My Life Before the Wine Industry, Part One

Rebecca Germolus on Jan 1, 2024

The wine industry has an allure that pulls people in—often permanently trapping them with the beautiful surroundings, lifestyle, fast-paced varied roles at wineries, and the opportunities to meet people from around the world. In the coming year, Along the Wine Road will explore the stories of people who had non-winery careers before finding their passion in the Sonoma County wine industry.


Craig Colagrossi: Passionate Winemaker

It only takes a few minutes of talking to Craig Colagrossi, the owner/winemaker of Colagrossi Wines, to realize this man is passionate about what he does and is just happy to being doing it. After hearing about Craig’s previous careers, I understand why every day is a joy for him.

Upon moving to Sonoma County in 1994, Craig started working for a large insurance company and was soon transferred to the Napa office. Living and working in Napa, Craig discovered the sights and sounds of the wine world.

He recalled awakening to early morning sounds, and later asked a co-worker what was going on. He learned the wine community comes together on cold spring mornings to protect the local vines from frost, and that the pre-dawn sounds were people gathering to start up frost protection equipment like wind machines, sprinklers and heaters. That sense of community and cooperation appealed to Craig, and intrigued him enough to start exploring the wine world around him.


The Wine Bug Digs In

Craig’s curiosity led him to take a home winemaking class, and the wine bug burrowed in even deeper. As soon as he completed the class, Craig started making wine. Soon he was working seven days a week—Monday through Friday at his insurance job and weekends in a Napa Valley tasting room. When he was transferred back to the Sonoma County insurance headquarters in 2000, he found a weekend tasting room job in Healdsburg.

My favorite story clearly depicts his passion and persistence, even as a hobby winemaker. During harvest, Craig would have bins of fermenting wine in the bed of his pickup. When he got to work at his insurance job, he’d punch down the wine in the parking lot, and then punch down the fermenting wine again at noon. After work, he’d drive to his official winemaking garage for a final round of punch downs. That’s dedication!


Working Vacations

Determined to learn everything he could about winemaking and the wine industry, Craig volunteered at a winery during his vacations, spending two to three weeks at a time, working long days. He altered the time of year he’d take time off in order to learn more about harvest or bottling or the cellar work that needs to be done throughout the year. Not everyone’s idea of what to do with one’s downtime, but for Craig, this was the perfect way to spend his time away from his insurance job–absorbing all he could about the wine world, and doing what he loved to do.


Steps Toward the Goal

By 2002, Craig was ready to take the leap and leave the insurance business. He was promoted from his weekend winery job to a full-time position as a tasting room manager, with additional responsibilities for local wine sales and national sales support. This is a perfect example of how rarely one wears a single hat at a small winery. Not one to relax on his days off, Craig worked weekends for a local contractor, remodeling kitchens and bathrooms, and building wine cellars. This was a lucrative job, so he decided to try it full time and moved out of Sonoma County. After a year, the lure of wine country pulled him back.

This time Craig became a pharmaceutical rep, which lasted from 2004 until 2015. All the while, he continued making wine at home to fuel his passion. To get a gauge of his winemaking skills, Craig entered his wines into the Sonoma County Harvest Fair Amateur Wine Competition. In 2003 and 2007, his wine won the Amateur Wine Sweepstakes Award, which is a big deal and a huge honor. Those wins and the recognition he received led Craig to convert from being a home winemaker to producing wine commercially.

Three image of man in black t-shirt doing wine work.
Craig Colagrossi doing what he loves — making wine.


Colagrossi Wines is Born

After 14 years of home winemaking, in 2009 Craig got his commercial bond from the TTB, also known as the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Until 2014, Craig rented space at other winery facilities to make his wine, slowly building his brand. Finally, he came across a warehouse space for lease just south of Windsor in an industrial park. Colagrossi Wines finally had a permanent home with a tasting room. It wasn’t fancy, but it fit perfectly with how Craig makes and shares his wines. However, Colagrossi Wines wasn’t yet large enough to support Craig, so he continued the pharmaceutical work full time and pursued his wine passion nights and weekends.

Craig left the pharmaceutical world in 2015 to join a wine barrel manufacturer as a sales rep. In a new job more closely aligned to his passion, Craig learned so much about the nuances of oak barrels and barrel aging, knowledge that contributes to the quality of his wines.


Full-time Career Change

Craig sold barrels until 2021, and now he finally only has one full-time job—but its responsibilities include winery owner, winemaker, tasting room and wine club manager, accounting manager, compliance czar, and more. He’s a one-man show with some occasional but dedicated helpers, including his better half and fiancé Tatiana Surovskaya.

Man and woman head shot with wine barrels to one side and holiday lights and equipment on the other side.
Craig Colagrossi and Tatiana Surovskaya in the cellar of Colagrossi Wines.


Craig’s Driving Force

After hearing Craig’s very circuitous path to the wine industry, I wanted to know what drove him to keep pursing his dream. “There were several things” he said. “It’s a great lifestyle and a very upbeat career. The insurance industry is depressing. People contact you because they had a car accident, or to report a theft or some other type of disaster. Working in a tasting room was fun and people were happy to be there. Having my own winery, I can share this positive world all the time. People come to you to have fun, to enjoy themselves.”


Sustaining His Passion

Asked about the most rewarding part of his career, he replied, “It humbles me that people buy my wine.” He also shared how much it means to him when people send him notes about how they enjoyed his wines.

Craig likes meeting people from all over the world, people who find his winery on the internet and come by to taste. And lastly, he loves the lifestyle, but even more he appreciates how so many of the small, non-corporate, family-owned wineries support each other.

Oak barrel with red hand prints and Colagrossi Wines imprinted on the wine barrel.


