Rocca Family Vineyards owns two vineyards, one in Yountville and one in Coombsville slightly north east of the town of Napa. No winery production exists on either property; their wines are produced at a custom-crush winery near the city of Napa. For about four years, Rocca maintained an open-to-the-public tasting room on Main Street in Napa until they closed this in early 2009. Currently, tastings are by appointment – eventually planning to be hosted at a historic Victorian in south Napa, a charming old house that was built by General Vallejo.
Rocca Family Vineyards is owned by husband wife Mary Rocca and Eric Grigsby. Mary is a former dentist who operated her own dental practice (Rocca Dental Care) for 10 years before ‘retiring’ to devote her time the winery. Eric is a pain management doctor based in Napa who founded the Napa Pain Institute in 1992 – today offering a variety of treatments for various ailments including surgery at the nearby Napa Surgery Center. He also operates the Spine and Pain Center of Kaui, in Hawaii. In addition he established the first Pain Management Center at the University of California at Davis Medical Center and also served as their Medical Director.
Their Yountville Vineyard is named after Eric (the 21-acre Grigsby Vineyard) and their Coombsville Vineyard (11 acres) is called Collinetta (roughly translates to “little hill” in Italian) with two defining physical features; the rolling hills and also an old stone chimney that is now surrounded by vines. This chimney is all that remains from a house that burned down in the 1950s – the former owner of this home was a German cooper, making wine barrels.
The Rocca’s original intent was not to make wines, rather to manage their vineyards and sell all the fruit to growers. After tasting the quality of wines being produced from their two vineyards, they decided it made sense to bottle their own wines.
Their first vintage was from 1999. While all their red wine comes from their two estate vineyards they do sell some of their grapes to other area vintners, usually holding back about 40% of their grapes for their own wines (they currently produce about 2,000 cases annually). One unique feature of their vineyard management has been the use of draft horses among the vineyard rows. This is “quiet farming” compared to a tractor, environmentally friendly, and in addition – these animals are not as heavy as a tractor, therefore are much more gentle on the land.
Their focus is on reds and in our opinion the primary hallmark of Rocca’s wines are their incredibly soft and luscious mouth feels with a richness of fruit but often featuring delicate tannins anchoring the finish. Their wines do not overwhelm the palate and are meant to be consumed early but can also be aged. Part of this mouth feel comes from how they handle the fruit and their wine making style – during harvest and fermentation they process the fruit as minimally and gently as possible which helps avoid some of the harshness sometimes found in red wine. In addition they do not filter and minimally fine as maximum flavor is a key component to their wines. Each of their estate Cabernet Sauvignons are 100% varietal.
The Bad Boy Red is a wine with a memorable name – Eric’s photo is pictured on this label. The name hints at an interesting story. In 1999 during a pump-over on one of the tanks one of their employees accidentally blended in 10% Zinfandel into their Merlot. Each of these varieties was meant to be stand alone wines but after the fortuitous blending mistake, they were impressed with the resulting wine and have bottled a vintage ever since. Despite this “mistake”, this wine turned out to be very well-received. Sometimes accidents work out for the best. This is an ideal wine to pair with steak – and is also priced very affordable for Napa Valley red wine standards.
The 2005 Rocca Family Vineyards Bad Boy is a blend of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and small amounts of Merlot and Petit Verdot. Pleasing notes of blackberry, blueberry and black cherry show throughout the palate. The soft entry of fruit continues all the way to the finish and then lingers nicely.
The 2004 Rocca Family Vineyards Syrah is wine worth seeking out. Depending on the style, Syrah can often show meaty and peppery characteristics both on the bouquet and on the palate; this is not one of those wines. It is dark in color – almost black featuring rich ripe fruit. Smoky oak and dark fruit aromas show on the bouquet with plenty of rich ripe layered fruit on the palate. Like all of the Rocca wines, this one melts in your mouth. During one of our early visits a 1999 Rocca Family Vineyards Syrah was available for tasting (their first vintage). This wine performed like a more classic Napa Valley Syrah. This older vintage featured a noticeable thread of sweetness that lasted across the palate mixed with toasted oak and intense fruit flavors.
The 2013 Rocca Family Vineyards Grigsby Vineyard Merlot might be mistaken for a Cabernet Sauvignon in a blind tasting. Wonderful fruit both on the bouquet and palate. Features a ripe bouquet, yet an elegant one. Shows aromatic notes of plum, raspberry and blackberry complemented by subtle notes of milk chocolate. Balanced across the palate, this wine features the Rocca hallmark silky soft tannins on the finish.
Are you primarily a white wine drinker? Perhaps you will be convinced to come over to the red side after drinking Rocca’s wines. Their tannins are always well managed, with a richness and depth of flavor while the texture on the palate is incredibly smooth – like liquid velvet.
And speaking of white wines, after 15 years Rocca Family Vineyards decided to produce their first white wine – a 2014 Chardonnay from a cooler part of the Sonoma Coast in neighboring Sonoma County. They continue to produce a Chardonnay each year. The 2014 Rocca Family Vineyards Chardonnay is pleasing for what it does not have – it is not buttery, not oaky and not even creamy. It is a very balanced wine that simply tastes delicious with a richness of flavor – along with a liveliness of dancing acidity.
Due to their limited quantities, their wines often sell out quickly. Interested parties can join their mailing list or wine club through their website. For premium Napa Valley red wines, their wines are priced well for the quality – especially from a boutique producer. Rocca Family Vineyards have won top honors in several domestic based blind competitions as well as one in Bordeaux, France.
Mary and Eric also oversee the Grigsby-Rocca Foundation which has provided medical help to some of the poorest regions in Africa. For more information and to schedule an appointment, visit: www.roccawines.com
Napa Pain Institute