How a church’s tiny vineyard launched one of Sonoma’s most prized wine regions

31 October 2022

Behind a modest Catholic church in Sonoma County sits a little-known vineyard that’s also one of the most influential in California.

The beefy, gnarly and 130-year-old vines of Cloverdale’s St. Peter’s Church Vineyard are the unsung heroes of the Rockpile region, an appellation known for producing intensely flavored Zinfandels that rank among the best in the world.

The vineyard had an unlikely rise to fame. Clocking in at only 5 acres, it’s in a northwest Sonoma County city that’s not exactly in the lexicon of notable Wine Country towns. The oldest vines on the acreage were planted in the 1880s; it’s unclear when the church assumed ownership of the vineyard.

It took more than 100 years for the site to make a name for itself. In the early 1990s, St. Peter’s Church parishioner Jack Florence Jr. was starting out in vineyard management and convinced the pastor to let him take over the farming. He wanted to sell the grapes to more reputable wine programs, and in 1994, he landed a breakout deal with the vanguard Zinfandel producer Rosenblum Cellars in Alameda.

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