University of California Berkeley
Regional Oral History Office University of California
The Bancroft Library Berkeley, California
The Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral History Series
Louis J. Foppiano
A CENTURY OF WINEGROWING IN SONOMA COUNTY, 1896-1996
Interviews Conducted by
Copyright 1996 by The Regents of the University of California
Since 1954 the Regional Oral History Office has been interviewing leading
participants in or well-placed witnesses to major events in the development of
Northern California, the West, and the Nation. Oral history is a modern research
technique involving an interviewee and an informed interviewer in spontaneous
conversation. The taped record is transcribed, lightly edited for continuity and
clarity, and reviewed by the interviewee. The resulting manuscript is typed in
final form, indexed, bound with photographs and illustrative materials, and
placed in The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, and
other research collections for scholarly use. Because it is primary material,
oral history is not intended to present the final, verified, or complete
narrative of events. It is a spoken account, offered by the interviewee in
response to questioning, and as such it is reflective, partisan, deeply involved,
All uses of this manuscript are covered by a legal agreement
between The Regents of the University of California and Louis J.
Foppiano dated October 5, 1994. The manuscript is thereby made
available for research purposes. All literary rights in the
manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to The
Bancroft Library of the University of California, Berkeley. No part
of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written
permission of the Director of The Bancroft Library of the University
of California, Berkeley.
Requests for permission to quote for publication should be
addressed to the Regional Oral History Office, 486 Library,
University of California, Berkeley 94720, and should include
identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated
use of the passages, and identification of the user. The legal
agreement with Louis J. Foppiano requires that he be notified of the
request and allowed thirty days in which to respond.
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:
Louis J. Foppiano, A Century of
Winegrowing In Sonoma County, 1896-1996,
an oral history conducted in 1996 by
Carole Hicke, Regional Oral History
Office, The Bancroft Library, University
of California, Berkeley, 1996.
Louis M. Foppiano and Louis J. Foppiano, ca. 1986
FOPPIANO, Louis J. (b. 1910)
A Century of Agriculture and Winemaking in Sonoma County, 1896-1996, 1996,
vii, 94 pp.
Farming in Healdsburg area, starting 1896; early wineries and winemaking;
Prohibition and Depression eras; Sonoma County Grape Growers Association;
Foppiano Vineyards: founding, then expansion of winery, 1940s- 1990s;
vineyard and winemaking practices; involvement of younger generations;
Geysers Development Corporation. Includes recollections of Delia Foppiano.
Interviewed in 1995 by Carole Hicke for the Wine Spectator California Wine
Oral History Series, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library,
University of California, Berkeley.
TABLE OF CONTENTS --Louis J. Foppiano
PREFACE- -by Carole Hicke i
INTERVIEW HISTORY- -by Carole Hicke vi
I BACKGROUND AND FAMILY 1
Trip to Italy
John Foppiano: Buying the Riverside Farm in 1896 4
Growing Up in the Vineyard 6
II WINERIES AND WINEMAKING
Early Wineries in the Healdsburg Area
Winemaking Before Prohibition
Walter Varney and His Flying Career 10
Depression Era 12
III MAKING WINE AT FOPPIANO VINEYARDS 14
Prohibition and Repeal 14
Selling Wine in New York 18
New Equipment 21
Grapes and Farming 24
Sotoyome Vineyards 25
Wine Institute 26
Founding the Sonoma County Grape Growers Association, 1946
Buying the Cattle Ranch 29
Winery Expansion in the 1940s 32
Geysers Development Corporation
Early Vineyard Workers and Employees 35
The Next Generation of Foppianos 36
Winemaking in the 1950s and 1960s: Varietals 37
More on Early Days: German and Italian Workers; Planting by
the Moon 39
Big Frost of 1970 42
More on the 1960s 42
Palate Development and Tasting Wines 44
Marketing, Distribution, and Travels 47
Turning Over Winemaking Duties 53
Outside Activities: Flying 53
The Future of the Wine Industry 54
IV OLDTIMERS AND EARLY DAYS IN SONOMA COUNTY 57
Abele Ferrari 57
August Sebastiani and Julio Gallo: Fishing and Other Stories 59
Dante Bagnani 63
Selling Trips to the East Coast 64
Carlo Rossi 69
Wine Institute 70
Heck Family 71
Oldtimers Association 73
Bagnani Wines and Vinegar 74
Soda Rock Winery 75
Henry Bugatto 76
Giovanni Cambiaso 76
Northern Italians in California 77
Simi Winery 80
More on Bagnani 81
Raising a Family in the Wine Business 82
TAPE GUIDE 85
A "1896-1996, the First 100 Years," Vine Business Monthly cover,
July 1996 87
B "Their Reputation Sets the Pace," Healdsburg Tribune, May 14,
C Jason Brandt Lewis, "Family Tradition Brings Success,"
Vine World, November /December 1984- January 1985 89
D Rodney A. Foppiano obituary statement 92
The California wine industry oral history series, a project of the
Regional Oral History Office, was initiated by Ruth Teiser in 1969
through the action and with the financing of the Wine Advisory Board, a
state marketing order organization which ceased operation in 1975. In
1983 it was reinstituted as The Wine Spectator California Winemen Oral
History Series with donations from The Wine Spectator Scholarship
Foundation. The selection of those to be interviewed has been made by a
committee consisting of the director of The Bancroft Library, University
of California, Berkeley; John A. De Luca, president of the Wine
Institute, the statewide winery organization; Maynard A. Amerine,
Emeritus Professor of Viticulture and Enology, University of California,
Davis ; the current chairman of the board of directors of the Wine
Institute; Carole Hicke, series project director; and Marvin R. Shanken,
trustee of The Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation.
Until her death in June 1994, Ruth Teiser was project originator,
initiator, director, and conductor of the greater part of the oral
histories. Her book, Winemaking in California, co-authored with
Catherine Harroun and published in 1982, was the product of more than
forty years of research, interviewing, and photographing. (Those wine
history files are now in The Bancroft Library for researcher use.) Ruth
Teiser 's expertise and knowledge of the wine industry contributed
significantly to the documenting of its history in this series.
The purpose of the series is to record and preserve information on
California grape growing and winemaking that has existed only in the
memories of wine men. In some cases their recollections go back to the
early years of this century, before Prohibition. These recollections are
of particular value because the Prohibition period saw the disruption of
not only the industry itself but also the orderly recording and
preservation of records of its activities. Little has been written about
the industry from late in the last century until Repeal. There is a real
paucity of information on the Prohibition years (1920-1933), although
some commercial winemaking did continue under supervision of the
Prohibition Department. The material in this series on that period, as
well as the discussion of the remarkable development of the wine industry
in subsequent years will be of aid to historians. Of particular value is
the fact that frequently several individuals have discussed the same
subjects and events or expressed opinions on the same ideas, each from
his or her own point of view.
Research underlying the interviews has been conducted principally in
the University libraries at Berkeley and Davis, the California State
Library, and in the library of the Wine Institute, which has made its
collection of materials readily available for the purpose.
The Regional Oral History Office was established to tape record
autobiographical interviews with persons who have contributed
significantly to recent California history. The office is headed by
Willa K. Baum and is under the administrative supervision of The Bancroft
The Wine Spectator California Winemen
Oral History Series
Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library
University of California, Berkeley
CALIFORNIA WINE INDUSTRY INTERVIEWS
Interviews Completed as of September 1996
Leon D. Adams, Revitalizing the California Wine Industry. 1974
Leon D. Adams, California Wine Industry Affairs; Recollections and Opinions.
Maynard A. Amerine, The University of California and the State's Wine
Maynard A. Amerine, Wine Bibliographies and Taste Perception Studies.
Richard L. Arrowood, Sonoma County Winemaking: Chateau St. Jean and Arrowood
Vineyards & Winery. 1996
Philo Biane, Wine Making in Southern California and Recollections of Fruit
Industries. Inc. , 1972
Charles A. Carpy, Viticulture and Enology at Freemark Abbey. 1994
John B. Cella, The Cella Family in the California Wine Industry. 1986
Charles Crawford, Recollections of a Career with the Gallo Winery and the
Development of the California Wine Industry. 1942-1989. 1990
Burke H. Critchfield, Carl F. Wente, and Andrew G. Frericks, The California
Wine Industry During the Depression. 1972
William V. Cruess, A Half Century of Food and Wine Technology. 1967
Jack and Jamie Peterman Davies, Rebuilding Schramsberg: The Creation of a
California Champagne House. 1990
William A. Dieppe, Almaden is My Life. 1985
Paul Draper, History and Philosophy of Winemakine at Ridge Vineyards: 1970s-
Daniel J. and Margaret S. Duckhorn, Mostly Merlot; The History of Duckhorn
Ficklin, David, Jean, Peter, and Steve, Making California Port Wine: Ficklin
Vineyards from 1948 to 1992. 1992
Brooks Firestone, Firestone Vineyard: A Santa Ynez Valley Pioneer. 1996
Louis J. Foppiano, A Century of Winegrowing in Sonoma County. 1896-1996. 1996
Alfred Fromm, Marketing California Wine and Brandy. 1984
Louis Gomberg, Analytical Perspectives on the California Wine Industry. 1935-
Miljenko Grgich, A Croatian-American Winemaker in the Napa Valley. 1992
Joseph E. Heitz, Creating a Winery in the Napa Valley. 1986
Agustin Huneeus, A World View of the Wine Industry. 1996
Maynard A. Joslyn, A Technologist Views the California Wine Industry.
Amandus N. Kasimatis, A Career in California Viticulture. 1988
Morris Ratz, Paul Masson Winery Operations and Management, 1944-1988, 1990
Legh F. Knowles, Jr., Beaulieu Vineyards from Family to Corporate Ownership,
Horace 0. Lanza and Harry Baccigaluppi, California Grape Products and Other
Wine Enterprises. 1971
Zelma R. Long, The Past is the Beginning of the Future; Simi Winery in its
Second Century. 1992
Richard Maher, California Winery Management and Marketing. 1992
Louis M. Martini and Louis P. Martini, Wine Making in the Napa Valley.
Louis P. Martini, A Family Winery and the California Wine Industry. 1984
Eleanor McCrea, Stony Hill Vineyards; The Creation of a Napa Valley Estate
Winery. 1990 "
Otto E. Meyer, California Premium Wines and Brandy. 1973
Norbert C. Mirassou and Edmund A. Mirassou, The Evolution of a Santa Clara
Valley Winery. 1986
Peter Mondavi, Advances in Technology and Production at Charles Krug Winery.
Robert Mondavi, Creativity in the Wine Industry. 1985
Michael Moone, Management and Marketing at Beringer Vineyards and Wine World.
Myron S. Nightingale, Making Wine in California. 1944-1987. 1988
Harold P. Olmo, Plant Genetics and New Grape Varieties. 1976
Cornelius Ough, Researches of an Enologist. University of California, Davis.
John A. Parducci, Six Decades of Making Wine in Mendocino County. California.
Antonio Perelli-Minetti, A Life in Wine Making. 1975
Louis A. Petri, The Petri Family in the Wine Industry. 1971
Jefferson E. Peyser, The Law and the California Wine Industry. 1974
Joseph Phelps, Joseph Phelps Vineyards: Classic Wines and Rhone Varietals,
Lucius Powers, The Fresno Area and the California Wine Industry. 1974
Victor Repetto and Sydney J. Block, Perspectives on California Wines. 1976
Edmund A. Rossi, Italian Swiss Colony and the Wine Industry. 1971
Edmund A. Rossi, Jr., Italian Swiss Colony. 1949-1989; Recollections of a
Third-Generation California Winemaker. 1990
Arpaxat Setrakian, A. Setrakian. a Leader of the San Joaquin Valley Grape
Elie Skofis, California Wine and Brandy Maker. 1988
David S. Stare, Fume Blanc and Meritage Wines in Sonoma County: Dry Creek
Vineyard's Pioneer Winemaking. 1996
Rodney S. Strong, Rodney Strong Vineyards: Creative Winemaking and Winery
Management in Sonoma County, 1994
Andre Tchelistchef f , Grapes. Wine, and Ecology. 1983
Brother Timothy, The Christian Brothers as Wine Makers. 1974
Louis (Bob) Trinchero, California Zinfandels. a Success Story. 1992
Charles F. Wagner and Charles J. Wagner, Caymus Vineyards; A Father-Son Team
Producing Distinctive Wines. 1994
Wente, Jean, Carolyn, Philip, and Eric, The Wente Family and the California
Wine Industry. 1992
Ernest A. Wente, Wine Making in the Livermore Valley. 1971
Warren Winiarski, Creating Classic Wines in the Napa Valley. 1994
Albert J. Winkler, Viticultural Research at UC Davis (1921-1971), 1973
John H. Wright, Domaine Chandon: The First French-owned California Sparkling
Wine Cellar, includes an interview with Edmond Maudiere, 1992
INTERVIEW HISTORY- -by Carole Hicke
Louis J. Foppiano, third generation head of Foppiano Vineyards, was
interviewed as part of the Wine Spectator's California Winemen Oral History
Series to document the history and evolution of Foppiano Vineyards.
John Foppiano, grandfather of Louis J., founded the vineyards and winery
in 1896 when he bought the Riverside Farm, a winery and residence near
Healdsburg, California. Louis J. was born in the winery in the room now used
as part of the winery offices. Making wines has been his lifetime career.
In his oral history, Foppiano recalls such well-known figures as Ernest
and Julio Gallo, Robert and Peter Mondavi, and August Sebastiani--all part of
the California wine industry history. He tells of trips to New York to sell
wine in the early days, and how the marketing and distributing process has
Foppiano was interviewed at his home on October 5, 1994. Delia
Foppiano, Louis's wife, joined the second oral history session on May 3, 1995,
and contributed her own recollections. The transcript was reviewed and
lightly edited by interviewer and narrators.
This series is part of the ongoing documenting of California history by
the Regional Oral History Office, which is under the direction of Willa Baum,
Division Head, and under the administrative direction of The Bancroft Library,
University of California, Berkeley.
November 21, 1995
Regional Oral History Office
The Bancroft Library
University of California, Berkeley
Regional Oral History Office
Room 486 The Bancroft Library
University of California
Berkeley, California 94720
Your full name
Date of birth
Father's full name
Mother's full name
(Please write clear ly.^-tfse black ink.)
Where did you grow up?
Occupation (s) .
Areas of expertise
Other interests or activities
Organizations in which you are active
I BACKGROUND AND FAMILY
[Interview 1: October 5, 1994] ff 1
Hicke: I'd like to start out this morning by asking you where and when
you were born.
Foppiano: I was born in Healdsburg, right where the winery is. I was born
in the room that is now the office you walked into.
Hicke: That is great. You were born in that very room?
Foppiano: Yes. It was the house at one time. That was the old house.
Hicke: And the date?
Foppiano: November 25, 1910.
Hicke: Now that we have that established, I'd like to go back and ask
you about your early ancestors. Do you know the story of their
Foppiano: My grandfather came in 1864.
Hicke: His name was John?
Foppiano: John Foppiano.
Hicke: Do you know why he came?
'If This symbol indicates that a tape or tape segment has begun or
ended. A guide to the tapes follows the transcript.
Foppiano: He walked across the Isthmus of Panama and then came up [to
California). Then he went to Sonora where the gold was, but I
guess in '64 the gold was gone and the gold rush was over.
Hicke: But he had heard about it? Was that kind of a motivation?
Foppiano: Yes. He was in Sonora for two years, and then he came to
Healdsburg. He had some relation over here who had just gotten
herethey came over togetherand they started a vegetable
garden here in Healdsburg.
Hicke: What had he done before?
Foppiano: He was just sixteen years old, just starting out. He was just a
young boy, and I don't know where he got the money to come
Hicke: Where was he from in Italy?
Foppiano: Chiavari, forty miles south of Genoa. He was really from
Cicagna, which is about thirty miles back in the mountains.
It's about fifteen miles south of Portofino.
Hicke: Those wonderful little villages; we were there last year.
Foppiano: Yes, along the coast. Were you there? We were there, too, in
Hicke: They have some interesting wine, a little white wine that they
Hicke: Perhaps his parents had been in agriculture?
Trip to Italy
Foppiano: No. I had never been to Cicagna, and then my wife and I went
back in about '89 to Chiavari. I have two cousins on my
mother's side still there. I had a rented car, and I said to
them that I wanted to go up to where my grandfather came from.
So we drove up on a Sunday afternoon to this town of Cicagna.
It's in a canyon like this [U-shaped], really in the mountains.
Everything was closed, and the church was closed. I kind
of wanted to go into the church and see if they had any records ,
but the priest wasn't around. So I said, "Let's go to the
cemetery." We went to the cemetery, and they were all
Foppianos. Unbelievable! There were some Baccigalupis, too,
but it was mostly Foppianos. I thought, "My God, how do you
find your cousin or any relation still there?"
Hicke: Well, they were probably all your relations.
Foppiano: [laughs] Could be. We came home, and that was it. Liguria is
like a county or a state. Cicagna is in the valley of
Fontanabuona, in the province of Liguria.
A singing club from Liguria came to Santa Rosa, so
naturally we were invited. We went to this dinner in Santa
Rosa, and there were about thirty or forty Ligurians or
Genoveses there. There were two Foppiano girls there, so we
talked to them, but I didn't know whether we were related or
not. One of the fellows said, "When are you coming back?" I
said, "Oh, maybe next year we may take a trip back." He said,
"Well, when you come back, we'll give you a big luncheon."
We went back last year; I had to go to Denmark, and we
drove down there from Copenhagen. They said they were setting
up a luncheon for us, and I thought maybe there would be twenty
or thirty people. This fellow picked us up at the hotel. I've
never slept late in my life; I'm always an early riser. But on
that morning, this fellow was picking us up at nine o'clock, and
we were in bed. The clerk called up and said, "There's a
gentleman down here to pick you up." [laughter]
Anyway, we got up there, and there were 150 Foppianos.
They gave my wife a big bouquet of red roses with stems that
long [four feet] --beautiful- -and they gave me the banner. I
walked into the church with the banner, and they followed me.
They had television there to record all this. Then they decided
we would go to lunch. We went to lunch, and here was all this
food and 150 Foppianos there. We stayed there from one-thirty
to five-thirty having lunch. I'll tell you, those Italians,
when they eat [laughs] --wine, prosciutto, Italian champagne and
everything you can think of.
After that they took me up and showed me the house where my
grandfather was born. There's one man, my third cousin or
something, who is still living there. We visited there with him
and then went back to the hotel, and that was it. The next
morning everybody in the hotel said, "Oh, we saw you on
television." It was really something.
You know, we are originally from Yugoslavia in 1270 or
something like that. Then a clan or a group moved to Milan, and
from Milan they went to Genoa in 1570. They must have been
chased out of Genoa in about 1730, and they ended up in this
mountain country where the Italian slate comes from. That's
what they do in this town; they mine the slate.
Did somebody in your family trace the history back?
Foppiano: Yes. They sent it to us, and I've got it here someplace. We
have the coat of arms and so forth.
Hicke: That's fun to go back and find your roots.
Foppiano: Yes. That far back, looking at 1270--that's 700 years ago.
John Foppiano; Buying the Riverside Farm in 1896
Hicke: We left John on his way to Healdsburg.
Foppiano: He worked in the garden and sold vegetables with a horse and
wagon; he'd go to Santa Rosa and peddle them. He made a few
dollars, and then he started buying ranches. He bought a couple
of ranches. He bought the ranch where the winery is in 1896.
Hicke: That's the property you're still on?
Foppiano: Yes, the Riverside Farm.
Hicke: What was on the farm at that time?
Foppiano: There were grapes at the time.
Hicke: What kind?
Foppiano: Well, they were mostly Zinfandel, Petite Sirah. There were no
varietals hardly, except for Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. Then
we had Carignane. I imagine that was about it at that time.
There was a winery on it at the time, an old winery that I
imagine was built in the 1880s.
Hicke: Do you have any idea who started that winery?
Foppiano: The only one I know of is a fellow by the name of Smith, but I
don't know what his first name was. My grandfather bought it
from him, and then my father bought it from my grandfather in
1910. My grandfather and my father didn't get along, so my
father bought him out.
