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Vintners’ political commentary sparks Facebook boycott of his Napa Valley wineries

by TrevR on April 18, 2010

Earlier this month Dario Sattui, owner of Napa Valley’s V. Sattui Winery and Castello di Amorosa, penned a letter to the editor of a local paper regarding the compensation and benefits of local firefighters.

Whether intentionally or unintentionally, Sattui’s words have sparked outrage amongst both wine consumers and local firefighters, who have turned to Facebook to organize themselves and voice their response.

In a letter to the editor of The American Canyon Eagle dated April 8, 2010, Sattui wrote:

Had I had any real brains, I would have become a firefighter. What a racket they have.

While I respect the work they do, and the inherent dangers, they are greatly overpaid, work only two days a week (a third of which they sleep) and get to retire at 50 years old at 90 percent of their pay after working 30 years.

But maybe getting paid 90 percent of one’s maximum pay for another 25-30 years for doing nothing isn’t so unjust as they received high salaries for working very little before they retired.

Of course, most of them supplement that high pay with second jobs to allay the boredom, as they have so much free time on their hands.

Sattui goes on to state he doen’t blame the firefighters, but rather “the politicians and the government administrators.” Regardless, local firefighters and the community are fighting back.

This weekend we were alerted to the existence of a Facebook group called “Public Safety Boycott V Sattui Winery and Castello di Amoroso“. The group, which this morning counted some 370 members, is now rapidly approaching 500 700 1,200 2,000 members as we write this.

One member, Sharon Bookmyer Marangoni posted “This is too bad……I really do like Castello di Amoroso…Oh, and I like his wine too….but I will never drink it again. I suspect he can afford to lose just one patron, but the negative advertising he is getting from this may actually hurt business.”

Meanwhile, member Robin Helmstreit wrote “Sad to read this. I used to buy cases of their Gamay for xmas gifts. No longer.”

For all the talk about how wineries can and should use social media to engage their consumers, it will be interesting to see what, if anything, happens in this case.

UPDATE (4/19/10 at 2pm PT): Dario Sattui has taken to V. Sattui’s Facebook page to issue a response to the uproar caused by his letter to the editor. For those without a Facebook account (does anyone really NOT have one at this point?), here’s his post in full:

Response from Dario Sattui

Today at 11:31am
1. Although it may not have been clear, my criticism was directed to the American Canyon City Council for they are the ones that have agreed to the salary and benefits for the firefighters that we clearly cannot afford. My beef is not with firefighters or other safety personnel, I respect and deeply appreciate their hard work, the risks that they take for all our safety, and I honor them for doing so. My concern is strictly with budgets, not with the firefighters themselves, as I indicated in my letter.

2 I was speaking strictly about American Canyon firefighters and their recent salary negotiations. American Canyon firefighters are represented by the same union that helped create the recent bankruptcy of Vallejo, the first time in California history that a city has filed for bankruptcy, and high pay/benefits for safety was a key problem that forced that bankruptcy.

3. In Vallejo many of the firefighters were making more than 200K a year, one made $357,000 annually, and the average compensation was more than $ 164,000 including incentive pay and overtime. These facts are a matter of public record. Check them out for yourselves.

This was a situation that got completely out of hand until the city went belly up. I fear that the county of Napa is heading in the same direction and that is why I felt I had to speak out as a concerned citizen. Napa cannot fix the roads, has chronically underfunded schools, has in some instances let sewage water that is not sufficiently treated spill out causing environmental damage because the county is so underfunded in its infrastructure needs that it cannot afford to fix it. Yet we have firefighters whose jobs are, according to them, identical in 90% of their duties to paramedics. But these Napa County paramedics make only about
$50,000 a year with much lower benefits. The firefighters in Napa make about 140K on average and many make much more than that. The firefighters in American Canyon can retire at 55 with 35 years of service at 105 % of their maximum annual compensation for life. When are we going to achieve some kind of balance? Again these facts are a matter of public record.

4. I wrote as a citizen of Napa to my local paper about a local issue that I am concerned about, and it has nothing to do with my wineries. I care about what happens in my home town, and I care about the fact that we have schools that have overcrowded classrooms and homeless women giving birth under bridges downtown, and yet we have this local class of workers that are clearly overpaid and getting more all the time when we can’t even fund decent social services in this town. Let’s remember too that we have other professions that work hard, are very important to society and risk their lives for much less money: soldiers, police in the inner cities, nurses working the night shift saving lives, teachers making a difference in troubled areas. And don’t forget about the many thousands of volunteer firefighters that often get nothing or very little compensation for their selfless hard work and risking their lives. All I ask is that we have balance and don’t have civic expenditures we can’t pay for.

