Henry (Hank) Michael Donatoni, Jr died September 23, 2021. He was a career pilot and well-known California winemaker, the founder of the Donatoni Winery in Los Angeles and then Paso Robles.
Hank’s roots trace to Italy and a family of gardeners. His parents married in Ossenigo, Italy, and came to America with the hopes and dreams of making a better life. They lived in Santa Monica, CA. His father, Henry Sr., was a gardener, as were his uncles, Louie and Bruno, and many other family members. Hank learned his love for the earth and growing plants and vegetables from these seasoned pros.
Hank was born on June 4, 1933. As a boy, Hank would mow lawns for the neighbors to make some extra cash, and he was quite popular among the neighbors on the street. He already had his enigmatic smile and charming personality, even at ten years old! As time went on, he worked at a local nursery and was considering his options for the future. Did he dream that his future would include almost 40 years as a pilot followed by the creation of a first-class winery in Paso Robles?
Hank often stated that his life changed over a cup of coffee with a Naval recruiter who convinced him that he should and would become a pilot. Hank joined the US Navy in 1955 and attained the rank of LTJG (Lieutenant Junior Grade). He was a great pilot and was discharged in 1959.
He went on to become a commercial pilot for United Airlines, working 37 years as a Captain. Hank’s favorite airplane was the 747-400. His last years as a pilot were flying the route from LAX to Sydney and Melbourne in Australia. He was known as “Captain Hank the Yank.” His final flight garnered him the highest honor from the entire ground crew in Sydney: they lined up along the runway, and as he taxied out of the airport, he was saluted by everyone on the ground and inside the plane as well. A true tribute to an amazing man!
Hank’s family life started in the late ’50s, and he had four children, Jimmy, Jeff, Gina, and Julie. He remarried in the late ’60s and had a daughter, Tina, in the early ‘70s. His later years have been full of adventures and family gatherings with Tina and her two boys, Michael and William.
The family lived in Topanga Canyon, where he cultivated his passion for winemaking at his home that had a small vineyard and wine cellar – that’s where the magic started! With his love of gardening, a quick mind, a versatile skill set, and a keen palette, he won many medals at local county and state fairs.
Hank has been a resident of Paso Robles for 21 years and a buyer of Paso grapes for 40 years. He created the Donatoni Winery, and his partner, Sandi, assisted him with the label-making and the management of the tasting room in Paso. They truly enjoyed their life and made strong friendships. If it was a day ending in a “y,” there was a party somewhere in Paso! Hank enjoyed his life in Paso to the fullest and brought joy to many people. It was always a fun time at their home as well.
Hank had a respect for the earth and was a truly gifted gardener. He instilled in all his family the beauty and joy that growing vegetables and plants can bring. You could often find him in his garden watering, weeding, and harvesting his crop of various wonderful vegetables and flowers.
Hank lived a very full 88 years. He will be missed by so many. Thank you for the joy that you gave to all of us, Hank!
He is survived by his life partner, Sandra (Sandi) Baird; children, Tina Donatoni Frost, Gina Donatoni, Julie Donatoni, and Jeff Donatoni; niece and nephews, Michelle Broneau Prichard, Mark Broneau and Michael Broneau; grandchildren, Michael and William Frost, Marcella (Marci), Bob, Madison, and Taylor Donatoni; and great-grandchildren, Jackson, Ella, and Dashiel Donatoni.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Henry M. Donatoni, Sr. and Mary (Specchierla) Donatoni; sister Virginia (Ginger) (Donatoni) Broneau; and son James (Jimmy) Donatoni.
Fly high, Captain Hank, fly high!