V. Sattui figured out early on that people are looking for experiences and choices.
V. Sattui Winery has 2600 reviews on Yelp. For comparison, Robert Mondavi Winery has 700, and Chateau Montelena – 351*. It’s not surprising that whenever someone asks for a winery advice on an internet forum or in a Facebook group, V. Sattui name always comes up.
Lots of people love it. Compared to many other wineries, V. Sattui is indeed a very easy place to visit: located right on Highway 29, it has generous opening hours, modest tasting fees, a large deli section, picnic grounds, and an expansive tasting menu with more wines to choose from than many restaurant wine lists.
That said, V. Sattui isn’t really much about wine. You’ll rarely meet a wine connoisseur in the tasting room who’s looking for a specific variety, or vintage, or AVA. Rather, V. Sattui is about creating memorable experiences and offering a myriad of choices for its guests.
The atmosphere inside the main tasting room is a mix of a busy Friday-night bar, pre-holiday supermarket and a popular lunch joint – loud and jolly. V. Sattui displays more wine country souvenirs than some local tourist shops and has more tasting bars than any other winery in the Valley.
Surrounded by dozens (or hundreds, depending on the day) of merry drinkers and eaters, hearing the sounds of jingling glasses, and seeing a long line to the cashier, one immediately wants to join in. At this point it doesn’t matter that picnic tables are right by the highway or that better value can be found elsewhere.
The basic tasting menu offers 50 or so wines, from which one is invited to select six (there’s also a list of reserve wines). Tasting bar staff are trained to handle large crowds: they’re welcoming but brief and can tell you the essentials, give some advice and most probably pour an extra sip of something you’re curious about.
On my recent visit, there were four Chardonnays, eight Zinfandels, and six Cabernets to choose from, in addition to a host of other varieties. (Have I already said that the choices are endless?)
Wines are of uneven quality. My pick of that day was 2013 Crow Ridge Zinfandel ($47) from 100-year-old vines grown in dry-farmed Russian River vineyard. It’s a big (15% alc.), round Zin with lots of vanilla and ripe, lush fruit.
The most popular wine in the tasting room? Gamay Rouge ($24), said our tasting room host, with 30.5 g/l residual sugar, made from 100% Gamay grapes.
V. Sattui and Castello di Amorosa, two of Napa Valley’s most popular wineries, are both owned by Dario Sattui (or Daryl Sattui, as he was known before). Dario’s great-grandfather made wine in San Francisco in the late 19th century but had to close his winemaking business during Prohibition.
Dario, an accounting/finance and M.B.A. programs graduate, started V. Sattui winery in 1975 with the idea to re-establish his great-grandfather’s business. Dario must have a great business acumen as he figured out early on that direct to consumer sales and a deli are the two sides of the business with the most lucrative margins.
The company website says that V. Sattui turned profit already in the first year of operations. Forty years later, the winery sells 65,000 cases direct to consumers, a number that would make a lot of Napa wineries jealous.
Address and opening hours: 1111 White Lane St. Helena. The tasting room is open from 9 am to 6 pm, no appointments are required. Tasting fee: $15 for any 6 wines on the menu. Other tasting experiences are available. There’s an Italian deli adjacent to the tasting room with sandwiches, pastas, and salads, and a large selection of cheeses. Outside, there’re picnic tables but food and wine have to be purchased at V. Sattui.
*As of April 23, 2016.