Hicke: Had your grandfather been making wine?
Foppiano: Yes, they were making wine at the time.
Hicke: What was he doing with it?
Foppiano: They were selling it, and that's how my father met my mother.
My uncles [John and Victor Canata] (they weren't my uncles then)
had a wine and grocery store on Bay and Columbus, right on the
corner, in San Francisco.
Hicke: Can you give me your mother's name?
Foppiano: Mathilda Canata.
Hicke: So these were her brothers?
Foppiano: Yes. My father went down there to sell them wine, and my uncle
said, "Why don't you come and have lunch with us at the house?"
So he went over there, and he was introduced to my mother, who
was only eighteen years old at the time. My mother was working
in the cannery; CPC was a big cannery there at the time.
My father comes home, and he goes back to sell wine to
them. They go to have lunch again at the house, and he said,
"Would you marry me?"--or whatever he said. [laughs] He only
saw her twice, went down and got married, and brought her up
here! In those days, I don't know- -unbelievable.
Hicke: Do you know when they got married?
Foppiano: They must have gotten married in about 1905.
Hicke: That was before your father bought your grandfather's property.
Foppiano: Yes. I'd say they got married in either 1904 or 1905. They got
along well. My father passed away in '24, and we were all young
kids, my two sisters and myself.
What are the names of your sisters?
Foppiano: Rosalind was the older, and Norma was the younger,
two girls and a boy; I was the only boy.
Growing Up in the Vineyard
Hicke: What was it like growing up on this vineyard?
Foppiano: Grant Grammar School was right across the street. Kids didn't
even have bicycles; all you had was legs in those days. All the
kids around here grew up together and had a nice young life. It
was really nice.
Hicke: What did you do after school?
Foppiano: Worked in these vineyards. In those days you came home and hoed
the vineyard, and your second vineyard, and you did all the
little jobs around.
Hicke: That's the whole point of raising children, isn't it?
Foppiano: [laughs] Not any more. You can't work 'em any more. I enjoyed
it. When you got home you always had your chores. We had two
cows, four horses, and a garden. Your father and mother always
had something for you to do, that's for sure.
Hicke: Did you work in the summers, too?
Foppiano: Yes, but we used to go to Dillon's Beach when I was ten or
eleven years old. We'd spend a month there. I always tell
people that in those days the work in the vineyard was done by
the first of June. Now you're in that vineyard all the time.
You're never out of it; you can't leave it, because you've
always got problems. We had a hired man who lived on the ranch,
and he would take care of the chores while were at Dillon's
Beach. My father would come back maybe once a week to see what
was happening, but we stayed a month in a little cabin at
Dillon's Beach every summer.
II WINERIES AND WINEMAKING
Early Wineries in the Healdsburg Area
Hicke: Did your father make any particular kind of wine?
Foppiano: No, in those days you just madeyou sold to the Italian and
French people. The American people weren't drinking much. It
was the Italians and other immigrants who came over from Europe
that bought the wine, and that's who you sold it to. Or you
sold to another winery that was larger. You'd sell them 20,000
or 30,000 [gallons]; maybe they'd want some wine to blend with
what they had.
Hicke: What other wineries were in this area?
Foppiano: Roma Wine Company was here; that's where they started. Then
there was the Scatina Brothers Winery, Italian Swiss Colony,
Geyser Peak, Nervo. There were a lot of little wineries, like
it is today, that had maybe forty acres and a little winery, and
they made their own wine. There was no electricity; you ran
everything by steam in those days. You had boilers and bought a
lot of wood from the mills. You'd fire the boilers up and run
the pumps. You didn't have the convenience that you have today
in making wine , that ' s for sure .
Winemaking Before Prohibition
Hicke: Can you describe the process of winemaking as it was before
Foppiano: You crushed it and put it in tanks.
Hicke: When you crushed it, there was no such thing as worrying about
Foppiano: Oh, yes, but there was nothing much you could do about it.
Hicke: Did you try to pick in the early morning?
Foppiano: No, you picked all day. If it was warm, you picked it warm.
We'd go uptown and buy a 250-pound box of ice, and if it got too
hot we'd throw it in there and try to cool it down.
Hicke: How did you know when to pick the grapes?
Foppiano: You had a hydrometer. You'd get the juice and drop it in there
and it would give you the percent of sugar. It wasn't like
today, where you get an instant reading, but we'd check it to
see--. Then you'd haul the grapes in with horse and wagons in
those days in big sixty- to seventy-pound boxes about a foot
high. Then you'd dump them in the crusher.
Hicke: What was the crusher like?
Foppiano: [laughs] Well, it wasn't very modern. It had the screw and
spikes for a stemmer. It had an old must pump on it, and you'd
pump it through the cast-iron pipes. Today you wouldn't even
think about doing that, but in those days that's all you had;
stainless steel wasn't even around. You pumped through the
cast-iron pipes in these open fennenters.
Hicke : Wooden?
Foppiano: Oh, yes.
Hicke: Where did you get the fennenters?
Foppiano: Pacific Lumber Company used to make tanks, and so did Redwood
Lumber Company. You'd buy them from the lumber companies.
Hicke: What about fermentation? Did you punch it down?
Foppiano: We punched it twice a day, in the morning and the afternoon.
They were open, and you'd stand up there with a board. You had
two men, and that's all they did.
Hicke: How many of those large fennenters would you have?
Foppiano: I can just barely remember. Oh, we had about twenty or twenty-
five, I'd say.
Hicke: That's a lot of punching.
Foppiano: And the pressing was unbelievable. You'd have to get in the
tank and shovel it out over the top. Then you had baskets on
little carts that were on tracks, and you'd push that down. The
press was run by hydraulic water. You had a pump that would
pump it up, and then you had the big cheese [the top of the
press that pushed against the grapes] on top and pushed the
basket up. Oh, it was work. It wasn't easy. When I look at
these fellows todaythey have a thermostat and stainless steel.
They set it at fifty or sixty degrees, whatever temperature they
want to ferment the wine, and they go away and leave it. But in
those days, two or three times a day you'd test to see what the
heat was in that tank. There was not much you could do with it,
but you would try.
Hicke: I suppose the wines came out different every year.
Foppiano: Yes, they probably did. It was a lot of work.
Hicke: After you got the grapes pressed and fermented, what happened
Foppiano: Then we pumped it into big storage tanks and let it sit there
until about December. Then we would rack it. You'd have the
lees on the bottom, and we'd take the lees outseparate the
lees. We'd send that lees to a still. There were several
little stills; Simi (I forgot that they were here then) had a
batch still, and they would take the lees and make brandy out of
it. Italian Swiss and Sebastiani were others that we sold lees
to. They would take it and add water to it, make it a little
thin, and then make high-proof out of it.
Hicke: Did you bottle the wine?
Foppiano: We sold it in fifty-gallon barrels. In those days you never
bottled. I don't know if even Italian Swiss bottled. They'd
put a spigot in the fifty-gallon barrel and take them into
stores. You'd come in with a gallon and fill it up, go home,
and drink it. Oh, there were some wineries over in Napa Valley,
some of the older ones like Inglenook and De LaTour, that
probably bottled and sold to the restaurants. There was a big
wholesale wine business in San Francisco that sold to the
stores. They bottled it and sold it in gallons to stores, but
we didn't bottle. We never thought of bottling.
Did you drink wine in your home?
Foppiano: Yes, we drank watered wine in the family. When I got to the age
of drinking, I drank jackass; you know, it was during
Prohibition. We'd go out and buy a flask and go to a dance.
That's what we drank, and that's why I've always been quite a
bourbon drinker. I still am; I still enjoy my highball at
night. I've always been used to bourbon instead of wine.
When we first got in the wine business, if you went out to
dinner and saw somebody drinking wine, you knew what nationality
they were. They weren't the Americans; they were either French
or Italian or Greek. The immigrants were the ones drinking the
wine. It took years after Prohibition to cultivate the American
people to drink wine, and we're still having problems.
Walter Varney and His Flying Career
Hicke: Let's go back to before Prohibition. Was there any particular
thing you liked about school or any teachers that you remember?
Foppiano: I liked high school. I went to high school up here, and then I
went one year to Santa Rosa Junior College. But it was during
the Depression, and you didn't have money. It was tough, so you
went to work. I worked on the ranch during the Depression.
Then there wasn't too much to do, and I tied up with a friend of
mine, Walter Varney, who was like a father to me.
My cousin was an airmail pilot and flew for him. Varney
used to barnstorm, but then he got the second airmail contract
in the United States, from Seattle to Portland and over to Elko
--CAM-5 [Contract Air Mail 15]. Walter Varney was older than I.
I was like a son to him; he took me in kind of like a son, and I
traveled all over with him. Then Varney sold his airline that
carried the mail to what is today United Airlines . That ' s how
United Airlines was formed; they bought the one here in the Bay
Area, and then they bought the one across the country, and they
consolidated them and made United Airlines .
Varney got $3.5 million, which in those days was like $300
million today. With that he kind of got out of it for a while.
Then he decided to start an airline between San Francisco and
Los Angeles, what they called Varney Speed Line. That was going
pretty well until they came out with a twin-engine Boeing. It
just killed the single-engine plane.
Hicke: What was he flying?
Foppiano: He flew Lockheed Orions; he had seven or eight of them. When
that didn't work out, he decided to fly from Los Angeles to
Mexico in them. All of a sudden, one day he was out of
business. He had three planes down there, and the Mexicans put
chains around them, because Pan Am[erican] was bigger than he
was and gave the Mexicans more money. I imagine that's what
happened; I don't really know. So he was out of business down
Hicke: They took his planes?
Foppiano: Oh, sure. They confiscated three of them. He had three left,
so he decided to sell them. We flew one of them from San
Francisco to New York and put it on the U.S.S. Bremen. From
there it went to Yugoslavia. From Yugoslavia it went to
Germany. At that time we had an embargo against Germany buying
anything from us; so the only way they could get it to [Hermann]
Goring, who was the head then [of the German Luftwaffe], they
flew it to Yugoslavia first.
Hicke: Was this in the thirties?
Foppiano: Yes, in '33. I drove across with Walter Varney to New York and
saw it lifted on the ship, the Bremen.
I lived with Walter Varney. He had a home in Palm Springs,
and I used to stay with him there.
Hicke: Something he did became Continental Airlines, didn't it?
Foppiano: Right. He didn't do anything for a while after that. Louis
Mueller ran his airline in Seattle, and he came down to run the
one from San Francisco to Los Angeles. He didn't go on the one
to Mexico. Finally [Franklin D.] Roosevelt got in, and
Roosevelt canceled all the airmail contracts.
Hicke: How come?
Foppiano: There was so much scandal in it that they canceled them. Louis
Mueller and Walter Varney bid on the Denver to Pueblo [Colorado]
route, and that was the start of Continental Airlines. From
there it built up and built up. They hired Bob Six later on,
and he ran Continental Airlines. I put money in it when they
Hicke: Very good.
Foppiano: Yes, but I lost money. When it went into bankruptcy and [Frank]
Lorenzo took it, that was the end of Continental.
Foppiano: I have Bob Six's book here.
Hicke: I haven't seen that. I'll look at it later. Is that the story
of Varney Speed Lines?
Foppiano: During the Depression, when we were in Palm Springs, Walter
Varney bought out Lockheed. The reason he bought Lockheed was
because he had these planes, and he wanted the parts for the
Hicke: Was that the only way to do it?
Foppiano: Yes, the only way to do it, because Lockheed was shut down; it
was practically broke. We drove or flew over there, and I
remember going in there. They had Will Rogers' plane in there
and different fellows who were doing Lockheed flying.
Chappellet, whose son is in the wine business, was one of them
in it, and then he quit. Franklin Rose was in it. Those were
Hicke: That was quite an exciting life with Walter Varney.
Foppiano: Yes, it was. He had two Duesenbergs, and I used to drive them.
If he'd go to Palm Springs, and I was up here, I'd drive it to
Palm Springs. In those days he paid $20,000 or $25,000 for
Hicke : That was an immense fortune in those days .
Foppiano: That's right.
Hicke: Let's go back and talk about when you got out of high school.
What year did you go Santa Rosa Junior College?
Foppiano: We must be in about '27 or '28, just before the Depression. The
stock market was good then.
Hicke: The first stock market crash was in '29. Were you at home then,
working on the farm?
Foppiano: Yes, I was around home. I was in and out, because I was only
nineteen years old.
Hicke: I was wondering how the Depression affected your family and this
Foppiano: Well, it was hard. My family had a lot of Transamerica and Bank
of America stock; any dollar they got, they bought Bank of
America stock because of [A. P.] Giannini. I saw Transamerica
go from $220 a share down to $6. It really knocked the Italians
around here. It sure took them.
Hicke: Had they borrowed money?
Foppiano: A little bit, but my mother didn't borrow much money. She was a
pretty sharp woman.
Hicke: Was it before this time that she was selling in the tasting
Foppiano: No, that was after we rebuilt the winery. Repeal was in 1933,
and this was in 1929.
III MAKING WINE AT FOPPIANO VINEYARDS
Prohibition and Repeal
Hicke: What was going on with wine during Repeal?
Foppiano: We had a cellar full of wine. Then my father had a heart attack
and passed away in '24. Here was my mother with all this wine.
She just kept it, and in '26 we dumped it on the side of the
highway here. We have pictures of that in the tasting room-
people scooping wine up and drinking it. We just threw it out,
because we couldn't sell it, and it was getting old.
Hicke: How much did you dump?
Foppiano: About 140,000 gallons, right down by the side of the highway.
Today you wouldn't do it [laughs].
Hicke: Meanwhile you were selling the grapes?
Foppiano: Oh, yes. In those days, when the grapes were ready, in the
early part we did very well with grapes. As soon as Prohibition
came, we shipped them East, and we were getting around a hundred
dollars a ton for them, which was good money in those days.
Hicke: How did you develop that market?
Foppiano: They had buyers here.
Hicke: Oh, they came out here?
Foppiano: Yes, we had what they called shipperscompanies that would buy
the grapes, and then they would ship them. You could consign
them, too, if you wanted to. But sometimes you would consign
them, and by the time the car got back there it was red ink, and
they couldn't sell them. Then you would have to pay the freight
on them. We picked in these little twenty- four-pound boxes--
lugs--and brought them up to the shipper. They'd pack them in
refrigerator cars and ship them. Or they'd give you a price,
and you would sell it to them. That's the way you did it during
Then I hauled grapes*. I would leave here around four
o'clock in the afternoon, and I'd get to the city and sell them
to people- -families.
Hicke: You would just stop on a corner?
Foppiano: No, you'd have them sold before you got there. The husband was
working, and he didn't get home until night. So they had to
crush them at night. They'd get their neighbors, and they'd all
crush these grapes to make the wine. They'd make a party out of
it. That's the way we sold a lot of grapes in San Francisco.
We'd go down with a truck. You'd go in there, and then a
neighbor would say, "I want some in the next two or three days.
Bring me a load." That's the way you did it, from mouth to
mouth. That's the way you sold some grapes.
Hicke: Are these still the same varieties you mentioned earlier?
Foppiano: Yes, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah and Carignane. You'd make a
little blend for them, and some of them would want one or two
hundred pounds of white grapes in it.
Hicke: Did you have some whites?
Foppiano: Oh, yes, we had some whites. Not too many, maybe five or ten
Hicke: Did you plant Alicante?
Foppiano: We had some. We planted it when Prohibition came in, because
that was the grape that the New York people wanted to buy
because it had color. They'd ferment it, draw the wine off of
it, and then they'd put sugar and water back in and ferment it
again and make more wine.
Hicke: Did you ever taste any of that?
Foppiano: Oh, it was very light. It wasn't good wine, but they drank it
and sold it.
Kind of like lemonade?
Foppiano: These families would sell it to their neighbors or to some
Hicke: Was that lucrative, or did it Just barely meet the expenses?
Foppiano: It was lucrative when Prohibition first started, but after four
or five years, the price o*f grapes went down on the New York
market, and then it wasn't too lucrative anymore.
Hicke: Was that because so many people were shipping grapes?
Foppiano: Everybody was shipping grapes East. They planted a lot of
Alicante because the price was good. Just like today,
Chardonnay is the big seller, so you plant a lot of Chardonnay.
That ' s what happens .
Hicke: Do you remember any anecdotes or stories about the days of
Foppiano: I know what was going on. There were stills around here, and
they made alcohol just about anyplace in these hills. I knew of
seven or eight stills around here. They'd make it and put it in
five-gallon cans, and then they'd sell it to the speakeasies in
the city. They'd put a little oak or caramel in it and sell it
to people. It might kill them, when you see what it was made of
[laughs]. They made money; they were bootleggers.
Hicke: Wasn't the Internal Revenue Service in charge of those
Hicke: Did they come around?
Foppiano: Oh, they captured a lot of stills. If you paid the sheriff or
somebody who knew when they were coming, he'd tell the guys, and
they'd clean that place up in four or five hours and move out.
The IRS would go in, and there was nothing there. Every once in
a while they'd get a still.
Hicke: Anything else about Prohibition that comes to mind? Do you have
any idea how much you were getting for grapes during
Foppiano: Like I said, we started out with Alicante at around a hundred
dollars a ton. Then it dropped to fifty and forty. At the end,
when Repeal came, it got down to around thirty or forty dollars
That makes in interesting comparison to today.
Oh, sure. People planted more grapes and shipped more grapes
East, and they saturated the market,
That's it; it's supply and
Let me switch gears and ask you how and when you met your wife.
I used to love to dance. Well, that's all you did in those
days. You didn't have television. Only one fellow had an
automobile, and you buddied up with him, because he'd take you.
I had a good friend who had an automobile, and we used to go to
the [Russian] river down at Guerneville. All the big bands used
to come there, you know--Ted Fio Rito, Phil Harris, and all the
big bands. They'd play in the summer. One night I happened to
go down there, and I asked this girl to dance, and she accepted.
I asked her for a date, and she accepted the date, and we
started to go together.
When was this?
I'll tell you [figures in head]. It was '39, the year of the
World's Fair. We went down to see the Fair on a Sunday. Then
the war broke out. I was always 1A, but I was IB [draft
status], and I never knew when they would call me. We planned
to get married, but I said, "I'll never get married if I'm going
to the war." That was just my opinion. We went together all
during the war.
We had a lot of prunes on the ranch then, and I ran the
What is your wife's name?
Her family was Italian?
Yes. They owned and still own the Franco-American Bakery in
Let's back up to Repeal. Did you see it coming?
Yes. Al Smith ran, and he pretty near won, and he was for
Repeal. But he didn't win. In four years [F. D.] Roosevelt
ran, and he stated that if he won he [would back] Repeal. Oh,
they were having all kinds of gangsters--Al Capone and all those
peopleand people were getting pretty fed up with it.
when Repeal came, in '33.
That ' s
Hicke: Did you make some wine?
Foppiano: In '32 I started to make wine. I knew as much about making wine
as sending a spaceship to the moon. I knew nothing. There were
a couple of old winemakers around from pre-Prohibition.
Hicke: Who were they?
Foppiano: Bill Massoni was one, and I forget the name of the other fellow
we had. I would pick their brains, and they were good to me.
They would tell me, and if I had a little problem, I'd go ask
them what to do. That's the way I did it. I didn't have any
schooling, because there was no schooling in winemaking in those
Hicke: What kind of shape was the winery in?
Foppiano: It was in pretty bad shape. It had been closed since "16--
fourteen or fifteen years. The cooperage was in bad shape, but
I made wine. I don't know how, when I look at what you do
today. You wonder how you did it. The presses were all down.
We had a good man around who knew about equipment, Abele
Ferrari. He was good at that, and you'd hire him to come down
and get things straightened out for you.
Hicke: Did you get any new equipment?
Foppiano: You didn't have any money to buy equipment. [laughs]
Selling Wine in New York
Foppiano: In those days the money was tough. I went a few years. The New
York distributors would come out, and you'd sell to themship
it to them in tank cars or barrels. I'd go back once a year to
sell wine in New York. I'd take the train, and later on I'd
fly. I'd go back once or twice a year and walk those streets.
