowers launched the program in January 2014. Sangiacomo is set to discuss the program at the Business Journal’s Impact Sonoma conference on Oct. 21 in Santa Rosa.

Though it’s not easy to complete the documentation for the self-assessment (, growers likely will find they have been doing a number of the best practices for years as part of the evolution of the wine business in the North Coast in recent decades, he said. It’s coming because consumers demand it, with well more than half of thousands of consumers in dozens of countries Nielsen polled for Sonoma County Winegrowers saying that social and environmental responsibility as well as worker pay are important considerations when choosing a wine product.

Rapid growth of the wine business locally — expansion of vineyard acres in the 1990s and 2000s then a move for more agritourism opportunities since the 2007–2009 economic recession — has raised a number of questions about the industry’s scale and impact.

Of the 138 sections in the self-assessment, those of high relevance to current public discussions about the industry deal with water conservation and treatment of employees, Sangiacomo said. The water-use part of the assessment has the grower explore modern technology for vine consumption of water, such as evapotranspiration, sap-flow and soil-moisture sensors. The tools point to how much stress the vines are under in varying weather conditions and how much water they need to survive and concentrate their resources on fruit more than foliage.

“They emphasize vine health, so it’s about not overwatering, which has a negative effect on quality,” he said.

Regarding the workforce, the program encourages growers to be an “employer of choice.” That means developing good relationships with them, training them properly and compensating them accordingly, Sangiacomo said.

“So much of our industry is about experience,” he said, noting that each of his company’s eight field supervisors has 20-plus years in the business.

A new Napa Valley Grapegrowers wage study found average entry-level vineyard worker pay is $14 an hour, well above the $10 minimum wage taking effect statewide next year. Feedback from several large Sonoma County growers indicates that is the norm there too.

Having a rigorous program that emphasizes environmental, economic and social sustainability for the business plus a third-party certification system to verify compliance can help address public concerns, Sangiacomo said. Though final numbers aren’t in yet for this year, growers of more than a third of the acres have taken the additional step to complete third-party certification. The 2014 certified-acreage total was 33 percent, but that is estimated to have risen perhaps as high as 40 percent thus far in 2015, he said.

“It provides transparency for consumers and the community on how we run our businesses,” Sangiacomo said. “That transparency bodes well for the industry, for the public to see the ins and outs of the business and how much effort and detail is put into running businesses in a productive but environmentally friendly and supportive way.”

Sonoma County Winegrowers has partnered with San Francisco-based California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance ( for certification but also is accepting certification under Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing (, run by the Lodi-Woodbridge Winegrape Commission and a forerunner to CSWA’s program.

The Sangiacomo family has a nearly nine-decade history in Sonoma County agriculture. Vittorio Sangiacomo, his grandfather, came to the U.S. from Genoa, Italy, at age 17 and worked vegetable fields at Bay Farm Island in Alameda County. In 1927, he purchased a 52-acre apple and pear orchard near Sonoma and became the county’s largest pear grower.

The family started switching to wine grapes in 1969 and left the orchard business completely two decades later. Today, Sangiacomo Vineyards ( farms 1,600 acres of vines, mostly on the Sonoma side of Los Carneros appellation and in the Sonoma Valley region, with some vineyards in the Sonoma Coast and pending Petaluma Gap appellations. The family was involved in the effort to establish Carneros as an American Viticultural Area and is backing the bid for Petaluma Gap.

Sangiacomo Vineyards sells grapes to 70 wineries, with its grapes of enough distinction to supply 40 vineyard-designate labels. Running the company is the third generation: brothers Steve and Mike Sangiacomo and sister Mia Pucci.

Sonoma Valley Legends Series: Conversations with the Icons of Sonoma Valley Wine

SVVG logo
SV Legends

Partners in wine. Friends for decades. Angelo Sangiacomo and Jim Bundschu share stories from the early days

Angelo Sangiacomo, Sangiacomo Vineyards, and Jim Bundschu, Gundlach-Bundschu Winery

Angelo Sangiacomo, Sangiacomo Vineyards, and Jim Bundschu, Gundlach-Bundschu Winery

Mornings at the Lazy D

Angelo and Jim recall their breakfast meetings at the Lazy D, an old meeting spot where Angelo has had breakfast for over fifty years. 

Hijacking the Napa Valley Wine Train

Jim and the famed Sonoma Valley Wine Patrol pull off an epic publicity stunt.

Road Trip to Willamette Valley

Angelo and Jim reminisce about a road trip to Oregon's Willamette Valley to talk with other grapegrowers and vintners.

Sangiacomos: Farm, family are core

Sangiacomos: Farm, Family Are Core


For Steve Sangiacomo and his siblings Michael and Mia, the notion of farm and family are as inseparable as grapes are from a good bottle of wine.

