Three Generations of Bacigalupi Women

Wineries are a generational business that get passed down from one family member to another. Traditionally, this path has followed a masculine line from father to son. But in Sonoma, the famous Bacigalupi Vineyard is following a feminine line with three generations of Bacigalupi Women. I wrote about the matriarch Helen Bacigalupi, her daughter-in-law Pam Bacigalupi and her granddaughters Katey and Nicole in the Napa Valley Register and share the story here:

Bacigalupi is a well-known name in the California wine world. The Bacigalupi Vineyard in the Russian River Valley has a long legacy, and the name is seen on numerous prestigious labels, such as Gary Farrell, Flowers, William Selyem, Arista, Armida, Foppiano, Orin Swift, Pezzi King, Ridge Winery, Rudd, Seghesio, and more.

A lesser-known secret about the Bacigalupi Vineyard is its role in the 1976 Paris Tasting. The Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, made by Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, gained world recognition by beating the Burgundies of France in a blind tasting. What is not widely known is that the Chateau Montelena Chardonnay was made with 40 percent of grapes from Sonoma farmed by the Bacigalupi family.

And even less is known about the people behind the vineyard, the Bacigalupi family, which includes three generations of women: Helen Bacigalupi, her daughter-in-law Pam Bacigalupi, who manages the vineyard and grape contracts, and Katey Bacigalupi Row and Nicole Bacigalupi Dericco, Pam’s twin daughters who are responsible for sales and marketing.

At 94, Helen Bacigalupi has paved the way for these next generations. Helen first moved to Healdsburg with her husband Charles after graduating from school in San Francisco. Charles worked as a dentist, and Helen, who put herself through college, was a pharmacist. Their interest in farming led them in 1956 to purchase their first 121 acres on Westside Road in what would later become the Russian River Valley.

Charlie began to care for the 16 acres of existing vineyards, which included Zinfandel, Mission, Golden Chaslis and Muscat. Encouragement from friend Paul Heck of Korbel Winery resulted in Charlie planting six acres each of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in 1964.

In 1973, Mike Grgich expressed interest in the Chardonnay planted by the Bacigalupi family. When harvest arrived, Helen personally took six trips in the family’s Volkswagen truck to transport the Chardonnay from Sonoma over the hill to Chateau Montelena. Then, on July 4, 1976, Helen answered the phone when Grgich called with the news that their Chardonnay grapes had helped create the wine that beat all French white wines.

Today Bacigalupi Vineyards includes 125 planted acres across three ranches. The Goddard Ranch is the original property where Helen lives today. It is also home to the Paris tasting block. The soils are full of minerality and a unique microclimate results in high acid, bright wines.

The Bloom Ranch, an old dairy farm, was purchased in 1973 and is located next to Goddard Ranch but has different soils, sun exposure, drainage, and microclimate. The Frost Ranch, located one mile down the road from Goddard Ranch, was purchased in 1990. The site is closest to the Russian River and has a completely different microclimate from Goddard Ranch. The vines produce more vigorous canopies, and the resulting wines demonstrate more earth and floral notes.

For more than 60 years, the Bacigalupi family has been the grape source for many well-known brands of Sonoma and Napa. And Helen was responsible for negotiating and securing many of these grape contracts. Helen Bacigalupi was one of the early women pioneers and entrepreneurs in the wine industry.

Today, Helen drinks two glasses of wine a day and, according to her granddaughters, eats pistachios with the shells on. Helen is known for speaking her mind and her words of wisdom, called Helen-isms, are shared on Instagram by her family. Some Helen-isms include: “It’s OK to do your own thing and walk your own path,” “Listen to Mother Nature,” and “Go with your Gut.”

Hearty, steadfast, and intelligent, Helen removed limitations and paved the way for the next generations.

Pam Bacigalupi grew up at Korbel Winery, which her father Paul Heck and his brother had purchased in 1954. As a child, she would ride her horse through the vineyard, work the bottling line with her dad and remembered the smell of the pomace from the grapes. She liked farming but winemaking was not an obvious career for a woman at that time. Instead, Pam studied health care and went into nursing.

Pam met her husband, John Bacigalupi, through the friendship between their fathers. Pam became a farmer’s wife and mom and slowly worked her way into the wine business. Today, Pam assists with the managing of Bacigalupi Vineyards and is the main contact for grape sales. She also helps deliver fruit during harvest.

Pam and John had twin daughters. With an early love for the vineyards, Katey Bacigalupi Row graduated with a degree in agricultural business from Cal Poly State University in 2006 and worked at Seghesio and Sonoma Cutrer wineries as well as in Margaret River in Australia. Nicole Bacigalupi Dericco received a business degree with an emphasis in marketing from San Diego State University. She then spent four years at Silver Oak in tasting room sales, compliance, packaging, and shipping before joining the family business.

In 2011, winemaker Ashley Herzberg joined Bacigalupi Vineyards to create their first wine release. Bacigalupi Vineyards sells most of their fruit but holds back 10 percent from premium blocks to make their own wine.

As wine producers, their winemaking philosophy is that wine is made in the vineyard. It comes from the land and they add nothing. They use all indigenous yeasts for native fermentation and native malolactic fermentation and bottle unfined and unfiltered with no racking. Bacigalupi Wines produces between 2,000 and 2,500 cases per year, and Katey and Nicole manage the marketing and sales of the family brand.

2018 Bacigalupi Chardonnay Russian River Valley ($62) has a lovely nose of citrus, apple, stone fruits, and hazelnuts. On the palate, the wine is full-bodied with bright acidity and a long finish.

2018 Bacigalupi Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($69) is a blend of fruit from the Goddard Ranch and Frost Ranch. It spends 11 months in barrel, of which 40 percent is new French oak, resulting in a classic Pinot Noir with red fruit notes of raspberries and cherries mixed with violet, earth, and spice notes and bright acidity.

2018 Bacigalupi Pinot Noir Frost Ranch Russian River Valley ($76) also spends 11 months in barrel, of which 40 percent is new French oak. The wine has notes of wild raspberry, plum, violets, forest floor, and spice and is more intense on the palate.

2018 Bacigalupi Zinfandel Russian River Valley ($52) has notes of black cherries, blackberries, plum, violets, and spice and is fresh and vibrant on the palate.

After a decade of working with the Bacigalupi family, Ashley is like part of the family. And she appreciates working with strong, smart intelligent women like Pam, Nicole, and Katey. She also looks up to Helen with admiration. “Helen is my idol, showing me that strong women could be successful in this industry. She paved the way and now we get to continue the legacy.”

To honor Helen and her legacy, Bacigalupi Wines released a new Chardonnay called Renouveau. This wine is sourced entirely from the Paris Tasting Block planted in 1964 on Goddard Ranch.

For 22 vintages, the fruit was committed to another buyer. But in 2018, the fruit became available and they decided to keep it for the family. “Renouveau” means “revival” and was a name that Helen had trademarked in the 1970s.

Now, after more than 40 years since the Paris Tasting, the 2018 Bacigalupi Vineyards “Renouveau” Russian River Valley Chardonnay ($82) was released. There are only 100 cases of this lovely wine with pretty aromatics of pineapple, tart apple, stone fruits, and citrus with a touch of nuttiness and a lush mid-palate that finishes with delicate acidity.

Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.