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Slow and steady at Sangiacomo vineyards

  • Steve Sangiacomo , left, and his brother Mike of Sangiacomo Family Vineyards on Thursday, August 22, 2013 in Sonoma, California. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

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.

"They are the ultimate handshake kind of people," said winemaker Jeff Gaffner, who sources Sangiacomo chardonnay and pinot noir for Ram's Gate as well as for his own label, Saxon Brown.

"Their goal is to under-promise and over-deliver and they obviously know their ground. They do stuff before you have to ask for it," Gaffner added. "And they farm some challenging areas, which is why I admire them even more."

It all began in 1927 when Italian-born patriarch Vittorio Sangiacomo found a 52-acre fruit-tree farm for sale in Sonoma. That Carneros ranch, known as the Home Ranch and where dusty bays of orange tractors await the call to harvest, remains the heart of the family's operations to this day.

Vittorio soon became the biggest pear producer in the county, enlisting his four kids to work the orchards and further expand the family business. It is they who also saw the coming interest in wine grapes, planting the first Sangiacomo vineyards in 1969. By the mid- 1980s, pears were a thing of the past.

By the 1990s, the third generation was stepping in, eager to keep up with Sonoma County's flourishing reputation for fine wines. Mike Sangiacomo came on board after college in 1992. Steve followed suit in 1997.

"I always had the urge to come back and do it," said Mike. "I knew in my heart I wanted to farm since I was a young kid."

This despite the fact that the matriarch of the family, their grandmother Maria, Vittorio's wife, would always counsel them to grow up to be doctors or lawyers.

"She'd say, 'You don't want to be a farmer,'" Steve recalled. "Farming is something that has to be your passion, in your blood. You go through a lot of trials and tribulations."

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