Louis J. Foppiano ~ Wine Industry Legend ~ Turns 98 Years Old

[This picture was taken by San Francisco Chronicle staff photographer Kurt Rogers, at the Wine Institute a few years ago, when the W.I. was honoring wine iconoclasts. Lou is in the front row, third from the left.]

There are very few nonagenarians living in the world among us… Fewer within the wine business; and, no doubt, the only nonagenarian in the wine business who was a Thanksgiving gift to his families…

On November 25, 1910, Louis J. Foppiano of Foppiano Vineyards was born at the Riverside Ranch in Healdsburg, California. On Tuesday, November 25, 2008, Lou Foppiano just celebrated his 98th birthday surrounded by his family. [This image is of Louis and his great granddaughter Gianna.]

Louis J.’s grandfather, Giovanni Foppiano, immigrated to the United States, arriving in New York from Genoa, Italy, and traveled to California by way of Panama looking for gold. In 1864, Giovanni settled in Healdsburg, California. His son, Louis A. Foppiano was born in 1877 (father of Louis J.). Louis A. married Mathilda, the sister of one of his North Beach customers after three “arranged” dates. When Louis A. passed away in 1925, Louis J. inherited the responsibility of managing the family winery. In 1937, after the repeal of prohibition, Louis J. rebuilt the winery from the ground up, and Foppiano Wine Company became one of the first Sonoma County wineries to bottle wine under its own winery label.

In 1946, Louis J. married Della Bastoni of Santa Rosa. The couple was married for 56 years, and raised three children, Louis M., Rod, and Susan. Son Rod met an untimely death, passing away from leukemia in the 1980s. Louis J.’s wife Della died on November 21, 2002.

As the president and patriarch of one of California’s oldest family-owned wineries, Louis J. Foppiano was literally born into the business of growing grapes, making wine, and then being responsible for selling it. He is a member of a small, elite group of family-owned wine growers and winemakers who have one foot in the past and one foot firmly planted in the present.

Much like the old vine Petite Sirah that dots his vineyard estate property, Lou, as his friends like to call him, is a pioneering survivor. In his lifetime he has experienced family losses, industry challenges, changing technology, and a renaissance in the wine industry that continues to evolve daily. He has seen the countryside of Sonoma County go from hops, to prunes, to grapes, and has watched the wine industry grow from 14 wineries at the time he founded the Sonoma County Wine Growers Association in 1942, to over 200 today.

AT 98 years young, Louis J. Foppiano and his family are one of the few in California viticulture that can boast that they are six generations old. As he looks back at a lifetime in the wine industry, he recalls many of the people, events, and issues that have helped mold the wine industry of today.

A living resource of wine industry history, Mr. Foppiano recalls simpler days when everyone knew one another, competition was less fierce, and time was slower. In a time when many wineries are corporately owned and operated, Foppiano Vineyards remains a family business founded over 100 years ago, on the same principles that govern it today… respect: Respect for the land, respect for family, and respect for the people who buy their wines.

Happy Birthday, Lou!

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