Our family legacy began in 1911 when my grandfather, Joe Rocchioli Sr. immigrated to America along with his parents, Michele and Menichina Rocchioli (they later dropped the second "c"). Originally from a small village just outside of Lucca, the Rocchioli’s were one of many Italian families that arrived in New York, made their way across the country, and settled in Northern California.
In those days children worked from a young age, and so my grandfather, still only 10-years old, labored alongside his father on a farm called Wohler Ranch, in the Russian River Valley.
Joe Sr. became ranch foreman in 1920, but even then he had higher aspirations of one day owning his own land. In 1934 my grandmother Neoma gave birth to my father, Joe Rochioli Jr. Shortly after they moved to a 125-acre property nearby called Fenton Acres. Fenton Acres is the same location where Rochioli Vineyards is today.
At that time, grapes were a small part of what was grown here and much of the land was dedicated to hops, string beans and prunes. Although Joe Sr. really considered himself a crop farmer, he planted popular "jug wine" blending grapes like French Colombard, Early Burgundy and Valdeguié (Napa Gamay). By the mid-1950s my grandfather had raised enough money to purchase the Fenton Acres property.
As a young child I grew up watching both my grandfather and father spend countless hours tending to this land. On our farm there was an Italian work ethic and everyone had a job to do, even children. From the age of seven I was a farmhand and spent many a day picking prunes.
In 1959 my father and grandfather planted Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. The Cabernet did not grow well and was pulled out in the 1970s. Sauvignon Blanc, at the time, was a strange new white grape that nobody wanted and was used mainly for blends. It was soon discovered by a few famed wineries and became desirable as a high quality grape. Today these same vines are still in production and are considered some of the oldest Sauvignon Blanc vines in California.
Our passion for fine wine and high quality grape growing began in 1968 when Joe Jr. began planting Pinot Noir. He had his own ideas as to what would grow best here and planted fine Pinot Noir clones from France. This was a remarkable decision as there was very little known about the grape here and we were considered a pioneer at the time for doing this. My father had the foresight to know that the soil and microclimates of this unique spot in the Russian River Valley were very special and would one day produce some of the world's greatest wines. Shortly after growing Pinot Noir successfully, my father planted Chardonnay.
Although Joe Sr. was very successful in the early days of farming Fenton Acres, he unfortunatley did not live to see the accomplishments we have had with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Savignon Blanc. He died in 1966.
In the early 1970s we were selling our Pinot Noir grapes to Davis Bynum Winery and shortly after we started producing wine under the Fenton Acres label. In the early 1980’s we began selling to Williams Selyem Winery, among others. After college and working at a major financial institution for a year, I returned to the family farm with a new idea. We knew the grapes were very good and were making great wines. I became convinced that we should make our own wine with the Rochioli name. After some deliberation my father finally agreed and in 1983 we changed the name of the property from Fenton Acres to Rochioli Vineyards. At that time I took over as the business manager of the winery and soon after became the winemaker.
In 1987 we released our first estate wine, the 1985 Rochioli Pinot Noir. We were all amazed that year when we learned it had topped Wine Spectator’s list of Pinot Noir and was named ‘The Best Pinot Noir in America’. I was surprised we had struck gold so early, but it was also a validation; I knew then we were in the business of making something very special.
A few years later my wife and I took a trip to Burgundy and it turned out to be a big inspiration for me. After visiting Burgundy's most famous estate, it became very clear that our focus should be on identifying the unique characteristics of the individual blocks. On this trip I learned that by keeping grapes from different lots separate during the winemaking process, individual vineyard lots and single varieties can produce remarkably different, and beautiful wines. Their approach to traditional winemaking also involves very little tampering in the winemaking process. This experience shaped my philosophy and today we produce terroir-driven wines built on a foundation of superb fruit.
Now as a third-generation winemaker, I’m proud of our family heritage and the significant contributions to farming and winemaking that both my father and grandfather have made over the years. As a family winery we have been fortunate enough to earn the reputation as one of California’s finest wine producers. I look forward to the next generation."
- Tom Rochioli, Winemaker