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

2020 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 64% of the fruit in the 2020 vintage. 18% came from Rochioli’s 35-year-old hillside vineyard, while a newer vineyard planted to a rare clone of Sauvignon Blanc provided the remaining 18%. (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 gooseberry, lime, green apple, and passion fruit. Pour a glass for your friends and see how the dizzying aromas, firm acidity, and mouthwatering minerality cannot help but drive the conversation.

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¥6,820 (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)
2019 Rochioli Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir

While Rochioli’s vineyard-designated wines consistently earn stellar scores, they can be difficult to procure - or afford. Fortunately, we may yet partake in that Rochioli alchemy of terroir and technique via the estate Pinot Noir, which is a blend of the winery’s esteemed vineyards. The 2019 assemblage consists of 53% from Little Hill, 15% Big Hill, 14% West Block, 12% Sweetwater and 6% East Block. Winemaker Tom Rochioli described it as “rich yet with cleansing acidity, (having) cherry tones, slight vanilla, and lingering berry flavors.” 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.  #37 ON WINE SPECTATOR'S TOP 100 WINES OF 2021!! 

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¥11,770 (incl. tax)
2019 Rochioli Little Hill Pinot Noir

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. Antonio Galloni called the 2019 Little Hill “...fabulous... Dark red cherry, cinnamon, blood orange and cedar are all laced together...deep and expressive, but not at all heavy. All the elements come together in a dynamic, vibrant Pinot loaded with personality.” 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.

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¥20,900 (incl. tax)
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2019 Rochioli Sweetwater Pinot Noir

Rochioli Pinot Noirs stand out with a style that is aromatic, ripe and succulent but never big or oaky. Because they have no trouble selling every bottling of every vintage, the winery engages in almost no marketing or promotion. In the United States, one would need to be on “The List” to buy this wine, a process that can take four years or more. The Sweetwater Vineyard is located at the highest elevation of the estate. According to the winery, “This wine has aromas of ripe black cherry, rose, earth and spice with rich ripe cherry and vanilla flavors. Very full on the palate, the refined tannins and balanced acidity are in perfect harmony. This is a blend of the Rochioli West Block selection and Dijon 777. The average yield was 2.4 tons per acre and nineteen barrels were bottled.” Vinous (Antonio Galloni) wrote  “...laced with crushed red berry, spice, leather, licorice and dried flowers. Attractive floral and savory notes give the Sweetwater lovely aromatic complexity and tons of nuance...understated and classy to the core.”

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¥20,900 (incl. tax)
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