Rochioli Vineyards and Winery: Award Winning Wines and a Long Sonoma County History
Article and Photo by Rachel LaFranchi
Published June 1, 2016
|Joe Rochioli holds a Farm Bureau membership sign his family had kept since 1948. It is one of many items he plans to donate to a local museum.|
Rochioli Vineyards and Winery is a family run business operated by a father and son team. At 82, Joe Rochioli still gets up every morning and heads to the field to give his workers instructions. Joe’s son Tom has become the principal winemaker and together they are producing top notch award winning wines.
Joe Rochioli’s story starts in the one-room Mill Creek Grammar School at the age of six when he didn’t speak a word of English. Rochioli’s grandparents were Italian immigrants and he and his sister only spoke Italian. While not knowing English was a struggle, it didn’t stop Joe Rochioli from becoming one of Healdsburg’s most respected grape growers.
Rochioli’s father had already been growing grapes in the Russian River Valley, instilling a hard work-ethic in the family for generations to come. However, Rochioli didn’t immediately become involved with the grapes. He attended Healdsburg High School, where he was very active in FFA and was approached to join the football team, although he didn’t even know what football was until he started playing. In his second year on the team, he was first string for the varsity team, and by the time he graduated, he was inducted to the Hall of Fame.
After high school, Rochioli pursued and Animal Science degree at Cal Poly where he played Football and Baseball. In addition to school and sports, he held two jobs, one working for the state and one washing dishes. Occasionally, he also picked up hours working a service station washing windows.
By the time he attended college, Rochioli had 12 Hereford cows, one bull, 20 sheep and two dairy cows he had won in a contest.
After school, Rochioli got married and was drafted into the infantry. He received special orders after his first eight weeks and was sent to Denver where he worked in an army hospital’s medical nutrition lab. For the next two years, he was worked on irradiated food studies.
Meanwhile, back in Sonoma County, Rochioli’s father, Joe Sr., grew hops until 1953 and beans until 1964. The family’s grapes were planted in 1957 with rows of beans in between.
When Rochioli returned home, he wanted to continue growing grapes. He had read about varietals at Cal Poly and wanted to give it a try and move away from generic grapes. Rochioli wanted to put in Pinot, but his father said no. In 1959, they planted Sauvignon Blanc; vines which are still planted and producing grapes 57 years later. They family also planted a block of Burgundy grapes, but Rochioli recalls those as being some of the worst grapes they’ve ever planted.
Joe Sr. passed away in 1966, and in 1968 Rochioli planted rootstock and began looking for bud wood to grow Pinot Noir. At the time, most growers weren’t planting Pinot, but it would later go on to become very successful for the family.
Rochioli started a partnership with two colleagues in 1975 and they produced 1,000 cases of Pinot and 1,000 cases of Chardonnay a year. Their Pinot won a medal at the Sonoma County Harvest Fair that year.
In 1980, Rochioli’s son, Tom, had graduated from college and spent a year in corporate banking. He was ready to come home and work on the family farm, but there wasn’t enough work in the business for two family members.
The father-son team decided a 10,000 case winery would be the next logical step in business. They built the winery together, with Tom tiling everything and Joe doing all the lumber work.
Rochioli dissolved his partnership and hired Gary Farrell to help set-up their tanks and make their wine. In 1984, Tom became the primary winemaker, a title he still has today.
They still make approximately 10,000 cases of wine, which Rochioli said always sells out. And the family doesn’t keep the best grapes. They also sell wine to high end wineries such as Williams Selyem, Gary Farrell and Ramey.
Rochioli has been a Farm Bureau member since 1959, and his father was a member before that. Rochioli said the family strives to support Farm Bureau in every way they can. He called Farm Bureau a life saver for farmers. Most recently, they have upgraded their membership to the Premium level, the highest form of membership support.
“Farm Bureau is the only thing we’ve got to save us,” Rochioli said. “If not them, then who else will represent us?”