I'm telling you, when it's hot in New York, it's hot. In those
days they didn't have air conditioning, either. Some of those
distributors would stick you in a room and really let you sweat
it out. They were tough. They were ex-bootleggers, ex-
racketeers who got in the wine business.
Hicke: So you sold to bars?
Foppiano: No, sold to wholesalers, and they bottled it.
Hicke: And put their label on it?
Hicke: Do you remember any of the names on any of the labels?
Foppiano: Golden Dawn winery was one of them, and the Rex winery. We'd
sell tank cars or barrels. They'd order maybe two tank cars of
red wine, and a boxcar would hold fifty or sixty barrels of
wine. We'd buy the barrels, barrel it here, and ship it to them
Bicke: It must have taken five or six days at least to get back there.
Foppiano: Oh, sure. In those days you'd get to Chicago, and everything
was all right. But from Chicago on, they started to use coal,
and anything you put on was black by that night. They didn't
use much oil on the Eastern Seaboard.
Hicke: You arrived in bad shape, but what kind of shape was the wine
Foppiano: The wine wasn't in very good shape when you shipped it in tank
cars, but the people weren't so particular then.
Hicke: They were just looking for a table wine?
Foppiano: That's right. It was all table wine that they sold in gallons.
When we started to bottle (I'm getting ahead of myself), we had
the Santarpia liquor store up on First Avenue at 110th Street.
We used to bottle and sell him four cars of gallons, which was
four thousand cases (or four thousand gallons). Every month
we'd ship him four cars of red wine. You wouldn't believe the
business that fellow had. Later on we started to bottle in
California, and his business went down. He's still open; his
kids are still out there running the store. I don't go to New
York any more, but my son does. Every once in a while he'll
take a ride up there and see one of the sons who is still
running it. When I used to sell to him in those days, it was
all Italian tenements around there. Then they tore them all
down, and now it's all blacks and other ethnic people. Today
it's all changed, so he doesn't do the wine.
Hicke: Getting back to 1932--that was your first year?
Foppiano: That was my first year of making wine, yes.
Hicke: Did you sell it in barrels?
Foppiano: I sold it in barrels. In the first couple of years, those wine
buyers back there would come and buy wine from you.
Hicke: Did you sell any of it around here?
Foppiano: Oh, not too much. A little in the city, maybe four or five
thousand gallons. Most of our business was always on the East
Coast. It's always been that way.
Hicke: Anyplace else in the states besides New York?
Foppiano: Oh, we've sold in Chicago, Boston, New Orleans. But I'm going
to tell you this: the best ride I've ever had in my life. We
were shipping tank cars. There was a solicitor, a salesman, who
worked for Illinois Central Railroad. We used to give him a lot
of business. We were having lunch one day out here, and I said
to him, "Lemoine [Baxter], you know what I'd like? I'd like to
ride in an engine of a train." He said, "I don't know if I can
do that. They're pretty particular, you know, pretty tight on
that . "
I got to New York, and I was going to Chicago. From
Chicago I was going to New Orleans. I got a wire, and he says,
"Go to the Illinois engine maintenance department, tell them who
you are, and they'll let you on an engine." I was riding down
on the Panama Limited, which was a real hot train in those days;
it was a real luxury train.
I got in there, and I had to sign to release them [from
responsibility], and then they gave me a pair of overalls. I
put them on, and they took me out, and I got on the engine of
this train. There was a little Frenchman, the engineer, about
four and a half feet tall. He was a nice fellow, and he took me
in there. We started out in that engine, and I'll tell you--
I've flown airplanes, but this was the biggest thrill I've ever
had in my life.
We started down this track, and all of a sudden you're
going down; it's automatic switch, and the engine jags off
downhill on another track. We got out into open space, and he
started pulling that throttle. I'm telling you, that thing
started to leap. When those drivers would come over, you would
think it was going to jump the track.
And we're doing ninety miles an hour. Then he says to me,
"Come here," and he let me sit in front of him. He said, "Here,
you pull the throttle." It was super-heated steam, and if you
pulled that throttle about an inch, and that thing would leap,
[laughs] Oh, gee, we went all the way from Chicago to
Champagne, Illinois, a little over a hundred miles. It was the
biggest thrill I ever had in my life. I'm still a train nut; I
still love trains.
Hicke: Have you seen the train museum in Sacramento?
Foppiano: No, but it won't be too long before my wife and I going to go
over there and see it.
Hicke: You'll love it.
Foppiano: That's what I understand. I always talk about it, but then I
forget. I have to put it on the calendar and say, "This is it,"
and go. I've always loved trains, and I still do. Like my wife
says, I'll be having dinner, and a train will go by, and I have
to get up and go look at it. [laughter]
When I was a little kid, we had to pick prunes; we had a
lot of prunes. I always wanted to be an engineer of a train.
My mother always called me Babe; I was always named Babe and not
Lou, because I was the baby of the family. She'd say, "If you
pick prunes, I'll see that when you get big you'll be an
engineer on a train." It was the only way she'd ever get me to
pick prunes. I hated to pick prunes, and I still hate prunes.
We had a lot of prunes during Prohibition, besides grapes.
Hicke: So that was another way you survived?
Foppiano: Yes. I've still got the dehydrator for drying the prunes. But,
oh, that was work. You talk about work, there's nothing worse
than stinking prunes in those days. Oh, boy, unbelievable.
Hicke: How long was it before you were making enough to invest in some
Foppiano: I'd say in seven, eight, ten years we started to get a new
crusher, bought different types of crushers and a press. I
bought what they call a screw press, where you didn't have to
put it in a basket and dump it.
Hicke: How did you go about finding this equipment? How did you know
what to buy?
Foppiano: There were companies making them in those days.
Hicke: Did Healdsburg Machine Company make them?
Foppiano: We bought the crusher from them. They still make them. The
press I bought from a fellow named Rossi in San Francisco.
Hicke: Both new?
Foppiano: Yes, both brand-new. Then we had to buy filters. I bought
filters secondhand; I got them used; when a winery would buy a
bigger one, I'd buy the one they had.
Hicke: How did the filter work?
Foppiano: In those days the filter was diatomaceous earth, what you call
a West Coast filter. You just ran the wine through it and used
diatomaceous earth in the mixing tank on the side. You had a
little suction pump on the side, and it would build up against
the screens. Then the wine would have to go through this
Then we had small filters, what we call polish filters to
polish the wine, clean it up, make it more brilliant.
Hicke: Clear it?
Foppiano: Yes. The other one was more of a pre- filter that cleaned it up.
But when you went to bottling or wanted a clean wine, then you
ran it through a little polish filter, a finer filter that used
asbestos pads, which they don't use any more. Those have gone
Hicke: When was the first time you bottled?
Foppiano: I bottled before Gallo. We were one of the first ones to
bottle. It was before the war. During the war I bottled, so
I'd say we started to bottle in 1937.
Hicke: Why did you decide to do that?
Foppiano: Well, I could see that in those days the New York people would
rather get the wine from the winery in California because they
knew it was more legitimate; it was right from the winery.
Hadn't been through a lot of other hands?
Foppiano: Yes. When you shipped it to New York, you never knew what those
New York bottlers were going to do to it. You know, they'd
stretch it out and mix it up. So the people in New York were
accepting our wine by the gallon.
Hicke: Did you get a feel for this idea of bottling when you were back
Foppiano: Oh, sure.
Hicke: What size bottles?
Foppiano: Mostly gallons. The gallon business was the big business in
those days. Your varietals didn't come until '64.
Hicke: Did you have a label?
Foppiano: Oh, yes. You'll see them in our tasting room. We still have
the first label.
Hicke: How did you bottle it? Did you have to buy some equipment?
Foppiano: You can't describe it, but in those days you had a float filter,
and you pushed the gallons by hand. Then you had a little
electric motor that spun, and you put the caps on with it. Oh,
it was slow. Today you bottle two thousand cases a day. If you
bottled three hundred in those days, you were really going.
Hicke: How many people did it take?
Foppiano: It took four or five people to do it. One fellow would bring
the glass in, another would fill them, another would take it and
put the cap on it. We had little labeling machines, and you'd
lay the gallon down, put the label on it, and stick it on.
Hicke: Who designed the label?
Foppiano: I don't know who designed the first one. The second one was
designed by this kid, Sabo Santarpia's son.
Foppiano: He was kind of an artist, and he was pretty good. After that
you would go to a lithograph company, and they would design your
label for you. You'd say, "Make me a label." Of course, you'd
have to give them the business, and they would design and give
us the label. They quit doing that, and now you have to get a
designer. Boy, you can look at $12,000 to $14,000 now for a
Did you give them an idea of what you wanted on the label?
Yes, and they had ideas that they presented to you. Now we have
a lady, I don't know what her name is, [who designs our labels].
I don't pay too much attention anymore. Her name is Cynthia
Fitting, and she designs it. Then you tell her how you want it
changed, and she changes it. You look at it seven or eight
times before you approve it.
you making what you called a red wine, or what did you call
Well, the red wine was either Chianti, Burgundy, or Barberone--
that was the big seller.
Were they different?
Oh, sometimes. [laughter] The white wine was Sauterne (made
dry). Now you don't hear of Sauterne anymore.
No, that's a name for a totally different kind of wine.
Yes. Everything was either Sauterne or Chablis. Some wineries
still bottle a little Chablis, but we don't. You had never
heard of Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc; we didn't even know what
Grapes and Farming
Hicke: What grapes were you using?
Foppiano: Palominos or Golden Chasselas.
Hicke: Did you buy the grapes?
Foppiano: We had some; we had about ten acres. But we never sold much;
people didn't buy white wine in those days. You'd send a
thousand cases to New York in the car, and maybe fifty cases
would be white wine.
Hicke: When did you start acquiring some more land?
Foppiano: Right after the war, in '45.
Hicke: What did you do during the war?
Foppiano: We had prunes. That's why I wasn't called into the army; prunes
were a fruit, essential for the war effort. And we made wine
during the war. We were allowed to make wine and ship it.
Bicke: Did the government buy any?
Foppiano: No, the government never bought any wine.
Hicke: Were you still selling to the Eastern markets in the forties?
Foppiano: Yes. In those days there was the war effort, and then they had
the OPA [Office of Price Administration] , where you could only
sell wine at a certain price. Boy, you had to do a lot of
manipulating to sell it. And we couldn't get glass; we'd get
glass from back East.
Hicke: I forgot to ask you where you got the bottles when you started
Foppiano: There used to be a company called Glass Container, and also
Owens-Illinois. I don't know what their problem was during the
war, but we couldn't get glass on the West Coast. So we'd get
it from Illinois or somebody back there, and we had to pay more
Hicke: After the war you bought another piece of property?
Foppiano: Yes, we bought this ranch, Sotoyome Vineyards.
Hicke: How did that come about?
Foppiano: A lady named Grace Comminski was running it. She lived where
Louis [Foppiano] lives, in the old house over there, and they
wanted to get out of it. I heard that they wanted to sell it,
so I came down and bought it.
Hicke: Were they making Petite Sirah at that time?
Foppiano: No, I don't think so. We're sitting on part of the winery right
now; it was right here. I tore the winery down and moved the
tanks up there, because there was no use having two wineries so
The sites are adjoining?
Foppiano: Yes. It was 110 acres that I bought.
Hicke: What was planted there?
Foppiano: They had prunes and grapes and some apples--a few Gravenstein
apples right over here, and some down farther.
Hicke: And what kind of grapes?
Foppiano: Palominos, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignane. This was all
grapes in front here and across the highway; that was all part
of the ranch. I started to replant it.
Hicke: Did anybody from UC [University of California] Davis help you,
or the Extension office?
Foppiano: Later on in years, but not at first. It took [Maynard] Joslyn
and others quite a few years to get going at Davis. They came
in '45, a little bit before we started to bottle. Right after
the war they got pretty active. They were a lot of help, I'll
say that. Davis really gave the wine people a lot of help. Of
course, when Gallo and the other wineries got bigger, then they
got the Wine Institute. I was in the Wine Institute.
Hicke: When was the Wine Institute formed?
Foppiano: I would say the Wine Institute was formed in about '35.
Hicke: You were among the first members, weren't you?
Foppiano: Yes, and then I became a director in it.
Hicke: What was the purpose for founding it?
Foppiano: Regulations. In those days you had laws all the time; you were
always fighting laws. You still are; we haven't gotten over it
yet! There are always new things. You always had problems, and
the Institute [staff or members] would go to Washington and
lobby. I made a lot of trips to Sacramento in those days.
Hicke: To talk to the legislature?
Foppiano: You'd talk to senators or to somebody. It was hard.
Hicke: Who else was on that first board?
Foppiano: Julio and Ernie Gallo, Lawrence Hanzell, Frank Martini. A lot
of people were on the board.
Founding the Sonoma County Grape Growers Association, 1946
Hicke: When was Sonoma Grape Growers founded?
Foppiano: I can tell you the date; it was the year I got married, 1946.
The first meeting we had, I was in Palm Springs on my honeymoon,
and I had to come home because it was our first meeting,
[laughter] I'll never forget that date.
Hicke: Tell me what the purpose of that was.
Foppiano: There were about fourteen wineries, and you know how it is:
"Let's get together and see what we can do." You're always
fighting laws and different things. I was the president, and I
thought I was going to be a president like Roosevelt; they were
never going to get rid of me. Finally somebody else took it.
Hicke: That's what happens when you do a good job.
Foppiano: I don't know if I was doing a good job. The best thing about it
was that we would go down to Lena's (which is still running, but
I understand they are having problems) and have wine. We'd sit
there, have a good time and eat well, and talk a few things
over. You know, just get together. August Sebastiani was
there, the Cotina brothers, Ferrari, Bagnani of Geyser Peak,
Fratis of Italian Swiss. There were twelve or fourteen of us.
The Heck brothers came along later. We struggled along, but
today it's big; they've done a nice job. We've got the wine
center down here now.
Hicke: Did that group actually do any lobbying?
Foppiano: We'd talk about it, and then we'd present it to the Wine
Institute. Maybe two or three of us out of the fourteen would
go to Sacramento to lobby.
Hicke: Were you all growing about the same kinds of grapes around here?
Foppiano: Oh, yes, there was no difference in the grapes. They were
mostly Carignane and Zinfandel; those were the big grapes in
those days. Fountain Grove [winery] down here might have had
some Cabernet and Chardonnay, but not too many wineries in
Sonoma County had varietals .
Hicke: What about rootstocks?
Foppiano: I'm still on it--St. George. I shouldn't say that, because I've
changed now. Everybody planted A x R #1, and I planted A x R II
and had problems with it. So I dug it out. If you put A x R II
on light land, it doesn't do well. In heavy land it does well,
but this is light land here. I never planted it any more. I
didn't dig it out because of phylloxera, because I didn't even
know about it then.
I always stuck with the St. George. My father had it
practically a hundred years ago.
Hicke: Really? The vines were on St. George?
Foppiano: Yes. Well, I shouldn't say a hundred years, because we got
phylloxera here in about 1910. We took everything out, and
that's when we went to St. George.
Hicke: Were they on their own rootstocks before that?
Foppiano: Yes, they were what we call common stock, and the phylloxera
just wiped the grapes out of this county. Then they got the
rootstock from France and planted on St. George. I've been
planting on it ever since, except the last two or three years
I've gone over to the new ones, C5 and 1039. I hope they don't
get phylloxera. Now I keep my fingers crossed, after A x R II.
I've got St. George here that's been here for [interruption].
Last year they had this new stock out that they say is very
Hicke: Who is "they"?
Foppiano: Davis has come out with this C5. I bought that, and I've got it
in. As I say, I just keep my fingers crossed that it blocks the
phylloxera, that Davis didn't make a mistake like they did on
A x R II.
Hicke: How many acres do you have planted to the new rootstock?
Foppiano: About thirty acres.
Hicke: Well, we'll see.
Foppiano: Maybe I won't see it, but somebody will see it, I hope.
Hicke: We're still back in the forties. When the war came to an end
you bought Sotoyome Vineyards . How many acres total would you
have had then?
Foppiano: Two hundred in total.
Hicke: Have you acquired more acreage since then?
Foppiano: No. , Being here and seeing acreage at $250 an acre go up to
$25,000 or $30,000--the oldtimer [has a hard time accepting
that]. I should have bought more, but I didn't.
Foppiano: Yes. I got the mountain ranch for $10 an acre, and I'm offered
$700 or $800 an acre for it now.
Buying the Cattle Ranch
Hicke: Tell me about the mountain ranch, which you have cattle on. How
did you get that?
Foppiano: It's quite a story. I used to like to hunt. I've gotten over
that now; I don't hunt much, but I used to. In those days I was
young, and I liked to hunt, deer especially. I was looking for
a ranch of around 750 or 1,000 acres. I looked at a couple of
them, and they weren't what I wanted. One Sunday I looked in
the [San Francisco] Examiner, and they had this ranch for sale,
6,000 acres. I knew Jack Lewis, the realtor in Healdsburg, who
had it. I called him up and said, "What about that ranch,
Jack?" "That's a nice ranch. Why don't we go up and look at
it?" "Yes, I'll go with you."
This was in '49. He called me six or seven times, and
every time I'd put him off: "I'm busy today." I'll never
forget it; one day my wife and I were standing there, and he
called. It was about six o'clock at night, and said, "Lou, how
about going up to the ranch tomorrow." I was just about to tell
him, "No, I'm busy," when my wife said, "Lou, you either go, or
tell him to forget it." So I said, "Okay, Jack, I'll go up with
you . " [ laughs ]
So we went up and looked around the ranch. It's all hills,
you know, and I thought, "Oh, gee." And they wanted $75,000 for
it. We started coming down, and Jack says to me, "Lou, what
will you give for it? What do you think?" I said, "I'll tell
you what I'll do; I'll give $50,000." He said, "Ernie Ledford
[the property owner] is not going to go for that." I said,
"$50,000; that's it." Jack said, "No, no. He's not going to
take that. I won't even tell him about it." Jack did tell him,
and the guy said, "Heck, no." But I signed [the offer]. He
said, "Give me $5,000 as a deposit," and I did. It was forty-
five days. I saw Jack Lewis a couple of times, and I said, "Hey
Jack, have you heard anything?" "Oh, no, no." So I said,
"Well, give me my $5,000 back if he's not going to accept it.
"Oh, I'll get it to you."
I'd taken some of my money and bought stock. On September
5, a Monday morning, we were crushing grapes. Jack came over
and said, "Lou, you've bought the ranch. I said, "What, Jack?
I thought you told me he wouldn't take it." "He took it. You
either lose the $5,000, or you take the ranch." Holy Criminy.
I said, "Jack, I've done other things." He said, "I'm sorry,
Lou. You either lose the $5,000, or you take the ranch."
I had about $25,000 cash in the bank. The manager of the
bank was Pat Dennis. I went up there and waited for him to open
the door. [laughs] I said, "Pat, I'm in a hell of a mess.
They took the offer for the ranch. I have $25,000, but I don't
have $25,000 more." He said, "I'll give you some money. I'll
give you $15,000. I'll tell you what you do; go see the fellow
and tell him you'll give him a mortgage for the other $35,000."
I told Jack Lewis to say that, and he took it. So I bought
the ranch! I told you I knew nothing when I started to make
wine. Here I had fourteen hundred head of sheep, four dogs, and
three horses. I hate to say it, but the guy was living with
some girl. He sent the girl off, back to Chicago (she was from
Chicago), and he came one day and brought me four dogs. He put
them out there and tied them to the trees back there. He said,
"Lou, I'm leaving. I'm going back to Broken Bow, Oklahoma."
When we went through escrow and signed the papers up there,
we went to a bar later. I'll never forget it. He said to me,
"Lou, you made the worst deal in your life." Here I knew
nothing about the sheep business, and I had fourteen hundred
head of sheep. I'm telling you, I didn't know what to do. I
was really in a mess.
