Father and son Gus and Foti Kapiniaris revived their family’s centuries old winemaking tradition and also honor their legacy, at Stama Winery in Lodi, California.
Lodi’s Stama Winery
For millennia, Greece has been known for wine. Many Greek winemakers and enthusiasts are now forging new paths in other parts of the world. California is no exception. Lodi, California, known as the Zinfandel capital, is home to Stama Winery, owned and operated by the Kapiniaris Family. Their story has deep roots. They not only revived their family’s winemaking tradition, but also honor a valiant legacy.
Stama Winery: Roots in Crete and Messinia
Gus’ family originally came from the island of Crete. Foti explained that the family name was originally Stamatakis. The Stamatakis women were known to be very beautiful. During the Ottoman occupation, around 1780, The Turks abducted four of the sisters to put in their harems. That same day, the elders of the family paid Venetian vessels to evacuate the family from Crete.
“Then, disguised as Turks, the brothers and cousins slaughtered the Turks and took back their sisters. They joined the family in the Southern Peloponnese. Settling n Koroni, they changed their name to Stamatopoulos, because it was more Peloponnese sounding.”
Fast forward to 1821. Gus’s great-great grandfather had risen to the upper ranks in the Greek military. He was captured by the Turks, tortured, and chained to a stone wall.
“They sprinkled hay around him, and planned to burn him alive. Somehow he escaped, and slaughtered his Turkish captors. Then he returned to the military to continue the fight for independence.”
The locals began to refer to him as “o Kapnismenos” (the burned one). It evolved into the name ‘Kapiniaris’. Like many in Greece, a nickname often became the family name, and their surname became Kapiniaris.
“We resurrected the old family name to honor the family, and this incredible history. We put it on the wine, to represent this heritage, as well as our family’s winemaking tradition.”
Coming to America
Gus’ story is a familiar one. In 1959, he arrived in Montreal at the age of 19, with $10 in his pocket. There, he worked as a machinist. A better-paying job was available in Toronto, and he made the move. A few months later, Gus moved to British Columbia, and worked in the saw mills. He not only operated the machines and fixed the tools, but he also worked in the kitchen. There he learned to cook.
Three years later, he learned of cousins in San Francisco, and got a month pass to visit. Those relatives knew a family in San Jose. The San Jose family had a sister in Greece who was of age to marry. They arranged a meeting between Gus and Dimitra. The couple married in 1966, settling in California, because the “climate is similar to Greece”.
For years, Gus worked as a machinist, then in 1982, opened his first restaurant in San Jose. Everything he learned working in the kitchen in British Columbia set him on his way. He opened another restaurant in 1985, and operated several restaurants until the 1990s.
Back to the vine
Alongside his father, Gus grew up in the vineyard, pruning the vines and learning the trade. His father, who sold his wine to local taverns, often said that Gus would someday continue the family business. Wine was in his blood, and Gus was determined to ultimately return to his roots.
A friend told him about an opportunity in Lodi, and in 1987, Gus bought the first vineyard.
“100,000 acres of grapes are grown in Lodi. Really, everything is grown here, not just wine. Lodi grows more wine grapes than Napa and Sonoma combined. It’s a major player in the wine industry.”
On 30 acres, he cultivated grapes to sell to wineries to make wine. He raised his son Foti in the vineyards, and taught him just as his father had taught him. They soon left the restaurant business behind and concentrated on the vineyards.
By 1989, the family purchased a second vineyard. Over the next 12 years, they’d acquire 5 additional vineyards. They had much success growing grapes to support other regions, but still, the family’s legacy called.
In 2003, the family kept back some grapes. In a leased space in the Vino Piazza — a tasting room in nearby Lockford they outfitted with tanks, a consultant winemaker helped them produce the first Stama wine — a Burgundy.
Stama Winery in Lodi
In 2010, they purchased the property on Davis Road, where their tasting room is located. This brought their holdings to more than 200 acres, which helped to produce more grapes. By 2012, they were selling bulk wine in and out of state. That year, they also teamed up with Franck Lambert, a French winemaker who had worked for Michael David Winery, home of ‘7 Deadly Zins’. A few years after, along with Franck, Stama built its own facility. Phase 1 includes a tasting room, a case goods and barrel storage room, a tank room, a laboratory, a crush pad, and the existing parking lot. In 2017, they’ll break ground on phase 2, including offices, a boardroom, a commercial kitchen, banquet facility,, a courtyard, a secondary parking lot, a main entrance to the current facility, and a larger tasting room, to host weddings and other special events.
Though they’re still producing grapes for other wineries, the Stama label is of great importance. It’s very close to their hearts.
Visiting Stama Winery
Visit Stama Winery on Davis Road, and enjoy a tasting in a Mediterranean setting. There, they’ll share the family history. It’s family run, so they had no qualms when we showed up with our children. There, we tasted different varietals. The fruity and crisp 2015 Sauvignon Blanc was a favorite. I’m not a Chardonnay fan, but their 2015 vintage was a lovely surprise — not oak-y at all. From the dry and spicy 2013 Old Vine Zinfandel to the peppery 2013 Zan Zin, to an amber-colored sweet sparkling wine, and more, I couldn’t pick a favorite. The best thing to do is just visit and taste them for yourself.
The wines are not distributed outside of California, and until the new website is launched after the holidays, Stama wine is only available in the tasting room, so be sure to purchase there. This is a must-stop on your California wine tour, for a Mediterranean-like experience in a beautiful setting. Friendly Greeks are a bonus! Tell them we sent you!
Lodi is about 1-½ hours east of San Francisco and 20 minutes south of Sacramento. Stama Winery is located at 17521 N. Davis Road, Lodi, CA. 209.981.9592.