Key to Success

When I asked him his key to success, he quickly said, “Make wine you like to drink and the customers will follow. Say “yes” to your customers, and keep it real.”

Although it took him a while to land in his perfect career, we’re so happy Craig persisted on the path to his passion and that Colagrossi Wines is open for all of us to enjoy the fruits of Craig’s labor.


Stacy Rafanelli-DuBois: Deep Roots in the Wine Industry

At first, being born into a family legacy of grapegrowing and winemaking didn’t compel Stacy to follow in her ancestors’ footsteps. When asked why she didn’t initially jump at the chance to work at A. Rafanelli Winery, her response was, “I grew up in the wine industry and like a lot of kids growing up in a small town and a family business, I wanted to go somewhere bigger and faster paced and do something completely opposite.”

Stacy opted to go to college and then law school in Southern California. Definitely bigger and faster paced than Healdsburg. After law school, while preparing for the bar exam, she moved back to Healdsburg to focus on studying, free from the distractions of big city life. After taking the bar and while waiting for the results, she worked the 2005 harvest with her family, getting a renewed flavor for winery life. She dove into the work, doing everything from driving a tractor for vineyard manager Craig, who is also her brother law, to helping Shelly, her sister and winemaker, in the cellar, to hosting visitors and doing some administrative work.

A. Rafanelli Winery sign made of granite and surrounded by a stone wall.


Not the Right Path

When Stacy passed the bar, she was offered a position with a civil litigation firm in Santa Rosa, which is just a few miles south of Healdsburg. It didn’t take long for Stacy to realize civil litigation wasn’t her passion. During her law school internships, she’d worked at the Los Angeles Dependency Court and the Orange County District Attorney’s office, which exposed her a very different type of law practice. As she considered leaving civil litigation, she thought she’d look at the type of law she enjoyed during her internship, and was even considering moving back to Southern California.


Pivotal Conversation

Just as Stacy was contemplating her options, her sister Shelly asked if she would be interested in working with her and the family at the winery. Joining the family business hadn’t been on Stacy’s radar. Even though she wasn’t even sure what her winery role would be, she decided to take that leap of faith and give it a try.

“It was not the easiest decision, because I had an inner struggle about changing my career path,” said Stacy. “I felt like the biggest hurdle was getting past the mentality that I should continue to follow a career in law because it was what I went to school for and studied so hard to achieve. Once I overcame my inner struggle and embraced my decision, it was so much easier to put everything I had into working with my family. 2007 was my first harvest and I haven’t looked back since!”

Family photo of woman, man and little girl with muted vineyards in the background.
Stacy Rafanelli-DuBois, Steve Dubois and Jordan (age 8)

Family Legacy

Stacy proudly described how her immigrant great-grandmother, Letizia Rafanelli, started the family on their grapegrowing and winemaking path. To read more about the Rafanelli’s history, check out my blog from 2020 entitled “Multigenerational Family Wineries – Part 2.”

Now part of the Rafanelli legacy, Stacy’s role is Director of Winery Relations & Sales. “Like all small family wineries, I wear many different hats, depending on the season,” she explained. “I am fortunate to be part of both the production and the presentation.” Meaning she works beside Shelly in the cellar during the harvest months, managing the crush pad and being her sister’s cellar rat. Once harvest is over, Stacy gets to present the wines to some of the winery visitors, and manages the A. List membership. She also travels to visit distributors, brokers, restaurants and wine shops to present the wines and tell the A. Rafanelli Winery story.

Eight people poising for a photo, adults holding a glass of red wine, large yellow Labrador dog sitting in the center of the photo.
The Rafanelli family


The Wine Industry Was the Right Path

When I asked Stacy if she was happy with her career choice, she said, “I can honestly say that I am most happy with my career choice. Working in a family business can be challenging, but the reward is worth it. We have the honor to carry out what my great-grandmother started and what my grandfather and father worked so hard to build upon. I respect my dad so much for the endless hours he put into the vineyards and winemaking without knowing if any of his daughters would carry on the business. My guess is his biggest reward is seeing his daughters work together to continue the family’s legacy, but my reward is the opportunity to help my sister not only carry on this business, but make it better for the next generation.”

Asked if she had any regrets about joining the family winery, Stacy said she had none, but as with any job there are aspects that aren’t always enjoyable. “The hardest part of this job is that there are seasons with long hours and no planned days off,” she said. “For me, this is not only harvest time, but our wine release time too. During this time, I do lots of ‘mom-fails’ where I forget to put something on the schedule, I can’t make it to my daughter’s sports game, and I have no idea what is in the fridge. But with that being said, I am teaching my daughter how to be independent, work hard and that women can run a business in any industry.”

Letizia Rafanelli would be proud of her great-granddaughters continuing the family business and keeping her legacy alive. We’ll have to patiently wait to find out if the fifth generation steps up in a few years to join the family business. If you’d like to visit A. Rafanelli Winery, be sure to plan ahead as appointments are requested.


The Pull of the Wine Industry

Although Stacy Rafanelli-DuBois and Craig Colagrossi had very different paths to their wine careers, they share a common bond — a passion for what they do. In the coming months, I’ll explore the career paths of other winery folks and find out what pulled them into the world of wine and what they did before they joined the wine industry. Stay tuned.

Happy Sipping!

P.S. If you’d like to read a little more about Stacy Rafanelli-DuBois’s family history, check out my blog on For the Love of Old Trucks.

Posted by Rebecca Germolus

Rebecca Germolus, co-owner of Maximum Value Marketing, loves Sonoma County and playing along the Wine Road. Rebecca daily immerses herself in wine country by providing cost-effective marketing and writing solutions to wineries and restaurants.

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