St. Helena’s V. Sattui Winery, famous for its idyllic picnic grounds and artisan deli, provides everything visitors need for a wine country picnic. But behind the scenes, V. Sattui is providing perhaps an even greater service to a group of young adults.

Anyone who has picnicked at V. Sattui, owned by Calistoga resident Dario Sattui, has likely purchased the winery’s picnic pack: plates, cups and utensils for two.

Each pack also contains a unique note: “A special thank you to the dedicated developmentally-challenged students at the Napa Valley Unified School District (NVUSD) Post-Secondary Project for packing this planet-conscious ‘Green Picnic Pack.’”

The young adults behind the V. Sattui picnic packs are a group of 35 students, ages 18 to 22. The disabilities they live with are wide ranging but can include neurological issues, autism, speech and hearing impairments.

All of the students are NVUSD high school graduates. Because of their disabilities, they are offered the option of the district’s post-secondary program until they are 22.

“Our day is built around preparing our students to be adults,” said Cory Roche, a teacher for the post-secondary program. He said less than 50 percent of the students’ days are spent in the classroom.

“We’re out a lot,” Roche said. “We think of the community as our classroom.”

The students work on the V. Sattui picnic packs two hours a day, four days a week. They work offsite assembling the packs at two different locations: the senior center and the Boys and Girls Club.

Classified as “student-learners” under the U.S. Department of Labor, each student earns a wage from V. Sattui.

“They appreciate the opportunity to be treated like everyone else,” Roche said, adding that the partnership with V. Sattui has been “invaluable” to the special education program.

Earning money helps the students to set goals. With their paychecks from V. Sattui, the students can save money for something they need or want, said Stephanie Solberg, vocational specialist with NVUSD.

“It’s purposeful work,” Solberg said.

Brandon Sakata, a 19-year-old student currently enrolled in the program, said he enjoys assembling the packs with his classmates each week and saves the money he earns for Friday luncheons and other class activities.

The students’ employment encompasses a lot of different life skills, including math, social skills and independence, Roche said.

In addition to assembling the picnic packs, the students are also learning how to count inventory and work in small groups. As part of the job experience, the students learn how to get to their work site on time, fill out time sheets and sign for their paychecks, Roche said. When they get paid, they learn how to access the bank.

“It’s a real job for them,” said Tom Davies, president of V. Sattui Winery.

V. Sattui has partnered with NVUSD special education for about 30 years, Davies said. He remembered the partnership formed thanks to a V. Sattui employee’s mother, who worked in special education.

“I look at it as a great, long-term partnership,” Davies said.

Before collaborating with the school district, the picnic packs were assembled by V. Sattui employees during slow business hours.

“V. Sattui is so important to us,” Solberg said. “Tom (Davies) has been a steadfast partner for a couple of decades. I can’t say enough how much we appreciate their support.”

The “picnic packs” include two of everything: plates, forks, knives, cups, and hand wipes. All of the materials are compostable.

Last year, V. Sattui sold 30,000 picnic packs, averaging 2,500 packs sold per month, V. Sattui’s Marketing Director Ali Paterson said.

The family-owned V. Sattui estate is one of the Napa Valley’s more distinctive destinations. With an extensive deli and marketplace and more than two acres of shaded picnic grounds, V. Sattui provides the ideal setting—and all the supplies—for an outdoor meal in wine country.

At the marketplace, guests have a choice of freshly made sandwiches, 200 different cheeses, salads, pastas, desserts, and of course, wine. Picnic tables outside are surrounded by giant oak trees, flowers and vineyards.

Once a year, V. Sattui hosts a luncheon for the students in the post-secondary program, who are given a full tour of the winery, including the vineyards.

“The students are great,” Davies said. “They’re so enthusiastic.”

Recently, Solberg received an envelope in the mail from a complete stranger who had visited V. Sattui from Livermore. Inside the envelope was the ‘thank you’ note from the picnic pack, where the visitor had written a personal ‘thank you’ and a smiley face.

Solberg said she was touched that someone would go out of their way to track down the school district’s address, and mail a hand-written ‘thank you’ to the students.

“We are very grateful for our partnership with V. Sattui,” Solberg said.