I came back, and we were picking grapes. There was this
Texan, and his wife was barefoot. I said to him, "Do you know
anything about sheep?" "Oh, yeah, I know about sheep." I said,
"How about going to my ranch that I bought and taking care of
them?" I hauled him up there, and he looked at it and said,
"Okay, I'll take the job." He brought this woman with no shoes
and put her up there. In two days he came down and said, "Sir,
those mountains are too steep for me. I've never seen any such
rough country. I'm leaving." So off he took.
Three days later a fellow came in, Horace Burger. "Lou,"
he said, "I hear you're looking for a man." I said, "Yes. How
much?" He said, "I'll work for $150 a month. You furnish the
pickup." I said, "Okay," and he was a good man, old Horace.
Hicke: Did you know him before?
Foppiano: No. I knew his family. They were sheepmen from up in Anderson
Valley, near Booneville. He worked for me for $150, and then I
raised him to $175. Then the poor guy got cancer, and I lost
Anyway, that's how I bought the ranch.
Hicke: A few sleepless nights.
Foppiano: Oh, brother, I'm telling you. And I didn't know a ewe from a
wether or from a ram.
Hicke: It must have turned out all right.
Foppiano: It was the best deal I ever made. I sold a little of the timber
the second year and paid for the ranch.
Hicke : You mean the timber you sold paid for the ranch?
Foppiano: I'm not exaggerating. Right now there is seven or eight million
feet of timber on it, and then the ranch besides. I run cattle
now. My wife is getting on me again, so I think I'll lease the
cattle out and just keep the place to go to.
Hicke: Tell me about the recent Sunday you went up there.
Foppiano: Last Sunday. My wife went to see a show in The City, so I took
off by myself. She said, "You're not going up there by
yourself?" I said, "Yes, I'm going up by myself." She made me
buy a telephone; I have a telephone in my pickup. I've gone up
there a few times with no telephone, and thank the Lord I've got
the telephone now, if something happens.
So I went up Sunday morning. I got up there and saw eight
of my cattle down on this fellow's place that's two miles away
from my ranch. I started pushing them a little bit, and I
thought I would just get them in my gate. I got them through
the gate, so I decided I would push them way up. I pushed them
two miles uphill [laughs]. But I went slow, took my time. I
was enjoying it, I really was. I didn't mind it a bit.
Sometimes 1 take my grandsons, and they want to push the
cattle in a hurry. Then the cattle fly all over the country.
But I was by myself, and I pushed them up. Then I walked back
and got my pickup and pushed them up again.
Hicke: What did you do with the sheep?
Foppiano: The coyotes took care of them. We used to get quite a lamb crop
up there. That's where you made a lot of your money off the
sheep. Pretty soon we got coyotes in there, and my lamb crop
started to go. They went from a thousand down to where I didn't
have enough to replace them. 1 started out with fourteen
hundred head of sheep, and when I got rid of the sheep I had
four hundred. I had no replacements unless I went out and
bought them, and I wasn't going to do that. So that was that.
Hicke: Then you went to cattle?
Foppiano: Yes, and that's just as bad. There's no money in it. I just
like to see something walking around the hills.
making money, it's far from it.
As far as
Winery Expansion in the 19AOs
Hicke: Back to the forties. You were starting to buy some new
equipment by the end of the thirties. Did you ever expand the
Foppiano: Yes, I built a new fermenting room.
Hicke: When was that?
Foppiano: In 1937 1 built the big winery, and then I put in cement tanks.
I put in 250,000 gallons of cement tanks, and the building. It
cost me $10,000 to put in 250,000 gallons of cement tanks for
wine. It cost me $10,000 a tank to coat them last year!
Hicke: That's a great comparison.
Foppiano: Isn't it? How things change. It's unbelievable.
I built the wooden structure, and then I added bottling
rooms in different years --in '44. Then I kept building.
Hicke: How did you know what to do? How did you know what kind of
equipment you needed?
Foppiano: Oh, talk to people, and they would tell you what they thought
was best. Then I built the new bottling room during the war. I
had a heck of a time getting the lumber; you couldn't get
Hicke: How long did it take to build it?
Foppiano: It took quite a while, and you had to do it on the q.t. You
weren't supposed to get the used lumber, but I had a friend who
had a lumber mill.
Hicke: Anything else in the forties that was going on?
Geysers Development Corporation
Foppiano: Getting back to my young life, when I was about nineteen or
twenty, my folks were in the Geysers [Development Corporation] .
My neighbor over here, John Grant, is the one who had the idea
of drilling wells and getting geothermal steam. My father
invested in it in the twenties-- '22 or '23. They drilled wells
and got the steam, but they didn't go too deep. Then the
Depression came, and nobody would invest in anything. So the
wells sat there. The sulfur in the steam would eat the pipes,
and they didn't last.
Then these people by the name of Woods from Los Angeles
came, and they were interested in it. They came in Geysers
Development Company. John Grant had sold a lot of that stock
around Healdsburg. To tell you the truth, the first stock I
bought was that, at a hundred dollars a share. My two sisters
each bought a share, and I bought a share.
Foppiano: When I was in my early twenties, I had an uncle [John Battista
(Boch) Foppiano] who was going to go up there and make sulfur.
So I went up there and worked, drove a tractor. But the sulfur
deal fizzled out and didn't do any good.
It was too expensive, and it was during the Depression. So it
sat there, and nobody thought it was worth anything. So these
fellows, Frank Woods and Bering, came, and they said, "We'll
make a deal." They called themselves the Magma Power Company.
We sat down and talked with them. I was quite a bit older then.
It was in the fifties, so I was forty-some years old. My family
had quite a bit of stock in it, and I represented the family.
We made a deal where they would go up and drill. They drilled
and got the steam, and then they sold it to PG&E [Pacific Gas
and Electric). That's what's up there today.
I'm still in it. It's been very, very profitable. It's
slowed down a little now, but the first twenty-five years were
very, very profitable. A lot of people didn't have faith in it.
I was the president of the Geysers Development Company, so I
would buy the stock; if they wanted to sell it, I'd buy it. So
I bought quite a bit of it, and I still have it. I get a check
every three months, which is nice. The trouble is, most of it
goes to the government in tax. [laughs]
I was the president of Geysers Development Company, which
owns the land, and then [it became] Magma Power, and now it's
What were your responsibilities as president?
Was there a board
The biggest responsibility was when we went to Magma Power. A
lot of people took their stocks and threw them away, burned
them, because they were worthless. A lot of them the state of
California got, because they couldn't find the people. As I
said, I bought a lot from people who didn't want anything to do
with it. I paid them a hundred or two hundred dollars a share,
and they were glad to get rid of it. They didn't have any faith
any more in it.
Then we formed a limited partnership, and now it's all in a
limited partnership, so it's all taken care of that way. I'm
still one of the large stockholders in it.
We had one lady, Lynn Sanchez, whose husband was from
Argentina, and her checks were just terrific. Her father, Frank
Woods, owned Barley Davidson. She has passed away, and I see on
the paper that her three children are still getting a check;
they're still doing all right.
What happened up there is that Sonoma County got greedy.
They issued too many permits, and they put too many wells close
together. It took the pressure off; it was just too much. They
charged so much for the permit and so forth, and they were
making money and getting taxes out of it. They just went
overboard; they didn't use their heads. They should have
limited it to so many wells, and that's it. But, no, they got
That ' s about it for the Geysers .
Early Vineyard Workers and Employees
Hicke: I forgot to ask you how many employees you had when you geared
up in the forties, and where you found them.
Foppiano: During the war we first had German prisoners. I used to get
twenty or twenty- five to do our pruning and our picking. I was
on the board for getting the help, because we had no help; all
the boys were in the army, and then everyone went to defense- -
Mare Island and Kaiser [Shipyards]. The first help we got was
German prisoners, and we had them right down here at Windsor.
They came off the submarines, and boy, were they ornery! They
were a tough bunch of boys--well, the submarines, you know, and
they were winning the war, too, at the time; we weren't winning
it , that ' s for sure .
Hicke: How did you keep charge of them?
Foppiano: They sent a soldier with a rifle, and he watched them. He
watched those pretty close. We had a prison camp four miles
down the road here. They were young boys, eighteen or twenty,
and they were tough.
When our country went to Africa during the war, we captured
all the African group- -Rommel ' s group. They were a different
class, and we had them for a year or so. Then the war was over,
and they took the Germans away. We were still short of help, so
then we got the Mexicans. We formed a group and decided how
many we wanted for picking or pruning. We had to house the
Mexicans. They'd come up on a bus, and you'd go in and pick
which ones you thought were good. [laughs] That's how the
Mexicans got started in this country.
Hicke: How many would you hire?
Foppiano: For this district in the county, we'd bring in about 240 for the
crop or the pruning. We'd try to teach them pruning. We had to
have camps for them ourselves.
Hicke: Did you ever get the same people every year?
Foppiano: Yes. Juan worked for me for about thirty years. He was the
first Mexican I got. He went back home, and then he came back
again. I'd get him; he wanted to come here. Then he got his
papers or something, and he stayed here with me. He got
married, and now he's passed away. He was a nice fellow.
If we didn't have the Mexicans now, we couldn't get a white
man out here. I've got forty pickers out there, and if you can
find a white man amongst them, you're doing better than I can.
People say there are too many Mexicans, but if we didn't have
them, I don't know how we would pick these crops today or do
things. We could do the tractor work, the cultivating, but for
the picking and pruning we had to get help. We just couldn't do
it all ourselves.
Hicke: Did you have any full-time employees?
Foppiano: Oh, yes. A white man was our foreman. Now they're all
Mexicans- -my foremen, tractor drivers, winery men. The only
white man I've got in there is the enologist, Bill Regan. My
son, who passed away in '84, used to run it, too.
The Next Generation of Foppianos
Hicke: Your sons were born in the fifties?
Foppiano: Louis was born a year after we were married, so he was born in
"47. Rod was about two or three years younger, so he must have
been born in '49. Susan is forty now, so she was born in '53.
We lost Rod in '84. He got leukemia. He was a good boy, too.
[Rod's son] Paul is working for me now. My wife is
complaining because--he comes down and has breakfast, and she's
calling him "freeloader Charlie" now, kidding him. [laughs]
He's a good boy. He's going to [Santa Rosa] JC [Junior College]
and taking viticulture, and he hopes to go to Fresno State. His
father went to Fresno State. This afternoon and tomorrow
morning he goes to school. He goes to school three days, and
the rest of the time I finance him.
Hicke: So he's a fourth generation?
Hicke: In the fifties, did your kids grow up doing the same kinds of
things you did working around the winery?
Foppiano: No, I sent them both to prep school. They both went to
Bellarmine, a Jesuit prep school in San Jose. As soon as they
got out of grammar school, they went to prep school. So we
didn't have them for four years. I'm telling you, that was
really something. We were crushing, and we'd have to go down to
a basketball game or a football game. My wife would make a
lunch, and we'd go down and sit in the car and eat, and then
we'd have to drive home. I'd drive down, and my wife would
drive back. We kept in contact with them, and they brought
their friends up. It was fine. I'd take them up to the ranch
and let them bring their friends. We treated them well, I
My daughter has two horses that she keeps here. She has
always loved horses. I feed them in the morning. [laughs] I
have two little grandsons from her; she has two boys. Rod had
two children, a boy and a girl.
Winemaking in the 1950s and 1960s; Varietals
Hicke: What was going on with the wines and winemaking in the fifties?
Foppiano: We were bottling quite a bit then, about the same thinga lot
of gallon jugs. Then we got in the varietals in about '62 or
Hicke: How did that come about?
Foppiano: You could see it coming; everybody was starting. August
Sebastiani was a good friend. In fact, I was his pallbearer;
that ' s how close we were . He ' d always talk to me and was
pushing me, "Lou, get in the varietals." Even though we were
competitive, we were very, very close friends. He'd always tell
me, "Get out of the gallon business and get into the varietals."
My son Rod was going to Fresno State,
Louis was more in the selling end.
and he was seeing it,
How did you decide which varieties to plant?
Foppiano: The first one we decided on was Cabernet. That was a hot item
then; Cabernet was number one. Then Cabernet died, and
Chardonnay got real hot. Now Merlot is the one. You never know
what to plant, and then before you know it you've got an
overproduction of it. [laughs] We had a meeting this morning:
"What do we pull out?" Then you pull it out, and by the time
you get something else in, [another variety is catching on).
Hicke: Yes, it's a long-term proposition.
Foppiano: And it's an expensive deal. It costs $15,000 an acre to plant a
vineyard today, and that's not counting the land. It's
expensive, so you don't go in and pull all the vineyard out.
Every year I pull out about ten or fifteen acres.
Hicke: You adjust to the market?
Foppiano: Yes, that's right.
Hicke: Did you keep some of your old Zinfandel vines?
Foppiano: No, I kept Petite Sirah. I pulled the Zinfandel out eight or
nine years ago. The oldest vineyard I pulled out just last
Hicke: How old was it?
Foppiano: It must have been seventy-five or eighty years old. But it
wasn't producing anything any more, so what are you going to do?
It's so expensive today to work land. It sure is nice to say,
"I've got old vineyards, and it makes good wine," but if you
don't make much of it--. We've still got twenty or thirty acres
that are thirty years old, and it makes just as good a wine as
Hicke: In the sixties, you must have been one of the first ones to
start planting Cabernet.
Foppiano: Oh, no, everybody was starting to plant it. It was surprising.
Prunes went to nothing. Everybody was pulling out prunes,
especially in Alexander Valley. Forty years ago, Alexander
Valley didn't have hardly a grape in it; oh, somebody might have
had ten or twenty acres . It was all prunes and pears . Now
there isn't a prune or a pear in it; it's all grapes. That's a
lot of acreage. Oh, the whole county--! '11 bet you that we must
have had five thousand or more acres of prunes in this county.
I ' 11 venture to say that today there are no more than five
Why did the prune market go down?
It happened like hops. Everything from here down was hops.
Along the river it was all hops. Then they got mildew, and they
started raising hops up in Washington. It killed these hops
here. The same thing happened in prunes. Everything around
here was prunes. Dry Cree"k was mostly prunes, Alexander Valley
was all prunes. Then they started to raise prunes over in the
valley around Marysville. They'd get twice as much tonnage to
the acre as we would, and it was more profitable.
Then the grapes started to look good, and everybody went
from prunes to grapes. That's what happened. I don't know what
we're going to plant when the grapes go haywire. [laughs]
Hicke: Do you think there is overproduction now?
Foppiano: No, we just seem to get by. We're just right. Our good grapes
are staying good. You never get any cheap grapes. You come out
with a price, and it stays. Oh, one year a couple of years ago,
Cabernet Sauvignon [went down a bit], but now it's back. They
pulled out Cabernet and planted Chardonnay, so it balances out.
Now they're all getting excited planting Merlot, like me; I'm
planting Merlot. When Merlot gets into overproduction, we'll
think of something else--Sangiovese, Viognier. The white wines
--Sauvignon Blanc is a dead issue. It was good twenty years
ago, and now you can hardly give it away. I had quite a bit of
it, a couple of hundred tons. It's tough.
Hicke: Yes, the wdne industry is based on agriculture, and you have to
look a little bit behind the winemaking to see that it is an
agricultural base, which is a whole different thing from an
industry or a manufacturer.
Foppiano: How about some lunch? [break for lunch]
More on Early Days;
German and Italian Workers; Planting by the
Hicke: I'd like to back up a little bit. You were talking about your
workers during the war. Did you ever have any Italian
Foppiano: At the end, but I didn't get any. I still had some Germans, and
I didn't get any Italians. They were down in Fresno, and they
sent them up here just for a couple of weeks. Then the war was
over, and they took them right out.
They didn't keep them here
Hicke: Going way back to the teens, before Prohibition, you were saying
that you drove some of the horses.
Foppiano: When I was a kid, maybe twelve or fourteen years old, I drove in
the vineyards, single plowing with the horse. We had six or
eight horses. Two of them would go first, and then you would
have to go next to the vine with a single horse and get the dirt
away from the vine. That's what I did. Oh, once in a while I
drove the team, but not very often. I was just a kid, but we
had this horse that would just go in by herself. She knew what
to do. You just held the plow in place, and she went right next
to the vines, what we called single plowing.
Hicke: Did you plow just once a year?
Foppiano: You plowed to, and then you plowed away; you plowed twice, but
in the same month. You only plowed during February, March, and
April. The rest of it you disked or spring-toothed.
Hicke: At some time you had Italian workers.
Foppiano: That was in the late teens and the twenties. Up until the
Depression we had Italian workers, and then the Oklahomans came
in. They had a drought, and they were pushed out of Oklahoma
and moved West. The pickers were Oklahomans then. They did a
lot of work, and they were ranchers, too, that came out of
Oklahoma. We had a lot of Oklahomans work for us. They were
good workers, good farmers.
Hicke: Did you have to furnish the half gallons to them, like you did
Foppiano: No, they weren't the wine drinkers. We did give the Italians a
gallon of half wine, half water, with a sack around it. You'd
wet the sack, and that would keep the wine cool. They'd stick
it behind a vine or under a tree, and it would stay cool.
They'd go up and make a furrow or two, and then they'd take a
drink of wine. It was hot, you know.
Now the Mexicans drink beer on you.
Hicke: You also had Indians at some point.
Foppiano: When I was a young boy about eight or ten years old, we had
Indians. They came out of the reservations, and they'd pick
prunes and grapes for you.
Hicke: How did you go about hiring them?
Foppiano: They'd come. If you hired a family one year that lived on a
reservation, the next year they'd come back. It would go on for
four or five years. They had children, and they would do your
picking for you.
Hicke: Did you have to train them?
Foppiano: Oh, they were trained. The old ones taught the young ones.
Hicke: So you had Indians when you were young, and then you had the
Italians, then the Oklahomans.
Foppiano: And then the Germans, then the Mexicans. I'm still with the
Hicke: There was something in the earlier days about making wine with
the phases of the moon.
Foppiano: The white wine you would always rackmove it from one tank to
anotherdepending on the moon. I had forgotten about that
until you asked. The first quarter the moon is facing up, and
the last quarter it turns down. You'd rack the wine during the
last quarter when it was down, because everything was pressed
down. That was the idea. I still plant some vegetables that
way. You plant the vegetables that grow up, like beans, [in the
first quarter of the moon] , and you plant things like onions and
potatoes in the down phase.
Hicke : Whatever works !
Foppiano: A friend of mine farms down in Firebaugh, farms 10,000 acres. I
said, "How do you do it, Narvel? You can't go by the moon; how
are you going to plant a thousand acres when the moon is up?"
[laughs] I don't know whether it means anything or not. But the
some of the oldtimers still plant by the moon in the vegetable
It's like frost. You know when you get most of your frost
and have to worry about it? In a full moon. Then the air is
clear. Your big frosts usually come in a full moon. I don't
worry too much if there isn't a full moon out; but if there is a
full moon, I am concerned.
Big Frost of 1970
Hicke: You were telling me about a big frost in 1970.
Foppiano: For eighteen days in a row we lit smudge pots and ran the wind
machines. On the 27th of April a big frost came, and it got
down to seventeen degrees and cleaned everything. And we were
glad, because my helpers and I were up every night. We'd work
at bottling wine during the day, and then we'd call them at
night to help us. They were getting so tired, and I was tired,
Hicke: And then you lost the entire vineyard?
Foppiano: Most of it. It would come back a little bit, but there was no
crop. In fact, it was a disaster.
Hicke: Did you have to replant?
Foppiano: No, we just lost that year's crop.
Hicke: Did you have to go to the bank to tide you over?
Foppiano: I probably did. I wouldn't doubt it.
Hicke: That probably would have been the Bank of America.
Foppiano: That's right.
More on the 1960s
Hicke: We were talking about the forties and the fifties, and I think
we ' re ready to start talking about how you began to plant a
finer variety to make table wine.
Foppiano: I took out the prunes and fumigated, and we planted the grapes
right after that. We had a lot of prunes here; we used to raise
a lot of prunes on this ranch, especially.
Hicke: You were telling me that you have different kinds of soil in
different parts of the vineyard.
