Pinot Noir Pioneer of the Russian River Valley

When it comes to Russian River Pinot Noir, Rochioli Vineyards is an iconic name. After all, Rochioli supplied the fruit in wines made by Williams-Selyem and Davis Bynum that won awards and established the Russian River Valley as a great region for the “notoriously fickle” Pinot Noir. When Rochioli decided to release a wine under their own label, in 1985, it was named “best Pinot Noir in America” by the Wine Spectator. Today, Rochioli Vineyards and Winery is owned and operated by Joe Rochioli Jr. and his son, Tom, who farm over 50 hectares of vineyards southwest of Healdsburg. In this region with diverse soils and a moderate climate, they produce sought-after Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon blanc in vineyard-designated and estate bottlings. 

Yet the history of Rochioli Vineyards is also an iconic story in the history of Sonoma County agriculture. Unlike the Napa Valley, which had always featured fancy estates and close ties to San Francisco and European high society, Sonoma was all about poor immigrant families who were farmers first and winemakers on the side. Joe’s father (Joe Sr.) immigrated from Italy to a life of hardscrabble farm work on the land he would eventually purchase one parcel at a time. Joe Jr. was born in Sebastopol and worked in the fields with crops that supported the family: hops, prunes, string beans as well as a few acres of grapes used in “jug” wines produced by the likes of Gallo. Only gradually (but before most other farmers in the area) did the Rochiolis shift toward planting vineyards for varietal wines, beginning with Sauvignon Blanc in the late 1950s and moving into Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the early 1970s. Joe Jr. had an instinct for viticulture, for he pioneered such techniques as seeking out and planting diverse clones, crop thinning to limit yields, and leaf pulling to better manage sunlight on grape bunches. In 1985, the Rochiolis built a winery, and since then have made wine under their own label as well as continuing to supply fruit to other top wineries in the area. Winemaker Tom Rochioli follows such Burgundian methods as using natural yeasts, fermenting vineyard blocks separately, aging on fine lees, assembling the blends after time in barrel, and avoiding fining or filtering. 

It should be said that Rochioli does not make wine in the vibrant, low alcohol style of the “In Pursuit of Balance” group of winemakers. On the other hand, dedication to viticulture and “hands off” winemaking methods lead Rochioli to make wines that express the terroir of the Russian River Valley, which they describe as “silky-smooth, fruit-forward Pinot Noirs; rich, opulent Chardonnays; and tangy, food-friendly Sauvignon Blancs.”

Wine Maker

Tom Rochioli





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Wines from this Winery

2018 Rochioli Estate Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc

The Sauvignon Blanc vineyard planted in1959 by Joe Rochioli Sr. was one of the first of its kind in California. Even at 60 years old, the vines remain healthy enough to have been the source of 46% of the 2018 vintage. 33% is from a newer vineyard planted to a rare clone of Sauvignon Blanc and 21% from Rochioli’s 31-year-old hillside vineyard. This is a wine with intense varietal character - that is to say gooseberry, lime, green apple and passion fruit. Firm acidity and mouthwatering minerality make this a wine that gets you to stop what you are doing and take notice!

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2018 Rochioli Estate Russian River Valley Chardonnay
2017 Rochioli Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

While Rochioli’s vineyard-designated wines consistently earn stellar scores, buying them requires being on "the list." Happily, the rest of us can enjoy the equally carefully-crafted estate Pinot Noir, which is a blend of the winery’s esteemed vineyards. Antonio Galloni called the 2017 “a stellar wine and a real overachiever in this range.” Elegant and well-structured, the compelling interplay of bright fruit and mineral notes is classic Russian River Valley! Still young and a bit tight; decanting is recommended.  

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2017 Rochioli Sweetwater Pinot Noir

Get it while it lasts! The 2017 Sweetwater Pinot Noir is sold out at the winery but would only be available to members of “The List” even if it were available. According to the winery, “Aromatically this has lovely red cherry pie, sagebrush and cola elements at play. The mouthfeel is gorgeous and plush. Red cherry, red currant, guava puree and cola flavors sit alongside strong minerality. Layered and luscious, this memorable wine will cellar well past the next decade and is nearly impossible to resist right now.” 

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2018 Rochioli Little Hill Pinot Noir