Napa winery plays with fire in criticizing fire fighters

April 19, 2010

Dario Sattui

In a reminder as to why many people prefer to remain anonymous in posting comments, particularly those criticizing public servants, a Napa Valley winery has become the target of an intense boycott by local fire fighters–over a Letter to the Editor. [Watch on Sonoma County]

The letter, written by Dario Sattui, owner of  V. Sattui Winery, criticized the wage and benefits package of North Bay firefighters. Published in the St. Helena Star, Sattui’s letter argued, “While I respect the work they do and the inherent dangers, they are greatly overpaid, work only two days a week (a third of which they sleep) and get to retire at 50 years old at 90 percent of their pay after working 30 years.”

Reaction was swift to the April 9th letter. The political director for the Santa Rosa fire fighters union spread the word on Facebook and Twitter, resulting in an avalanche of negative comments being posted on the winery’s Facebook page.

The social networks were also used to call for a boycott of the St. Helena winery. One Facebook page supporting a boycott, set up by a Ukiah paramedic, quickly boasted more than 800 fans.

“I only hope that when your winery is burning down, no fire fighters come to help your business,” one post read. “I hope your business rots in hell in this economy.”

A different Facebook page, entitled “V Sattui Wine Tastes Like Raw Sewage” suggested the winery was engaged in “strange labor practices.”

“Public Safety people who want to stay healthy, and their supporters, should probably avoid V. Sattui wines to avoid gagging as they drink,” suggested another post.

Another post, made by the vice-president of the Santa Rosa Police Officers’ Association, featured a photo of the vintner with the caption, “Our hero…should anyone get flagged down by him or see him choking in a restaurant.”

The photo and caption were abruptly taken down.



  1. womanwhohasbeenthere says:

    This wine maker did nothing wrong yet he is being targeted by the unions – public employee unions no less – for speaking the truth about wages and benefits. My late husband always said, “The truth is a defense.” I don’t know why he doesn’t sue for slander the individuals who posted these awful comments.

  2. Lilylu says:

    Firefighters should work shifts like nurses. Three 12 hr shifts per week. When they are working, they should be WORKING not sleeping, not watching TV, not playing cards. There must be something they can be doing that is productive while waiting for a call to come in. LIVING at the fire station for 48 hrs is ridiculous. Yes, I have great respect for the job that firefighters do, and yes I would be most grateful for them putting out a fire in my home, but that is their JOB. They choose to do it and should be compensated for their time WORKING like the rest of us.

    Their treatment of Mr. Sattui for stating his opinion, is reprehensible and absolutely unprofessional. I think I’ll go look for and buy some of his wine!

    • Cindy says:

      Lilylu, That is exactly what I did to show how I feel about the FF and their union boycott. I went on line and purchased some wine from Saturri Winery, I even told them what prompted me to patronize them.
      I would say that I hope the citizens of Santa Rosa approach their city council and demand that they hace the city manager call the Police Chief and the Fire Chief on the carpet and tell them to get their employees in line. Two of the main ring leaders were:
      Brad Conners , VP of the Santa Rosa Police Officers Association
      Tim Aboudaia of the Santa Rosa Fire Department

    • getoverit says:

      lilylu…..firefighters don’t just sit arounf waiting for a fire. My God, educate yourself.

      • Nancy says:

        Getoverit, I know that the fire fighters who are paramedics also go out on emergency calls as first respondents. They don’t usually have to stay long because the ambulance crew shows up and takes over. We know weeks pass without a fire being reported , what is the average of emergency calls that you go out on in a week? My guess is that at least 70% of your time on the payroll is down time.

        • getoverit says:

          Nancy…..I am not a firefighter…my brother is.

          This is what kills me….it is so sad that you don’t understand what your fire department does. It really is a shame and I hope someday you and other like you have the opportunitty to find out.

          Here we go……when you call 911 in the city of SLO, you will get a SLO City Fire Department crew of 3 or 4 people depending on what station is responding. There will be AT LEAST one paramedic on that crew. They will be at the incident within 4 minutes or less. San Luis Ambulance is a private company who contracts with the city to provide medical aid and transport. The ambulance almost ALWAYS shows up at the scence after the fire department arrives. There are times when the ambulance has taken 15 minutes and this is becuase there are only so many ambulances dedicated to the city of SLO at any given time. Your ambulance could actually be coming from Atascadero if the other ambulances are busy. It happens.

          The ambulance crew does not “take over”. The fist paramedic on scence (fire dept. medic) is the one in charge. He stays with his patient and rides in to the hospital in the ambulance to take care of that patient until they are dropped off. The fire truck follows the ambulance to the hospital to pick up the fire medic.

          About 80% of the fire departments calls are medical. A medical can consist of a heat attack or an old guy falling out of bed at a convelesent home who needs to be put back in bed because the nurses can do it. SLOFD has some of the very best paramedics you will find.

          There are multiple medical calls everyday for each station.

          For you to think that all these guys do is sit around and wait for a fire is insulting to me and I don’t even work there.

          What can I do to help you understand?