We need to bring things back into balance. I am sorry if some of you disagree with that, but I wonder how much you really know about what is going on with the extravagant budgets in Napa County, because that is what this is about, not any place else. These are the facts. You decide if you agree with my opinions.

Dario Sattui

[techtags: Napa, Napa Valley, wine, winery, Sattui, Dario Sattui, V. Sattui Winery, Castello di Amorosa]

About the Author

has written 716 posts on The Cork Board. He was born and aged in the Napa Valley and has a passion for wine, writing and social media, which led him to co-found this blog in early 2007. Follow him on Twitter @TrevR.

  • Wine Harlots

    Wow. Yet another abject lesson in bad judgment. I was expecting the letter to be a rational discussion about wages and benefits of public servants, but instead it was an ugly disorganized rant – guess he forgot the first rule – Don’t drink and write! I can’t even offer constructive suggestions on how he can repair the damage. Perhaps moving out of the fire district would be a good start.

  • c tognozzi

    Wow! I work in the wine industry AND have three sons in the fire service. Gee Darrel,(oops, I mean “Dario”) hope they don't have to come to any emergency you ever need to call in!!

  • Really Angry in Sonoma

    Unbelievable!!! I worked for Stag's Leap Wine Cellars for over five years and never once has anyone ever made comments like this about any civil service member. My father is a retired San Francisco fireman who spent 25+ years putting his life on the line… Sometimes it is a totally thankless job, but when you save lives, it is so worth it!! Then these men and women have to endure the loss of lives when things go terribly wrong at no fault of their own. Mr. Sattui? You'd better change your tune and realize that all you have to worry about is falling into one of your wine tanks!!!

  • Christopher Williams

    Mr. Sattui is entitled to his opinion, especially when he put it together so thoughtfully and highlighted the great service that firefighters provide. Had he fully expanded his position he might have mentioned the fact that firefighters, when compared to other important professions (police officers, teachers, etc.), get paid much more, have better benefits, and can retire earlier. In a debilitated economy with so much unemployment and considering how popular of a job being a firefighter is, Mr. Sattui is right, firefighters do have it good.

    Those are all facts (I suppose some are debatable) and I say them without any anger or disdain. What I do say with some disdain that I find it to be shameful, in a time when we as a country have become so complacent and voiceless, that there are more than 1200 people boycotting someone's business just because they intelligently raised a concern in a public forum.

    By the way, because I can see that being clear is really important, I do not think that firefighters are necessarily “overpaid”, however, we need to consider that if there are tons of people willing to be firefighters for less money and we need more money for teachers and police, that perhaps we should be careful in how we allot public resources.

  • kris10gal

    Mr. Williams, can you really say that Mr, Sattui, “put it together so thoughtfully.” Really? I assume you are not in the fire business either, because you certainly do not understand that Mr. Sattui does not even have his facts right in his rant. Even in the county & city that Mr. Sattui is reffering to, they work 3 days a week, which works out to 72 hours a week. He didn't “intelligently raise a concern.” “What a racket they have,” can you really say that is intelligent? The letter is just a rant.

    What bugs me the most is when people rant about professions they are not even in. It's as if I were to go on a simple 6 paragraph rant about the wine business, as if I could even know the depth of that business. The wine business would certainly be able to judge me if I were to do that, exactly now as we will judge him for being so ignorant.

    It's by no means shameful to boycott a business, we're just turning it to some other deserving one, there are plenty in the Napa Valley to chose from. I'm not saying he's not entiled to his opinion, of course now we are entiled to ours.

  • brettboukather

    Mr. Dario Sattui in Calistoga-

    I am responding to your letter dated April 13th, 2010 that was published in several local newspapers. Your understanding and options of California’s Firefighters is grossly misinformed, distorted and down right insulting. After reviewing your letter, it was obvious to me your thoughts are based on rumors, hearsay and media sensationalism rather than real facts, figures and actual job relevance. In all fairness, I would like to address some of your raised issues in hopes of giving you a better understanding of firefighting operations, benefits received and the California Fire Service.

