Being there first must count for something. As the dust settles from the latest wine-boom bust, we find that it's the old guard of the new wave who continue to sell out $70 bottles. To wit, recently cult Pinot producer Williams Selyem needed a shuttle bus and overflow parking to accommodate its club members on pickup day. Meanwhile, neighbors the Rochiolis, whose grapes helped to put Selyem on the map, are perennial favorites at the tables of some of America's most prestigious houses. The White House, for one. Proudly displayed at the tasting room, their White House scrapbook details dozens of luncheon and dinner menus featuring Rochioli wines, along with guests of honor. Tony Blair in particular seemed to have a special relationship with Rochioli West Block Pinot Noir.
Sauvignon Blanc joined hops and other crops grown on Joe Rochioli's ranch in 1959, followed by Pinot Noir in the late '60s and '70s. Selling grapes for just $200 a ton for decades, Rochioli and a few others laid the groundwork for today's Pinot renaissance. Although vintners are pushing into ever cooler regions today, Rochioli wines are widely regarded as classics of the Russian River style.Everyone is greeted like a VIP here—by a long-haired tabby cat. Friendly but plaintive, she follows us to the door, but deigns not go inside. Underscoring the winery's lack of anxiousness, the tasting-room staff have a zero-pressure, hands-off approach, but they are happy to explain anything upon the asking. The view is great, overlooking the lower vineyard blocks hugging the Russian River, but most people come for the legendary juice. And there's some of that here.
Smacking of fruit cocktail and pears in syrup, the 2009 Estate Sauvignon Blanc ($26) is fresh but full in the mid-palate, a Russian River classic, while I thought a cheesy, charred-wood aroma characterized the spicy and rich 2008 Estate Chardonnay ($36), without overpowering it. Medium-bodied and fragrant with bright red cherry, raspberry and rose hip tea, the 2008 Estate Pinot Noir ($48) comes in with a supple, silky finish.
Only these estate blends are available for tasting—some times of the year, even less than three. As for the vaunted West Block, well, there's only so much to go around, and the executive residence has a busy luncheon schedule. To get a taste of what Tony had, one has to get on "the list," which is not the same as signing up for an ordinary wine club. The current wait is five years, so start scratching at the door.
Rochioli Vineyards and Winery, 6192 Westside Road, Healdsburg. Open Thursday–Monday 11am to 4pm. No tasting fee. 707.433.2305.