          • mkaney says:

            getoverit, I think that the problem is that you are a true believer, instead of being rational on this issue Before you get all upset, let me explain. You are not addressing the points made, you are instead bringing up other arguments that do not dispute the statements. For example, Nancy stated “My guess is that at least 70% of your time on the payroll is down time.” Now, in your whole statement, you did not once address that point, or dispute it with any facts. The closest you came was “There are multiple medical calls everyday for each station.” Your comment does not state how much time these multiple calls take up on a shift. Many of us have observed firemen on these calls, and the fact is that a lot of time is spent standing around doing very little. And *generally* speaking, riding with a patient is not hard work that justifies the salaries.

            When someone is a “true believer,” they support something because of intuition, tradition, or allegiance. For example, you admire your brother and in no way thinks that he doesn’t work hard. No one is suggesting you shouldn’t admire him. And I’m sure it seems like his pay is reasonable. But facts are facts. What you don’t seem to understand is that many of us bust our *ss every day for long hours to earn the money that we do, and we are constantly subject to changes in the market, businesses failing, people not paying their bills, and after everything, we often still have little put aside for retirement. As long as people choose to follow allegiances rather than look at things objectively, then we will continue to spiral downwards until we are flat broke.

            • getoverit says:

              mkaney…..I get your point but I still don’t think you quite get mine. Yes, I am a believer in my brother and the hard work he does. I am not in any way ignorant to the fact that some days and nights the job is easier than others. There is no way 70% of his time is “down time”. When firefighters are on a call, each of them has a specific job. Now wether you think they are doing it or not is your problem because you actually wouldn’t know what that job is becuase you are not a firefighter, paramedic, engineer or a captain.
              The don’t just ride with the patient to the hospital (sorry, I should have been more clear)….they ride with thier patient to the hospital to sustain thier LIFE until they are turned over to the doctor at the ER. Their job is to get the patient to the ER alive.

              Firefighters jobs are always the same no matter how the market is, no matter how many bussinesses fail or succeed and if people pay thier bills or not. When your business is slow, that doesn’t mean the 911 calls decrease.

              The reason I think the pay is reasonable is because of the level of servicethey provide, the skills they posess and the risk of the job. I actually live outside the city limits so I do not even get a paramedic if I were to call 911 because it would be CalFire responding. I would have to wait for the paramedic on the ambulance to arrive which would be several miles away.

              It just is disheartening to me when I hear peple talk about these guys like they don’t do anything and just sit around waiting to collect a paycheck. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. Their days at work are filled with training, public education, inspections, station and apparatus maintenance and let’ s not forget all the thousands of dollars they raise on their time off for various charities. They even donate thousands of dollars of thier union dues each year to local kids and families in need. They head up many fundraisers in which they keep NONE of they money.

              I understand you work your *ss off everyday at your job. So do I. But so do the firefighters. In your profession I am sure you have had several great years where you were making a lot of money….Kaney Foods right? When the economy turns around in a few years I am sure you will be right back where you were.

              If people want to argue wages, fine, we can do that all day. But I can’t stand it when people have such resentment toward firefighters for what they perceive is going on at the firehouse and during calls…it’s a lack of knowledge and understanding of the job and what it entails.

    • glowtini says:

      I agree with Dario Sattui. Not only do they have significant off time, many have a side or second business. Apparently their firefighter salary is not high enough. I will be joining the V. Sattui Winery club to show MY SUPPORT!

  3. Dave says:

    This was sent to me by a radio listener tonight. I post it here merely to demonstrate the passion some folks feel on this issue.


    1. The Pubic Believes the Profession is Inherently “Dangerous” – The fact is, however, some firemen never even see a live fire, but rather cart around senior citizens and illegal immigrants that call 911 for a paramedic. Rather than receiving an ambulance, however, an entire fire truck arrives equipped with the latest gadgets and numerous firemen who stand around and watch the spectacle. Firemen are also not listed on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics top ten most dangerous professions. Nevertheless, they boast to the public about how dangerous their profession is, and how such justifies their outrageous pay. Ironically, those employees in the top ten are silent concerning the hazards of their profession, notwithstanding their significantly lower pay. Sounds like “hero lobbying.”

    2. Only High School Diploma’s Need Apply- Unlike other professions that require years of foregone income and student loans (e.g., professor, dentist, lawyer, doctor, etc.) becoming a firefighter has very generous admission standards only requiring a high school diploma, and the prerequisite young age of 18. See e.g.,

    3. The Pay that Keeps on Giving – Setting aside the fact that you only work 15 days per month, get paid while you sleep, hang out with your buddies and watch porn at the fire station, the pay is outstanding! When you include overtime pay such is often in excess of $200,000. This is not to mention your generous “defined benefit” plan. Most of us in the private industry do not even know what such is. In fact, their pay has been increasing even in light of the current California budget crisis. But they are heros and therefore they deserve such extravagant pay – what a minute, is that what it takes to be a hero, excessive pay? Some make more than the base pay of the president of the United States! See e.g.,

    4. Don’t Worry About Uncle Sam – Many firemen are completely exempt from social security and medicare taxation because they have their own “qualifying public retirement systems” and “voluntary agreements“ between the state and the social security administration. They may also be exempt from federal and state taxation if they obtain “line-of-duty pay.” How is that for doing your part as an American. Do our soldiers get the same treatment for their line of duty?,,id=111350,00.html

    5. Time to Get the Golf Clubs Out – With all of your days off (every month), you will have lots of time for numerous rounds of golf. Case in point, one FDNY firefighter was known for playing 50 rounds of golf in one year. Maybe that is how the disability occurred.

