Hank Donatoni celebrated his 50th crush of wine grapes in October 2018 in Paso Robles. Friends and Wine Club Members gathered at his Donatoni Winery on both Saturday and Sunday, November 3rd and 4th to reminisce and taste a variety of wines. The Vertical Blend of Richard Sauret’s Zinfandel was by far the favorite, completely sold out by Saturday afternoon.
Hank, a United Airlines pilot, purchased a home in Topanga Canyon just north of Santa Monica in 1968. It contained a small vineyard, 150 vines, planted by the former owner. Half were planted in Zinfandel and the rest, Grenache. Hank harvested 250 pounds of grapes in the first 1968 harvest and made 16 gallons of wine. His family came from a small village in Northern Italy and loved the Italian wines made in the old-world style. Hank found his passion.
A group called the Cellars Club formed in 1973 to study home winemaking techniques and to critique each member’s vino. Speakers were brought in to judge those wines each month, including the Duke of Bourbon, David Breitstein, owner of the first wine shop in the San Fernando Valley to sell fine quality California wines. The local chapter met monthly in the San Fernando Valley with winemakers and other experts, but members also traveled to UC Davis for seminars with viticulturalists and professors. Members often harvested and purchased their grapes in SLO County from the vineyards of Mel Casteel and other local vineyards. The Cellars Club has shaped wine history, more than 50 members went on to start their own wineries.
Jim Ahern founded the Ahern Winery in the Roydon Industrial Complex in San Fernando, the only winery in the San Fernando Valley in the late 1970s. Pat and Marty Wheeler founded Tobias which is known today as Peachy Canyon, and Pat Mastan founded Mastantuono in Templeton, SLO County. Donati Winery now owns the property. Hank was the fourth member of the Cellars Club to establish his own winery in 1979. Hank, who was president of Cellar Masters at the time, found a strip of Los Angeles County land near the LAX runway he often landed on and leased a building to house Donatoni Winery. He could walk from the United Airlines parking lot to the winery, six blocks away.
In 1979 Hank contracted for 10 tons of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. He was waiting for his license to be approved to make wine at his new winery when the grapes were ready to be harvested. He called his old friend Stefano Riboli, owner of the San Antonio Winery near the Los Angeles City Hall, to ask if he could press his grapes and make his wine at San Antonio Winery. Stefano handed him the keys to the San Antonio Winery and told him to make his wine at night in the cellar of the winery. There was no wine press, so Hank borrowed an early 20th-century wooden press from the Festa family who grew grapes and made wine in the city of San Fernando in the early 20th century. It took two men to operate the crusher and press the grapes. Stefano lent Hank a tank to ferment his wine. Three months later Hank had his license, and the following fall, Hank was crushing his grapes near the sidewalks of La Cienega Boulevard.
He purchased ten acres of land in 2000 after a 20-year search for the perfect place. He built his winery in the Willow Creek District north of California Highway 46 West in 2003.
Hank is celebrating his 50th Crush and The San Antonio Winery is celebrating 100 years in business since its founding in Los Angeles.