August Sebastiani wore bib overalls, a wide-brimmed hat and horn-rimmed glasses, presenting himself as a simple Sonoma farmer with none of the gloss of his Napa neighbors. In reality, Sebastiani was a shrewd businessman, who took the winery his father left him and built it into America's seventh largest.
August's father, Samuele, immigrated to America from Tuscany in 1895. In 1904, he made his first wine, selling it from the back of a wagon. Born in 1914, August grew up watching his father survive Prohibition by selling sacramental wine. When August took over in 1944, Sebastiani was shipping tanker cars filled with wine to eastern cities to be bottled by grocers.
August was tireless and smart, expanding Sebastiani by buying grapes from Sonoma and throughout California. As Americans began drinking varietal wines, he started selling Merlot and Cabernet in 1.5L jugs. He was also an innovator, experimenting with "Nouveau Beaujolais," Pinot Noir blanc and dessert-style wines.
August died in 1980, leaving Sylvia, his wife of 40-plus years, and his three children a thriving business of 4 million cases a year. He navigated the adolescence of American wine from bulk wines to bottle and put Sonoma County on the wine map.