HISTORY OF ROCKPILE
Rockpile Appellation has a rich history that includes prominent pioneers of Sonoma County, a notorious outlaw from the Jesse James gang, and actors from the Bonanza television series. The legend begins with a controversial Sonoma County Sheriff, Tennessee Carter Bishop who founded Rockpile Ranch in 1867, though the rugged name can be traced to a thriving Pomo Indian village, at the base of Rockpile Peak over 200 years ago.
Tennessee Bishop's daughters on Rockpile Road
Bishop is said to have used prisoners in
the county jail to carve Rockpile Road along the mountain ridge
above Dry Creek Valley for 15 miles to his front door. He and
his neighbors brought sheep to the mountainous region and the
area became home to some of the most successful sheep ranchers
in Northern California. They helped make Sonoma County the
heart of sheep ranching in the state for more than fifty years.
Taking advantage of the abundant wildlife, these ranchers also
established hunting clubs for both pleasure and as a sideline.
The clubs attracted members of San Francisco's high society
as well as local gentlemen. In spite of all of the ranching
success it was the hunting that gave the region its greatest
fame before the new generation of wine grape growers proved that
the terrain could produce premium grapes.
The Hallengren family household,
now under Lake Sonoma
Wine grapes were first
planted in the AVA by Bishop as early as 1872 and some years later
S.P. Hallengren, a Swedish immigrant started a family legacy in
the AVA when he planted vineyards. Hallengren's Great-Grandsons
Chris and Tom Mauritson now farm 700 acres of wine grapes in the
AVA and Hallengren's Great-Great-Grandson, Clay Mauritson runs the
family winery specializing in wine from Rockpile grapes.
Vineyards returned to Rockpile in 1992, with Rod and Cathy Park kicking
off the modern era with their Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in the
northwest end of the appellation, followed by Gary Branham.
Rod and Cathy Park's Rockpile Vineyard
ushered in a new era of grape growing.
Two years later, Jack Florence, Jr. planted his Zinfandel vineyards
in the southeastern end of the appellation. In somewhat poignant
coincidence, the Zinfandel used to bud Jack’s vines came
from a vineyard planted during the 1870’s, making it a peer
to Bishop’s ancient planting. Planted by McElarney & Smith,
this Cloverdale vineyard, now owned by the St.Peter’s Church,
is one of the oldest surviving vineyards in California today,
and is the source for most of Rockpile’s Zinfandel.
Information regarding historic Rockpile Ranch and Native Americans provided by Cathy and Rod Park, information regarding history of Mauritson vineyards provided by Clay and Thomas Mauritson.