    6. Union Protection from Salary from Disclosure – If the salary is justified why do they not want us to know about it? As a member of the union, you can rest assured they will fight the pubic disclosure of your salary and overtime pay all the way to the Supreme Court of California. I thought the public paid their salaries?

    7. Claim a “Disability” Enhance your Pension, Retire Early and Get a Second Job – This is the typical path of a firefighter. You claim a “disability” by setting the stage with your dangerous profession/hero status and then you retire early at 50, enhance your pension and find a second job.

    8. Why go to School and Earn Far Less. – Need I say more, notice the average salary for post-secondary teachers (with far more than a high school diploma) who earn on average $58,830. Private ambulance drivers conducing a substantially similar service earn a median wage of $30,000.

    9. You are Immune from Budget Cuts – Each time a budget cut occurs in California, “emergency service personnel” are exempt from budget cuts and furloughs. It is your essential status.

    10. Good Old Boys Club Membership – If you are a minority and are not part of the circle of nepotism you need not apply, as these magnificent benefits are not leaving the “family business.”

    • jdinag says:

      Impressive posting, someone has done some research ! I think Dave found out what type of “firestorm” you can set off a few weeks back by asking a simple question such as “… why do they roll a fire engine on a medical call ?……” I think we found out by the response he ( and his wife ) got, and by Mr. Sattui’s story, that you don’t mess around with firefighters ! They are a very tight brotherhood, deeply rooted in tradition, with a very strong union that is very protective of their jobs and each other. It’s no wonder that when an opening comes up for a firefighter position that people camp out for the job. Maybe when Dave has the local Chief on as a guest he could ask him why they roll a fire truck on a medical call. He could also ask him :
      – “Didn’t you already serve in another department and retire ? What is the pension you retired with and what is your current salary as Chief ? ”
      – “Why isn’t a fire station staffed with three eight hour shifts like a police station ? Wouldn’t we save a lot of money if we didn’t have to build new fire stations with bunk rooms, day rooms and high end kitchens ? ”
      Keep up the good work Cal Coast News……

    • rferris says:

      GREAT!!!! This is one of the best posts I have seen in a while. Reading the posts from firemen and their benefactors makes you think that firemen think they are the only ones with important or lifesaving jobs. Not the case. They are the ones that scam off their brother firefighters who do work in dangerous areas and who frequently risk their lives. Does any reasonable person feel SLO or NAPA firefighters face the dangers of Long Beach , City of industry or any major U.S. city???? They base their pay on such comparisons when their jobs offer little of the same dangers. When SLO sprinkled the entire downtown we did not reduce the fire department by a single employee, YET the fire danger they are here to defend against was just reduced by 50% or more….. What other group is so pampered that a 50%reduction in responsibility results in no reduction in costs. We have a GREAT fire department, but that does not mean that they are not over compensated. Bringing up that they duplicate the work of ambulance service certainly does not attest to the danger of their jobs. UNFAIR is UNFAIR and fire departments in many cities take total advantage of the citizens they are there to protect.
      If this was not so , getting a job with the fire department would not look so much like winning the lottery.

    • mkaney says:

      Dave that was a fantastic post. Clearly their are many true believers out patrolling the media though, I can’t imagine any other reason that someone would have the nerve to vote thumbs down on such a well researched and well documented post, even if they don’t agree. Logic and reason have a tough battle ahead against perception and belief.

    • getoverit says:

      Hey Dave,

      Did you just post comments from a guy that is accusing firefighters of watching porn at the fire station?

      Wow, I am suprised no one is all over you for slander.

  4. SLOrat says:

    Dario Sattui is a SJS classmate of mine and was required—after nearly 14 years of construction was almost completed—to spend $1 million to sprinkle the interior of his medieval Tuscan castle “Castello di Amorosa”.

    Sattui is a self-made man, working his way through SJS. After earning his masters (How to start a winery without any capital) in business at Cal, Sattui worked in all phases of winemaking before opening up a small cheese shop and picnic ground in St. Helena in the early 1970s.

    Thought you’d enjoy reading the comments from this Napa wine blog.

    Sattui was just down here in March buying grapes from Lucas & Lewelling and Bien Nacido in Santa Ynez Valley…spending the night with one of his wine makers at the Spyglass Inn in Shell Beach and having dinner at the Custom House in Avila.

    If you don’t think generous public employee benefits are killing city budgets, you missed the McClatchy Newspapers’ story that ran a week or two ago in the Tribune on Costa Costa County firefighters retiring at 50 with over $200,000 annually.

    • getoverit says:

      SLORat…..Sounds like Mr. Sattui had a nice little va-cay when he came down here…must be nice.

      By the way, the Contra Costa County guys retiring at over 200K were cheifs and admin…..not the union firefighters.

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