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 (sonomawinegrape.org/sustainability), 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 (sustainablewinegrowing.org) for certification but also is accepting certification under Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing (lodigrowers.com/lodi-rules/certification), 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 (sangiacomo-vineyards.com) 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

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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 www.sonomafb.org/loveofthelandor call 707-544-5575. Tickets are available until July 2 or until sold out.