2021 Holdredge Rochioli Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir
This wine comes from the Rochioli Vineyard, one of the most iconic North American Pinot Noir vineyards. The story of Russian River Pinot Noir literally began at Rochioli where, in 1968, Joe Rochioli Jr. was among the very first to plant Pinot Noir in the Russian River. He did so at a site that is now synonymous with excellence in Pinot Noir, an undisputed Grand Cru location if we used that measure in America. The farming is meticulous but reflects deference to nature that is shown in the fruit.
The vineyard is about 140 acres, divided into five blocks; there are 22 separate sub-sections among the Pinot plantings. Our fruit is grown in a block off Sweetwater Springs Road (the “Sweetwater Block”), which is their highest elevation planting of Pinot Noir. Our grapes come from a section of Sweetwater called the “West Block Selection section”, as it is planted to 100% Rochioli West Block clone (until 2015, all our wines from there also had a small amount of Pommard clone, which was replanted to West Block clone). The vineyard sits on an east-northeastern facing slope, has Goldridge soils, and the rows run northeast-southwest.
We began making wine from the Rochioli Vineyard in 2012. Our experience has been that there is an amazing level of consistency year to year for the aspects we consider from a scientific viewpoint, like sugar, acid/pH, and tannin (the West Block clone typically shows great tannins), and more importantly from a flavor standpoint. But the most distinctive aspect of the vineyard is the certainty of the voice of the wines from here. There is a real heritage in the place, and the wines reflect that heritage in a quiet, confident way.
I consider it a privilege to work with all the growers I work with, but none more than the Rochioli family. More than one writer has acknowledged that if California had a “Cru” ranking system as they have in Burgundy, Rochioli would be among the few Grand Cru sites. Place alone isn’t enough, and their farming regimen is truly a standard-bearer for the region. So, it’s almost a given that year in and year out, the wines from that vineyard always carry themselves in a way that reflects all of that; not in a flashy “look at me” sort of way, more as if they know their own quality, and carries itself with a quiet confidence.
The 2021 is no exception. As I often do, I waited to pick this fruit, after everyone else had picked their fruit from this block. It wasn’t that anything was lacking, I just kept liking it more and more, maybe like not selling a stock that’s on the rise. Usually, there’s a trade-off for waiting – most commonly the acid drops and the pH rises, which changes the wine in big ways. But at Rochioli, there just never seems to be a big shift that way, and in looking back at the numbers for the last decade, there’s been a consistency between sugars, acid and pH that’s rather hard to understand given the vagaries of vintage. The only explanation I have rests on the two fixed aspects there – the place and the farmers.
These grapes made it into the “hot tub”, which is my favorite stainless-steel fermenter; its broader width versus its depth means more of the juice is in contact with the skins, which enhances extraction. We got a 9-day cold soak before fermentation, and then it never seemed in a hurry to go anywhere, we finally pressed on day 23. That languid pace held true for the second (malolactic) fermentation, which didn’t finish until April. The wait was worthwhile. The wine is simply everything I expect of Rochioli – a nice spectrum of red and black fruit, richness balanced by acidity and fine tannins that coat the palate. For me, it’s a textbook example of what a well-structured Pinot should be. If you just can’t wait to open it, I’d decant it for now over the next 6-8 months, but this will develop in the bottle for a decade and more. Only 126 cases produced,