Nichelini Family Winery

As one of the oldest and most iconic wineries in Napa Valley, Nichelini Family Winery offers a variety of high quality wines crafted under the experienced hand of winemaker Aimée Sunseri, the seventh-generation descendant of founders Anton and Caterina Nichelini. The family’s longevity in the county has earned them a listing on the National Register of Historic Places and even more recognition for their 1886 Homestead Cabin, which is believed to be the only one of its kind remaining in Napa County and was recently added to the “10 Treasures” list by the Napa Valley Historical Society. Though production is small-scale at just 2500 cases annually, it allows for excellence in all their products, ensuring guests receive an unforgettable experience that has become synonymous with this beloved winery.

Nichelini Introduces the Roman Press

In 1884, Anton Nichelini became the first settler from Switzerland to put down roots in Napa County. Nichelini started planting fruits, olive, and grapes. He then started building a winery, pressing his grapes with a Roman press.

In 1890, he met Caterina, also from Switzerland, and they fell in love and got married. He finished his cabin of seven bedrooms by 1895. They had 12 children.

The winery planted Zinfandel grapes in 1928.

Between 1934 and 1945, the company expanded and worked hard to get its wine into the main eateries of the surrounding regions. From 1946 to 1959, there was a huge demand for white wines, and the family continued to add new wine varieties like the Nichelini Sauvignon Vert to meet the demands of the market. Grapes originally planted 1946 are still fruiting today[1].

Nichelini Family Winery
Nichelini Family House

Prohibition and Bootlegging

Despite the closure of the Nichelini Winery during Prohibition, it was famously well-known in the area as a source of bootleg wine, even going so far as to supply the governor’s own household with the beverage. In 1920 Clifford Clark wrote a letter to the sheriff in regard to rowdy drunken behavior in Monticello that referenced the famous winery. 

Despite a warning fine issued a few years later, Anton Nichelini was eventually arrested in 1924. However, this did not stop the family from continuing to discretely supply local miners and Bay Area citizens access to wine, often hidden under the guise of sacramental wine deliveries. These highly sought-after beverages solidified Nichelini Winery’s reputation as both successful and daring, even when placed against difficult odds such as those posed by Prohibition.

Anton Nichelini’s dream of owning and operating a winery was realized when his son William Nichelini re-opened the family winery following the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933. The family tradition has been continued by Anton and William’s successive descendants, including James Nichelini, Jo-Ann Nichelini (Meyer), Gregory Boeger, Justin Boeger, and Aimée Sunseri. 

Did you know? Aimée Sunseri not only has preserved the family’s reputation for quality wines but also has developed an impressive individual reputation herself having been named Woman Winemaker of the Year at the 2017 International Women’s Wine Competition, continuing her ancestors’ legacy.

In 1960, the winery underwent a refurbishment of all the old machinery and facilities. They even did away with some “overdone” wine varieties. Their leading wines became Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Syrah, Muscadelle, and Zinfandel.

In 1991, the Nichelini Zinfandel won a double gold award at the California State Fair. The judges said it was the best Zinfandel in the valley[2].

This property has broken the Napa Valley record as a winery spending the longest time (130 years) in the hands of the same family. This heritage is reflected in their “Generation to Generation” slogan. In 2009, Aimee Sunseri, a 5th generation family member, became the primary winemaker.

Nichelini is a household name and exports its wine to many markets. They also have events, a wine club, an online shop, and offer tastings to the public. Their wines are 19 Petite Sirah, Anton Reserve Lot 18, Roman Press Red Lot 19, 19 Sparkling Wine, and the 19 Primitivo Reserve.

Andre Tchelistcheff: The Maestro

[1] Dave. n.d. “Nichelini Winery – The Napa Wine Project.” The Napa Wine Project -. Accessed February 28, 2022.

[2] “Our History.” n.d. Nichelini Family Winery. Accessed February 28, 2022. (Dave, n.d.)