The Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, California dates back to the 19th century when immigrants from Mediterranean countries migrated to the region. Farming—specifically grape growing was at the center of this movement. Going back to 1896, Foppiano Vineyards has a rich family history within the region. Originally established by Giovanni Foppiano, who emigrated from Genoa, Italy in 1855, he purchased 80 acres directly south of Healdsburg and established the Foppiano Wine Company. Over the next 90 years, the winery survived prohibition and became one of the largest bulk producers of wine within the Sonoma Valley before transitioning to more niche, higher-end variety-specific wines.
Representing five generations, Paul Foppiano has taken over the role of company president managing both the winery and the vineyards. He understands the family legacy while also keeping an eye on the road ahead. “The commitment to honoring those that came before him while taking the winery into the future makes for a special and unique leadership that you don’t often see anymore. He grew up on the family property, learning the land from an early age,” said Jeremy Anderson, hospitality manager.
The estate, located at the northern tip of the Russian River Valley, sits on a unique soil type called Pleasanton Loam—while not overly fertile— it has great structure so the vines are more naturally balanced. The climate’s cooling influence from the river, but warmer sub-climate enables Foppiano Vineyards to grow a wider variety of grapes than other wineries in the region. Sitting on the path of a wind tunnel, the vineyard gets cool coastal breezes every afternoon during the hottest time of day, which helps maintain a balance of acidity in the grapes.
A key driver in the winery’s success has been the hiring of Nova Perrill as the winemaker. Hired in 2015, Perrill is versatile in both winemaking and viticulture, which allows for a more holistic process from vine to bottle. His winemaking approach is minimalistic intervention, allowing for the grapes to ripen and let them evolve naturally. He does this by making sure he “stays in touch with the cellar” and employs a hands-on technique that he has been using since embarking on his career.
Petite Sirah has been a major focus as Foppiano Vineyards has produced some internationally recognized vintages. Historically, the grape has been known more as a blending grape until relatively recently. They focus on making a more structured and nuanced wine that is not as dense and has a more aromatic profile.
“We keep our Petite Sirah in barrel for over two years to help soften those naturally aggressive tannins,” said Anderson. “These practices and many others contribute to the elegance and approachability of our wine, although, it still maintains the distinctive dark color and robust flavors— fans of the variety enjoy.”
Dealing with the pandemic and wildfires has not been easy. Grape growing and winemaking have in many ways become secondary to safety procedures and protocols. The winery has started promoting an outdoor experience by promoting the butterfly habitat on the tasting deck as dozens of Gulf Fritillaries fly about you while immersed in drinking your glass of wine. “We just try to stay positive, take it as it comes, and act accordingly. Some growers and wineries have had a much more difficult time than us. We are all forced to learn and adapt,” said Perrill.
Foppiano Vineyards has continued to innovate adding new varieties coming online soon that include Barbera, Vermentino, and a very rare grape called Rosa Chardonnay, which is a genetic mutation of Chardonnay that has a red blush. Also currently in the works is a sparkling wine project. “The new wines and experiences planned for will be exciting to add to the line-up. We’ve maintained growth in 2020 despite everything—2021 will be even better,” said Anderson.
This year’s vintage was already looking to be a lower yield vintage with a warmer growing season leading to an earlier harvest. Several varieties at Foppiano Vineyards were picked prior to the first fire. Like every other year, each vintage poses its own unique set of challenges and some of the most difficult years produce the best wines. “We know that there will be a lot of strange wines out there. I don’t expect people to love them, but I do believe that part of the wine world is the concept of the vintage. Good or bad—every year has a story to tell—drinking a 2020 vintage wine in 10 years will stir some stimulating conversation,” said Perrill.
2016 Estate Petite Sirah– black cherries on the nose with flavors of blackberries, chocolate, and licorice. At 14.5 percent abv, this wine is smooth all the way through with a nice structured finish. This wine would pair nicely with a Porterhouse steak. Drink now or hold it back for 10 plus years.
2017 Grant Station Carignane– sourced from a neighboring winery, this wine pays homage to the Foppiano history when railroads reigned supreme from coast-to-coast. Flavors of blueberries, strawberries, plum with just a little bit of spice. You can either hold this wine back or open it now.
2016 Estate Zinfandel- flavors of blackberries, cherry cola, and a little pepper on the mid-palate. At 14.9 percent abv, this wine showcases fine tannin, complexity, and structure— serve this with Italian sausage and peppers right off the grill.
2017 Della’s Block Chardonnay – flavors of apple, pear, and apricots touch down while rounding out with a nice long finish and bright acidity. Drink this wine with a plate of fish tacos and all the fixings.