Foppiano: Yes, here we have dense land, bottom land, gravelly land; we
have three or four different types. You plant the rootings of
the varieties that you think will do better in each type of
soil. Your white wine varieties do better in heavy land, and
your red wines do better on bench or red land.
Hicke: What did you plant first, Cabernet?
Hicke: When did you plant your first Cabernet?
Foppiano: Let me see, I would say in the early sixties.
Hicke: When did you bottle your first Cabernet?
Foppiano: I'd say we bottled it probably three or four years later [a
blend of 1968 and 1969]. Cabernet took more aging than white
wine did. We bottled it in 1971.
Hicke: Then you had to design a label?
Foppiano: Oh, yes, we designed a label, and we put in oak barrels.
Hicke: Where did you get your cooperage?
Foppiano: We bought it from FranceFrench oak.
Hicke: Did it come in barrels or in staves?
Foppiano: It was already in barrels.
Hicke: After Cabernet, what else did you plant?
Foppiano: Then the Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc at about the same time.
We already had quite a bit of Petite Sirah, so we never planted
that. It's a little too low down here and gets too much fog for
Zinfandel, so we'd rather buy it a little farther north.
Hicke: By this time your sons were in the business and making wine?
Foppiano: Yes, they were coming along. Louis went to Notre Dame and then
came home and finished out his last two years at USF [University
of San Francisco]. Rod graduated from Fresno State, and then he
Hicke: Was he making the wines when you started making the Cabernet and
Foppiano: When he came home from school, he started to be the winemaker.
Hicke: It would require different techniques for the white wine and the
red wine, wouldn't it?
Foppiano: He learned that at Fresno State. He took enology down there, so
he had better ideas than I did. He had a terrific taste; he
could really taste wines. He was better than I was as far as
Palate Development and Tasting Wines
How did you develop your palate?
Well, you taste the wines. Some people can taste, and some
can't. There are days when I can't taste. If your stomach
isn't right, or something isn't right with your system, the
wines won't taste right. I can taste a wine one day and like
it, and then I taste the same wine some other day and not like
it, or vice versa.
I'm glad to hear that's not just my own tasting experience.
but at these fairs where they give the judges
you can't tell me that you can taste a hundred
taste the first ten or so, but pretty soon your
too sensitive any more. Maybe other people can
't do it. I can taste about ten wines, and then
My mouth gets all puckery, and I lose my taste
buds. It's just like eating hot food.
I hate to say it
a hundred wines,
wines. You can
old palate isn't
do it, but I can
I have to quit.
Do you still taste the wines?
Not too much any more. Oh, I do. They call me once in a while.
They'll make blends and ask me to come on over and taste it:
"What do you think about it?" I'm pretty good yet; I can taste
a good wine. I'm not an expert at it any more.
Who else in the winery tastes the wines?
Bill [Regan], Louis, and Jim Faber when he worked here. We have
a friend, Henry Bugato, who has tasted the wines for years. He
lives in Berkeley, and he comes up and helps us taste wines.
Louis was telling me that he opened a 1953 bottle.
I guess so. I didn't know about it. I guess he had a bottle
Hicke: He said it held up very well.
Foppiano: Yes. I've tasted a lot of sixties, up to '65s and '67s, but I
never went back that far. I've probably got some around here
someplace, buried under the other ones.
Hicke: You have to go see what you've got.
Foppiano: You know, it's funny. They give me these wines, and then you
put them away and forget about them. My wife drinks white wine
every night; she'll have two glasses of white wine while she's
cooking. While she's cooking, she sips a little white wine.
But, like I was telling you, if I get tired, then I come home
and have a bourbon and soda. I'm a bourbon drinker.
Lately I've been noticing, and I guess it's my age, that I
can't drink red wine like I used to; I get heartburn. I wake up
at two o'clock in the morning, and I've got terrific heartburn.
So I guess my old stomach just can't take it any more. I can
drink white wine, but red wine no. We went out the other night,
and I had a couple of glasses of red wine. Boy, at two o'clock
in the morning I was up drinking some milk.
Hicke: It's hardly worth it, is it?
Foppiano: No, it isn't worth it any more. When you get to be my age,
you ' re lucky you ' re around . [ laughs ]
Hicke: I don't believe a word of it.
Foppiano: There aren't many of us left at this age. When you look at the
paper and see how old people are when they die--. When you get
to be eight-four--
Hicke: You've been active all your life.
Foppiano: Oh, yes, I've been active all the time. I drank, but I was
never a heavy drinker. I've never smoked. Well, I smoked a
little during the warcigars. Then one morning I woke up and
didn't feel good, and I have never touched a cigar since. They
never tasted good to me any more, and I used to smoke quite a
few cigars during the war. I never could smoke cigarettes.
I've tried, but I'd Just throw it away.
Hicke: That was wise, as we now know.
Foppiano: Yes. I often wonder about my father. He was a terrific smoker.
Oh, he smoked so much. In those days he smoked Bull Durham.
Hicke: You roll your own?
Foppiano: Yes, and he could roll one with one hand. He had a tear across
the side of his pants from striking the matches.
Hicke: At some point you built some more buildings, including a tasting
room that you opened.
Foppiano: The tasting room we built in 1979, and we rebuilt the office.
It was an old office, and we just rebuilt it all. At the same
time we built the office where Louis is, in the back.
Hicke: Is the tasting room a big part of your sales?
Foppiano: It's not a big part, but it's a good part of our sales. It's
very profitable, because you take the full mark-up. Of course
you give a lot away, and I'm not figuring that in. But it's
Hicke: Do you get feedback from people who come in to taste?
Foppiano: Oh, yes.
In the olden days our retail room was over in back of my
mother's house, and she took care of it. She was funny. We
sold mostly in barrels then, and we had three barrels--forty-
five cents, sixty or seventy cents, and ninety-five cents or a
dollar. It was all the same wine. [laughter] It was
surprising. People would come in there and taste, and the
dollar value made a difference in the taste.
Hicke: Your mother loved that?
Foppiano: Oh, she was quite a person and loved to talk to people. She'd
never lose a sale. Some people would say, "I bought it from you
last month for fifty cents a gallon. Now you've got it at
sixty-nine." She'd sell it to them for fifty cents again. She
would never let them walk out of there without a sale. She was
really something. And she enjoyed it. It was when she was no
longer able to go down to the tasting room that she started to
fail. It was unbelievable. She enjoyed people so much. Even
today people will drive in and say, "I used to get my wine from
your mother, over there." She was quite a woman.
Hicke: How long was she able to keep selling in the tasting room?
Foppiano: She passed away about fifteen years ago, in 1974.
Hicke: Most of that time she was able to sell in the tasting room?
Foppiano: Yes, she'd go down there. When she got kind of sick and her
legs gave out, she'd sit home in the house. She failed very
Marketing. Distribution, and Travels
Hicke: When did you start going into marketing and get a distributor?
How did that evolve?
Foppiano: It got so that for me to run it in the East [was too much] --and
Louis and Rod were young. We decided we would go with this San
Francisco Wine Exchange. They were brokers, selling wine all
over the United States. We gave it to them and let them do it,
because I didn't have the time, and Louis was still young.
Hicke: That's where Jim Faber works?
Foppiano: Yes, he's working there now. He was working for us, but we
thought it would be better for us if he got into that company.
Our friendship is very, very good still. I think it will work
out great for us. It already seems to be. You know, he worked
for us, and he's going to push our wines, we hope.
Hicke: He has a wider scope of contacts this way?
Foppiano: Yes. He talks to all the distributors. We're in practically
every state in the union. If we were on our ownwhen you try
to have your own sales organization, it's tough, unless you have
a good sales manager. When you have men running all over the
country, you better be able to go, and we weren't able to at
Hicke: Was this in the sixties?
Foppiano: It was about seventeen years ago, I think in about 1975.
Hicke: When did you start marketing overseas?
Foppiano: About five or six years ago.
Hicke: Which way did you go first?
Foppiano: England first, and then we went to Denmark and Norway, then
Japan. It all happened within a year or two. I took a trip to
the south Pacific rim. But down there they are not wine
drinkers; they're brandy drinkers. I'm not a drinker, so I
didn't go out; but Tom Jordan's daughter, Judy, of the Jordan
winery, was with us. She's a great gal, Judy. She went out,
and they drank a lot of brandy. It was a nice trip. We went to
Singapore and really enjoyed it.
Hicke: You also took a trip to Denmark.
Foppiano: Yes, last June. My wife and I have practically traveled the
world. The only countries I haven't been to are India and
Africa. We've been all over South America, Australia and New
Zealand, the South Pacific (but not India), China, Russia,
Europe. When I had my plane I flew all the time to Mexico and
Canada. Now my wife likes to travel, but I don't. There's not
too much harmony there. [laughs] I've traveled so much. The
last two trips we were herded around like cattle, with so many
people traveling. I just don't like it.
Hicke: On tours?
Foppiano: Yes. Even on our own, like the last trip we took, at the
airport everybody is jamming and pushing you. I'm not
interested in that any more.
Hicke: Most of this was vacation travel?
Foppiano: Oh, yes.
Hicke: But when you went to Denmark--
Foppiano: That was business. Five years ago we went to England, and that
Hicke: What did you do?
Foppiano: They take you to the different stores [where the wines are being
sold], and then they had a Zinfandel wine tasting; we poured
wines and could taste them.
Hicke: Who had it, your distributor there?
Foppiano: Yes, Ebury Mathiot had it, and they still have it. In fact,
he'll be here next week.
Hicke: I know when you went to Denmark you ate at the ambassador's
Foppiano: Yes, we were invited to the ambassador's home.
Hicke: Was that part of your business trip?
Foppiano: Yes. Irma Stores is the one who buys our wines. This fellow
that Louis mentioned, Bob Tetro, was an agricultural attache to
Denmark, Norway, and Sweden. He arranged the dinner, and we had
the ambassador from Spain there, a lady-in-waiting from England,
and the ambassador from Italy. So we were in pretty high class
for an old farmer. [laughs] We enjoyed it very much. They
were very gracious. Ambassador Richard Stone was a terrific
man. And you should have seen their garden. I don't know how
much the government paid to take care of it. I was sitting at
the head table with Mrs. Stone, and she was telling me how much
their ambassadors have to pay for food and so forth.
Hicke: Out of their own pocket?
Foppiano: Yes. I was surprised. I thought the government paid
everything, but oh, no. I guess it's an honor to be an
ambassador. She was telling me that if the entertainment wasn't
official government business, it came out of their own pocket.
Hicke: You were also telling me about the ambassador's wine cellar.
Foppiano: He said to me, "Mr. Foppiano, would you like to see my wine
cellar?" I said, "Fine, sure," so he took us down these winding
stairs. I looked around, and he had a bed over there. I
wondered what a bed was doing down there. During the war he ran
Denmark; he was the head man. He was head of the German
government that ran Denmark. He told me that bed was where he
slept during an air raid. "This was our bomb shelter."
Then there was a door there, and he said, "You see that
door? That goes under the street, and on the other side of the
street was the gestapo headquarters." It was very interesting.
And that garden he had must have been two or three acres full of
beautiful flowers, and a swimming pool.
When we went to Singapore, we went to the ambassador, too,
and he invited us to dinner one night at the embassy. Of
course, we were a wine group there.
Hicke: Did they serve Foppiano wines or California wines?
Foppiano: California wines. There might have been a bottle of Foppiano.
I do remember they had Foppiano at the ambassador's in Denmark.
Del and I --we are not a big account. We sell quite a bit
of wine in Denmark, but it's not really a big, big business.
This fellow Bob Tetro met us at the airport and drove us to the
hotel. When we got to the hotel, the rooms weren't made up, and
it would be a two-hour wait,
rest. But we wouldn't go.
He wanted us to go to his home and
He came every day, picked us up, and took us around. He
was a great fellow, and he had a nice wife. He took us to his
home, and we met his wife and his children.
It sounds like a worthwhile trip.
That was, yes. That was a trip I really enjoyed. From there we
flew down to Italy, where they had the big party for us. From
there we took the train to Sorrento and stayed at the most
beautiful hotel. I don't want to tell you the price. It was up
on top of the hill, and the whole thing was marble. I'm telling
you, they had four or five swimming pools and a garden. It was
like living in heaven. It was a great big room, too. I really
enjoyed it. Once in a while in your life you have to do those
Larry Romano was your wholesaler,
Can you tell me a little bit
Foppiano: Larry was our wholesaler in San Francisco; he had the Bay Area.
He was very good and sold a lot of our wines in San Francisco
and the Bay Area. All of a sudden he just got too big and went
through bankruptcy. He really went broke. It was hard for us
to get back in there, because you change distributors, and this
one doesn't do too good, and the other one--. Larry had been
doing terrific sales for us. Since then, we've been changing
around, and it's hard.
Like I always say, anybody can make wine today if you have
good equipment and good grapes. Selling, merchandising is the
thing. Today it's hard because there are so many wineries.
You've been in Safeway and Lucky 's; you look at all the wines,
and do you know which wines to buy? It's tough. There are so
many good ones . Very few wineries in California make a poor
wine today. They're all [at least] average, and some are good.
Most all the wines are drinkable, I don't care whose label you
get. Of course, there's a difference between a $10 bottle of
wine and a $3.99 bottle, but even the $3.99 isn't bad.
Hicke: How do you try to position your wines?
Foppiano: We have two or three labels. We try to put one in the higher
bracket and one in the lower bracket. I don't do too much of
that any more. I let my son do it. I like to make wine, and I
like to walk around the ranch and be a farmer.
Hicke: That reminds me that you have a trail here named after Margot
Foppiano: Yes, it's up at the winery. There's a trail from the tasting
room that goes down to the river and comes back. You'd be
surprised at how many people walk it. You know, they see the
vines. It's about a half a mile down through the vineyard. If
you're not used to it and haven't been around it, it's nice,
[laughs] To me it doesn't mean anything, but people who come
out from the East can say, "Oh, I've walked through the
vineyards in California."
Hicke: Let me ask you a little bit about the changes in the industry.
You've obviously seen enormous changes since you started.
Foppiano: Oh, yes. First, the equipment has changed, and then the selling
is altogether different. Merchandising is nothing like it was
when we first started, that's for sure. Then, you didn't even
bother, and now you're bottling and designing labels. Louis is
gone six months of the year, selling. You couldn't do that in
my day; you couldn't make enough money to make two trips, let
alone one. Today, you're on the road, and your big expense is
merchandising, selling. You take them out to breakfast in the
morning, or if you meet them at lunch, you take them to lunch.
If it's a good account, you take them to dinner. You know that
today you don't sit down to dinner for less than $200. Then
your hotel is $150 or $175 in New York.
I stayed at the Lexington Hotel in about 1934, and I had a
nice room.- It was $3.75 a night. I still have the bill! It
was at Lexington Avenue and 42nd Street. And I thought that was
a lot of money! [laughs] Then Del and I went to Europe eight
or ten years ago, and I said, "Let's stay at the Lexington
Hotel." The bill was over a hundred dollars, and it probably
wasn't three rooms away from where I stayed for $3.75. Oh, they
have modernized it and cleaned it up a little bit.
Hicke: You should have taken your old bill with you.
Foppiano: Yes, I should have said, "Hey, what happened here? I thought it
was $3.75 a night. That's what I was quoted." [laughter]
Hicke: Do you enter your wines in judgings?
Foppiano: Oh, yes, and we send samples out all the time to all the wine
writers. If they like it, they'll write about it. Yes, we do a
lot of that.
Hicke: Somebody came up to talk to you not too long ago about neo-
Prohibitlon. What was that all about?
Foppiano: They asked me if I think we are ever going to have Prohibition
again. Well, I'm sure my father and mother would not have made
200,000 gallons of wine if they had thought Prohibition was
coming. Even grapes at $15 or $20 a ton--2,000 tons was
$40,000. That was like $2 million today. They made that wine,
and all of a sudden, bang, there was Prohibition, and we were
stuck with the wine.
It may not come, because of the gangsters and all that. If
Prohibition came again, Al Capone and people like him would be
nothing; the new ones would be a lot smarter. I was just a kid
of sixteen or seventeen when Prohibition came. They talk about
it today, and you never know how people are going to vote.
These young kids are getting in wrecks due to alcohol. What I
don't like is that they just mention alcohol; they never mention
that they were on drugs, too. They could be on drugs when they
have these wrecks, but it's always alcohol. I know a lot of
kids , and I know a lot of them are on drugs .
Hicke: You're saying that the media have something to do with it?
Foppiano: Why, certainly. Television and newspapers keep saying that a
man was on alcohol and had a wreck, and he killed a family. He
might have been on drugs. They never check them for drugs, but
they check them for alcohol. I don't know, but I don't see in
the paper very often that a person was on drugs; it's always
alcohol. I've never had drugs, but you would think it would
affect your system more than alcohol or just as much.
Hicke: What is the solution, do you think?
Foppiano: I'll say one thing has happened. My wife and I used to go out
to dinner. Being in the wine business, I'd sit down and order a
bottle of wine. My wife would have one or two glasses, and I'd
drink the rest. But I don't do that any more. Today I'll have
two glasses, and my wife may have two glasses. If there's half
a bottle of wine left, I'll tell the waiter to enjoy it.
We've been to a few parties where we hire a van, and one
fellow does the driving. If I have three drinks, it affects me
now; I can't take three drinks any more. Once I could drink
three or four martinis, but now if I take two martinis, I'm off.
So I don't drink martinis any more. I stay with the bourbon and
soda, but two is enough, and I quit; I don't drink three if I'm
driving. If I'm not driving, I may have three.
Hicke: Does Foppiano make half bottles?
Foppiano: No. Wine does not hold up in half bottles. I'm talking about
tenths, which are half bottles. In a fifth, you've got more
wine, and it will take. But it seems that in a tenth the wine
doesn't hold up. There's not enough wine to the air space of
the cork or something. The more wine you have in the bottle,
the better it will hold up.
Turning Over Winemaking Duties
Hicke: When did you actually retire and turn the reins over?
Foppiano: I haven't turned the reins over. I'm still the boss. [laughs]
Hicke: When did you turn the winemaking over?
Foppiano: When Rod and Bill came. I turned it all over to them.
Hicke: So then you just directed the business?
Foppiano: I go up and see that the men are doing the right thing and not
lying around not doing anything. I still watch where the money
goes. We talk it over. If they decide to do this or do that,
I'm the last one to [give the okay]. I still sign the checks.
That's the only honor they give me. [laughs]
Hicke: I think we've covered most of my questions. Can you think of
anything else we should talk about?
Outside Activities; Flying
Foppiano: Well, about my flying. I bought my own plane in 1967. I
started flying a little bit when I went to Palm Springs, and
then I quit and never flew for a long time. In the early
sixties I started to fly again. I bought this plane of mine,
and we went to Mexico and fishing in Canada a lot and enjoyed
it. Then my wife said, "Louis, you better get rid of the
airplane; you're getting old." She didn't trust me too much any
more, and I don't blame her. At the end, I wasn't flying that
much, and if you don't fly you [lose your skills]. You have to
keep up on it. Then the air traffic control was getting more
complex with more traffic. The last few times I flew into
Oakland, they'd circle you around for a half hour before they
would let you land. Before, if I was going someplace, I'd leave
my plane at San Francisco airport, but now you can hardly get in
there, and they don't like the little planes anyway. Oakland
wasn't bad, but San Francisco didn't want any little airplanes
Did you ever fly into San Carlos?
We have a little airport
A couple of times, yes, I flew in there,
That one right out by
I flew all over Mexico--Cozumel, La Costa, the jungle down
there, Oaxaca. We used to go to Mexico every year, and I'd go
fishing in Canada once or twice every year. I miss that. I did
miss the airplane. You get used to it. I'd go to Fresno or Los
Angeles, and I'd be there in two hours. When you have to drive
down there in all the traffic, it makes a big difference.
The Future of the Wine Industry
Hicke: What do you see for the future of the wine industry and for
Foppiano: It's a hard row. We're pretty conservative. We run a pretty
tight ship, and we make a few dollars. We don't make much,
but--. Unless you're the Gallos and are big and get volume, the
wine business isn't a business where you [get rich]. If you're
small, it's a nice living. Julio Gallo was my best friend. I
talked to him the day before he got killed. In fact, he used to
send me a case of brandy all the time. I always had brandy.
