Rockpile Wine Region and Appellation
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. Rockpile received AVA status in 2002, and its boundaries now contain 15,000 acres of land, with just 160 planted to grapevines.
Rockpile is Zinfandel country, and is especially famed for a signature clone of Zinfandel that was selected from the vineyard of St. Peter's Catholic Church in nearby Cloverdale by two now-deceased area legends, vineyard manager Ulises Valdez and winemaker Kent Rosenblum.
Several other hot-climate reds flesh out the vineyards here, including Syrah, Petite Sirah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and traditional Port varieties like Touriga Nacional.
The Lay of the Land
Rockpile is located in the northwest corner of Sonoma County, directly above Lake Sonoma in the northwest of the Dry Creek Valley. Some of the latter's viticultural legacy actually lies at the bottom of this man-made reservoir, which was created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1980s.
Though the lake is artificial, however, the views from the overlooking vineyards are purely dramatic. Rockpile Road, an uncommonly wide, overbuilt throughway 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 back then, the resulting wines were only available in Sweden. Five generations later, his heirs run Mauritson Wines a few miles away in lower Dry Creek Valley, where you'll find Rockpile AVA wines and more history of the area.
In downtown Healdsburg, ask about Rockpile AVA wines at Rockpile Vineyards, Seghesio Family Vineyards, and Williamson Wines. In Santa Rosa, seek out Rocky Reserve at Carol Shelton Wines.
Restaurants and Lodging around Rockpile
Rockpile may be reached from Healdsburg or Cloverdale with equal ease. One of the best ways to lunch in the area is to order sandwiches and deli salads at the Dry Creek General Store, then picnic at Lake Sonoma, surveying the lake and environs from the Rockpile Road lookout.
In Cloverdale, B&B and motor lodge options include Kelley & Young Wine Garden Inn and Cloverdale Wine Country Inn & Suites. Lodging options in and around Healdsburg include the gracious welcome and vineyard views of the Raford Inn.
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
West Sonoma Coast