Kathleen Hill: Cheese Factory backstory, winemakers and food support

More on Sonoma Cheese Factory sale

Let’s remember the Sonoma Cheese Factory where many of us were taken and then took our kids to go to the back of the shop where we could press our noses, or whatevers, against the glass and watch the cheesemakers making the original Sonoma Jack cheese.

Mary Deely says she remembers “the cheesemakers with their bouffant hair covers and white jackets.”

Such a miracle we all thought it was. And it still is. But not there, thanks to a Listeria scare back in 2001.

We used to dip freely into the cheese cubes with toothpicks to eat as many samples as we could, and maybe get a sandwich on the way out. High school kids would make Saturday lunch out of those cheese cubes. And the toothpicks weren’t wrapped and there was lots of double dipping – and most of us are still here.

The Viviani family brought in various sellers of coffee, ice cream, wine, and some deli foods that filled the cavernous space left when cheesemaking was removed. Clusters of men friends met there every morning and afternoon for coffee, including my father, during the time Celso David Viviani was president of the company. I may have the chronology wrong but it doesn’t matter. David still remembers my late father’s order to this day. That was Sonoma.

As David Viviani, hehas served as chair or president of the California Cheese & Butter Association, U.S. Cheesemakers Association, Dairy Council of California, Sonoma County Harvest Fair, Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau, Sonoma Valley Chamber of Commerce, Sonoma County Farm Trails, Sonoma County Economic Development Board, and was founder of the “Hit the Road Jack” run to benefit Hospice and the Boys & Girls Clubs.

When father Pete Viviani passed away in 2001 he left the place in a trust for David’s sisters, Nina and Maria, who have now sold it to Stacy and Ken Mattson for $3.75 million, according to David Viviani.

David wrote to me in an email, saying that, “It would be my heartfelt wish that the new proprietors of the Sonoma Cheese Factory would honor the long cheese making legacy of the Viviani family. With an eye to the future, my grandfather, Celso Viviani and Tom Vella built the Sonoma Cheese Factory – ‘Home of Sonoma Jack’ – in 1945, on the historic Sonoma Plaza. They were inspired by their rich Italian heritage, the vibrant wine country landscape, the bountiful agricultural community and the abundance of local dairies. I trust this tradition will be honored as this historic property evolves and continues to serve the local community and beyond.”

On Monday, David Viviani wrote again, saying, “Per public records, the SCF sold for $3.75 million, included was the 20,000-square-foot property on Sonoma’s Historic Plaza, the landmark building, leasehold improvements, and the Sonoma Cheese Factory brand name and trademark. This is the most recent act of my two younger sisters to sell the last and main Viviani family asset. At first I was saddened, now (I feel) a great sense of freedom. Ciao, Celso David Viviani.”

Michael Mina’s Wit & Wisdom to open

The long planned new Wit & Wisdom Tavern at the Lodge at Sonoma is scheduled to open next Monday, Sept. 14.

This is Michael Mina’s second Wit & Wisdom, supposed to evoke memories of Jack London, who used the phrase as a title of his personal writings. Reservations can be made via Open Table.

The décor looks a bit more modern Restoration Hardware-ish and photos look as if the counter seating has been replaced by shelves. Brunch served Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., lunch Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and dinner daily, 5 to 10 p.m. 1324 Broadway, Sonoma. 931-3405, hotel 935-6600.

Sangiacomo chardonnay wine Best of the Best

The homegrown Sangiacomo family has been rewarded for all of its clean growing and wine-making practices, to say nothing of their community service and generosity, with the Best of the Best award in the Press Democrat’s North Coast Wine Challenge this past July.

Sangiacomo Family Wines’ 2018 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay won Best of the Best, Best of Show White Wine, Best of Sonoma County, Best of Class and a Double Gold for 99 points.

Steve and Connie Sangiacomo, Mike and Whitney Sangiacomo, and Mia and Mike Pucci are all partners in farming and the winery, with James MacPhail serving as winemaker.

Grandfather Vittorio bought the land of Home Ranch in 1927 and grew pears and lots of stone fruit. The family finished the conversion to grapes in 1981. Now the family owns 1,600 acres of grapes from Sonoma Coast and Carneros to Petaluma Gap and sells grapes to more than 60 premium wineries.

Their motto comes from father Angelo Sangiacomo who says, “Take care of your land, and take care of your people.” The Sangiacomos were the first growers to house farm workers in a dorm and pay one of them to cook lunch in the field.

