Celebrating 125 Years of Foppiano Wines

Nestled among the Russian River Valley’s picturesque rolling hills sits Foppiano Vineyards. The Foppiano family has tended to their vines of Petite Sirah, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc for 125 years – yielding grapes that have been turned into the benchmark wines of the region.

The winery’s Petite Sirah and Zinfandel are considered among the finest expressions of the fruit from this part of the Sonoma AVA. Grown on the Estate’s warmer benchlands, the Petite Sirah has great depth of color, aroma and flavor, while the Zinfandel shows the red fruit and spices that are characteristic of the grape. Foppiano’s Sauvignon Blanc is planted on the same part of the Estate, enhancing the tropical fruit flavors and natural acidity.

The Foppiano Estate Chardonnay comes from older vineyards with sandy loam soil, located closer to the banks of the Russian River. It is a great example of the grape’s character, with a full body and layers of complexity. The Estate’s Pinot Noir is also grown in this cooler part of the Estate, revealing a depth of color, aroma and flavor to rival the best producers in Russian River.

For the past 23 years, Paul Foppiano has overseen the winery and vineyards that he played in as a child. Paul’s return to Foppiano, after working at Sausal Vineyards and graduating from the well-respected Viticultural Program at Santa Rosa Junior College, prompted a renaissance in the vineyards.

Over the years, Paul has worked on reducing the winery’s carbon footprint as much as possible in an effort to maintain the ecological balance of the vineyards. He has greatly reduced the use of pesticides by introducing Red Tailed Hawks and Owls that, in turn, eliminate a number of rodents, gophers, rabbits, and harmful insects. Organic cover crops and strategic pruning are cutting down on tractor usage. These new tools and best practices have greatly improved how the wines are made.  

Paul is the fifth-generation to manage Foppiano. He brought Nova Perrill onboard as Chief Winemaker once he took over the winery’s operations.“Winemaking is a team endeavor,” Nova explains. “Those working in the vineyards, and those assisting me in the winery, all have the same goal. The grapes, and wines made from them, are the result of our hard work and coordinated efforts.”

The past seven years have been a great gift in Nova’s life. He’s benefited from lessons learned when the weather has brought fire and floods, and also when it has offered endlessly warm, sunny days with cool, calm nights. He has learned how to take advantage of whatever Mother Nature throws at him and craft wines, even in the most difficult years, that are worthy of the Foppiano label. 

“Foppiano’s land has been producing high-quality grapes for more years than anyone else in Russian River,” Nova adds. “Through our wines, we are telling the story of what the soil, vines and grapes have to offer. Like a good tale, Foppiano wines capture your attention and entertain you, leave you thinking and wanting more.”

Foppiano has been a leader in Russian River since the day Paul’s great-great-grandfather, Giovanni, settled in Healdsburg. In 1896, Giovanni bought the 80-acre Riverside Farm and working winery near the Russian River and changed its name to the Foppiano Wine Company.

Four years later, Giovanni’s son Louis A. took over the winery and tirelessly promoted Foppiano wines, then sold in bulk, to the region. He had great success, especially in San Francisco’s Italian North Beach area. In 1910, his wife and he welcomed Louis J. into the world as barges were making their way to the city with Foppiano wines in barrels. 

Prohibition hit hard in 1919, with Foppiano surviving by selling winemaking kits and grapes. In 1926, US Treasury Agents raided Foppiano and the winery’s workers were forced to release 100,000 gallons of wine into a nearby creek. Foppiano became infamous as the winery where “the water ran red, and tasted pretty good.” 

When prohibition was finally repealed, Foppiano moved fast to modernize the winery and estate. In 1937, Foppiano unveiled the first bottle labeled by the winery. It was a success and helped start a revolution in the way wine is packaged and sold today.

World War II created an opportunity for California wine producers. With the European wine market in shambles, consumers turned to domestic offerings and the industry soared, especially in California.

In 1941, Louis J was instrumental in the founding of the Wine Institute of California, was its first President and then a director for 45 years. A few years later he started the Sonoma County Wine Growers Association and presided as its first President. His civic activities promoted Foppiano and its commitment to the region.

By 1945, Foppiano was the second largest bottler of wine in Sonoma, so Louis J bought the neighboring Sotoyome Vineyards. This doubled the Estate’s size to 200 acres and significantly increased production. He foresaw the popularity of cork-finished, varietal wines and in 1967 introduced Petite Sirah, along with vintage-dated bottling of the other Foppiano varietals in 750ml bottles.

In the early 1970s, Louis J.’s two sons, Louis M. and Rod, took over running the winery just as a new generation was discovering California wines. They increased production of Foppiano white wines to meet growing consumer demand.  

After Rod’s untimely passing in 1984, Louis M. guided Foppiano through the growing popularity of Petite Sirah, helping to start P.S. I Love You. It quickly became an extremely effective promotional vehicle, propelling Foppiano into a leadership position on the grape’s growing popularity, that continued into Paul’s tenure.  

Paul is Rod’s son and, like his dad, he is drawn to the agricultural side of the winery. He manages all aspects of vineyard operations and viticultural practices. His passion flows to each vine, intimately knowing each one’s history, growth patterns, and needs. “We’re committed to sustainable practices that are keeping the ecological balance and reducing our carbon footprint,” Paul explains.

Paul is guiding the winery in the 21st Century the way his father, uncle and various grandfathers did in their times – by continually “raising the bar” on quality through innovation, coupled with winemaking expertise and best practices in the vineyards.

“I see myself as a steward of the land that has served my family very well these past 125 years,” Paul explained. “My mission is to keep Foppiano viable and healthy for years to come.”