Makes Its Mark in the Organic Wine Industry
Take a “daycation” and head out 12 miles east of Chico on Highway 32 towards Forest Ranch to check-out LaRocca Winery and Vineyards, one of only two well-known organic vineyards in the northern county.
For 26 years, Philip LaRocca, owner and winemaker from San Francisco, and his family welcomes guests who are looking to wine taste six different 100 percent organic wines and enjoy the natural wildlife scenery at the ranch.
As a child, Philip LaRocca was raised around farmers, as his mother’s family was farmers in Santa Clara.
“Farming was always in my blood,” LaRocca said. “I spent a lot of my youth around organic fruit farmers.”
Because of his heritage, LaRocca became the first certified organic apple grower in the state of California.
Growing apples is where LaRocca met Wilson Bruce, a French wine maker. LaRocca grew organic apples next door to Bruce’s vineyard. The lease for the apple orchard was up and a senior citizen housing development was to be built on the land.
LaRocca knew he wanted to purchase another piece of land. Bruce introduced LaRocca to another piece of land. He ended up working for the individual that owned the vineyards at the time until he gradually purchased and acquired the whole property. The land is now known as LaRocca Winery and Vineyard. LaRocca spent a lot of time rebuilding and replanting the vineyards. He also kept the old colonial variety.
“Being first generation Americans, my dad always told me the older the vineyard the more intense the wine would be,” LaRocca said. “So I did not get rid of any of the old vines. I pulled them up and saved them.”
Today, the LaRocca family owns 110 acres of vineyards at 2,600 feet —the highest point of the Doe Mill Ridge. With the art of winemaking and growing mastered, the family bottles and grows 100 percent of the grapes organically at the vineyard.
“Organic production must integrate cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity,” according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s website.
The USDA National Organic Program accredits, certifies and recognizes private businesses, organizations and state agencies on the producing and handling of agricultural products. With only a few 100 percent organic wineries in the world, LaRocca Winery and Vineyards proudly represents the organic wine industry.
LaRocca decided to entertain the organic wine industry because of his Sicilian grandfather who used to farm organically. LaRocca’s mother adapted to the organic way of life and passed it on to her children.
When LaRocca married, he and his wife decided the less chemicals the better. Together, the couple decided they would not use any chemicals.
Drinking organic wine definitely has it perks. Organic wine has better flavor and taste. The main goal for LaRocca is to create and nourish rich, fertile soil combined with healthy varietals. Cover crops are planted every year to hold the ground together and keep it cool, encourage predatory insects to eat the bad insects, fertility and cultivation.
As a result, the perfect-farmed organic grapes offer great flavor with fruit intensity. Drinking organic wine ensures all chemicals will remain out of the wine glass.
“In 1998, California farmers used 215 million pounds of chemicals. The chemicals that were used in grape production include highly poisonous insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides,” according to California’s Agricultural Authorities. These chemicals are very harmful to humans. With the vineyard’s process to exclude the use of all chemicals, LaRocca is certified by CCOF, a premier organic certification program that promotes and supports organic food agriculture.
“From a health stand point, my wines are way better for you,” LaRocca said.
The wines are made with three factors in mind: cleanliness, use of oxygen and temperature control.
Wine enthusiasts can drink two bottles of LaRocca’s wine and not get a headache because of the no added sulfites.
In addition to the great-tasting organic wine, the glass bottle, tin cork and foil are recyclable.
“I like to recycle and be sustainable,” LaRocca said. “I’m a purist when it comes to organic.”
LaRocca refers to himself as the black sheep of the wine industry because he chooses to not add sulfites to his award-winning wines.
“It’s made them frown when I win an award. The whole industry is a competition, but I don’t like to look at it like that,” LaRocca said.
LaRocca Winery and Vineyards obtains 12 contracts with food processors to make organic wine as an ingredient. The wine is perfect for tomato sauces. In addition, the wine is used as an ingredient in organic jerky and organic frozen dinners. The family also raises organic beef on the farm, which can be tasted during the visit to the vineyard. It is all-natural with a kick of spices.
Wine tasting occurs Friday from 1:30-6 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 12-6 p.m. For just $6 a total of six organic wines can be tasted. A camera is necessary as the view from the Doe Mill Ridge is amazingly beautiful!
As a first-time wine taster, Victoria Piraino learned a lot about the wine.
“My favorite was the Lush Zinfandel,” said Piraino. “It was sweet and soft.”
The wines that can be tasted during the visit are:
- Cabernet Sauvignon: LaRocca’s number one seller; a elegant red with hints of dark fruit, such as blackberry, fig, plum and bing cherry.
- Merlot: The estate-bottled organic Merlot is the softest of the reds with a hint of raspberry and light fruit characteristics.
- Syrah: First commercial wine made at Butte College’s farm. The Syrah is only sold locally and is considered a big, chewy wine.
- “The Syrah picked me up,” Steve Schepper, emergency room physician said while tasting at the winery.
- Lush Zinfandel, Late Harvest: The dessert-style red wine is like a port, but sweeter and with more elegance.
- “The Late Harvest is one of my masterpieces,” LaRocca said.
- Chardonnay: The estate-bottled organic Chardonnay is dry, fermented and a true big wine with an essence of pear.
- “It’s my white wine for red—wine drinkers,” LaRocca said.
- Chenin Blanc: The organic wine provides the taste of melon, spice and honey.
- Organic Sparkling Wine: The LaRocca family teamed with Chef de cave, Didier Jacquet to spearhead the Methode Champenoise organic champagne, which is the first organic champagne, ever. The organic sparkling wine can be tasted for $12.
For more information or to schedule a wine tasting appointment please call 520.899.WINE or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the future, LaRocca would like to cut back on his roles at the vineyard because he currently performs most of the tasks. He would like to focus most of his time on supervising the vineyard and making the wine. The family is also looking to open a tasting room in Chico, Calif.
“I love all my wines, but people always ask what my favorite wine is and if I was on a desert island I would choose my Cabernet,” LaRocca said.