Now I don't see Bob [Gallo], Julio's son, too much, because he
is busy. But Julio's grandson, Matt, I see all the time. He's
a very nice boy. I take him hunting up at the ranch, and I used
to take Julio up, too. Even Bob has been up there.
I've made some very good acquaintances in the wine
business. August Sebastiani was a competitor of mine,
especially when we were in bulk, before we bottled anything.
But when you are his pallbearer, you have to be one of his best
friends. He'd call me up at three or four o'clock in the
afternoon, "What are you doing?" "Oh, I'm just sitting here."
"Come on over and have dinner. Oh, what's the matter with you;
come on over." Del and I would go over. Del would get mad, but
I enjoyed it. We'd go over and talk. Every week he'd call me
up, "What's doing?" He was on the ball. Just like Julio, I
miss him. When we went to Matt's wedding and to Tom's wedding
[Julio's grandsons], I sat at Julio's table. You've got to be a
pretty good friend to be sitting with his wife and his son, Bob,
at their table. I got along well with Julio. I miss him a lot.
I really do.
Hicke: Is present-day phylloxera a problem for you?
Foppiano: It's no problem for me. But you never know today. A better
strain of phylloxera may come out. It's just like diseases.
Nobody ever heard of AIDS, but we have it. And now there's TB
[tuberculosis]. As our generation gets older, there's always
something. I see it in farming and using pesticides. Once, one
pesticide killed everything. Now it doesn't kill any more;
there's resistance to it. That's what happens, so you don't
know. Maybe a few years from now there will be a phylloxera out
there that will attack the St. George roots.
Hicke: Have you thought about or tried organic farming?
Foppiano: No, not yet. I may. My little grandson is going to school now,
and he's trying to talk me into putting in a patch. That's what
they go to school for, to learn. Maybe the bugs will eat the
grass and stay off the vines. There are quite a few people
farming organically now. It's surprising. You save on tractors
and oil and gasoline, too. My grandson is trying to talk me
into a patch.
Hicke: An experimental patch?
Foppiano: Yes. That's what you should do. After all, that's the name of
the game. If you always do the same thing, you're in a rut.
Hicke: Is there anything you can think of that we haven't covered?
Foppiano: You've probably picked my brains apart. [laughs] We've talked
about a lot of things that I haven't thought about any more.
Hicke: I'd like to thank you very much for doing the interview. I
really enjoyed it.
Foppiano: Thank you for taking the time to come.
Louis J. Foppiano (far right) with his mother, Mathilda (others unknown). Receiving
grapes, ca. 1935.
Louis J. Foppiano during oral history interview, 1994
IV OLDTIMERS AND EARLY DAYS IN SONOMA COUNTY
[Interview 2: May 3, 1995] II
Hicke: We are going to start talking about some oldtimers today.
Delia: Do you want to go into the starting of the winegrowers
association and the people with small wineries that were in it
and are no longer- -
Foppiano: Well, that is most of them- -quite of few of them are still in
it. The people aren't in it now, fellows like Abele Ferrari, he
passed away but he had a winery called Soda Rock winery. It is
closed up now. He made crushers and presses; as a matter of
fact he had a machine shop in Healdsburg. He was the one, if
you had any problems you would call him and he would solve them
all for you and get us going again, because he had all of the
machinery, you know. Abele Ferrari had a winery and also he
made the machinery- -the equipment for the winery. He was very
good. If you had any problems or you wanted to build something
he would come down and figure it all out, like an engineer, only
he learned it all the hard way.
Hicke: He sort of taught himself?
Foppiano: Yes, and he was very good. When you were building or you had
to put new equipment in, he would come down show you just how to
do it. Today you have to call in all kinds of engineers, but
then, you Just called him.
Hicke: Did he build some things for you?
Foppiano: Yes, he built that crusher, and that press, and pumps, he
brought pumps down. One of his partners was Rafanelli, and his
son and grandson are still in business as the Healdsburg Machine
Shop. They have been there for years. Anytime we had a
breakdown we would go to them or they would come down.
Hicke: What sort of time period are we talking about?
Foppiano: I would say the thirties, .late thirties, forties, during the
war; and before the war, when they started making wine again
after Prohibitionthey had a machine shop and they started
making wine from it.
Hicke: Was he a longtime resident in this area?
Foppiano: Yes. I would say he came here about 1900.
Hicke: He came over from Italy?
Foppiano: Oh yes, I would say about the early 1900s. Most of us didn't
know anything about making machinery, but he had good ideas. In
fact, I still have that crusher.
Hicke: You do?
Foppiano: Before Prohibition we had that one. After Prohibition I bought
this one, here, had it a good many years.
Hicke: Did you tell him what you wanted in the machine, help him design
Foppiano: No, no. He knew what to do. He knew what we wanted. He had
more engineering than we had. You had faith in him. Of course,
we just started it, we didn't know much about equipment in those
days. The equipment that I had was all from before Prohibition;
it was getting old.
Hicke: Getting rusty by then?
Foppiano: I needed new equipment.
Hicke: So, he was a good guy to have around.
Foppiano: He was very good.
Aueust Sebastian! and Julio Gallo; Fishing and Other Stories
Hicke: I think there are some fishing stories and things that you
didn't tell earlier.
Foppiano: Yes, with Augie [August] Sebastiani. He and I were very close.
He and Julio Gallo and I decided to go fishing up near Fort
Bragg, so we went up and stayed at our cabin. We went to dinner
the night before and then decided to go over and hire a boat.
We went up and got the boat for fifty dollars; today, that's
nothing. We went out there and the next day it stormed. We
asked the man we hired the boat from to get our money back. He
said, "Oh, no. I am not giving you the money back." So, we
decided we are going out.
Hicke: Didn't want to waste that fifty dollars.
Foppiano: We didn't think that we were going to give the fifty dollars to
him for nothing. So we go out, and it was rough. Poor Augie
was so sick. He turned green. He wanted to come back, and we
kidded him and said, Okay, if you give us the business, if you
sell us the winery cheap, we'll buy it; we'll take you back.
Anyway, there was this young fellow who was cleaning the deck,
when Augie was having problems, and he picked up the wash bucket
and threw it up in the air like this. It splashed on Julio
Gallo, and he got sick. [laughter] By that time, we decided to
go in. But at least we made the guy take us out. We always had
to laugh about it, though.
Hicke: How did you get acquainted with these two?
Foppiano: Through business. You know these meetings you go to. Augie
used to come up here every once in a while, and I'd meet him and
talk to him at the Wine Institute. Then with Julio Gallo, I
went fishing- -we flew up to Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia
River, and went fishing. We went out fishing, discussed who
catches the most and the largest and all that. We got along
Hicke: Did you have any actual business dealings with him?
Foppiano: Yes. I used to buy winesweet winefrom him [Julio Gallo]. I
would sell him some red wine and so on I'd sell him the lees.
I sold some wine to Juliowe are talking '36, '37, when Julio
first started in. They'd come over here and buy some wine and
bring it over there and clean it up and sell it.
Hicke: Did he tell you much about how he got started and what they were
Foppiano: Not too much. They were pretty good businessmen, they didn't
throw their money away, got good market price for the wine. In
those days they were selling regular red wine like we were. We
always had some extra wine that we didn't sell.
Hicke: He didn't ever say such things as he really wanted his winery to
become gigantic or anything like that?
Foppiano: No. I didn't know Ernest too well, but Julio I knew, and Bob
Gallo. When I bought the ranch, I would take them to the
mountains and hunt pigs. This weekend I will take Bob up to my
Hicke: Really, you still have wild pigs up there?
Foppiano: Oh yes, but not too many; this year it's disappointing.
I talked to Julio on the Friday- -he had the accident on a
Sunday and I talked to him Friday.
Delia: He used to ring the doorbell and say, Here's a case of brandy.
Foppiano: I always got along with him well.
Delia: Julio and August were similar; they were very good business
people, but they also were a lot of fun to be around.
Foppiano: Yes, Augie and I were very, very close; Julio not so much
because he lived in Modesto.
Delia: You often said that August's word was good as gold.
Foppiano: I bought 50,000 gallons of sweet wine just by word of mouth from
Augie. I bought it for fifty- two cents or fifty- five cents a
gallon. It went up to $1.30 or $1.40, and he delivered every
gallon to me. It was all just by phone.
Foppiano: Not even a handshake, Just by word of mouth, and he delivered--
but he gave me not a gallon more [laughter]. He was funny that
way. He gave me what I had bought. He could have said, "Well,
I don't have the wine. I'm sorry." There was nothing in
writing. He could have backed out of it, but his word was good.
I will say one thing, one time we went up to Ukiah, it was
Ukiah Co-op then, and he bought about 200,000 gallons of wine
from them. On the way back he stopped in here, and we got to
talking, and he said, "Do you want to buy it?" I said, "Yes."
I forget what the price he charged was, it was around fifteen or
eighteen cents or something like that. He bought it for twelve
cents and he sold it to me. So from Ukiah down here, in one
hour he made three cents a gallon, and he was always kidding me
about it. [laughter] In one hour he made three cents a gallon;
he made $1,500. It was really something, he always kidded me.
Kidding you about it was adding insult to injury! [laughter]
Yes. But, it was business for them. It was all business. Then
you would go out with them on a good timelike I said we were
competitors, but we were very, very close. In fact, I was his
pall bearer; that shows you how close we were. He'd always call
me; once a week he would call me. And he knew what was going on
in the business. He called everybody. That's right. I'd know
what the prices would be, because he would tell me.
He was just like a local newsletter.
Yes, he was. He absolutely knew everything in the wine
business. He would talk to people in Fresno and the [Central]
Valley. He always knew what was going on, and he'd let me know.
They don't make people like that anymore, I will tell you that,
not that close, especially them being your competition.
Was he in business here when youI have forgotten when he
started his winery.
He started in the early 1900s. His father was very successful
too, and Augie was younger than me; he went to school--! think
he went to USF [University of San Francisco] . Then he graduated
and his father passed away and he took over and they have done
very, very well.
Did you talk business when you were together?
Yes. We talked business.
You said he gave you all the information on the telephone, but
That included prices of things?
Foppiano: He would tell me--he would have figured out the grape prices and
the wine prices. He would let me know. He'd tell me the grape
prices of this and the grape prices of that. He was very good
Delia: Augie was all business.
Foppiano: Yes. He would call up about four o'clock in the afternoon and
say, "Come over for dinner." He would insist. So over we would
go. Delia and I would leave here at five o'clock in the
afternoon or six o'clock, drive over there and have dinner. But
he wouldn't come here. He wouldn't come here, but we would go
over there, we would get there and Delia and Silvia would talk,
and we would get in the pickup and go look over the ranch and
look at the winery and see what he was doing.
Other times he would call me and say, "Lou, come on. We
are going to your ranch." He wouldn't want anybody else but he
and 1 to go, and up we would go. He would bring the steaks and
we would have a nice dinner and have some drinks .
One night--! tell this story a lot--we were up there, he
and 1, and we had a few drinks. It was cold. It was during the
winter and it was cold. I had a stove there, and I fired that
thing up. We had just a cabin, just one thin wall. I fired up,
and we had sleeping bags, and all of a sudden I looked up and
the place was on fire, the cabin. I jumped up and I said,
"Augie! Get up. Let's get out of here, the place is on fire."
How he ever did it, I don't know. He ran around fifty or
seventy-five feet away from that cabin in his sleeping bag!
[laughter] He still had his sleeping bag on. I don't know how
he ever did it. It was a good thing that I had a hose there. I
stood there on the pickup and I put the fire out; it was going
good, it was going up the wall. I did put it out, but I will
never forget how he got that far in that sleeping bag and never
got out of it.
Hicke: It is amazing what you can do if you really have to.
Foppiano: The flames were going up the roof.
Hicke: Did the cabin burn down?
Foppiano: The stove is still there. You can see where it burned up the
wall. I've never fired that stove since. It is still sitting
there. Now that we have the house now, I don't go there. It is
too cold anymore. But that is quite a story.
Too bad you didn't have a camera.
Foppiano: Yes, it would have been quite a picture. Those things happen.
You always remember those things. I never forgethe used to
take me duck huntingonce he called me up, "Come on over. You
have to go." So, I drove up and went duck hunting with him.
This one time he--he had this friend who had a ranch up in
Willow. This is where we went hunting for geese. I had my
little boy, Rod, the one who passed away. He said sure, bring
him along. We went up there and the frost was everywhere. It
was cold up there. I left here at two o'clock in the morning.
I had to go to Sebastiani, to Sonoma, then we had to drive clear
up to Willow. He said to Rod and I--he did the same thing he
sticks us under the straw there. I am telling you, it was cold.
I would stick my head up looking for geese and he would say,
"Get your head down. Get it down." We stayed there, but my son
was frozen. When we got into the pickup I said to him, "Augie,
I am never doing that again." And he never asked me either.
That was it. It was cold out there under that straw.
Hicke: Do most people hunt and fish around here?
Foppiano: Most of us do, like Augie, myself, a few others, we are used to
Hicke: Obviously the ducks and the geese are around tooover in the
Foppiano: Here we have deer, and fish. I never fished too much, but Augie
used to go fishing quite a bit. He used to come over here and
go down the river and we would go fishing. I would go down
earlier when I was young I fished, but I got tired of it. I
have been to Alaska three times four times.
Hicke: Let's talk about Dante Bagnani who he was and what they did.
Foppiano: They had a winery. Dante Bagnani and his family his father,
and he had a brother, William. They were always instigators of
parties always something; a golf playing, for instance, when we
would go out and play golf on a Saturday; we would have a big
dinner and drinks after the game on a Saturday night at one of
the restaurants here.
Delia: Most of you weren't even golfers; that was Just an excuse.
Foppiano: I played golf once and never played again.
Hicke: Who all went to these?
Foppiano: Everybody. Joe Vercelli, Bob Meyer, L.M. Martini, Bob Mondavi
and Peter Mondavi from over in Napa County came over, Charlie
Rossi. Who else was there? Bob Salles would be one of them, he
was a wine broker. Paul Heck was one of them that used to come.
Hicke: Were these mostly people who did business with Italian Swiss?
How was the group formed?
Foppiano: We were all different wineries. We were all different. The
Mondavis had their winery. Bob Salles was a wine broker. Augie
would come, he was another one. Dan and Bill Bagnani.
Delia: It was a spin-off of people from this Sonoma County Winegrowers
Hicke: How did the Mondavis and Martinis get in then?
Foppiano: They were friends of ours. In those days we used to party with
them, like we would go over the Mondavis', my wife and I. We
would go and party over there. If they had a party they would
invite us and we would go over.
Delia: That was when it was so small; they would have meetings in San
Francisco or wherever, and you knew everyone there. It was not
Delia: It was just a great organization because it was small and very
Foppiano: Another thing, most of us were in the bulk business. We didn't
bottle those grapes. We didn't bottle until the start of the
war and a little bit during the war. This was before the war;
this was '38, '39. Bob Mondavi was in bulk. He never bottled
them. Even Gallo didn't bottle then. Nobody bottled here. All
the bottling was done in New York. You sent a tank car over
there to Chicago, New York, Boston, New Orleans, that's where
your wine was sold.
Selling Trips to the East Coast
Delia: Now do you want to mention your selling trips, when we used to
go over to New York with Charlie Rossi? He was working for
Foppiano: We would take the train and go over--I would take the airplanes,
but sometimes during the war you couldn't get an airplane. The
army had everything. We shipped quite a few cars. We preferred
a train, but you couldn't even get on the Overland Limited or
the City of San Francisco. It was hard to get passage.
Hicke: This was during the war.
Foppiano: Yes, it was very hard because the army had everything; they had
the railroads, the airlines, and sometimes you would sit and
wait overnight- -you would sit in the airports for days, you
Hicke: You used to go with Carlo Rossi?
Foppiano: Yes, Carlo Rossi. Several times I went across with him. He was
a terrific gin [rummy] player. He used to stick me, it was
unbelievable. We went on the City of San Francisco, then it was
so cold that we got off at Wendover, Nevada, and it was sixty
below zero. We played gin rummy all the way into Chicago. We
were late. We were always a day or a day and a half late
getting into Chicago.
Hicke: A day and a half! And now we complain if we are an hour late.
Foppiano: Everybody on the train was helping me, and I could not beat that
guy in gin rummy. He creamed me all the way over. Everybody
was playing my hand, and they would tell me what to do. It was
unbelievable. He sure took me.
Hicke: Did you look carefully at the cards? [laughter]
Foppiano: I tried everything and everybody tried too. Everybody had
sympathy for me. We had a lot of fun. We weren't playing big
money, but he was funny.
Hicke: Let me ask you now, what you were actually doing when you and
Rossi got to New York.
Foppiano: Rossi went out and sold Mondavi's wine and I tried to sell mine.
Hicke: Oh, yes, he was working for Mondavi then.
Foppiano: Yes, before he went to Gallo.
Hicke: You just hit the streets and--
Foppiano: Yes, hit the streets, sure.
Hicke: Did you go to distributors?
Foppiano: We went to bottlers. There were ten or fifteen bottlers in New
York at the time. We would call on them. It was tough.
Hicke: Did you call on them with him, together?
Foppiano: No, no.
Hicke: 1 was wondering how that would work.
Foppiano: He went on his own and I went on my own. We had certain
bottlers that bought from us and they had certain bottlers that
they sold to. We were competitors, just like August Sebastiani;
we were competitors with them.
Hicke: Why did you have to go to New York? Couldn't you do it by mail
or telephone or something?
Foppiano: No, not in those days. You had to go. My son goes four times a
year now, or five. I went once a year.
Hicke: Yes, but he probably goes five times for the amount of time that
it took you to go once.
Foppiano: Those New York bottlers, they were ex-racketeers. They would
make you sit in the officethey didn't have air conditioning in
those days. If you were doing the selling, they would stick you
out there in the waiting room and you would sit there; it was
Hicke: Did you have to negotiate the prices?
Foppiano: Oh, yes! That is what you did. Wine today, you sell for four
or five dollars a gallon. Then you would sell it for ten,
twelve, thirteen cents a gallon. The price was different but
that's the difference in everything these days.
Hicke: Let me ask youif you went to New York and you saw these
different bottlers, would you get a different price at different
places or did they always know what the price was?
Foppiano: It wasn't too much different. You would maybe shave a half
percent on it. Then you sold it in thirty, sixty, ninety days
trade acceptants. Do you know what trade acceptants are? They
are notes. Then those things would bounce; you would get to the
bank and they would send it to collection and they would bounce.
You would call the guy up, same old story. None of them were
too profitable and paid on time. You always had a problem.
Hicke: But, they would eventually pay up?
Foppiano: Yes. There were some in New Jersey too. That was a big market
Hicke: On the same trip you would go to New Jersey?
Foppiano: Yes. You would go to New Jersey, to Chicago, you would stop in
Chicago on the way back, then you would go up to Boston, New
Haven, Connecticut. Wherever there were quite a few Italian
Hicke: Were there a lot of Calif ornians there? Probably there weren't
a lot compared to today, but there were other people from
California there, I would assume.
Foppiano: Oh, yes.
Hicke: Like from maybe ten or twelve wineries?
Foppiano: You had some from the Valley over there. J. B. Cella with Roma
Wine Company was there. You had quite a few. I can't remember
them all now.
Delia: There were huge liquor stores that had their bottling
Hicke: There wasn't any winegrowing in New York. How about importing
Foppiano: There was a lot of competition from Europe. You take a lot of
Italians and they wouldn't buy [fine wine from] California; they
would buy mostly California red in the gallon jugs and the half
gallon. All those bottles of this and that were imported from
Italy, from Europe, France. California wine was what they drank
every day; it was cheap.
Hicke: You weren't in the same niche as the European wines?
Delia: It took years to develop California wine.
