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Suzy & Jim Gullett
February 6, 2023 | Letters | Suzy & Jim Gullett

A Letter from Suzy & Jim Gullett: Celebrating Vino Noceto's 30th Anniversary Vintage of Sangiovese

Hello from Sunny (but Cold!) Amador County!

It’s hard to believe we’ve been selling Sangiovese for thirty years now. That’s right. The 2019 is Vino Noceto’s 30th vintage of Sangiovese!

Back in 1984, we had no intention of starting a winery. We had our hands full. Jim was working full-time as a Banking Software Consultant, traveling all over the world, and our sons were one and three years old. All we were looking for was a simple country property where we could plant a small vineyard.

We visited properties in Napa. We visited Sonoma. We visited Mendocino’s nearby Anderson Valley. And we visited Amador County. We fell in love with Amador’s golden rolling hills and its small-town charm, and Jim knew of its long history as one of the great grape-growing regions in California.

At first, we were set on a piece of land at the very end of Dickson Road – down a mile of curves and hills, perched high above the Shenandoah Valley. To the East, you could see the tips of the snow capped Sierras, and to the West, the peak of the San Francisco Bay Area's Mount Diablo.

The view was stunning.

We brought Suzy’s father, David, a businessman and contractor, to see the property. He shook his head and said, “No.” He pointed at the property where our Tasting Room now sits, and said, “If you have any commercial aspirations, that’s the one you want – the one on the main road.”

We talked night after night, over many bottles of wine. We asked ourselves: Did we have commercial aspirations? And finally, we concluded that perhaps we did! We followed David’s advice and bought the parcel at 11011 Shenandoah Road in September 1984, and Vino Noceto was born.

We spent a year deciding what to plant on our property. We wanted to be different. No Cabernet, Zinfandel, or Chardonnay for us! By September 1985, we settled on Sangiovese, Italy’s leading grape variety, and a grape that, at that time, was virtually unheard of in California. Everyone thought we were crazy to pick Sangiovese. That is, everyone except for Darrell Corti of Sacramento's Corti Brothers. He believed in Sangiovese too, and he helped us set up a three-week tour of some of Tuscany's most respected Chianti and Brunello vineyards. We visited mainstays like Castello dei Rampolla, Argiano, and Isole e Olena.

After experiencing Tuscany's terroir firsthand, we were convinced that Sangiovese was the right choice for our Amador property.

In the Spring of 1987, with the help of friends and family, we slowly planted row after row of Sangiovese vines, using cuttings originally sourced from the Il Poggione vineyard in Tuscany’s Montalcino. It took three years for those vines to mature enough for us to produce our first vintage.

That first vintage, 1990, was only 110 cases. Of those 110 cases, 45 went to Corti Brothers grocery store in Sacramento, and 15 went to the Walnut Creek Wine and Cheese Shop, a small wine shop in Suzy’s childhood hometown. We sold the remaining 50 cases via mail order to family and friends. They disappeared in the blink of an eye.

Suzy and Jim Gullett
Photos: Us in our Hillside vineyard, holding a bottle of our first vintage of Sangiovese. It's hard to believe we ever looked so young!

For our second vintage, the 1991, we produced 800 cases of wine – it seemed an intimidatingly large number. Our custom crush winemaker, Scott Harvey – then of Santino Winery – gladly volunteered to take 150 of those 800 cases off our hands, selling them under the Santino Winery label. Unlike us, Scott knew the 1991 vintage was good. He knew our Sangiovese could stand up against the best of the Italian Chiantis and Brunellos and would be simple to sell. But we found that hard to believe.

In fact, we didn’t really believe in our Sangiovese’s salability until Suzy set up a card table at Santino Winery during one of Amador County’s signature, valley-wide wine events, The Big Crush.

To our surprise, standing at her small folding table, she successfully sold case after case of Vino Noceto Sangiovese to complete strangers. The first stranger to buy Noceto wine from Suzy was Richard Neuharth, a longtime Santino customer from Lodi. Like many customers we met at Santino, Richard graduated from tasting Vino Noceto Sangiovese at the Santino card table to joining us for a sip on the back porch at our Shenandoah Valley farmhouse.

For the first nine vintages, it took us less than six weeks to sell out of wine. We didn’t have a Tasting Room or Winery facility. We didn’t have a staff. It was just Suzy (and sometimes our kids!) manning the phone and making connections wherever she could. Customers would send us orders and checks via snail mail, and sometimes we’d ship (or hand-deliver) the wine before the check even arrived!

Rusty Folena and Suzy & Jim Gullett
Left Photo: Vino Noceto's long-time winemaker, Rusty Folena, back when he was a Cellar Hand at Santino Vineyards. Right Photo: Us holding one of our early vintages of Sangiovese.

Times have truly changed. Today, we produce almost 10,000 cases of wine a year, including a dozen different Sangioveses – from the United States’ first White Sangiovese to our Dos Oakies Sangiovese, produced from vines in that first block planted in 1987. And our production isn't limited to wine. We also make Grappa and olive oil!

And just as our vineyards and production and facilities have grown, our Club has grown too.

Vino Noceto now has over 2,000 Club Members. We have Club Members who are the children of the children of our original Club Members. We have Club Members who’ve been with us for over twenty years. We have Club Members who have left and returned.

