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Monday, October 10, 2011

The Rockpile Appellation in Sonoma County

The Appellation
(An appellation is a government-recognized wine growing region)

In northwest Sonoma County Rockpile is one of the newest grape-growing areas. Rockpile is in the hills north of Dry Creek Valley and west of Lake Sonoma about 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean.  It's a rugged and remote area of Sonoma Conty with 160 acres planted to grapes. It's best known for Cabernet and Zinfandel, but there are several other red varieties grown. Rockpile's vineyards sit at elevations off the valley floor up to two thousand feet making the area is several degrees cooler than Dry Creek Valley.  It's the combination of rocky soil, proximity to the cool Pacific, and the elevation that makes Rockpile unique. It's an area where the proverbial "stress the vines to make good wine" happens. Intense flavors is what Rockpile wines are all about.
Ancient History

Volcanic explosions over two million years ago covered the area in volcanic rock. Most of the topsoil washed away into the lower valleys a few thousand years ago leaving very poor, but well-drained soil.

19th Century

In the 1850s the first American settler was an interesting character named Tennessee Bishop. When he decided to run for Sonoma County sheriff he first kicked his brother off the property who was hiding out there because he was wanted for murder while riding with Jesse James as part of the Quantrill Raiders. Apparently he realized that wouldn't be popular with the voters. While sheriff he used the county's prisoners to build the Rockpile Road up to his ranch.

Grapes have been known to grow there as far back as the 1870s on Tennessee's ranch.

20th Century

As with much of California the combination of phylloxera (destroys the roots of grape vines) and Prohibition (failed social engineering) killed off grape growing in this area.  Rockpile consisted of remote cattle and sheep ranches until the Park family planted Cabernet in 1992.  Soon others were planting Cab and Zinfandel.


Rockpile became an appellation in 2002.  There are about ten grape growers in Rockpile farming anywhere from a couple acres up to about 35 acres anywhere between 800 feet and 2,000 feet elevation.  There are no tasting rooms.

There are about 15 wineries making Rockpile wines including Carol Shelton, Mauritson, Paradise Ridge, Robert Baile, Rosenblum, Seghesio, St. Francis, and Stryker.

Image from

More info on Rockpile