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The History of Wine in Rockpile

He was a law enforcement official who allegedly used prisoner labor to improve the region’s infrastructure and accessibility. Bishop planted the oldest documented vineyard in the region which dates to 1872. The population was extremely sparse during these years and remains so today to a large extent. Despite Rockpile’s isolation, its great natural ability attracted a modest number of settlers.

Cap Ornbaun grew up in the area and began his career as an attorney in San Francisco. He was eventually drawn back to the region and bought a substantial amount of land in Rockpile. He then started a large sheep ranch.

Although sheep and cattle ranching dominated the early economy of the region, some additional vineyards were planted during the 1880s. Wine production during these early years was very limited in scale. S.P. Hallengren planted a vineyard in 1884. Thom and Chris Mauritson are descendents of Hallengren and presently own vineyards in the current AVA.

In 1911, a group of investors purchased 21,000 acres in the region and named it, “La Roca Monte Rancho” or “The Rocky Peak Ranch.” This property was subsequently divided into Rockpile Ranch #1, 2 and 3. The land was used mainly for sheep grazing.

Around this time, Rockpile viticulture entered a long dormant period. The devastation of phylloxera and Prohibition were too much for the viticultural area. Nonetheless, the sheep raising industry continued to flourish.

New investment in the wine industry did not occur until 1992 when Rod and Cathy Park planted a vineyard in Rockpile. Other visionary individuals including Gary Branham and Jack Florence Jr. realized that the sunny climate of the isolated region was perfect for Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah. These growers only sold their grapes to high-quality producers, ensuring the region’s reputation. Zinfandel lovers have come to associate the AVA with some of the best examples of this varietal in California Wine Country.

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