Yes, we’ve certainly grown over the years, and Noceto’s Nutty staff is now big enough to field an entire baseball team. But we still strive to remember each and every one of you by name, just like we remember Richard Neuharth, the very first stranger to buy Vino Noceto Sangiovese at Suzy’s card table. (If you saw the way Suzy sits at her computer, reviewing the name of every club member and customer, you’d know how true this is! She really does remember every single name.)

We are so proud to share our 2019 vintage, the 30th anniversary vintage of our flagship Sangiovese, with you, our Noceto family. It is one of our best yet, with Noceto’s signature bright and light cherry-berry flavors that match with almost any meal. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Thank you for an amazing thirty years. We are so thankful for each and every one of you, from those of you who started drinking Noceto at a card table with Suzy to those who are trying Noceto Sangiovese for the very first time.

Don’t be a stranger. Join Jim for a tour of the estate. Call Suzy for a midnight chat. We’re here, in the Tasting Room, behind computer screens, and just on the other side of the phone.


John & Nancy's Gravatar
John & Nancy
@ Feb 8, 2023 at 3:32 PM
About 25 years ago or so we went up in the winter intending to ski but were turned back because Hwy 50 was closed. We got a room in Sutter Creek and went to dinner at Teresa's where we bought a bottle of Noceto Sangiovese without knowing anything about it. It was great, so the next day we tried to find it in a few stores and struck out. We managed to get the phone number for the winery--probably from a phone book in those pre-cell phone days-- and called. Jim answered and said that although they actually weren't doing tasting at that time he would meet us at the winery. We met him there, and he said that there had just been an unexpected hard freeze and they'd had 21 pipes freeze and burst. In spite of that setback he was cheerful and friendly and let us taste the wine; I think he set up the tasting on a plank supported by a couple of wine barrels. We continued to be impressed and so we bought a case and immediately signed up to be in the Big Nut Club. We were undoubtedly not the first Club members, but we were pretty darn early! The letter mentions Santino, and we bought wine there in the early days, too. They sold a wine called Amadoro, a blend made from five Portuguese grapes, which was really good and very inexpensive. We heard that they stopped making it when they learned that they could make more money by using the grapes (or selling them) for making Port.

Dennis J Purpura's Gravatar
Dennis J Purpura
@ Feb 8, 2023 at 3:42 PM
Gee, I remember that very last year of Still Wagon Cellars' wines on a very rainy night in 1989 at the Highlands Inn in Carmel. We were at our annual Executive Retreat when you still had your part time job in High Tech and we were fellow travelers both internationally and domestically. Since then there has always been at least one bottle of Vino Noceto Sangiovase in our home. Congratulations for all your well deserved success. You made a dream come true.

Jim's Gravatar
@ Feb 8, 2023 at 4:00 PM
My wife and I went to Italy in October of 2011. We had a great time and enjoyed a lot of great wine. We visited Vino Noceto the next month and our reaction was "this is just like Italy!" We've been Big Nuts ever since.

Sandee's Gravatar
@ Feb 8, 2023 at 4:47 PM
Our first taste of Vino Noceto was in June, 2008 or '09 at a restaurant in Sutter Creek (no longer there). It was Frivolo and our waiter told us to head over to the tasting room and ask for Suzy. We did and we joined the Club!

Fred Collignon's Gravatar
Fred Collignon
@ Feb 8, 2023 at 5:21 PM
We were in the club many years and came back in recent years. Your basic level Sangioveses have always been gifts to the dinner to the dinner table, and the other higher level one gifts to special occasion dinner. Thank you for years of pleasure. We have also had your son Bobby as a friend in recent years. He does your family proud. Thank you too for him

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Jim & Monica
@ Feb 8, 2023 at 5:35 PM
We found Vino Noceto 26 yrs ago completely by accident! We were then celebrating our 25th anniversary and found The Mine House Inn and had never been to the foothills so decided to check it out. Our hostess at The Mine House served wine and cheese in the afternoon and we were hooked! Vino Noceto is the only place we buy Sangiovese, even now driving 8 hours twice a year to pick up some more! On our very first visit Jim took my husband Jim out into the vineyard and showed him all the vines. We knew right then it was a very special place

Dave Hanson's Gravatar
Dave Hanson
@ Feb 8, 2023 at 6:40 PM
We always look forward to the next Sangiovese release and an excuse to visit the winery. Congrats !

Doyle Bailie's Gravatar
Doyle Bailie
@ Feb 9, 2023 at 5:49 AM
Suzy and Jim, Congratulations on thirty years. Pam and I have been buying your wine for I can’t remember how long. Im thinking at least 25 years. Love you guys and your Winery. Cheers

Ron and Judy Smith's Gravatar
Ron and Judy Smith
@ Feb 11, 2023 at 11:44 AM
Jim and Suzy, Wow, So many years have zipped by. We haven't been up in a while but still have Noceto as our go to wine with dinner. And this year we are ordering more of the 2019. Special anniversary and special wine. Judy still remembers that you would always introduce her as my boss at the B of A. And of course we remember your battle with cancer and stories of vine cuttings planted in pots on your deck in Lafayette. When we serve Noceto and people ask about the wine or even if they don't , we tell them the story. Probably been embellished over the years but one part hasn't been. And that is in 1996 at our daughter's wedding we served 150 people at dinner and our wines were Hess Select Chardonnay and Noceto Sangiovese. We will never forget the number of people who came up to us and said how good the red wine was and wanted to know where to buy it. Congratulations on your wonderful success. A story we continue to share with friends. Hope to see you soon.

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