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Unsung Heroes of the Wine Country

Unheralded contributors to their communities — Sam Sebastiani

You never know what you'll find on Wine Trails.
While doing our first article on Westside Road we found our first hero, Dr. Martin Griffin at Hop Kiln Winery, who was quick to list many other heroes starting with Sam Sebastiani at Viansa Winery & Italian Marketplace, 800-995-4740 or e-mail
I was surprised and delighted to receive a call from them the very next day. I was soon in possession of the beautiful book "The Winemaker's Marsh," about the restoration of the Viansa Wetlands, authored by Kenneth Brower, and off on a most enjoyable and educational hike around Sam's Marsh.
Founded in 1989 by Sam and Vicki Sebastiani with a vision to become a Taste of Tuscany in California Wine Country, Viansa Winery & Italian Marketplace is now America's premier producer of Italian varietal wines. Their limited production is not available in stores or restaurants.
Viansa is a unique destination winery. Their Tuscan Italian Villa located within an olive grove atop a hill in Southern Sonoma Valley overlooks the Viansa waterfowl preserve and vineyards. There are stunning views in every direction so bring a camera! Visit the's Carneros page for pictures of Viansa.
Since restoring the 91 acres of fossilized marshland adjacent to the northern shores of San Pablo Bay, bird species have increased in numbers from 37 to 154, with over 13,000 birds feeding and re-fueling each day during peak migratory periods.
What's a marsh? It's kind of the cornerstone for a local ecology. I love the analogy that's made in "The Winemaker's Marsh" about picking the whole thing up and shaking out the many residents who find refuge in it. You'll be amazed at the diversity of species that make their home in this special habitat, and their list is far from complete.
Ducks Unlimited and others found this project of Sam Sebastiani's too good to be true. But the locals saw it another way. Such is the nature of battles worth fighting and, sadly, not often won. This book provides another saga of "Unsung Heroes of the Wine Country" and of Sam Sebastiani's success.
Down the hill from the magnificence of Sam's Viansa Winery & Italian Marketplace you'll find yourself in a different world. There's nothing fancy here, just Mother Nature.
Sam's son Joe, who's in charge of the grounds at the winery, has become a local Mrs. Terwilliger. School kids and visitors marvel at the walks he conducts around the levee where he describes the wild animal tracks and the many birds, fish and plants that find their seasonal homes here.
It's a long hike, about 2-3 miles, and many a small hiker has finished the long walk riding piggyback on this big man's back.
Up close and personal, the marsh has a life of it's own that's hard to ignore. The magnificent hills to the west soon loose their significance as the marvels of these wetlands unfolds.
A clap of Joe's hands sends hundreds of birds to the air in awe-inspiring flight. Not a single track along the levee is missed. "Look, here's the foot prints of a coyote right next to a deer," says Joe, "and here's our dog checking them both out."
Each spring, wildflowers chase receding water down the banks of the levee, providing an ever-changing collage of colors and perfumes.
Sam's marsh is simply magic!
Kenneth Brower's inspiring prose and the magnificent photography of Michael Sewell make "The Winemaker’s Marsh" about Sam Sebastiani's marsh a must read and a tabletop book you should own.
This wonderful book is available at Sam's gorgeous Viansa Winery and Italian Market Place, on his web site, or check with your local bookstore for "The Winemaker's Marsh," ISBN 1-57805-058-8, published by Sierra Club Books in conjunction with Crown Publishers, New York, N.Y.
Cheers (for this unsung hero),
Peter Forbes Crossman


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