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A Life Worth Living - Charles Bacigalupi 1924-2013

November 04, 2013


Russian River Valley, CA, November 1, 2013 — The tight knit community of the Russian River Valley mourns the loss of a great friend and winegrower, Charles Bacigalupi.

Born on September 9, 1924, Charles Bacigalupi grew up on a quiet street in the suburbs of Santa Rosa, California. His mother, Olive Gaddini (Olie) was a homemaker and artist. His father, Albert Bacigalupi ran the local market named after the family, Bacigalupi Market, first established by his father Natale in the early 1900s.

As a child, Charles attended the local schools all the way up to the Santa Rosa Junior College. His education plans were abruptly interrupted when he was drafted for WWII at the age of 18. He joined the navy and became a core man. He was assigned the duty of a dental assistant, which helped to first spark his interest in the field of dentistry. He later joined the CBs – a sub-section of the navy – and helped build airstrips in the Pacific. After the war ended, Charles returned home and finished his pre-requisites at the SRJC. It was in his final year at school that he first met Helen Long.

Both Charles and Helen attended UCSF, living in San Francisco while finishing their degrees. Their relationship progressed and soon after they graduated in 1952 they were married. Coming back to Sonoma County they decided to settle in Healdsburg, a place that Charles had said he always wanted to live. He started his dental practice and soon acquired a list of devoted patients. He would practice dentistry in Healdsburg for the next 39 years.

Always possessing a love of the land, Charles had dreamed of owning his own ranch. Hearing through the grapevine of some land for sale, Charles and Helen made the drive out Westside Road and purchased 121 acres in 1956. The land was mostly planted with prunes, cherries, and apples with a few acres of grapes: Golden Chaslis, Mission and Zinfandel. At the time, neither knew much about vineyards and grapes, but had a natural green thumb and enjoyed working outside. Through his dental practice Charles got to know many of the local grape growers, including one in particular - Paul Heck and his family. Paul and his brother Adolf had recently acquired Korbel Champagne Cellars in Guerneville. Paul advised Charles to plant Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. “It’s cooler over there in the valley, near the river,” he said. Charles also heeded the advice of Bob Sission who, at the time, was the farm advisor for UC Davis. “Don’t they grow those over there in France?” Charles asked, having to write the names down to keep from forgetting them. Eventually he was able to obtain Pinot Noir and Chardonnay budwood from Karl Wente coming from France via the family’s old vineyard in Livermore. Charles planted the budwood on the family’s home ranch in 1964.

When he was not working with patients or in the vineyard, Charles could be found on the open water. An avid sailor, he began sailing as a young child in Bodega Bay, continuing his love of the ocean while he was in the navy and even racing in the San Francisco Bay. Charles had many accomplishments, both on the water and on land. He was an Eagle Scout and graduate of the Sea Scouts, member of the St. Francis Yacht Club and Cruising Club of America.

A self- taught grower, he learned everything about vineyards from experience, trial and error. Over the past 50 years, Charles developed a reputation for being an honest, hardworking man, always with a smile on his face. Grapes from the Bacigalupi vineyard are sold to countless wineries, from the big guys to the home winemakers, right across the street and across country. The family is most noted to have sourced Chardonnay grapes to the 1973 Chateau Montelena which won the famed Paris Tasting in 1976.

Even in his late 80s Charles could be found in the vineyards on the tractor disking the soil or out in his garden picking vegetables. “It’s what keeps me young,” he would tell people when asked why he was still not fully retired. “We’re so lucky to live here, I want to spend as much time out in the vineyards as I can.”

Recently Charles and Helen were honored by the Healdsburg Library and Historical Museum at their 15th Annual Pioneer Award Dinner. In addition, the Sonoma County Wine library recorded and printed their oral history.

We will miss your great sense of humor and gentle smile.

Charles is survived by his wife Helen Bacigalupi, son John Bacigalupi, granddaughters Katharine Row Bacigalupi and Nicole Derrico Bacigalupi. There will be a private service.

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