How Backstage Wines, founded by a Marin native, came to be

Angelo Pera graduated from business school in 1993. His family went out to dinner in San Francisco to celebrate. As a special memento of that evening, Pera’s mother ordered a bottle of Opus One wine (a joint venture between Baron Philippe de Rothschild and Robert Mondavi) to go with their celebratory dinner.

“I knew nothing about wine at the time,” Pera says. “I think I was into Bartles & Jaymes. But I absolutely loved the Opus One. My mother didn’t love that I wanted to order another bottle of it. I decided that night that I wanted to learn winemaking.”

His mother looked at him crosswise, as if to say, “Didn’t you just go through school for finance?”

“Don’t worry, Mom, I am not going to quit my job. I am going to do this on this side,” Pera remembers.

Thirty years later, Pera, 57, has moved his side job to his only job.

“Trying to be a successful winery these days is not just the winemaking or the farming. You’ve got the whole business to run, from insurance to employees to marketing. It’s a lot more work than most people think,” he says.

Pera’s MBA from Golden Gate University, as well as his winemaking courses through the University of Washington, have culminated in Backstage Wines in Napa, with a tasting room, Backstage Marin, on Magnolia Avenue in Larkspur.

Situated on 53 acres that was once the Mario Andretti wine estate in Oak Knoll, Backstage produces 19 wines, nine of which are cabernet sauvignon.

“We have eight different cabernets from the Napa Valley alone,” Pera says. “The way we make wine is very different from most companies. We have a lot of small lots, two maybe three acres, so sometimes just 125 cases of a specific wine. Our biggest lot is maybe 800 cases. We do them all very high end, and tightly control them, limit the amount of oxygen, use small French barrel, etc.

Backstage Wines produces 19 different wines, of which nine are cabernet sauvignon. (Courtesy of Backstage Wines)
Courtesy of Backstage WinesBackstage Wines produces 19 different wines, of which nine are cabernet sauvignon.

“I make wine that can lay down for 20 years. We’ve only been open 13 years, so I have only tested them out that long. And so far, they are holding up fantastic.”

Pera, a Marin native and Marin Catholic alum, originally made wine in his garage in San Rafael. But then, he put his business acumen to work.

“The benefit of going to grad school and getting my MBA and then working in private equity enabled me to get the investors needed to then get the winery,” Pera says.

Pera purchased the Mountain View Winery in Saratoga in 2010 and opened a Mountain View Winery tasting room in San Rafael in 2011. That tasting room often featured local musical artists. It was there that he first heard the term “backstage.”

“Backstage was all the things the bands wanted to have,” Pera says. “I was just putting the business plan together for the place in Napa. Backstage is the perfect name. These will be the exclusive things, wines that we have, for the VIP person.”

A leased Napa cabernet vineyard in 2010 eventually resulted in a 2012 cabernet sauvignon, Pera’s first under the Backstage label.

Backstage’s wines run from $40 a bottle for the rosé up to $165, with most of the cabernets placing in the mid- to low-$100 mark, right on point for small, family-produced, handcrafted Napa cabernet.

"We designed the property to feel like you are in Tuscany," says Angelo Pera of Backstage Wines. (Courtesy of Backstage Wines)
Courtesy of Backstage Wines“We designed the property to feel like you are in Tuscany,” says Angelo Pera of Backstage Wines.

“My passion and desire were always to do cabernet, but it’s a longer process,” Pera says. “The grapes we are going to harvest now, in just a few months, we will be serving those in 2027. It’s a good four years of time that I have with the wine. At least the first three years, I can still be working with it. That last year it’s in the bottle.”

In 2019, Pera purchased the former Andretti space in Napa, which had been vacant for a few years. Being of Italian descent, Pera had a specific vision for the winery’s remodel.

“We designed the property to feel like you are in Tuscany. There’s a nice fountain, all the tables in the main courtyard are bistro tables, so it feels like you are out on the street in Tuscany, enjoying wine that way,” he says.

Even though newcomers to Napa, the Peras are one of the few true family wineries there.

“The larger corporations have bought out most of the old family wineries. I want people to come in and visit with the family that owns it, visit with the winemaker, get a different idea of what’s going on,” he says.

Backstage really is a family affair. (Son Matt is a former IJ reporter.)

“Two of my kids work here, my wife works here occasionally. I do the winemaking, my daughter, Olivia, has been the assistant winemaker for the last few years, so we are always at the property talking with people every day,” he says.

Closing the Mountain View tasting room in 2016 (the winery is still in operation), the Peras then opened another Backstage tasting room in Larkspur in 2017. It survived COVID with the help of outdoor seating.

“We set up some tables outside with some firepits and tried to create a unique experience there,” he says. “The outside seating has been a bonus and live music is returning soon. Here’s your chance, if you live in Marin, to have some really good Napa wines, without having to travel all the way up there. You can buy the wine by the glass and enjoy it there.”

Backstage Marin is open from 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 4 to 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 4 to 7:30 p.m. Sundays. The Napa winery is available by appointment only.

“Back in 1993 when I made that decision to make wine, that was the right decision for me,” Pera says. “The very first vineyard that we did get for Backstage was right behind Opus One in Oakville. And it’s been a quest for me to make a wine that hopefully changes somebody else’s life like that.”

For more information, to purchase wines, or to schedule a tasting at their Napa or Larkspur locations, go to