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by Fred McMillin
for September 24, 1999

 

Winery of the Week

St. Helena Wine Cellars


Prologue

Gastronomic events of 1885...

  • John Borden starts delivering fresh milk in a new container, BOTTLES.
  • Joy Morton, 30, introduces Morton salt, which will become the first nation-wide brand.
  • Charles Nagreen, 15, concessionaire at a county fair in Wisconsin, puts butter-fried ground beef between bread slices so customers can eat while strolling. He calls it a HAMBURGER.
  • Italian immigrant Vittorio Sattui (sat-too-ee) opens the St. Helena Wine Cellars winery on Bryant Street in San Francisco's Mission District. It's named after the source of the grapes he ferments.


    The Rest of the Story

    You haven't heard of the St. Helena Wine Cellars? Well, here's what happened.

    1920—Prohibition arrives and the winery goes down the tubes.
    1975—Exactly 90 years after the winery's founding, Daryl Sattui revives the winery, naming it after his great-grandfather, and moving it appropriately to just south of St. Helena.

    Suzanne's Vineyard

    Picnicing beside Suzanne's Vineyard


    A Formula for Disaster

    The sentimental revival sounded wonderful, but there was a problem. Daryl had no money, no land, and no winemaking experience, a formula for disaster. His training was in economics, not enology. So, he went with his strength, arranged about $50,000 in financing, and made winemaking arrangements. But there were no funds to get the bottles to the customers, so he brought the customers to the winery. He set up picnic tables (see photo), a cheese shop, etc. The first year he sold more food than wine. It all worked so well, that Daryl never did hire a marketing-distribution firm. By the early 1990s he had more than a quarter million visitors a year, and profits to buy vineyards and build a handsome winery.

     

    The Wines

    Since it was a stop-and-shop winery, the wines were made for immediate enjoyment at first... I recall one of my S.F. State students bringing an off-dry Sattui rose (roh-zay) that the beginners loved. The veterans went for the Zins and Cabs. The Chardonnay scores well with my panel, and also the dessert Madeira. They are carefully crafted, and have provided the funds for the acquisition of top Napa land. I have a hand-written note from Daryl that reflects the quality: "Our Mt. Howell was just voted BEST ZINFANDEL IN THE WORLD in London. Our Suzanne's Vineyard Cab just picked up a gold." To order, (707) 963-7774.

     

    Postscript

    Daryl invested in Napa at the right time. How many acres of a typical Napa vineyard would that $50,000 buy today? Less than ONE!

     
    About the Writer

    Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

     
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    WineDay Annex

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