Old Redwood Highway: Pastori Winery 99 years old, Frank Pastori 93 years young
By DEBORAH MITCHEL SERVAL / Geyserville Correspondent
At 93, Frank Pastori drinks his own wine most days, half a glass with dinner.
Originally the Pastori address was Route A Box 48 also known as Old Redwood Highway. Almost a century later, Frank Pastori, 23189 Geyserville Ave., lives an eighth of a mile away from his birthplace.
The journey of a lifetime lived along the Old Redwood Highway.
Since 1914 the Pastori family has been growing grapes and making wine on the property. It was homesteaded by Constante Pastori, who left Lombardo, Italy, in 1912 with his brother on a freighter bound for America. Shoveling coal in the bowels of the ship, neither brother knew that the cargo was olive oil. Constante’s brother got off the ship in New York bound for Argentina. They parted with a wave and a hearty goodbye, never to meet again.
That was a sign of the times, Frank says. You just moved on to your new life, and left the old one behind.
Shoveling coal all the way to San Francisco, Constante Pastori got off the ship and found a little Italy right down the street. He soon headed north to work at Italian Swiss Colony in Geyserville. He lived in Signa Ridge, then Asti, while logging on the Louie B Ranch. He worked with a man who said, “If you send money to Carrara, Italy, for my sister, she will become your wife.”
Constante Pastori and Erminia Domenicelli married at St. Peter & Paul Church in San Francisco and honeymooned for one day before heading back to work.
“My parents bought this ranch in 1914, and immediately planted grapes,” says Frank. They sold the wine in bulk to Italian Swiss Colony and Petri Wine Company, reserving some to fill jugs for locals when they stopped by.
“He once sold 16,000 tons, two rail road cars, to a guy in New York named Aquino,” Frank says. “No one thought my dad would get paid, but he did. That’s how it worked back then.”
Prohibition stopped everything in 1920, the year he was born. “I was the last child. My older sister Emma and brother Amrico have both since passed on.”
They pulled out every other grape vine and planted fruit trees, mostly prunes, and sold the remaining grapes to Welch’s for grape juice. Pastori doesn’t remember suffering during the time, since everything the family needed came off the farm.
“We had cows, goats, made our own butter and us kids hunted. Anything that moved we killed and my mother cooked up,” he says with a smile. “We were not as affected as others. We grew most everything and did a fair bit of bartering.”
By 1938 they were back in the wine business.
At 19, Frank was at the Canyon School dance with his cousin and saw the prettiest girl in the world, Edith Buchignani. Frank thought she was too pretty to be a local girl. As it turned out, she was born and raised in Dry Creek. Soon after, Edith sent him a valentine that Frank still has squirreled away with other family mementos in a bedroom drawer. Franks valentine to Edith sits in a frame in the family living room.
They were married a few years later at St. John’s Church in Healdsburg and honeymooned from San Diego to Catalina Island. Their first home was in Healdsburg, renting a “brand spankin’ new home” for $22 a month from Simi, who had the Lucca Barber Shop.
The 1940s brought lots of changes. Frank took over from his dad and started to bottle Pasto
ri wine for sale. Money was tight, so Frank leased vineyards from the Nervo (now Trione) Winery on the south end of Geyserville, using its crush facility in exchange for 60 percent of the sales.
One year stretched to 14, with Edith holding down the Pastori vineyard and managing everything from hiring the pickers to tallying the tub counts during harvest. They were in the business together from the very beginning and had long since moved back onto a house on the north end of the family property.
In 1950, when the ranch got skinnier as a result of Highway 101 construction, they had their house moved across the road and shared it until Edith’s passing in 2011. Their daughter Sharon, 66, went off to college and never came back to Geyserville. She lives in Oakland with her husband Paul and their two sons, and has been bringing the boys to Geyserville since they were little to share in the harvest. So far neither has shown interest in joining the family business.
With half the ranch in Cloverdale and half in Geyserville, Frank straddles the line. “Now if I lived on the north end, I would vote in Cloverdale,” he said, “but I vote in Geyserville.”
Frank continues to manage the vineyards and make the wine he sells from the wine tasting room at the front of his property. He sells port, zinfandel, merlot, burgundy, cabernet, claret for making vinegar and wine vinegar, all for under $10 a bottle, cash or check only.
Customers know to call before they come (857-3418 or 217-1447) or look for Frank’s white truck. If it’s parked by the house and they knock on the door, he’ll meet them at the winery for a taste and a conversation. “We catch up on the world,” Frank says.
How long he continues the business is anybody’s guess. Frank has 10,000 gallons in of bulk wine that can be bottled as needed or sold in bulk, he says with a sly smile. In the meantime, he is content to run the ranch he was born on and welcome the customers who find their way to the winery.
“When you live on a main road, the world comes to you.”
Read about key stops along those early day Sonoma County roads in the special May 12 issue of Towns: