Napa Valley AVA
95 Points Connoisseurs' Guide, 92 Points, California Grapevine
The road that Italian-born Gianni Paoletti traveled to reach the lofty confines of Napa Valley winery stardom is strikingly different from many other successful Napa proprietors. For Paoletti, it was simply following the true course of his life and career. Born in Venice, the now 69-year young Paoletti began cooking when he was seventeen. He was sent to Italy’s noted Rivera cooking school in Rapallo. His success took him to London and Germany.
In early 1964, Hollywood beckoned Paoletti to come---to cook. He worked at a number of successful restaurants including, The Maples, which was home to many movie stars and producers. In 1972, along with a partner, he opened his first restaurant, Valentino, to excellent reviews. Two years later, he sold out in order to open his own place in Brentwood, which he named Peppone. Peppone was an instant success and still enjoys near legendary crowds every day it is open.
“I still work each day I am in Los Angeles, from around nine in the morning to almost midnight,” Paoletti proudly admitted. “It’s the only way I know how to do it. My restaurant is noted for its specialized cooking. I will make any dish my customers desire, provided I can get the right ingredients.”
Paoletti’s introduction to wines traces as far back as his stint at the cooking school in Italy, where he was taught the simple axiom that food and wine naturally go together. He began collecting wines for his restaurant as soon as it opened and today boasts of more than 1200 selections on his award-winning wine list.
“I know enough to buy correctly and in sufficient quantity to get the best prices,” he added. “I am able to pass on these savings to my customers at prices that are sometimes below the wholesale price.” He is also proud of the fact that he trains each of his employees from the beginning of their employment and hires no outside help. He also promotes exclusively from within his employee base. During the 1970’s, Paoletti began traveling to Napa Valley and fell in love with the ambiance and overt simplicity of the area. In 1989, he bought his first property on which today’s modern winery and his personal home are located. Along the way, he continued to acquire vineyards and now owns some 36 acres of producing vineyards.
He sells about 80% of what he produces and keeps the remaining grapes for his heralded Gianni Paoletti Winery. His first release came in 1994, when Paoletti produced around 1800 cases. The winery has not grown a great deal since then and today produces around 3500 cases annually.
“I want to remain at this level,” Paoletti remarked. “At this point the winery is a hobby instead of a nightmare. Competition from abroad has made the wine business much more difficult of late. I know of a number of owners who are going broke in the wine industry, since the market for expensive wines seems to be shrinking. I can always make more, if the occasion calls for it.”
Gianni and his wife, Lilia, have invested heavily in the Napa winery. The Paoletti Winery is completely state-of-the-art as is the extensive cave system that houses numerous Italian sculptures and art treasures. Lilia Paoletti serves as the operational and administrative manager of the winery that is open by appointment only. Gianni Paoletti is happy to compare his wines to many other Napa Valley wines that are far pricier and employs the same pricing philosophy to the wine pricing in his restaurant.
“Why should the consumer have to pay hundreds for a wine when I can produce and sell at a reasonable profit for much less?” he asked. “I want my customer to be satisfied with what they are getting.”
Since his wines have garnered incredible accolades and awards since the inception of Gianni Paoletti Winery, writers and competition judges seem to agree. Paoletti is also unwilling to rest on his laurels and continues to seek improvement for his limited array of wines. At 69, many of us have already retired and sought rest and relaxation in our advancing years. Not so for Gianni Paoletti, who still works laborious hours each day at his beloved restaurant.
“I will probably keep working until I die,” he recently vowed. “I just can’t think of doing it any other way.”