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Frank Pastori, Geyserville wine pioneer, dies at 100

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Of all the old-school winemakers in Sonoma County, Frank Pastori of Geyserville was likely the oldest.

Pastori was born on the ranch his Italian immigrant parents started to work in 1914. He learned to grow and sell grapes, and to keep back enough for making wine to drink at home and share with visitors.

Pastori started small when he began making wine for sale decades ago. Pastori Winery was never big or flashy. If Pastori noticed someone pull in, he’d walk to the former prune dehydrator that served as a rustic tasting room, pour his guests samples in little paper cups and tell them stories from the earliest days of winemaking in Alexander Valley.

A tourist from Oregon wrote on Yelp in 2016 that at Pastori Winery north of Geyserville “there’s no fancy estate landscaping, no shirts or custom swag. If that is what you are after, keep driving. If you judge wine by snazzy graphics, keep driving ... Frank, if you are lucky, will regale you with stories about the people who built this industry ... And buy yourself his old school reds, among the best you will ever drink.”

Pastori turned 100 years old on Jan. 30. He died at home on Monday.

“He had 100 years of stories,” said his daughter, Sharon Pastori of Oakland. She added that he told them very well.

Frank Pastori was a historical treasure in and around Geyserville.

Just last March, wine writer Dan Berger noted that Pastori was the eldest of the well-aged and renowned vintners who gathered at Francis Ford Coppola Winery to have lunch and swap tastes and tales and memories. Among the other names present were Pedroncelli, Cline, Barrett, Ramey, MacRostie and Tchelistcheff.

On Jan. 30, Frank Pastori blew out a candle on a hefty slice of tiramisu at the luncheon at Catelli’s in Geyserville that marked his birthday.

He was born a century earlier, on Jan. 30, 1920, to ranchers Constante and Erminia Pastori, who sold wine grapes to Italian Swiss Colony and to Petri Wine. As their son came into the world, they struggled with the onset of Prohibition.

They pulled out every other vine and planted fruit trees, mainly to produce prunes. What grapes they continued to grow, they sold to Welch’s for grape juice.

With the end of Prohibition, Frank Pastori’s parents continued to sell prunes and other fruit while transitioning back to growing wine grapes.

Their hardworking son was 16 when he was surprised to receive a Valentine card from a fellow Geyserville ranch teen, Edith “Edie” Buchignani. Pastori responded in kind, and a flame was ignited.

The pair married in June of 1941 at St. John’s Church in Healdsburg. They lived in that town for a time before moving onto a ranch of their own in Geyserville, a short distance from where Frank Pastori grew up.

He recalled long afterward, “When I married her she was a full-blooded farmer. She used to stay out there, seven days a week, hot or cold. She was a hustler, a good housekeeper and everything else.”

The Pastoris grew some grapes but focused on prunes, apples and pears — until the influx of imported fruit stole most of their market. It was in the 1970s when they started pulling out fruit trees and planting more grapevines.

They sold many of their grapes to Geyserville’s Clos Du Bois. As often happens with growers, Frank and Evie Pastori made some wine for themselves and for friends, and from that grew Pastori Winery.

It was always a homey, small-scale enterprise. Ever sociable, Frank Pastori co-founded the Russian River Wine Road and was happy for the additional visitors it brought in.

As the Pastoris aged and the keeping of more than 60 acres of zinfandel, chardonnay, merlot, cabernet and Carginano grapes grew more demanding, the winery shrank into more of a pastime.

Edith Pastori died early in 2011, at 88. A grandson, Paolo Pastori, moved onto the ranch to help his grandfather with the vineyards.

Frank Pastori was for decades a beloved presence at Mount Carmel Catholic Church in Asti.

Said Sharon Pastori, “My dad has probably cut palms for Palm Sunday for 90 years.” He also carried and passed collection plates.

Frank Pastori had no interest in traveling from northern Sonoma County. “He was never on an airplane,” his daughter said.

Pastori told a Press Democrat correspondent there was simply no reason to travel far from his ranch on Geyserville Avenue.

“When you live on a main road,” he said, “the world comes to you.”

Funeral services will be held Feb. 25 at Mount Carmel Catholic Church. Visitation will start at 9 a.m. and a Rosary and Mass at 10.

Pastori’s family suggests memorial contributions to favorite charities or to Memorial Hospice, 439 College Ave., Santa Rosa 95401, or www.stjosephhealth.org.

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