For Steve Sangiacomo and his siblings Michael and Mia, the notion of farm and family are as inseparable as grapes are from a good bottle of wine.
Started in Sonoma in 1927 by Vittorio and Maria Sangiacomo, the sprawling Sangiacomo Vineyards enterprise includes several vineyards in Sonoma Valley and elsewhere in the county. The Sangiacomos have been named by the Sonoma County Farm Bureau as this year’s Farm Family of the Year, the award to be presented this Thursday night at the Bureau’s “Love of the Land” dinner at Richard’s Grove and Saralee’s Vineyard in Windsor.
“Farm and family, absolutely, have always gone together for us,” says Steve Sangiacomo. “It’s the core of who we are. So this award has a lot of meaning for us, not just me and my brother and sister, but the entire family.”
On an overcast day in Sonoma, the third-generation Sangiacomos have gathered at the family’s headquarters on Broadway, where their father and uncles and aunt all grew up.
All equal partners in the farm, the Sangiacomos, second and third generation, still get together for coffee each morning before beginning the day’s work.
“At some point,” allows Michael Sangiacomo, “there’s going to be someone in the family, one of the fourth generation kids, who wants to work outside the ranch – but as of right now, everyone is working right here.”
Of the seven members of the next generation, points out Mia Pucci – whose husband Mike is also a partner – some will likely want to enter the family business, but it’s not a requirement.
“Farming really is part of who we all are,” says Pucci.
“Our mother was very open about how she felt about that,” says Steve, “always saying, ‘Hey, don’t think you have to come back and work on the farm your whole life. Go be a doctor. Go be a lawyer. Do your own thing.’ So, if you do come back, it’s because it’s in your blood and it’s what you love to do.
“And every family needs a lawyer,” he jokes, “so we’re hoping at least one of them will choose law for a career.”
According to the Sangiacomos, when their grandfather came over from Italy, he first worked as a farmhand to pay his mother back for the money he borrowed to come to America.
After that, he worked for a time as a scavenger, basically a garbage collector in San Francisco, learning the value of hard work and the pleasure of working with his hands. When he first purchased the first piece of land in Sonoma, he grew fruit trees.
Now the family grows several varietals of wine grapes, providing fruit for a number of wineries.
“I think the philosophy our grandfather had has stayed the same,” says Michael. “Take care of your land, and take care of your people. That hasn’t changed since he bought the property. What maybe has changed is the technology, the experience and the knowledge we’ve gained.”
To that end, the Sangiacomos are certain their grandparents would be pleasantly surprised at the level of detail the goes into agriculture in the year 2015.
“Even just in terms of water use,” says Steven, “all the measures we use to be efficient, to give a plant what it needs without over watering. In the 1920s, they used to do flood irrigation. We’ve come a long way since then. I think they would be amazed at what’s going on now with deficit irrigation vines, and delaying the onset of irrigation, deciding when you irrigate, how much you irrigate based on climatic conditions, based on stress and pressure monitoring to tell how hard the plant is working to pull moisture out of the ground. All of those details, I think, would just amaze them.
“And that’s just dealing with water,” he laughs.
The way wine grapes are branded and marketed is another detail that the family takes seriously, starting with the second generation of Sangiacomos, who established new ways of selling grapes to vineyards, within and without Sonoma County.
“Our dad and his brothers realized they needed to make wine grapes a true brand, so our business, Sangiacomo Vineyards became a brand,” says Steve. “That’s one thing out family has set a strong example for, I think – understanding the importance of marketing Sonoma County fruit in a way that consumers will become aware of the region, fall in love with Sonoma County, and in turn fall in love with the wine our grapes produce.”
That example, and the local leadership of the entire family, is a large part of reason the Sangiacomo family is being honored as Farm Family of the Year.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to have our family be selected,” says Pucci. “This award reflects how hard my brothers, and my husband, and our whole family works together every day to make this business successful.”