Local grape-growing maven Angelo Sangiacomo will be inducted into the Sonoma County Farm Bureau’s “Hall of Fame” at its 88th annual dinner and awards program this Friday (October 28).
The Farm Bureau is a non-government affiliated association of farm and ranch families that, according to its website, is “united for the purpose of analyzing their problems and formulating action to achieve educational improvement, economic opportunity, and social advancement and, thereby, to promote the national well-being.”
The keynote speaker this year is Martina Newell-McGloughlin, director of the University of California’s biotechnology research and education program.
“Angelo Sangiacomo has just been a real pioneer in the wine industry in Sonoma County,” says Lex McCorvey, Farm Bureau’s executive director. “Angelo has been at the forefront of the evolution of the local grape-growing industry. We’re recognizing him for his lifetime achievement to agriculture in the community.”
At the ceremony, Sangiacomo will be presented with a gift in recognition of his achievements amidst testimonials from members of the area’s agricultural community recognizing his contributions.
“Well, it’s an honor. I feel honored and proud of the award,” says Sangiacomo, a crinkly-eyed septuagenarian possessed of an affable demeanor and gentlemanly modesty. To wit, Sangiacomo is pleased with the honor but demurely suggests with a chuckle “That’s what happens when you get older and you still stay with it.”
Sangiacomo turned 75 this past August and delights in pointing out that he is a native Sonoman, “born at Burndale Hospital on Burndale Road.”
Likewise, Sangiacomo takes satisfaction in the fact that his vineyards have remained a family-owned business since his parents founded their first fruit orchard in 1927. Sangiacomo, his two brothers and sister grew up in the family business. These days, his two sons are also active in the company (his daughter currently works for an ale company, but he says “We look forward to having her back someday.”).
“We had a large fruit orchard for years. We really had a lot of pears, apples, prunes, even cherries years back. Now it’s all grapes. When you’re in Rome do what the Romans do,” Sangiacomo says with a sage smile. Sangiacomo Vineyards now produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Grigio grapes.
Sangiacomo credits his success and enduring popularity with winemakers, and by extension wine drinkers, to a strong family work ethic.
“I think that we’ve worked hard at it. We’ve grown up in it. There are other equally good suppliers out there. We don’t think ours is any better. We have neighbors and people in Sonoma County who have that have just as good of grapes and all, but I think that it’s the long term relationships with the wineries that we’ve had – evidentially we’re doing what they want us to do.”
Christopher Sawyer, a wine writer and sommelier, who recently hosted a dinner in honor of Sangiacomo’s contributions to local winemaking at Carneros Bistro and Wine Bar at the Lodge in Sonoma, points to the consistent quality of Sangiacomo’s fruit as the reason the name “Sangiacomo Vineyards” is the vineyard designate on so many wine labels.
“Sangiacomo Vineyards have a long line of people who want fruit from them. These guys are some of the best winemakers in our area as well as the Napa Valley who want a piece of the Sangiacomo fruit property,” says Sawyer. “He’s one of the finest farmers in Northern California, hands down. His family has the tradition of being a farming family. They have over a thousand acres of grapes, that have charm and consistently well-groomed grape vines.”
Sawyer is impressed with Sangiacomo’s prescience when it comes to selecting areas to plant his vineyards, which have expanded from the Carneros and Sonoma Valley regions to the burgeoning Sonoma Coast appellation.
“These are three of the most prominent wine growing regions in Northern California and they’ve spotlighted all of them and are doing a great job in each one,” says Sawyer. “You have to honor people who have such a vast array of great grapes – wine producers want their fruit to come from this vineyard because they’re so special.”
McCorvey concurs, adding that Sangiacomo’s years of experience are evident in the fruits of his labors.
“His years of experience, not only developing his vineyard, the soils that he has, and the land that he has acquired to grow grapes are very unique,” says McCorvey. “I think his wisdom from years of being in agriculture has played to his advantage and I think the quality of his fruit is indicative of that.”