Basking in the sun like a lizard on a rock, Sonoma County’s Rockpile AVA is perched high above Dry Creek Valley.
A suitably wild and rugged source for some of Sonoma County’s brawniest Zinfandel wines, the terroir of Rockpile is also man-made in one significant way: the deep, 2,500-acre Lake Sonoma reservoir. Sheep ranching and hunting clubs dominated this area for 100 years before Rockpile’s modern grape-growing history began in 1992.
The boundaries of Rockpile contain 15,000 acres of land, with just 160 planted to the vine. Rockpile received AVA status in 2002.
Rockpile is Zinfandel country, as is Dry Creek Valley below. Furthermore, the AVA is famed for a “signature clone” of Zinfandel, selected from the vineyard of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in nearby Cloverdale by Ulises Valdez and Kent Rosenblum. Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and some traditional Port varietals round out the list.
The Lay of the Land
Rockpile is located in the northwest corner of Sonoma County, directly to the northwest of Dry Creek Valley and above Lake Sonoma. In fact, some of that valley’s viticultural legacy lies at the bottom of the reservoir, which was created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1980s. If the lake is artificial, the view from the vineyards above it is no less dramatic.
Rockpile Road, an uncommonly over-built, wide road for rural Sonoma County, provides a good means of surveying the landscape (but few turnouts and no wine tasting opportunities). At elevations ranging from 800 to 2,100 feet, Rockpile vineyards receive plentiful sunlight, with less fog thanks to an inversion layer created by Lake Sonoma.
In 1884, Swedish immigrant S.P. Hallengren planted grapevines in the Rockpile area — but the wines were only available in Sweden. Five generations later, his heirs run Mauritson Wines (2859 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-431-0804) a few miles away in lower Dry Creek Valley, where Rockpile wines and more family history of the area may be found.
In downtown Healdsburg, Seghesio Family Vineyards (700 Grove St., Healdsburg, 707-433-3569) pours Rockpile Zinfandel; in Santa Rosa, seek out Rocky Reserve at Carol Shelton Wines (3354B Coffeey Lane, Santa Rosa, 707-575-3441).
In Healdsburg, Michoacán native Ulises Valdez and family pour wines from his beloved St. Peter’s Church Zinfandel, among others, at Valdez Family Winery (113 Mill St., Healdsburg, 707-433-3710).
Restaurants and Lodging around Rockpile
Rockpile may be reached from Healdsburg or Cloverdale with equal ease. The best was to lunch in the area is to order sandwiches and deli salads in either town, or the Dry Creek General Store (3495 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-4171), and picnic at Lake Sonoma. Then, survey the lake and environs from the lookout.
In Cloverdale, B&B and motor lodge options include Kelley & Young Wine Garden Inn (302 N. Main St., Cloverdale, 707-894-4535) and Best Western Cloverdale Inn (324 S. Cloverdale Blvd., Cloverdale, 707-894-7500). Hotels abound in Healdsburg; plus there are guest rentals at wineries like West Wines (1000 Dry Creek Road, Healdsburg, 707-433-2066).
Written by Sonoma Insider James Knight
Sonoma County Appellations (AVA):
Carneros - Sonoma
Dry Creek Valley
Fort Ross - Seaview
Green Valley of Russian River Valley
Pine Mountain - Cloverdale Peak
Russian River Valley