Foppiano: Just like I said, I think I mentioned it--in those days, you go
to a restaurant, you knew what the nationality of the person
was. You didn't see Americans drink any wine. They drank, but
if we would go out and had a bottle of wine, they knew what
nationality we wereeither Italian or French or maybe Greek or
something, but that was it. The Americans didn't start drinking
wine until the sixties, I mean good wine.
Hicke: That is interesting, because the English were always wine
drinkers. They imported all this Bordeauxat least the
wealthier ones did.
Foppiano: Maybe there were some yes, but not in places like the Midwest.
If you would go to Texas or someplace even today you would have
a tough time in places like in Iowa and Kansas, it is tough.
There aren't too many wine drinkers.
Hicke: How long would you stay in New York on your trips there?
Foppiano: I've got a bill--I stayed in the Lexington Hotel, I stayed about
two weeks. I still have the bill. I paid $3.50 for the room
that later on my wife and I stayed at- -we stayed at the
Lexington with the kids, wasn't it? We stayed there one night,
it was eighty, ninety dollars. Now, I don't know what it is.
Hicke: It is probably $350 now, rather than $3.50. [laughter]
Foppiano: I haven't stayed in the Lexington lately, but I knew I paid two
hundred, three hundred dollars.
Delia: I think the last time we were there was twelve years ago when we
went back to Washington and stayed at the Lexington; we went to
New York from there, and then to Boston.
Foppiano: I've got the bill, $3.50 a day. And, you know, it is a nice
Delia: That was big money then.
Hicke: Sure it was, of course.
Delia: Everything is relative.
Hicke: Was that a business expense that you could take off on your
Foppiano: Yes, the train and everything.
Hicke: The losses at gin rummy? [laughter]
Foppiano: No, not that. That was out of my pocket, [laughter]
Hicke: Tell me more about Charlie Rossi. How did you get acquainted
Foppiano: When I met him, I think he* worked for Federspiel, the Colonial
Wine Company. They bought some wine from me, and he came up.
Then from Federspiel he went to Mondavi, the Colonial Wine
Company went to Mondavi. That is how I met him.
Delia: At that time they were in St. Helena.
Foppiano: Yes, they were in St. Helena. We would see him quite often.
His wife, who just passed away, and Delia were very friendly.
Hicke: And you went on these train trips with him because he was a good
friend? You arranged it?.
Foppiano: I was going to New York and we would probably make the same trip
to go over together. He then moved to New York. Mondavi sent
him to New York, and he lived there for three or four years or
longer. Then we didn't see him that much anymore, only if he
came out here, or I went to New York I would call him and we
would have lunch together.
Hicke: What was he doing there?
Foppiano: He was selling wine for Mondavi. Then from Mondavi he went to
Gallo. Gallo hired him. He stayed with Gallo all the time
until he passed away last year.
Hicke: Where did he live when he came back?
Delia: His family moved to Modesto when he went to work for Gallo.
Foppiano: He must have worked for Gallo in the forties, in the late
Hicke: What did he do for them?
Foppiano: He was a salesman for the chain.
Hicke: There are some things that we started to talk about. We really
didn't get to them. One of them was the Wine Institute. I
wanted to ask you, since most of the wine was sold in bulk at
that point, what did the Wine Institute do?
Foppiano: They were looking into legislation and things like that.
Hicke: For what?
Foppiano: Prohibition. After Repeal, we had a lot of problems. You
couldn't do this and you couldn't do that. High taxes, and
they had certain laws that you couldn't sell. It took years to
be able to sell wine into other states.
Hicke: You still can't ship to some places, right?
Foppiano: Yes, most states still do not allow wine to be shipped to an
Hicke: Back to the Wine Institutedid you actually do any lobbying
before the legislature, yourself?
Foppiano: I used to go to Sacramento--go over there and there would be a
group of uswine people would go over there.
Hicke: Who did you talk to?
Foppiano: Oh, I forgot now. I don't even remember who was the governor
Delia: When [Ronald] Reagan was governor, remember they would invite
us, the wine people?
Foppiano: Yes. Reagan would give parties.
Delia: We were twice to those parties.
Foppiano: Oh, we still do, we still get these senators invite us.
Hicke: I know the Wine Institute does a lot now, but I was wondering
what they did very early.
Delia: They kind of learned, it just kind of developed, I would say.
Hicke: So, they were dealing mostly with taxes and things like that?
Foppiano: That's right, laws.
Hicke: Another thing I wanted to get back to is the Heck family. You
started to tell me about them.
Foppiano: Dolph and Paul.
Hicke: Is that his real name?
Foppiano: Dolph Heck.
Delia: Adolph, but we call him Dolph. He has always been Dolph.
Hicke: What is the family relationship?
Foppiano: They came outthey were in St. Louis. They were in the wine
business in St. Louis. The father passed away and then they--
Dolph was withI've forgotten which company. [National
Distillers] They owned Italian Swiss Colony at the time.
National Distillers bought Italian Swiss and they closed the
plant, American Wine Company, up in St. Louis or they sold it to
some conglomerate. Dolph came out and was running Italian
Hicke: Are we in the forties here, now?
Foppiano: Late forties. Then Paul came out. Dolph was manager, the head
man, and Paul was running the winery, he was the head winemaker.
The Hecks and the Wentes were very close. I guess Korbel came
up for sale and they bought it with the help of the Wentes.
They bought Korbel, and then they all moved over there. We used
to go to parties with Paul up here. He lived in Healdsburg when
he worked at Italian Swiss Colony. He used to have parties and
we were always invited. We were friends. Then they went and
Hicke: Who is Ben? What is his relationship?
Foppiano: Ben was a brother.
Delia: Dolph and Paul bought the winery.
Hicke: They are brothers?
Delia: Yes, brothers. Then Ben came from St. Louis to be a salesman.
Hicke: Another brother?
Foppiano: Yes, he was the youngest. He didn't buy in Korbel. They made
him sales manager. That is where he started.
Hicke: Gary Heck must be one of their sons?
Foppiano: He is Dolph's son.
Hicke: Speaking of these parties, if you didn't go and play golf, what
did you do?
Foppiano: I we went to Korbel, we drank champagne. If we went to Paul and
Dolph's parties we drank champagne. And we'd have dinner.
Delia: We celebrated together.
Foppiano: We were young then.
Hicke: These are the golf parties?
Delia: These were different. These were birthday parties and our
Fourth of July with the family and all. It was a wonderful
relationship. We are still friends with Anna, she is Paul's
wife. It was a wonderful relationship.
Hicke: Can you tell me a little bit about what they did for the wine
industry or what kinds of things they were doing?
Foppiano: They weren't too much into the dry wine. They were into brandy
and champagne. They would do a little of the still wines but
not too much.
Hicke: When they were at Italian Swiss Colony?
Foppiano: Then they were working for that outfit. Then they were doing
Hicke: How did they get interested in brandy and champagne?
Foppiano: Dolph Heck in St. Louis made champagne. That is how they
started down here; they came out of it from St. Louis.
Delia: The father was the champagne maker.
Hicke: He already knew how to make it.
Foppiano: Dolph went to Germany and studied champagne and winemaking. He
knew quite a bit about champagne, that is how he got interested
in Korbel. I don't know if they still do dry wines or not, or
bottled varietals. They did some but not too much. It was
mostly brandy and champagne.
Hicke: Was there much of a market around here for champagne?
Hicke: I mean when they first started.
Foppiano: They were small but they grew and the brandy grew. The brandy
grew a lot. They didn't do any brandy, they brought that in.
Korbel didn't do any brandy, but now they do.
Hicke: That was another of Dolph's ideas? He knew how to make brandy
Delia: They were very successful. They developed a good market.
Hicke: We talked about Dante Bagnani a little bit, but you said he was
responsible for getting the oldtimers together?
Foppiano: Yes, we still do.
Hicke: The oldtimers is a group of--
Foppiano: It is a group of oldtimers. I am the oldest one in it now.
When Julio Gallo passed away he was seven months older than I
was. Then that left me the oldest. I am the oldest one, me and
Hicke: Who else was in the oldtimers?
Foppiano: We have Bob Rossi, but he is not really an old timer. Joe
Hicke: And Bob Meyer?
Foppiano: He wasn't a winemaker. He was a good friend of the Bagnanis and
they took him in. Julio Gallo was an oldtimer. Bob Mondavi,
Peter Mondavi, L.M. Martini, he passed away. Louis Martini,
Louis comes. Sylvia Sebastiani, John Parducci.
Delia: What about Bandiera?
Foppiano: Oh, Rollo Bandiera.
Hicke: He was a winemaker?
Foppiano: They still sell wine, the Bandiera wine. He sold out but they
still have the label out, Bandiera wine.
Hicke: In Sonoma County?
Foppiano: Yes--Cloverdale, just this side of Cloverdale. Ed Pratti, don't
forget Ed Pratti.
Hicke: This was a social group?
Foppiano: We meet about once every two months. Two weeks from Friday we
go to Rossi 1 s--Italian Swiss, the one who started Italian Swiss.
The Rossi who started that. Then Sylvio Sebastiani is having it
in June, and I am supposed to have it in August. Each winery
has their turn. I will have wild pigs. I will kill a wild pig
and we will barbecue.
Hicke: When was this formed?
Foppiano: I would say about eight, nine, ten years ago.
Bagnani Wines and Vinegar
Hicke: You told me off the tape that back in the early days, Bagnani
made Four Monks Vinegar. Do you know how they got started on
Delia: They probably couldn't sell the wine.
Foppiano: They bought a lot of wine that wasn't fit to sell and turned it
to vinegar. They had generators and they turned it to vinegar.
Delia: They developed a wonderful market.
Foppiano: You don't see it anymore. Then they sold the label to somebody
else, some Japanese. Like I say, I don't know what happened.
Hicke: How did he sell his vinegar?
Foppiano: He bottled it.
Delia: I have bottles here that go back one hundred years. Every
Christmas they would send us vinegar.
Foppiano: If you wanted some vinegar all you would say is, "I need some
vinegar." They would give you half a gallon or a bottle.
Hicke: Did he go around, though, and sell to grocery stores, or how did
he do this?
Foppiano: Yes, he had distributors and they sold to grocery stores.
Hicke: Did he bottle it himself and label it?
Foppiano: They were down there on Battery street. Right there on Battery
Street and Montgomery. They had this building. They had it on
Montgomery. Montgomery is the one that goes down. Right up on
top of the hill where there is a big restauranttwo brothers
Hicke: Anyway, they did their bottling right there?
Foppiano: Yes, they did their bottling right there.
Soda Rock Winery it
Hicke: Can you tell me about Soda Rock Winery?
Foppiano: I don't know much on Soda Rock. They were an old winery and
nothing happened there, just bulk wine.
Delia: It was owned by--
Foppiano: Ferrari, the man who made the machinery. His children now have
the Sausal winery.
Hicke: In Alexander Valley?
Foppiano: His daughter and grandchildren are the Demostenes, who own the
Hicke: They were selling bulk wine along with everybody else, probably.
Hicke: What about Henry Bugatto?
Delia: Bugatto is one of the oldtimers. Do you want to mention that
Henry was the person responsible for bringing Louis Roederer
into the United States?
Foppiano: He was the one that did all of the building and the work for
[champagne] Louis Roederer. He supervised everything.
Hicke: Did he have something to do with actually inviting them to try
their luck here, or did they hire him when he came?
Foppiano: When they came over, he took him around and he made the first
Delia: What do they call it--cuvee? He made the first cuvee.
Foppiano: They tried the grapes up in Anderson Valley. He personally made
a champagne out of them and they decided to build. Henry was
the one who let all of the contracts and did all of the
overseeing of planting everything up there. [tape interruption]
Hicke: You were just saying they really appreciate what he did.
Delia: They really do because Henry is a true-blue person.
Hicke: One person we haven't talked about is [Giovanni] Cambiaso.
Foppiano: He started out right up here. They were neighbors of ours right
up the hill. The father used to sell grapes, first to the Bay
Area, then he started a little winery, then he started to
bottle, then they sold out in the late 1970s. When he passed
away and the mother [Maria] passed away, they left three
children: a boy [Joseph] and two girls [Rita and Theresa].
They did very well. They were doing well, but they sold out to
--I think it is Thailand people [Likitprakong family] . They are
still up there doing very well. Now they call it Domaine St.
George, they don't call it Cambiaso anymore.
Northern Italians in California
Hicke: Let me ask you, did most of the Italian families around here
come from the same general area of Italy?
Hicke: Are they from all up and down the peninsula?
Foppiano: A lot of them came from Piedmonte, and a lot of them came from
Florence, in Tuscany. We came from the mountains in Genoa.
Hicke: But generally northern Italy.
Foppiano: Yes, mostly all northern people.
Delia: All centered up in Tuscany, and Liguria is what they call Genoa
now, but Augie was Piedmontese.
Foppiano: His father was Piedmontese, his mother was Genevese.
Delia: They all came from that little area.
Foppiano: They were all northern, around Asti and all that country up
Hicke: Was there not much wine growing in southern Italy?
Foppiano: Oh, yes, but only the sweet wine. I guess so. I don't know too
much about that .
Delia: The people that migrated to this area all came from the northern
Hicke: I know. I am curious as to why.
Delia: This area here is very similar to what you have over there. It
is very, very similar.
Foppiano: Very similar to northern Italy, the rolling hills, and the
grapes--it is very similar.
Delia: Whereas your southern Italians were fisherman and this type of
thing. They stayed on the East Coast.
Foppiano: Or in the big cities; they located there around seaports like
San Francisco, Boston, or New York.
Delia: But here, definitely they all come from within that region north
of Rome and that's it.
Hicke: Probably people that came here early would write back and the
word would get around?
Foppiano: Yes, they sent for their friends and the people that wanted to
Delia: They'd send for them and sponsor them. People really helped one
Foppiano: It is just like my family. On my mother's side, her brother
came, he was the oldest. He came first. He sent for two
brothers and two sisters. He didn't have any money. The women
--the ladies in Italy in those days, they were a dime a dozen.
They were a detriment to the family in those days .
Delia: They all migrated over here.
Foppiano: They would come over in steerage, you know, third class. I have
trouble and I know the language. I often wonder to myself how
in the heck did my mother ever come across? How did she come
from Genoa to Havre, and then come across on the boat, and then
get off the boat, and get on a train?
Delia: They had a ticket on the boat. My mother came with two
Hicke: Where did she come from?
Delia: From upper Tuscany. She had to go through--! think she went to
Le Havre, too. She had a two-year old, and a four-year old.
Hicke: Was that you?
Hicke: You weren't born yet?
Delia: No, I was many years younger. The one that was two years old
had a birthday yesterday. I think she would have been ninety-
three --Mary. She was born in 1902.
Hicke: Your mother came over in 1904, or something like that?
Delia: About 1905, I think.
Foppiano: Take my grandfather; he was sixteen years old, walked across the
Isthmus of Panama. Sixteen years old, came to San Francisco,
ended up in Sonoma. I can't believe it. Here I know the
language and every week we have problems; trying to get to the
airport, we have problems. We get to the airport, we have to
get from here to there, we have problems. [laughter]
Hicke: It probably wasn't nearly as complicated in those days either.
I think you are right. People helped each other.
Delia: When they came to Santa Rosa where I lived, just up a block-
there were several boarding houses. There was Lena's restaurant
down there and Godali's. Each one built a great, big hotel, and
then all the men stayed there. There had to be about eight or
ten of those boarding houses there all together in one block.
Foppiano: They were all single men. Their wives were still in Italy.
Hicke: So, somebody coming here would immediately have friends.
Delia: They would have people they knew, and they were well taken care
of. They definitely were. They stuck together. I am sure that
all of your other nationalities that are coming over now, like
the Chinese and et cetera, they were well cared for once they
got here. Then they earned enough to buy a ticket for someone
else, and they sent for them.
Hicke: That is the story of our country.
Foppiano: That's right.
Delia: Then when they came, they found a job for a dollar a day.
Foppiano: My father even loaned money. They would come and work for him,
and they were pretty good men, and they decided to buy a little
ranch. He loaned them money to buy their ranch, to finance
them. And they paid it back, he didn't lose any money.
Delia: Now it is really different. Life wasn't as complex in those
Hicke: Did your mother come from a farm or was it a small town?
Delia: A farm over there is a little piece of ground as big as our
They lived in the village, probably, even at that time,
Delia: It was very small. They raised enough to eat, I'm sure. I
think that's how they survived. I don't know what else they
could do. They worked in the fields, and what have you.
Hicke: Did your father come over here and then send for your mother?
Is that what happened?
Delia: He came over, and that was a fluke. This very good friend of
theirs lived there. He came over and then he sent the ticket to
passage for this girl to come over and marry him. She changed
her mind. She didn't want to make the trip. So, here was the
ticket, and he offered it to my dad, and he came over. That was
how he did it, wasn't even planned. On the spur of the moment
the ticket was there, so he came.
Hicke: He came to Santa Rosa?
Delia: He came to Santa Rosa. As I say, everyone knew everybody.
Hicke: What was his name?
Foppiano: Frank or Francis or Francesco Bastoni.
Hicke: Did he go by Frank here?
Delia: Yes, he went by Frank here. All these names when they came
over- -nobody spoke English and they all ended up with different
What about Simi?
were they here?
Did you know the people that were at Simi, or
I knew Mrs. Hague. She was with her father. I didn't know any
of the Simis. They were really oldtimers. They were all in the
early 1900s. I don't remember them. I remember Isabella Hague,
and I knew her daughter. She was quite active, and she married
a Fred Hague; he worked in the bank. He bought a large ranch, a
mountain ranch way out here. She kept the winery going, and
then she sold it.
Eventually Russ Green bought it.
Delia: She was quite a character. She sat up in the tasting room after
she even sold it.
Foppiano: She stayed there afterward.
Delia: That was her life.
Foppiano: She sat there in that old barrel-shaped house. She sat there
and had a lot of friends that would come in, she would talk to
them. Then she sold it to Russ Green, and then Russ Green sold
Hicke: I have that because I interviewed Zelma [Long]. She told me the
whole story, but it has been awhile since I talked to her, so I
can't remember, but anyway we've got that. Does that cover
Foppiano: That is about it. [tape interruption]
More on Bagnani
Hicke: We've decided to go through the history of the Bagnani
Foppiano: Bagnani owned the Four Monks Vinegar and then they had the
Geyser Peak winery in Geyserville.
Hicke: So, they had these two labels, one vinegar and one wine?
Foppiano: Yes. Four Monks was out of the city. They didn't make any
vinegar around here. They made that in San Francisco. But the
wine was made up here at Geyser Peak. Then they sold the winery
Geyser Peak, but they kept the Four Monks label.
Hicke: Bagnanis kept Four Monks, and they sold Geyser Peak to Schlitz,
Delia: And that was the beginning of Geyser Peak Winery up here.
Hicke: You said that you remember the house sitting up on a hill with a
Delia: I remember it was a two-story house, and the winery was a red
Foppiano: They made offices out of it for Geyser Peak, and then they tore
Delia: That is where Geyser Peak is now.
Foppiano: Maybe it is still up there, I can't remember.
Delia: You drive up there twice a week.
Foppiano: I drive up there twice a week, I look up there, but I never look
and see if that is still there. They built a lot of new
buildings surrounding, and you forget what was- -unless you drive
right up there, then I would know.
Hicke: Yes, I think the winery, Geyser Peak, at least the tasting room,
is fairly new.
Foppiano: Yes, the grapes are down the hill, but this is up on the hill.
I think that's where the chemist's room is; the lab is up there.
Delia: That is something for you to notice next time you drive up.
Foppiano: I am driving up this afternoon.
Hicke: Look up there and see if the red barn is still there.
Delia: You have to drive up to see it though.
Foppiano: I won't be able to see it, because I think the tasting room is
built in front of it. They have trees up there and you don't
see it, you don't see the lab.
Raising a Family in the Wine Business
Hicke: Let me just ask you, Delia, if you would tell me a little about
what kinds of things you were doing. I think that is part of
the wine business.
Delia: During the wine business?
Foppiano: Raising kids.
Delia: Four children.
Hicke: You would hear about the wine business; did you take any active
part in it at any point?