    Inherent Dangers- Please understand this job goes way beyond just fighting fires. On a regular weekly basis, California’s Firefighters respond to a multitude of emergency incidents including traffic collisions, hazardous materials spills, assisting law enforcement and airport crash responsibilities. They perform a variety of technical rescue calls ranging from USAR, confined space and high angle to swift water and cold winter retrievals.

    It’s important to note that over 80% of a typical California fire department’s work load is derived from emergency medical calls in the categories of Basic and Advanced Life Support. These routine emergencies expose California’s Firefighters to various dangers on a weekly basis from patients with AIDS to Hepatitis to the flu. Exposure to a patient’s blood is common along with other job hazards including gunfire, riots, physical assaults and combative patients.

    Firefighters on a national level have a job cancer rate of four times greater than the average worker. For you to claim that Firefighters “work very little”, “alley the boredom” and “have so much free time on their hands” is a broad slap in the face to these hard working Professionals.

    Work Schedule- California’s Firefighters work a 56 or 72 hour work week. Either schedule requires the employees to work atleast 3 shifts a week. Please understand that these work days comprise of full duty hours and sometimes places personnel on emergency calls during most of their shift with minimal rest. Some extended incidents like brush fires last three to seven days with Firefighters working on the line and receiving little to no sleep and minimal personal hygiene.

    To break it down even further- Working three weekly 24 hour day shift equals nine “8 hour shifts” a week with no lunch or rest breaks. The typical American Worker puts in five “8 hour shifts” a week totaling 40 hours with scheduled lunch breaks. California’s Firefighters do not get planned lunch breaks during that time and often miss meals due to emergency calls. How many 8 hour shifts would you rather put in a work week- the typical five or Firefighter nine?

    Please also understand that California’s Firefighters work away from their families on a regular basis including weekends and national holidays. Often missed are family, school and other important functions because of regular shift duty days. This is done routinely and just an accepted drawback of the job.

    Free Time- Please believe me when I tell you that Firefighters do not have as much free time on their hands as its been relayed to you. Between emergency incidents, most fire personnel deal with specialized training, commercial and residential inspections, code and law enforcement duties, public relations events coupled with extensive apparatus, equipment and station maintenance and repair.

    Retirement and Benefits- Please understand that not all Firefighters in California receive the Safety Retirement you referred to or automatically receive 90% of their base salary upon retirement. In the simplest of terms, it’s a “pay as you go” program. The more time and monthly contributions the Employee makes dictates the final outcome of their retirement pension. Very, very few Firefighters in California ever retire with a full 30 years on the job allowing them the max return on their pension investment.

    It’s also important to note how the CalPERS retirement program really works. California’s Firefighters and other civil service employees contribute to this massive pension fund on a regular monthly basis. CalPERS’s mandatory investment policy dictates that 10-12% of their investment portfolio must be invested back into the California’s local economy. This strategy insures that millions of dollars is pumped back into the state stimulating local businesses, economies and assisting private business owners to grow and thrive- people like you. Additionally, for every $2 a local CalPERS Retiree receives, $1 is invested right back into the state’s economy.

    If you are looking to blame someone for the state’s financial problems- look to Sacramento, not the state’s Firefighters. Over the last 6 years, Governor Schwarzenegger has accomplished little to nothing while in office. He lied about accepting special interest money, ran two failed special elections to the cost of over 60 million each and is now looking to legalize marijuana in a “Hail Mary” attempt to finally tie a successful accomplishment to his disappointing administration. Poor management and weak leadership is why this state is going broke, not because of our Firefighters, their salaries or work schedule.

    In closing, I doubt you will ever really volunteer to serve the public in any fire service capacity within your area. What I do recommend is that you, your employees or wineries contact your local fire department and offer to assist them with one of their many annual charity events like the “Fill the Boot” drive or the “Toys for Tots” Christmas campaign. Or you could donate to the state’s Fire Explorer Scholarship fund or even volunteer at a children’s burn camp. These charity events are what some Firefighters really accomplish during their “free time” you mentioned in your letter. For some of us, it’s about giving back to the community we live and serve in.

    I hope you now have a better understanding of your state’s Firefighters, their job and the inherent dangers associated with the profession. If needed, you are welcome to contact me anytime to further discuss the issues or any questions you may have about the California Fire Service.


    Brett Boukather
    Elk Grove, CA

  • TommyWin

    I always believed that in America, one has both the opportunity for and the right to freedom of speech. It seems now that this is true only for those who hide behind a “Facebook” page and most certainly not for Dario Sattui who openly (albeit misguided and woefully misinformed) wrote a letter to the editor proselytizing against pay and pension plans approved by local politicians for Firefighters in American Canyon.

