The historical Foppiano Vineyards is best known for their Petite Sirah, but loved for much more. A must see on your next trip to Sonoma’s wine country.
Foppiano is almost as much fun to say as the wines are to drink. Over the weekend, we had the pleasure of re-visiting the oldest family-owned winery in continuous operation in Sonoma County, CA. It’s not too far off the beaten path, but easy to miss if you don’t know you are looking for it. Our host during our visit was Jonathan, the tasting room manager. He diligently took us through the wine tasting, filled our growler,and more importantly gave us a crash course in Foppiano history.
Foppiano is a beautiful, 160 acre property in the Russian River Valley that runs adjacent to the Russian River. The winery was purchased by Giovanni Foppiano in 1896, 41 years after emigrating from Genoa, Italy in search of California gold. Along with his son, Louis A., the Foppiano’s created a booming wine business, supplying bulk wine to much of Northern California.
As prohibition took hold from 1919 – 1933, the Foppiano’s survived by planting fruit trees, shipping grapes to home winemakers, and of course keeping operations hidden. They didn’t survive completely unscathed, as you can see in the picture above. On August 15th, 1926 the Foppiano Vineyard was raided by federal agents and forced to destroy 100,000 gallons of wine by dumping it into a nearby creek. As the photo is captioned, it was the most popular place to be as the creek ran red with wine.
After prohibition was repealed, the Foppiano’s were ready to go with the 83,000 gallons of wine they had made in 1932. This wasn’t the first time Foppiano led the way. While they were quite popular for shipping wine across the country in bulk using railroad cars like the model one below, they were also one of the first in Sonoma to start bottling their own wine.
During the 1940’s, Foppiano family members were founders for both the Wine Institute of California and the Sonoma County Growers Association and their winery grew to be the second largest bottler in Sonoma County.
Jumping forward to the 1970’s, they transitioned their winemaking from redwood barrels into stainless steel. The old redwood tanks were then repurposed for building the tasting room. As you can see in the picture below, the redwood staves were most visibly used for the ceiling, door frames and the front face of the bar.
In 1979, the United States transitioned from imperial measurements to metric with Foppiano being the first to make the transition. Learning this helped to explain why my grandfather’s bottle of 1974 table wine is marked as 4/5 Quart. The bottle below is one that Jonathan showed us in the tasting room and dated 1969. For the full history of the Foppiano family, check out their website, for now let’s get into the wine!
Foppiano plants multiple varieties of wine including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Carignane, but since the mid-1960’s they have been best known for their Petite Sirah. Jonathan took us through 7 different wines, some of which we were able to do side by side comparisons. All of their white label wines are available in their online store, but shipping is limited based upon individual state law.
- 2013 Estate Sauvignon Blanc: With a floral nose that make me think of spring flowers in the morning after a rainy night, a crisp refreshing flavor, and a long finish, this wine is just right. At $15.00 a bottle, it’s a great weekday wine for wine lovers, but also would make a great impression for those who only drink on occassion.
- 2014 Estate Chardonnay: This chardonnay is made just how I like it! A little bit of French – not American – oak, and allowing part of it to go through malolactic fermentation. The result is a wine that is subtly oaky and not to creamy but not too crisp. I smelled peaches and browned butter on the nose and a slight fruitiness on the palate. I’d love to try this with a salmon caesar salad – partly because that’s what I had for lunch today, but mainly because a good chardonnay makes a good salmon caesar salad into great.
- 1996 Estate Petite Sirah: On occasion Foppiano selects a library wine to sell in the tasting room. The winemaker recently decided that the 1996 Estate Petite Sirah was perfect for drinking. The nose is filled with black fruits in the way of cherry, plum, and raisin. Most of the tannins have softened with age, leaving the finish smooth. The flavor is of cherry cloaked in leather with a slightly earthy undertone. My palate is trained for teenaged wines, but if you love them mature then this wine is for you. It’s only available in the tasting room and I’m not sure if shipping is being offered.
- 2013 Estate Pinot Noir: As a fan of Russian River pinot noirs, this one definitely fits the bill. It’s lighter bodied, with hints of strawberry and spice and a slightly earthy finish. If I wasn’t going through this phase where I want anything besides a pinot or a sauvignon blanc, I’d put a few bottles of this in my cellar.
- 2013 Estate Zinfandel: A classic zinfandel. Fruit forward without being overwhelming. Notes of berry, cherry, and plum with enough earthiness and spice to balance it out nicely. Zinfandel may always be my favorite. We left with two bottles because we drank the last two bottles in less than 2 weeks.
- 2012 Estate Petite Sirah and 7. 2012 Giana’s Block Petite Sirah: We tasted these two as a side by side comparison. Both wines were a deep, inky, purple color, with dark berries, chocolate, and plum. The Giana’s blend was James’s choice, while the Estate was mine. We then proceeded to finish each others to try and figure out why they liked it better.
Last, but certainly not least, I do have to tell you about their Lot 96 Petite Sirah. It is the perfect table wine. It goes with anything that’s got a bit of sweet, spice, or tang to it, which covers so many foods. It’s named for the founding in 1896 and harkens back to the days when filling a jug was the only way to get wine home. Foppiano sells it by the bottle for $15, but if you live in the area they sell it by the growler as well. Yes, that is a picture of a wine tap above. It’s a delicious petite sirah, that screams drink me now. We currently have two growlers, which I hope spend more time filled than empty.
Next time you are in the Healdsburg area, grab a picnic lunch and head on over to Foppiano for a delicious tasting, some beautiful views, and a peak into the history of Sonoma Wine Country.
PS: Don’t forget to PIN this for your next trip!!