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Monday, April 27, 2015

Sonoma County Appellations: Rockpile

Maybe you've heard of Sonoma Valley, Russian River Valley, and possibly Dry Creek Valley. Not many people know about Rockpile in the far northwest of Sonoma County. If you haven't had wine from here you are missing out on something special. Rockpile is home to some of the best red wines around.

Near the top of the map you'll find little ol' Rockpile.

Why You May Have Never Heard of Rockpile

In modern times there have only been grapes there since the early 1990s. It's only been an official appellation (a legally defined grape growing region) since 2002. There are fewer than 20 wineries getting fruit from Rockpile.

Vineyards are typically on rolling hillsides

Rockpile Appellation

It's about 23 square miles with less than 200 acres of grapes planted with just eight growers. Vineyards must be above 800 feet elevation to be part of the Rockpile growing area. Many are about 1500 feet.


It's right from the wild west with tales of a Quantrill Raider, a county sheriff, and hunting lodges. There were grapes planted in the 1870s, but these were forgotten for many decades until the Park family rediscovered the area and planted Zinfandel in 1992.

Branham Vineyard, the most remote plantings in Rockpile


In a word, remote. It's about ten miles from the Pacific on the western edge of a large reservoir, Lake Sonoma. Rockpile Road is the only way in and it becomes a one lane dirt road that's gated. You ford a creek to get to the most distant vineyards.


Rockpile is correctly named in that it is a big pile of ancient volcanic rocks. The soil is quite shallow and consists of well-drained clay and rock. It would be considered very poor farming soil. Native landscaping consists largely of native oak and madrone trees, a number of evergreens, plus grasses.


During the growing season nearby valleys, such as Dry Creek, will often get morning low clouds off the Pacific. Rockpile is high enough to be above the fog line so there's lots of sun. Temperatures are several degrees below those of the valleys because of the elevation.

Looking across other coastal mountain ranges from Rockpile


The grapes receive a extreme amount of sun and are stressed by the poor soil. This gives smaller crop sizes and intense flavors. You'll find lots of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, plus several other red wine grapes.

From the Rockpile Vineyard,
one of a handful of vineyards in the Rockpile appellation


Since there are only a handful of wineries getting grapes from Rockpile it may be difficult to find a wine from the region, but it's worth the search. Sonoma County wineries you can visit to get a taste of Rockpile are Bella, Carol Shelton, Mauritson, Merriam, Paradise Ridge, Seghesio, St. Francis, Stryker Sonoma, and Valdez.

There are no wineries to visit in Rockpile.

More info from Rockpile growers