Started in Sonoma in 1927 by Vittorio and Maria Sangiacomo, the sprawling Sangiacomo Vineyards enterprise includes several vineyards in Sonoma Valley and elsewhere in the county. The Sangiacomos have been named by the Sonoma County Farm Bureau as this year’s Farm Family of the Year, the award to be presented this Thursday night at the Bureau’s “Love of the Land” dinner at Richard’s Grove and Saralee’s Vineyard in Windsor. Read full article.

Farm Family of the Year

Sangiacomos honored as ‘Farm Family of the Year’

The Sangiacomo Family, a multi-generational Sonoma Valley family respected for their land stewardship, agriculture leadership and dedication to growing world-class grapes, is being honored as Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Farm Family of the year.

Third generation farmers Mike and Steve Sangiacomo and their sister Mia Pucci continue the farming legacy of their grandparents, parents, uncles and aunt on land first settled in 1927. Today, the Sangiacomos farm more than 1,600 acres of vineyards in Sonoma County. Their goal is to pass their land and love for farming to the fourth generation of family members and succeeding generations.

In addition to growing premium grapes, members of the Sangiacomo family are leaders in agriculture, wine industry organizations and the wider community.

The Sangiacomos who live and work on land settled by their Italian immigrant ancestors will be honored at Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s Love of the Land celebration on July 16 at Richard’s Grove and Saralee’s Vineyard, 3575 Slusser Road in Windsor.

Read more about the family in the June 25 print issue of The Sun.

Love of the Land, honoring the stewards of the land and Sonoma County’s agricultural bounty, starts at 5 p.m. with a tasting of Sonoma County wine and food. A dinner featuring an array of Sonoma County grown products is at 7 p.m. The dinner will be followed by the awards presentation and live auction. The event is open to anyone who wants to join in honoring one of Sonoma County’s premier farm families.

Individual tickets are $65. Corporate sponsor tables for eight people are $1,250. General seating tables of eight are $700. To make reservations visit call 707-544-5575. Tickets are available until July 2 or until sold out.

Slow and Steady at Sangiacomo Vineyards


La Follette Wines, Landmark, MacPhail, Neyers, Ram's Gate, Ravenswood, Saintsbury, Sojourn, Ten Acre Winery. What do all these highly respected wine producers have in common? They all source grapes from Sangiacomo Family Vineyards, a longstanding grower based in the cooler, southern stretches of Sonoma County. Now run by its third generation (brothers Mike and Steve Sangiacomo and their brother-in-law, Mike Pucci), with most of the second generation (Buck, Lorraine and Angelo Sangiacomo) still involved, Sangiacomo is a study in how, in the grape-growing business, slow and steady can win the race. Read full article. 

Sangiacomo Family Vineyards' 23rd Annual Tasting

One of the most clichéd phrases in all of winemaking—that wine is made in the vineyard—was emphatically demonstrated at the 23rd annual Sangiacomo Chardonnay tasting on March 24 at Ramekins, a culinary school and inn in Sonoma. The long history of this tasting reflects the naiveté and can-do, eclectic, experimental and evolutionary trends that have so marked the past 20-plus years of California’s premium wine industry. Read full article.

A Deeply Rooted Sangiacomo Family Tradition



There is a good reason why more than 30 wineries proudly display “Sangiacomo Vineyard” on their wine labels. Ask a Sonoma County winegrape grower the person they most respect in the industry, and the reply may be: “Angelo Sangiacomo.” The Sangiacomo family has been working and caring for their land and producing premium fruit for 80 years. They have successfully adapted to industry changes while keeping to their family traditions and values. In addition, they have been leaders in new directions for the winegrape industry. Read full article.

Sangiacomo Family Values Intelligence in the Vineyard


With the recent gobbling up of small California wineries by big corporations and the sales of vineyards during tough economic times, the tradition of passing down grapegrowing skills to the next generation is not as common as it used to be. 

In Sonoma County, a glowing exception is the Sangiacomo clan. Run by a multi-generational family known for its detailed, custom viticultural practices and its dedication to growing world-class grapes, Sangiacomo Family Vineyards farms 1,600 acres of vineyards and more than 100 distinctive sites in the Carneros, Sonoma Valley and Sonoma Coast regions.  Read full article.

Legendary California Vineyards


Vineyards are a lot like people with special talents: Many produce good fruit, some produce excellent fruit and a favored few consistently produce world-class fruit, shining brighter than others for reasons that are largely intangible. While European winegrowers have for centuries celebrated certain parcels where climate, soil and variety converge seamlessly - Romanée-Conti and Chambertin in Burgundy, for example - through much of California's comparatively nascent modern wine era it was the winemaker, rather than the vineyard, who was doted upon. It has taken some time, but as the 21st century dawned, a subtle shift of attitude in the collective California wine consciousness (among publicists, brand managers and critics) refocused la cause célèbre from vintner to vineyard. If there is a recurring theme among these legendary vineyards, it's the fact that most have had to struggle to achieve their fame. For winemakers, struggle is a good thing because vine stress yields small berries with a high solids-to-juice ratio, and it's from the solids, or skins, that a wine's chief flavors are imparted. Read full article