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

2021 Rochioli Estate Russian River Valley Sauvignon Blanc

In 1959, Joe Rochioli Sr. planted one of the first Sauvignon Blanc vineyards in California. Today, these 60-year-old vines are still healthy enough to have provided a hefty portion of the fruit in this wine. More fruit was sourced from Rochioli’s 35-year-old hillside vineyard, as well as a newer vineyard planted to a rare clone of Sauvignon Blanc. (The 376 clone is a proprietary clone developed in France that requires licensing in order to plant. It has slightly lower acid and features tropical flavors of pineapple, melon, and peach.) What stands out in this wine is complexity and intense varietal character - that is to say citrus, lime, gooseberry, fresh cut grass, and passion fruit. Pour a glass for some friends and see how the alluring aromas, firm acidity, and mouthwatering minerality manage to dominate the conversation (or stop it altogether)!

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¥7,590 (incl. tax)
2019 Rochioli Estate Russian River Valley Chardonnay

Three estate vineyards planted decades ago on distinct soils are the secret to this highly coveted Chardonnay. Antonio Galloni in Vinous writes, “The 2019 Chardonnay Estate is a gorgeous appellation-level wine. Bright, floral and finely cut, the 2019 possesses terrific energy and cut, all in a gracious, airy style that is hugely appealing. Lemon confit, melon, dried flowers and a touch of spice linger. The Estate is a blend taken from across the property, and that complexity makes for a highly intriguing wine.” Those who can manage to cellar a few bottles will be rewarded. Recommended pairings include grilled chicken, lobster, crab cakes, linguine with white clam sauce. 

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¥10,340 (incl. tax)
2020 Rochioli Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

For those of us who cannot find or afford Rochioli’s esteemed, vineyard-designated wines, the appellation wine is an excellent alternative. Assembled from lots harvested exclusively from Rochioli’s estate vineyards, the wine is made with the same meticulous attention to detail as the singe-vineyard wines and demonstrates the advantage a winemaker has when they have intimate knowledge of their property. It’s a full-bodied wine that’s bright in color and aromatically intense, offering ripe cherry, vanilla and floral notes. 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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¥13,420 (incl. tax)
2020 Rochioli Little Hill Pinot Noir
2020 Rochioli Sweetwater Pinot Noir