Listening to Joe Rochioli, Jr.
Joe Rochioli, Jr.
“I am always the first one to work in the mornings. I get my men started, and am usually the last one to leave. I don’t know for how much longer.
“From 8 years old, I helped my dad prune, head prune. The vines were all planted in the 1890s. We would pile up brush between four vines and then burn the brush. We’d sulfur the vines with a big sack–put a handful on top of the vine and it would go poof.” His hands lift up to illustrate. “Everything was planted 8 by 8. But then in the 60s, we started pulling them out.
“I went to college at Cal Poly. I started to go to Davis, but then a guy came by, right here to the ranch, and told us at Cal Poly you learn by doing, and I like that model. I was an Animal Science Major to start. I had all kinds of animals here. Future Farmers of America. I won awards. But I sold my bull, the cows, and all 80 sheep, and my dad gave me $350, and I went to school.
“When I was 12 I was already doing man’s work. I grew up fast. But really I hated to pick hops [the ranch had more hops than grapes planted originally], so I talked my dad into letting me work in fields with the men.
“I worked to put my way through school, and I played baseball all 4 years at Cal Poly. It was difficult to work, play baseball, and go to school. While there I was doing all the crops course electives, and working for the crops department. Later I started with vineyards. For 10 years we were on beans here. Then we moved up to grapes.
“I started reading books on French Burgundies. I got it in my head–in France, they can’t produce big [grape] crops… and they’re making the best crops in the world. So, I wanted to plant varieties. Everyone was growing only for bulk wine back then. But I wanted to grow varietals. Dad wouldn’t let me. He made the decisions in those days.
old vine Sauvignon Blanc on Rochioli Estate
“Finally, in 1959 I talked him into Sauvignon Blanc. When I went to Davis I went to get bud wood and they had rows. I started tasting them. They had this one row that had this fig taste to them. So I took all my bud wood from that and planted that. [UC Davis eventually sold all of this bud wood, without record of its origins. As a result, the clone of Sauvignon Blanc located at Rochioli is unknown. The Rochiolis produce an Old Vine Sauvignon Blanc bottling from these vines.]
“In 1961 I tried to talk my dad into Pinot. He said no. He was right. There was no one to buy it then. The wine all went into Gallo. But in 1968, I planted a clone of Pinot Noir. For several years it all went into Gallo’s mixed reds. Same with the Sauvignon Blanc, into their mixed white. But then Mondavi Estate took some. Then Windsor Vineyard. Then Dry Creek Vineyards, in the early 70s–he won a lot of medals for that wine. Then in 1973, I started selling Pinot Noir to Davis Bynum. He won some medals as well.
“In 1972 I planted Chardonnay. Just pulled some of that out. There is still a block of old vines out there.
“I have always been proud of my quality. I started pulling leaves before anyone thought of it. Mainly on the Sauvignon Blanc because it was so bushy no light was getting in. I built a cane cutter in 1960. It was the first cane cutter in the county. I built my own house. It took me two years, but I built it. I built my own bins. Made a hydraulic dumper. That ‘learn by doing’ came through from Cal Poly. I’m still proud as hell. I still want to make the best grapes.
Vivienne and Joe Rochioli, Jr.
“I got remarried, and married my high school girl friend. We ran against each other for Student Body Vice President. She was the first girl to run for that position. I beat her. She said it was the mafia, but I was a pretty good athlete. Football and baseball. I won a lot of trophies.
“I was just a little Italian boy. I couldn’t speak English when I started. My sister and I, we both started at a little one room school house up the road. There were just two Italian kids back then, her and I.
“No one ever came around this area back then. It was really remote. When anyone did, my sister and I would run like hell and get behind the couch to hide. I had to force myself to do a lot of things. I think football helped a lot. I was President of the Grape Growers Association at one point. I forced myself through a lot of things. I was determined. There are a lot of opportunities for people here.”
Part 1 of this feature on the Rochioli family: http://wakawakawinereviews.com/2012/11/19/regarding-rochioli-visiting-rochioli-winery-and-their-historic-family-vineyards/
The Rochioli family is also featured in the Russian River Valley documentary, From Obscurity to Excellence. The release viewing occurs December 1, 2012. For more on the movie: http://www.russian-river-valley.com/ To buy tickets: http://www.eventbrite.com/event/4754299237?ref=ebtnebtckt#
Thank you to Joe Rochioli, Jr. for taking time to talk with me.
Thank you to Kanchan Kincade.
Copyright 2012 all rights reserved. When sharing or forwarding, please attribute to WakawakaWineReviews.com.