Born on September 9th, 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 1900’s.
As a child he 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 coreman, tending to the sick and injured overseas and on board naval ships. As a coreman 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 CB’s – 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 where he first met Helen Long. Attending similar classes Helen had hopes of becoming a pharmacists– a field that was dominated by men during those days. 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 dentist 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 once owning his own ranch. Hearing through the grapevine of some land for sale Charles and Helen made the drive out Westside Road and soon purchased a small plot of land, 121 acres to be exact with a quaint house 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 dentist 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. During his visits and taking the family in for regular check-ups they got to talking about vineyards. 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, another patient of his 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. Charles crewed on several boat races to
American Somoa, Hawaii, Tahiti and was also an accomplished chef. He enjoyed
cruising his own sail boat; Keywadin around Vancouver Island with his family during the summer months.
A self taught grower he learned everything about vineyards from experience, trail and error. Over the past 50+ years Charles developed a reputation in the business of being a 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 80’s 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.