The Little Hill features infertile, rocky soils that yield only 2.4 tons per acre but endow this wine with an amalgam of fruit flavors and a unique touch of mineral. Robert Parker describes a nose “scented of tangerine peel and Earl Grey tea leaves, crushed stone, raspberry and strawberry jam and crushed red cherries with classic notions of smoke and cola” and a body that’s “intensely fruited with swirls of amaro and tea spice, a firm frame of very ripe, grainy tannins and seamless freshness, finishing very long and flavorful.” This is a versitile food-friendly wine that would pair well with salmon, tuna and other oily fish, mild sausages, duck, quail, pork and lamb.
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.”
|Appellation(s)||Russian River Valley (Sonoma)|
|Bottle Size||8.5 x 30.5|
|Case Size||35.5 x 27.0 x 31.5|
96 points – Jeb Dunnuck.
Aromas of raspberry and strawberry play off hints of orange zest, violets and stone. Fresh acidity and medium tannins support cherry, plum and raspberry flavors that finish with hints of cedar and floral notes.
Aged in 44% French oak for 15 months.