Delia: Not really. I was delegated to going to Santa Rosa to buy the
wine stands and this type of thing. I filled in on the bottling
lines a few times, but I am not very good at that. I didn't
really take an active part in it, but I heard all about it.
Foppiano: Those boys went to prep school in San Jose at Bellarmine. When
they were away, she was either running down there or we were
thinking about them.
Hicke: I remember you used to go down frequently.
Foppiano: We were always driving down there.
Delia: Those were busy days.
Foppiano: We would be running down there every two weeks.
Hicke: Were you happy with the school system here?
Delia: I don't know, it wasn't necessarily that. It was that we always
thought we would like to send them to the Jesuit school,
Foppiano: What happened is that August Sebastiani's boy was going there,
Sam was going there. Bob Mondavi's son, Michael, was going.
Augie really talked us into sending Louis there. That is
really how we decided on that. In those days the schools up
herethe high schoolsthey were all right.
Delia: They were as good as they are now.
Foppiano: Rod was two years younger than Louis; so we decided to send him
there. We used to go down there quite a bit. We would cook up
things and we would run down there and go to the football games,
go to the basketball games. We would sit there and eat with
them, she would make a lunch or something. We would sit in the
car or the park out there and eat, and then drive home. I would
drive down and she would drive home, because I was working
during the day. It was tiring.
Delia: Those were busy days in the winery. Those were days when half
of the time I'd bathe the children and Lou would be up there
sitting in the winery pumping wine. I would bring in his dinner
and that would be when the children would visit with him. They
had furloughs in those days that started in August.
Foppiano: Like I say, these fellows today that make wine, these winemen,
all they do is press a button. We had to stay there all night
when it got hot.
Delia: And if it wasn't that he was working there, then with the
neighbor across the street, they'd be grafting vineyards,
grafting vines at nighttime. Really, it was just busy. It was
running back and forth and getting dinner or eating something in
town so he could get back to do some more work. Well, Louis,
you're not doing it now.
Foppiano: No, there's nothing to do.
Delia: There is lots to do!
Hi eke: Well, I certainly do thank both of you for this interview.
Transcribed by Lisa Degadillo
Final typed by Shannon Page and Carolyn Rice
TAPE GUIDE- -Louis J. Foppiano
Date of Interview: October 5, 1994
Tape 1, Side A 1
Tape 1, Side B 12
Tape 2, Side A
Tape 2, Side B 33
Tape 3, Side A A3
Tape 3, Side B 52
Date of Interview: May 3, 1995
Tape A, Side A 57
Tape A, Side B 65
Tape 5, Side A 75
Tape 5, Side B not recorded
APPENDICES --Louis J. Foppiano
A "1896-1996, the First 100 Years," Wine Business Monthly cover,
July 1996 87
B "Their Reputation Sets the Pace," Healdsburg Tribune article,
May 14, 1982 88
C Jason Brandt Lewis, "Family Tradition Brings Success,"
Wine World, November /December 1984- January 1985 89
D Rodney A. Foppiano obituary statement 92
Because news, unlike wine, doesn't improve with age
Wine Business Monthly 21
lor winemaking success:
.te o 1
ID - iQQu
cli-nratiiH' 100 Years ol r.umlv \Vinemakinc
in the lYiKM.m River v alley.
' J ^f
r V 1 - ov
FOPPIANO VINEYARD5 Heald.bu^ Russian River Valley - Sonoma County California
707-433-7272 * fax 707-433-0565 * e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org * weo page: ntlp://www. winery.com
Family Tradition Brings Success
Louis J. Foppiano
;: isn't often one can find a
finery owned and operated by
he same family for nearly a
century, but precisely such a place
exists just south of Healdsburg in
Sonoma County. The Louis J.
Fbppiano Wine Co. will celebrate
their centennial anniversary in a
brief do:en years, but no one is
suggesting they sit still and wait for
that to happen.
Foppiano is the kind of winery
you don't hear too much about,
but for 88 years with but a brief
time-out during Prohibition they
have quietly gone about their
business of producing quality red
and white table wines for people
coast-to-coast to enjoy. And the
wines of today are Foppiano's best
"We purchased this property,"
says Louis M. Foppiano (great-
grandson of the founder, John
Foppiano), "in 1896. Part of the
property was a working winery
known as Riverside Farm, part of it
was another ranch. There are 200
acres altogether, made up of three
ranches. Winemaking began
immediately. Before Prohibition,
the wine was bottled under the
Riverside Farm label, produced by
the Foppiano Wine Co. It wasn't
until 1936 or '37 the first wine
under the Foppiano name was
Much of the early wines were
sold in bulk or to the consumer
directly. People would come to the
winery to get their jugs tilled, or
buy the wine already bottled.
Noted wine industry analy>t Louis
Gomberg urged Louis J. Foppiano
(grandson of the founder and
today, the president of the winery)
to bottle his wines and ship them
to the East Coast. From those early
days, the winery grew, until today
"~L:.*;, ujb>.te^y.<fat>. - - --
it produces more than 120,000
cases a year.
The big shift came in the mid-
1960s. Much of the winery's 200
acres had been planted to grapes
best suited for generic wine
production, but starting in 1965,
Foppiano embarked on a policy ot
replanting and upgrading their
vineyards. Much of the French
Colombard, Carignane, and
Zintandel was replaced with
Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay,
and Cabernet Sauvignon, with
only the old Petite Sirah vines
remaining. By the early 1970s, the
shift toward premium varietal
wines was in full swing, and
generic production (except for
their Sonoma White Burgundy)
has now moved to Fbppiano's
second label, the resurrected
Accompanying this change,
Louis J.'s two sons, Louis M. and
Rod, joined the winery in 1970
and 1972, respectively. Louis M.
became general manager, while his
younger brother, having graduated
from Fresno State with a degree in
viticulture, took over the
vineyards, and later, moved into
winemaking as well. Tragically,
Rtx.1 died in March of 1984, leaving
behind his wife and young son.
Rod's assistant, Bill Regan, was
named to succeed him as
winemaker. Bill grew up in
northern California and has long
been a lover of wine. Following his
graduation from the University of
California at Davis, Bill traveled
extensively in Europe, working for
a time in Bordeaux, before joining
Foppiano in 1980.
Today, the Foppianos' vineyards,
which lie within the Russian River
Valley appellation, supply about
80% of their needs for their
Louis J. Foppiano takes an early test of the vintage
varietal wines, whose production exceeds
40,000 cases per year. The remaining 20%
comes from other growers within Sonoma
Gninty. The Riverside Farm wines are
produced mostly from grapes grown by
outside sources. But the key purpose behind
both labels is to provide the public with a
high-qualify table wine at a reasonable
Foppiano produces four white table
wines, a Dry Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon
Blanc, Chardonnay, and a wine designated
Sonoma White Burgundy. The latter is a
blend ot French Colombard and
Chardonnay, and while the specifics always
vary with the vintage, the wines are
generally combined in an 80 to 20 ratio.
The wines are crushed and fermented
separately, aged briefly in American oak,
and blended only prior to bottling.
For the Dry Chenin Blanc, Bill wants the
wine to have good varietal flavor yet keep
its crisp freshness. The grapes are harvested
at relatively low sugar levels (20.5% Brix
for the 1983) to retain firm acidity-. He gives
the juice a brief time on the skins to extract
additional character, and then ferments
cool to preserve it. The fermentation is
arrested by chilling to the desired sugar
level, rather than fermenting dry and
blending back with unfermented juice.
Generally the sugar level has been .5%, but
the 1983 was left slightly sweeter at .85%.
Following fermentation, the wine is held in
stainless steel, clarified and filtered prior to
Kittling. The result is a wine that is light
bodied, with good fruit and a tart finish.
Sauvignon Blanc is a grape that is
becoming increasingly well known in
Sonoma County. The Hoppiano Sauvignon
Blanc comes solely trom their own
vineyards. After harvesting the grapes in
the 22% to 22.5% Rrix range, the grapes
are crushed and given a brief time on the
skins (tour to six hours). "It's stainless
fermented and then aged in Yugoslavian
oak," explains Bill, "both puncheons and
barrels, for six to eight months on the
average." Though certainly enjoyable
todav. Kith Bill and Louis agree that the
wine will age tor an additional five years.
Chardonnay ,it Foppiano has taken a new
twist. "That was a tun one," Bill savs with
a smile. "25"o ot the wine was fermented in
Yugoslavian puncheons. Liter, those were
used to age the Sauvignon Blanc. 75''i> of
the wine was fermented in stainless. Then,
we tixik one-third ot the wine in stainless,
or 25% ot the total, and induced malolactic
during the primary fermentation. We held
that in stainless, blended the rest with what
fermented in oak. and aged that in new
Limousin oak barrels lor tour months.
"M.ilolactic tends to knock the fruit out,"
explains Bill, "and give voti that nice
butter- character. The lot we held in
stainless, that underwent malolactic, did
not have as much fruit as the lot we aged
in oak, hut it did have a nice butteriness.
25% seemed to be the right percentage,
although we may go up to a third next year."
The 1983 was the first Foppiano
Chardonnay to undergo malolactic, while
the 19S2 was the first to see French oak.
The 1981 aged in Yugoslavian oak, but it
was decided the Yugoslavian barrels and
puncheons were best suited for Sauvignon
Blanc, and the switch was on.
In the past, Foppiano used to produce
much more red wine than white, and while
red wine is still a majority of the
production, white now accounts for a
sirable percentage. In part, Louis feels, it
has to do with technology. "There was very
little good white wine made. Red wine was
the good wine. Today, with cold
fermentations, stainless steel, and
filtration, the quality of the whites has
increased significantly in relation to reds."
Cabernet Sauvignon is a red that has
undergone a significant change at
Foppiano, however. From the 1979, the last
100% Cabernet aged exclusively in
American oak, to the 1980, with 15%
Merlot and French oak aging, and on to
the 1981, with 15% Merlot, 5% Cabernet
Franc and egg white fining, Foppiano
Cabernets have gone from being simple,
decent wines to complex, elegant wines of
substance and character.
A cix)ler than typical fermentation of 75
retains a bit more fruit in the wine, while
the practice of maceration (leaving the
skins in the must tor a time following
fermentation) extracts added complexity.
The wines receive six months aging in
French barrels, evenly divided between
Limousin and Nevers oak, after an initial
stint in redwood. Egg white fining gives the
w-ine a rich, velvety texture, and a year of
bottle aging prior to being released
completes the picture.
"1981 was the first wine in winch we
blended Cabernet Franc, and we're very
happy with the results, " says Bill. "For the
1982 wine, we may up the percentage to
10%. 1 really like the added mouth-feel and
flavors Cabernet Franc gives you." Each
varietal. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and
Cabernet Franc is made and aged
separately, so that decisions on blending
can be based on the wine, not on anv
Zintandel is a wine that comes from
vineyards in both the Russian River and
l)rv Creek vallevs, while the Petite Sir.ih.
long regarded as the star in Foppiano'-.
cellar, comes from Foppiano's own
vineyards. Both are fermented in the mid-
rOs and then aged in redwixxl tor up to a
Winemakcr Bill Regan and Louis M. Foppiano
year, where the initial rackings are
undertaken, followed by American oak
aging for between six to 1 2 months.
Under the Riverside Farm label, generic
red, white, and rose wines are made, along
with Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.
All are medium-light in body, dry, and easy
to drink, with clean fruit and flavor
enough to keep anyone happy. Consistently
rewarded at fairs and judgings, they provide
fine drinking at a very reasonable price.
Foppiano wines are sold across the
country in just about all 50 states. Their
wines may be sampled in their tasting nxim
at the winery-, open daily 10:00 a.m. to 4:30
p.m., although tours are by appointment.
The winery is located at 12707 Old
Redwixxl Hwy. , in Healdsburg, California.
Telephone numlvr: (707) 433-1937.
1983 Foppiano Russian River Valley
Sauvignon Blanc Light pale gold, clear and
brilliant; in the nose, youthful varietal fruit
and .1 slight herhaceoasness blend nicely
without being too grassy or intense;
pleasant touch of delicate oak in the
hoiK|iiet and mouth, as well, balancing the
varietal flavors; still young in the mouth,
with .1 bit of a hard edge and sharpness to
the finish, due to vilid acidify and the
immaturity of the wine. Will age quite well,
and Iv at its best in another year or so.
198} Foppiano Sonoma Chardonnay
Medium straw-golden color, clean and
bright; round, abundant varietal fruit
aroma, complemented by subtle oak; very
pleasing mouth, medium-full txxJied, not
heavy, with a butters, oaky complexity
matching the generous fruit; long and
lingering finish, without cloying; firm acid
1981 Foppiano Russian River Valley
Cabernet Sauvignon Medium-deep garnet
color, still purple at the edge; dusty, oaky
aromas complement the varietal fruit and
cedar that leap from the glass; medium
bodied, with a silky texture overlaying a
structure of tannins and gcxxl acid; classic
varietal flavors fill the mouth, lingering
through a medium-long, clean finish. A
most enjoyable wine, drinkable now, but
with enough ".stuffing" to merit additional
1980 Foppiano Sonoma Zinfandel Dark
gamer color, clear and clean; spicy,
assertive nose- combines varietal fruit and a
hint of raisins with redwtxxj and oak;
flavors echo this combination in the
mouth; moderate astringency and tannins
provide just a slight roughness to the finish.
1980 Foppiano Sonoma Petite Sirah Park
gamer with shades of purple, clear and
clean; spicy aroma with hints of pepper
open with air in the glass, intertwined with
redwood and American oak character:
medium-full KxJied, the wine has enough
fruit, flavor, and character to prevent the
tannic monster underneath from coming to
life. Make no mistake this wine will a-je
gracefully tor sears, but the balance of truit
and tannins allow enjoyment *x>ner. C
Rodney A. Foppiano, 35, a member of the pioneer winemaking Foppiano family and
winemaker for the Foppiano family in Healdsburg, CA, died March 23, 1984.
A native of Healdsburg, he attended St. John's School, in that city; Bellermine College Prep in
San Jose; and California State University at Fresno, where he earned a B. S. degree in viticulture.
He assumed supervision of the family vineyards, following his graduation from college in 1972, and
in 1977 became winemaker. He was a member of the Healdsburg Boys' Club board of directors for
ten years and served as Treasurer on the corporate board for four years. Recently the club named him
"Man of the Year", recognizing his outstanding dedication and service to the organization and its
He was a member of the Fraternal Order of Eagles, and the Knights of Columbus. He served
on the Wine Institute's Viticulture Research Committee, and is an alumni member of the Alpha
Gamma Rho, the national agricultural fraternity. He was also a member of St. John's parish in
He is survived by his wife, the former Carol Grossi; son Paul and daughter, Gina; his parents,
Louis J. and Delia Foppiano; his brother, Louis M. Foppiano, all from Healdsburg; his sister, Susan
Valera, Uxbridge, Massachusetts; and numerous aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins.
Contributions are preferred to:
ST. JOHN'S SCHOOL, 215 Tucker Street, Healdsburg, CA
RODNEY A. FOPPIAXO MEMORIAL FUND, The Cancer Research Institute, Room M-1282.
Universitv of California/ San Francisco, 532 Parnassus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94143
P.O. BOX 606. HEALDSBURG. CALIFORNIA 95448 (707) 433-7272
INDEX- -Louis J. Foppiano
Bagnani, Dante, 27, 63-64, 73-75,
Bandiera, Rollo, 74
Bugatto, Henry, 76
Burger, Horace, 31
Cambiaso, Giovanni, 76
Canata, John [uncle] , 5
Canata, Victor [uncle], 5
Champagne Louis Roederer, 76
Colonial Wine Co., 69
Comminski, Grace, 25
Continental Airlines, 11
Cotina brothers, 27
De LaTour winery, 9
Dennis, Pat, 30
Depression era, 12-13
equipment, 8, 21-23, 32, 58
Faber, Jim, 44,47
Ferrari, Abele, 27, 57, 75
Foppiano, Delia Bastoni [wife], 17,
Foppiano, John [grandfather], 1-5
Foppiano, John Battista [uncle], 33
Foppiano, Louis A. [father], 5, 14,
Foppiano, Louis [son], 25, 37, 43,
Foppiano, Mathilda Canata [mother],
5, 13, 14, 21, 46
Foppiano, Norma [sister), 6
Foppiano, Paul [grandson], 36-37
Foppiano, Rod [son], 36, 37, 43-44,
Foppiano, Rosalind [sister], 6
Foppiano, Susan [daughter], 36
Fountain Grove winery, 27-28
Gallo, Bob, 54
Gallo, Ernest, 27
Gallo, Julio, 27, 59-60, 73
Gallo, Matt, 54, 55
Gallo, Tom, 55
Gallo winery, 69
Geyser Peak Winery, 81-82
Geyser Peak winery, 7
Geysers Development Corp., 33-35
Grant, John, 33
grapes, harvesting of, 8
Green, Russell, 80-81
Hague, Isabella, 80
Hanzell, Lawrence, 27
Healdsburg Machine Shop, 58
Heck family, 27, 71-73
Heck, Paul, 64, 71
Inglenook winery, 9
Irma Stores, 49
Italian Swiss Colony, 7, 9
Italy, trip to, 2-4
Jordan, Judy, 48
Korbel & Bros., F. winery, 71-73
Lewis, Jack, 29-30
Long, Zelma, 81
Magma Power Co., 34
Margot Patterson Doss Trail, 51
marketing, 47-51, 64-68
Martini, Louis P., 73
Martini, Frank, 27
Martini, L.M. , 64, 73
Massoni, Bill, 18
Meyer, Bob, 64, 73
Mondavi, Robert, 64, 63,
Mondavi, Peter, 64, 73
Mueller, Louis, 11
Nervo winery, 7
New York, selling trips to, 18-21
Pacific Lumber Company, 8
Pan American Airlines, 11
Parducci, John, 73
Prohibition, 10, 14-17
ranch, stories of, 29-32
Redwood Lumber Company, 8
Regen, Bill, 44
Repeal, 14, 17
Roma Wine Company, 7
Romano, Larry, 50
rootstocks, 28-29, 55
Rossi, Bob, 73
Rossi, Carlos, 64-66, 69
Salles, Bob, 64
San Francisco Wine Exchange, 47
Scatina Brothers Winery, 7
Sebastiani, August, 27, 37, 54-55,
Sebastiani winery, 9
Sebastiani, Silvia, 73-74
Simi Winery, 9, 80-81
Six, Robert, 11, 12
Soda Rock Winery, 75
Sonoma County Grape Growers
Sotoyome Vineyards, 25-26
Stone, Richard, 49
Tetro, Bob, 49-50
Varney, Walter, 10-12
Vercelli, Joe, 64, 73
vineyard employees, 35-36, 39-41
Wine Institute, 26-27, 70
winemaking, 7-9, 37-30
Cabernet Sauvignon, 28, 38, 39, 43
Carignane, 4, 15, 26, 27
Chardonnay, 16, 28, 38, 39, 43
Golden Chasselas, 24
Merlot, 38, 39
Palomino, 24, 26
Petite Sirah, 4, 15, 26, 38, 39
Sauvignon blanc, 43
Zinfandel, 4, 15, 26, 27, 38, 39
Carole E. Hicke
B.A., University of Iowa; economics
M.A., San Francisco State University; U.S. history
with emphasis on the American West; thesis: "James
Rolph, Mayor of San Francisco."
Interviewer/editor/writer, 1978-present, for
business and law firm histories, specializing in
oral history techniques. Independently employed.
Interviewer-editor, Regional Oral History Office,
University of California, Berkeley, 1985 to
present, specializing in California legal,
political, and business histories.
Author: Heller, Ehnnan, White & McAuliffe: A
Century of Service to Clients and Community, 1991;
history of Farella, Braun & Martel; history of the
Federal Judges Association.
Editor (1980-1985) newsletters of two professional
historical associations: Western Association of
Women Historians and Coordinating Committee for
Women in the Historical Profession.
Visiting lecturer, San Francisco State University
in U.S. history, history of California, history of
Hawaii, legal oral history.
U. C. BERKELEY LIBRARIES