    Judging from the comments on a then hastily created ‘We hate Sattui now and forever and we are going to picket your business and shut you down to shut you up boycott page’, it appears that now in America, in order to voice an opinion, you must first have the approval of those who “live” in Cyberspace; the faceless, the followers, the ones who are paid to “overthrow” those outside their cause célèbre or who oppose their personal interests.

    This country provides for each of us to be able to state our opinions, however unpopular they may be to some. But when the “some,” clearly at risk of becoming exposed, and under the shield of cyberspace, twist said opinion into a gross misrepresentation in order to obfuscate the intent and divert attention to their own cause, have we not then created a new type of strong-arming, maybe cyber-gangsterism?

    Clearly, the comments on “Facebook” are mostly from those in law enforcement; those who have taken an oath”to protect and to serve”. Although Mr. Sattui was careless and ignorant in his opening remarks, curiously, the responses are contradictory to the oath for they overtly and covertly seek to bully, to insult, to browbeat, to intimidate, to threaten, to harm, to picket, and to humiliate Mr. Sattui for his personal sentiments.

    And one has to ask the question, why? Is the pay and benefit issue that Mr. Sattui questioned hit too close to home? Is there more to the question about overtime pay, about pension pay; about nepotism and paid vacation/sick leave? Is this only the tip of the proverbial iceberg?

    Sadly, and yet most gratefully, ours is a nation of heroes. They are the Firefighter who risked his/her life at 9/11, they are the Police who saved the child from burning wreckage, they are the EMT who gave life-saving breath to the heart attack victim. But, they are also the Soldier who braves gunfire 24/7 in a war zone; they are also the Teacher who daily strives to educate in public schools; they are also the Coal Miner who works in a three foot square “office” to bring warmth and fuel to our country.

    In today’s economic climate, we must not only take a long hard look at payrolls, administration and services, but we must also act responsibly; from the Politician, to the Firefighter, to the Coal Miner. One in 10 Americans still cannot find work. Many businesses have shuttered. Immediate and aggressive action to ameliorate the financial meltdown in our cities must become the norm. Among other considerations, this means bringing payrolls for Firefighters and Law Enforcement into alignment.

    Firefighters, heroes; you do yourselves a terrible injustice responding as you have. Your unqualified declarations, your overt threats for all the world to see, your data mining for anything remotely related along with your humiliation tactics serve only to show a side of you that is the worst in humanity; ignorance and intolerance. Now you are no better than Mr. Sattui.

  • Jim

    As always people are rather narrow minded, not purchasing his wine because of some facts and opions stated, my god. Again like 9/11 people listening to feelings rather than their heads. Idiots. Be nice if Facebook was banned here like in China.

  • concerned

    Look further into your stats Satui instead of just looking at the numbers. Vallejo was a thriving city untill Mare Island closed in 1996. The city did not go belly up because of public safety, but because of poor planning by the city officials.

    You don't see on the salary sheet that those firefighters were forced to be there on overtime without an option of going home. Short staffing on the cities part created overtime in order to save money in the short term by not hiring and paying for a new recruit, benefits, etc.

    Yes, you are correct that a ambulance paramedic makes less than a firefighter paramedic in the bay area. That is because a firefighter paramedic is trained and maintains skills in vehicle extrication, hazardous materials, rescue, wildland firefighting, opperating apparatus, prevention, public education, paramedicine, and finally… firefighting- which includes building construction, fire behavior, ropes, ladders, hose, forcible entry, water supply, and entering a burning building. It's actually 80% of calls are medical. On those other 20% would you like a person with only the skills of a paramedic showing up? You are comparing apples to oranges.

    Mr. Sattui, if you put your life at risk every time you went to work; what kind of pension would you like?

  • keepthefocus

    The bottom line isn't the example of who gets paid what rate but the fact we need to bring balance.
    One thought; Our kids fail to recieve the attention they need to grow and be a productive part of the future when budget loads place too little in our school and and too much on our teachers.
    Balance is the main message here, not the fire fighters. Sorry so many choose to waste so much energy not looking at what Mr. Sattui stated.

    We all must agree that balance is needed and who will step up and do their part to bring this about.

    Balance the scales. God help us all to have the right approaching and quit wasting this time.

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