V. Sattui – vox populi

V. Sattui is an easy stop with lots of wine choices and a good deli.

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 help with a Napa Valley itinerary on an internet forum or in a Facebook group, V. Sattui name always comes up.

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 good deli, outside picnic grounds, and an expansive tasting menu that will make some restaurant wine lists pale in comparison.

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 fun memorable experiences and offering a myriad of choices for its guests.

V. Sattui winery, tasting room
A small selection of wine souvenirs for sale in the tasting room

The atmosphere inside the main tasting room is loud and jolly. It’s a mix of a busy Friday-night bar, pre-holiday supermarket and a popular lunch joint. V. Sattui has more wine country souvenirs on display than some local tourist shops and more tasting bars than any other winery in the Valley.

The sight of dozens (or hundreds, depending on the day) of merry drinkers and eaters and the sounds of jingling glasses makes one to immediately want 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 for tasting (there’s also a list of reserve wines). Tasting bar staff are trained to handle large crowds: they’re welcoming and brief, 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 nearly endless?)

My pick of that day was the 2013 Crow Ridge Zinfandel ($47) made from 100-year-old vines grown in a dry-farmed Russian River vineyard. It was a big (15% alc.) smooth Zin with flavors of vanilla and ripe, lush fruit.

The most popular wine in the tasting room, said our host, was Gamay Rouge ($24) with 30.5 g/l residual sugar.

V. Sattui winery, a bottle of Zinfandel

V. Sattui and Castello di Amorosa, two of Napa Valley’s most popular wineries, are both owned by Dario Sattui. 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 wine business with 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 (5 pm in winter), no appointments are required, except for tours and wine & food pairings. There’s an Italian deli adjacent to the tasting room with sandwiches, pastas, and salads, and a large selection of cheeses.  

*As of April 23, 2016.