Four generations deeply rooted in the Russian River Valley.
I’ve always admired the Bacigalupi Family, their history, the wine they make and the vineyards they steward. Nestled in their Russian River Valley location near Healdsburg, California, they have been farmers-first for three, and soon to be four, generations, starting in 1956.
I am personally passionate about small, family-owned and operated vineyards, especially when they produce wine from the grapes they have nurtured with love. The Bacigalupi family meets these criteria with five stars.
Perhaps winemaker Ashley Herzberg says it best, “The beauty of Bacigalupi Vineyards is that we are a true team effort. While most of the winemaking final decisions come from me, John Bacigalupi manages most of the vineyard decisions. He knows each and every vine so well, and we all decide on final blends together. We operate as a family unit and I am the bonus member of the family!”
Of course, wine afficionados recognize the Napa Valley wineries that stood out and beat the French at the Judgement of Paris in 1976, but few know the source of the grapes in those bottles, I venture that we all assumed they were estate grapes from those wineries. We would be wrong. In the case of the 1973 Chardonnay from Chateau Montelena, the winner in the white wine category, 40% of those Chardonnay grapes were grown in the Bacigalupi vineyards in Healdsburg.
Bacigalupi is especially well known for the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel grapes they grow, much of which (80-90%) they sell to other producers like Williams Selyem, Gary Farrell, Kosta Browne, Auteur Wines and Modus Wines, to name a few. This just reinforces that great wine starts with great grapes.
The Bacigalupi’s have retained the vines that produced the winning Chardonnay for the Judgement of Paris in 1976 even though they only produce about 1 ton per acre. A quantity that most producers would determine to be economically infeasible and they would rip them out and replant. Not the Baciagalupi’s, they have preserved these heritage vines and celebrate them with their “Renouveau” Russian River Valley Chardonnay to celebrate this unique triumph. It is reserved for Club Members only. Often rated at 94 points, if you can get it, it sells in the $85 range.
Tasting the Bacigalupi Wines
Here are three wines I tasted.
2020 Bacigalupi Russian River Valley Chardonnay. This was just a beautiful, lightly oaked Chardonnay and only 315 cases were produced. From the same Goddard vineyard that the Chateau Montelena winner came from, the grapes were harvested from 2 separate blocks about a week apart to give the winemaker some diversity and complexity to work with.
The wine should be enjoyed chilled, but not cold, to allow the aromas and flavors to come through. Aromas of lemon curd, vanilla and caramel come through and the balanced acidity danced on my tongue. The 13.8% alcohol was hardly noticeable because of the balance of fruit and acid. Worth it at $65 a bottle.
2021 Bacigalupi Russian River Valley Petite Sirah. I am not, usually, a Petite Sirah fan unless it is a really great one. This one made me say, “P.S. I love You!” Only 323 cases were produced for this vintage. Give yourself a chance and let this wine loosen up in your glass with a few swirls and a couple of minutes. You’ll be rewarded with character, balance, rich flavors of plum, black cherry and cola. At 13.6% alcohol, this wine can be sipped or paired with food.
21 months of aging in 25% new French oak rounds out the tannins resulting in a well-rounded wine. $58 a bottle.
2019 Bacigalupi Russian River Valley Diavoletti Zinfandel Dessert Wine. Diavoletti translates to ‘Little Devil’ in Italian and is dedicated to the three, 4th generation Bacigalupi boys, Katey and Nicole’s sons, Aiden, Lucca and Owen (Nicole has a daughter Stella and I can’t wait to taste the wine dedicated to her). 185 cases of these 500ml bottles were produced.
Made in a port style, the wine has been described as a ’field of raspberries bursting in your mouth.’ Definitely serve this wine lightly chilled. Tiramisu or vanilla bean gelato might be a good pairing. $55 a bottle.
The Tasting Room and Events
Bacigalupi opened their tasting room in 2011 in conjunction with their release of the inaugural vintage. It is located on the property on Westside Road. It is a welcoming venue where I have enjoyed tasting their wines.
If you get a chance, sign up for their “Dinner in the Vineyard” event. My wife and I had the pleasure of doing so several years ago and the memories are imprinted on my brain. Idyllic setting, fabulous food plated in the vineyard, amazing wine and more.
The tasting room is open daily from 11:00am until 4:30pm, and is located at 4353 Westside Road, Healdsburg, CA.
Charles and Helen Bacigalupi – The Heritage
Charles Bacigalupi came to Healdsburg in the early 1950s after completing dental school. His wife Helen, a pharmacist, practiced in town as well. One of his dental clients happened to own a sparkling wine house in the County, prompting Charles to learn more about the wine industry. After much time and research he became convinced that premium wines from Sonoma County would be in high demand in the years to come. In 1956, Helen and Charles purchased 121 acres just outside of town on Westside Road.
Charles immediately began managing the 16 acres of existing vines on the property and, over time, added to the plantings.
Initially, the Bacigalupis partnered with their neighbor, Belvedere Winery, to have wines produced with the Bacigalupi name.
The Bacigalupi’s continued planting their acres with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and refining their vineyards and the quality of the grapes they grew. Their good reputation even led to selling grapes to well respected wineries in the Napa Valley.
The Second and Third Generations
Helen and Charles have one child, a son John, who joined the family business after his education. For the last 35 years, John Bacigalupi has meticulously managed these vineyards. Thirty-five years of doing anything will result in intimacy and deep knowledge. John knows each vine and the various terroir at play.
Coincidentally, John found love and married Pamela Heck, the daughter of his father’s dental client with the sparkling wine house mentioned earlier, Korbel California Champagne. For years, John and Pamela worked with Charles and Helen, caring for the vineyards and selling the grapes to local producers both in Sonoma and Napa.
John and Pamela have twin daughters, Katey and Nicole. In recent years, after earning various degrees, Master Sommelier Certifications and gaining experience at other wineries in the United States and internationally, Nicole and Katey now serve as co-managers of their parent’s winery and vineyards.
Not to be forgotten, grandma Helen remains as the matriarch of the family and imparts her wisdom and knowledge whenever needed.
In 2023, according to Nicole, “We have roughly 125 planted acres that we are farming ourselves and an additional 30 acres that we lease out. Our varietals range from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. We are in a Goldilocks location of the Russian River where we are cool enough for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir but get the day time temperatures high enough to ripen Zinfandel and Petite Sirah.”
Ashley Herzberg has been making wine in the northern Sonoma County area for nearly two decades with a variety of wineries. We have always enjoyed her wines and have marveled at the deft hand she has in the cellar.
Ashley was mentored by some of the top Pinot Noir vintners in California such as Merry Edwards and Greg Lafollette. To quote John Bacigalupi, “I felt very positive about our working relationship with her. Ashley is easy to work with. She has the ability to take an imperfect situation, solve problems, and make things right.”
Ashley has been the Bacigalupi winemaker since they restarted their wine making program twelve years ago.
I asked Ashley what her favorites current releases are and why. Her response, “All of our 2021 Pinot Noirs are ridiculously good but I absolutely adore our Bacigalupi Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir this year. It is nuanced, complex, and really highlights the vintage and all of the blocks we farm so well. It is just a pleasure to drink!”
The family’s mission is to preserve their legacy and the nuances of each vintage and vineyard by growing grapes in an adaptable manner; fostering relationships that are honest, respectful, and collaborative; making rich, refined, and layered wines with minimal intervention; and by welcoming guests into their family with tranquil, unpretentious hospitality.
If you visit, I think you’ll agree that they continue to exceed this mission.