Donati Family Vineyard: Celebrating the fruits of their labor and Italian heritage

Donati Family Vineyard has a tasting room at the intersection of Highway 46 West and Vineyard Drive. The vineyard was started as father and son project for Ron Donati and his three sons — Mark, Matt, and Brad in 1997. (Photo courtesy of Donati Family Vineyard)

For Donati Family Vineyard everything stems from “family, food, and fun.” And not necessarily in that order, says long-time DFV Director of Sales and Marketing Mitch Bakich on a pleasant fall afternoon at the winery’s tasting room and production facility nestled in the corner of Highway 46 West and Vineyard Drive intersection.

“We are always eating and celebrating,” says Bakich, who has been with the family-owned winery since purchasing the 3-acre site between Paso Robles and Templeton in 2007.

The purchase of the former Mastantuono winery was a perfect fit for the quickly growing Donati label. Prior to 2007, DFV was producing wine out of Paso Robles Wine Services.

“We purchased the winery for its great location and the retail traffic it generates. We see a lot more potential for the site and look to the winery to introduce more people to our award-winning wines” said Ron Donati of Donati Family Vineyard at the time of the purchase.

Their first commercial vintage was in 2003, roughly 3,000 cases, and today after upgrading the facilities at the Templeton site, are producing nearly 30,000 cases a year of mainly Bordeaux wines.

“We bring all of our fruit in,” Bakich says. “We process here, ferment here, we age here, we bottle here — just under 30,000 cases. Currently, we are distributed in 35-plus states.”

The secret to the Italian family’s success is really no secret at all.

“Hard work, determination, perseverance, that’s the motto and the creed here,” Bakich says.

As their label clearly says, the Donatis were first wine grape farmers and then like many growers began making wine and then selling it.

The vineyard was started as father and son project for Ron Donati and his three sons — Mark, Matt, and Brad in 1997. Ron had sold his successful electronics business and was looking to start a vineyard. The family owned a ranch near Salinas but found it was not suitable for wine grape growing and began looking for land elsewhere to start the project.

In 1998, the Donatis bought vineyard property in the little-known Paicines American Viticultural Area in San Benito County.

The quaint town of Paicines, population 204, consists of a country store, Mexican restaurant, and post office, all in one building. Paicines is approximately 10 miles from the booming metropolis of Hollister.

“It’s just east of Monterey 30 miles or so,” Bakich says. “It’s the ninth-oldest appellation that even some of the highest-level sommeliers have never heard of.”

The Donati Family Estate Vineyard site enjoys a variety of soils from limestone to decomposed granite to clay loam and access to the cooling ocean breezes of the Monterey Bay. Like much of southern Napa, Sonoma, and Monterey counties, Paicines has long warm days followed by cool nights.

The end result, Bakich says, are wines that are a “little bit more elegant, more delicate” than the fruit-forward wines of the Paso Robles AVA.

A number of vines, mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc, had remained from the days of Almaden’s ownership and the Donatis decided to make some “shiners” — wines with no labels — from the 40-year-old vines to see what could be produced.

“They made a little Pinot Blanc, they gave it out for Christmas gifts that year but made more than they could give away so they started selling it and that was how the wine label was developed,” Bakich says.

Ron Donati grew up in South San Francisco, the son of a first-generation Italian-American family. One of his fondest memories was the sights and smells of his grandfather making wine in his basement. Like most Italian immigrants, Albino Donati made his own wine for the family dinner table.

“Wine was always a part of life. The whole theory behind it was if we are going to make some wine we are going to make wine for everybody,” Bakich says.

The wines are in the capable hands of winemaker Briana Heywood, who came onboard in 2016 after working the previous seven years with J. Lohr Vineyards and Wines.

For the novice who is coming in and just wants something simple, Bakich says their Claret, a Bordeaux blend, is the “no fuss, no muss” choice.

Donati’s flagship wine is the Ezio Cabernet Sauvignon, a wine named after Ezio Donati, the firstborn Donati in the New World. The 2014 Ezio is 100 percent Cabernet Sauvignon, hand-selected from the choicest barrel lots in the cellar.

The Immigrant is the latest addition to the Donati’s premier tier. The Bordeaux blend is named in honor of Albino Donati, who immigrated to the United States in 1907.

Both of the wines are available at the tasting room as well as at select retailers and restaurants.

Donati’s lineup also includes Rose, Pinot Grigio, unoaked Chardonnay and a red blend jug wine known as Naughty Donati.

“Any good Italian is going to have a jug wine,” says Bakich with a chuckle. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously here.”

The jug wine came about when Donati had some extra bulk wine and was trying to figure out what to do with it.

“A guy in the cellar said, ‘Why don’t we make a premium jug wine.’ It was all premium juice, so we went with this fun, basically a beer growler, and so now we serve these here on draught. You can bring in your jug and we can fill it up here,” Bakich says.

Something for everyone is important at DFV.

“Wine shouldn’t be for just the elite, it should be an everyday thing. We’ve got wines for all types of palates,” Bakich says.

Donati Family Vineyard’s tasting room is located at 2720 Oak View Rd., Templeton. Plug in the exact location into the GPS or just look for the three-story European chateau at the intersection of Highway 46 West and Vineyard Drive. Visitors can also make use of the covered picnic area and Bocce courts. The tasting room is open daily from 11 a.m to 5 p.m. For more information, or to make an appointment, call 805-238-0676 or email [email protected]

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