“Ang’s” siblings included Lorraine, who inherited the job of cooking for family lunch meetings, Buck, and Bob, who passed away too early.

The entire Sangiacomo family was a past honoree at the Boys & Girls Clubs’ Sweetheart Gala for their outstanding contributions, and Mike filled in for Ang to ring the first Harvest celebration bell for the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance.

Their fall releases came out on Monday, so join their mailing list to get an allocation offer or to purchase new wines upon release. The family says their “Club Familia is built for celebrating family, friendship and loyalty.” 21545 Broadway, Sonoma. 934-8445.

Benziger Family Winery is Best Tour

USA Today Readers’ Choice Travel Awards named Benziger Family Winery’s estate and winery tour as Best Winery Tour for 2020. Benziger Family Winery is now owned by the Wine Group of Livermore, but many family members are still involved.

Guests can expect a tram tour of Benziger’s biodynamic vegetable garden and vineyard with a full explanation and history of the property with Chris Benziger, and opt for a seated tasting. This is a truly unique property and the Benzigers offer a thorough history and knowledge of Jack London as a near neighbor.

The Tribute Estate Tour takes about 1.5 hours to cover their Sonoma Mountain Estate. Because of the pandemic, they now take only private groups up to six guests Thursday through Monday, with tasting along the way. No minors allowed. $60. To make a reservation call 800-989-8890 or visit

Breathless Wines win too

Sharon Cohn’s Breathless Wines just won 2020 “Winery of the Year” from LuxeSF’s Rising Star Awards. LuxeSF happens to publish both Silicon Valley and San Francisco magazines.

LuxeSF was formerly known as the Luxury Marketing Council of San Francisco. According to their press release, “the Winery of the Year Award is given to an up-and-coming leader in the industry, a brand that is a subject of current industry buzz, generating consumer and trade excitement, one that is innovating and experimenting with new, interesting trends in winemaking and marketing, and is hiring top performers while attracting great wine talent to their roster.”

Former Glen Ellen resident Sharon Cohn and her sisters, Rebecca Faust and Cynthia Faust, founded Breathless Wines in 2012 to honor their mother, Martha, who inspired them, saying: “The woman on our label is a tribute to our mother, Martha, and all the men and women who teach and remind us to take each breath we are given as a gift to be cherished.”

Winemaker Penny Gadd-Coster uses the specialized Méthode Champenoise that she learned in France to make these fine wines, including a sparkling rosé, a blanc de noirs, a blanc de blancs and a brut ($39 to $100).

The sisters also hold monthly Breakfast at Breathless and occasional Breakfast Bubbles & Books events, often featuring the novels of Rebecca Rosenberg of Kenwood, at their Healdsburg facility, 499 Moore Lane.

Breathless Wines have been also named Best New Winery by San Francisco magazine and featured in Forbes as well.

Their tasting room is open now, outdoors, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Reserve your tasting ($16 to $69) at

Sonoma Mountain Beef Co.

Farmer and rancher Jamie Mickelson, owner of Sonoma Mountain Beef, has added some great new cuts to her website that you can buy directly from her at the Napa farmers market on Saturdays. Apparently she is back at Sonoma’s Friday morning farmers market every other week. Check out her new bone-in ribeye, Korean short ribs and carne asada cuts.

Mickelson, a graduate of Cal Poly with a masters in ag business, ranches in the Sonoma and Petaluma hills. Her cattle are grass-fed and grain finished to create flavor and juicy tenderness. They contain no antibiotics and consume no animal bi-products. Check her website at

The Mill meat and seafood update

A couple of readers posted in response to my column last week wondering whether chef Dana Jaffe would be cooking steaks like she did at Saddles Steakhouse before Suzanne Brangham sold it.

Sanjeev K. Singh will indeed. I wrote last week that they have a Wagyu top sirloin steak ($38) and a 6-ounce petite filet, the latter with wild mushrooms, summer vegetables and demi-glace ($36). They also now have a steak burger with smoked bacon, cheddar cheese and caramelized onions ($18). Also, one can enjoy a poached Ora king salmon filet with baby bok choy, summer veggies and citrus beurre blanc ($28).

To the dessert menu they have added grilled fruits with oat crumbs and coconut ice cream, and burnt Basque cheesecake ($9.50). Jack London Village, 14301 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen. Still no phone number.

Let us acknowledge

Let’s acknowledge all of those who lost their lives in the tragic violence of 9/11, and let’s thank all of the first responders who are risking their lives and health trying to protect us from tragic fires.

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