Fah Sathirapongsasuti of Sunset Cellars
“Why does it matter that we are Asian and making wine?” asks Fah Sathirapongsasuti. “Because the vine doesn’t care who tends it, and the grape doesn’t care who makes it.”
Winemaker and co-owner of Sunset Cellars, marketing director of the Suisun Valley Wine Co-op in Fairfield, California, PhD statistician, computer scientist and genome researcher, Sathirapongsasuti answers his own question. “It matters because people have certain expectations about what people behind wine should look like, and how that might influence it.”
Sathirapongsasuti fell for wine a decade ago, after picking up a smoky note in the Sunset Cellars 2008 Afterglow Cabernet Sauvignon and tracing it to a local wildfire that same year. He was moved by how wine coalesces art, chemistry, biology, geology, history and culture. As a winemaker, he upholds the style developed by Sunset Cellars’ founders, Doug and Katsuko Sparks, allowing time to tame naturally acidic grapes like Barbera (a flagship wine since 1998) and Petite Sirah, with minimal intervention.
Now, Sathirapongsasuti works to increase visibility and representation of Asian wine producers.
In collaboration with Icy Liu and Asian Wine Professionals, he helped to create #drinkAAPIwine, a social media campaign featuring interviews, talks and virtual tastings throughout AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) Heritage Month in May. The initiative began when anti-Asian rhetoric and violence escalated at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. #drinkAAPIwine presents an opportunity to consider biases as to who has access, knowledge and belonging within wine culture, to recognize and celebrate contributions Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have made to the wine industry for centuries, and to increase awareness of contemporary Asian winemakers and brands.
What do you wish you knew when you started working in the industry?
I wish I’d felt less afraid to be the face of my wine brand. Part of that was the cultural value placed on humility and the desire to honor the legacy of our founders. I was also afraid to go against the Eurocentric stereotypes of winemakers.