She said, “If anyone can write about Foppiano Vineyards, Jo, you can.” This was said to me by my friend Lorraine Raguseo, who’s now part of their team through Quintessential Wines. And, she’s right. At this point in time, besides the family, I believe she’s right.

[PHOTO: Foppiano Vineyards, all rights reserved.]

BEFORE – 1896 to 2002

Foppiano Vineyards was founded in 1896, by Giovanni Foppiano.

When I began consulting with them, in 2002, Louis J. Foppiano was still alive. He was a rapscallion, putting it mildly; yet, that’s what I found endearing; although debatable, within his immediate family. (My father was also hard on me, so I understand the dynamic.) Louis J. had a deep commitment to his family name. He also made sure that generations into the future, would continue the farming, wine-grape legacy. His children meant everything in the world to him.

Each day I’d visit the tasting room, where there was a large calendar on the office countertop. And, every day, “Senior” (how I always referred to him) would write the current weather, sometimes I’d catch him in the process. There was a lesson in that one: he could talk about any harvest, from any year, on this ranch.

[PHOTO: Foppiano Vineyards, all rights reserved.]

[PHOTO of Louis J. and “Toby.” Jo Diaz]

There was that Red Truck of his. His family told him (now into his 90s), he couldn’t drive it any longer on Old Redwood Highway, the main drag leading to and from the winery. Ultimately, it didn’t matter to him, because he could still go back and forth, from his home to the winery and back again, through the vineyards… knocking out a few vines on occasion. And he got some pretty good dents in the side of his pick-up. But, here’s the thing… He showed up each and every day, until perhaps his last few. A Sonoma County pioneer, Louis J. Foppiano died at the age of 101, because he loved his work, his family, and making wine.

I love his memories of great courage; he lived through Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II, and on and on.

PHOTO: Bronze bust unveiling of Louis J. Foppiano, circa 2008. Left to Right: Louis J. Foppiano great grandfather), Giana Foppiano (great granddaughter, Paul’s daughter), and Paul Foppiano (grandson, son of deceased father Rod Foppiano). Jo Diaz Photography, all rights reserved.


DURING – 2002 to 2009

Working for the family was an opportunity of a lifetime, as I got to know each family members:

  • General Manager Louis M
  • Hospitality Director Susan Foppiano Valera (sister)
  • Nephew Paul Foppiano (father Rod was Louis’s brother, who met an untimely death)

I saw a lot, I enjoyed a lot, I got them copious amounts of publicity, began and managed their famous Petite Sirah Symposiums, and got the endorsement to initiate PS I Love You. It was such a high. Foppiano Vineyards has a rustic character, filled with its guts and glory of the past and its down-to-earth homeyness. The day I took this photo of Louis M (pictured), we went walking down to the river’s edge, and he gave me a detailed history of every piece of the vineyard property, along the way.

The family was growing. Louis had wings on his feet traveling the world. He deserved to travel, based on how hard his Father had worked him at the winery, for a good, long time. Susan loved being in her red Caboose office and putting on events. And, then Paul got married to Jacqui, and had Gianna.

When Louis brought in consultants, I was replaced, as is pretty much usual with consultants. When one door closed, many more were opened; my history with the family catapulted me forward, while savoring the great run I had had.

[PHOTO: Jo Diaz, all rights reserved.]

Favorite “during” memory: When we were having one of the Foppiano Petite Sirah Symposiums I produced at their winery, I had some great news for the Louises. There was a wonderful magazine at the time called “The Wine News.” I loved the big, glossy magazine’s details to the absolute highest quality images and stories… And, there it was within, a spectacular story in The Wine News, about Petite Sirah. The focus was on son Louis M (son), not Louis J (father). I had one happy guy and one furious man. Senior was having a hissy fit.

After so many years of having him always being on his best behavior, when I’d show up, I guess I had finally become family… He was so angry with me… and causing a ruckus at his table. I could see that it was making people around him a bit nervous. I had to manage this. I don’t know where it came from within me; but, but, I went to him, bent down, and whispered in his ear, in my firmest voice. “You just settle down. This day is for Louis (M). It’s an article in the Wine News, not in Wine Spectator. That one’s waiting for you and it’s coming!” And, I stood straight up, leaving him with the thought. He turned pensive, and hopeful.

I was in shock with what I had just told him. Where in God’s name did I ever come up with that one? But, I did and somehow believed my own words, even though no one had talked to me about anything regarding my assertion.

Never having made a white-lie promise – before, and now after – it was a doozy. Now what was I going to do?

Before I even had an answer to my own question, a copy of Wine Spectator arrived. Two weeks later, there it was on their very last (great real estate) page… there it was… a full-page image of Louis J. Foppiano, my lovable rapscallion. Holy Molly Cannoli… What a save! I just waltzed into the Foppiano office (I knew I’d find him there, writing on his calendar), gave Senior my copy, and heaved a tremendous sigh of relief. I next emailed Tim Fish to thank him, with a big smile on my face and a handkerchief to wipe the increasing sweat from my brow.


[PHOTO: Paul Foppiano, all rights reserved – Foppiano Vineyards.]

Foppiano Vineyards is one of Sonoma County’s oldest, continually operated, family-owned wineries. They’ve held onto a prestigious California winery history, as a founding winery dating 1896. Few have had such a hardworking, dedicated “to wine grape farming” family. Today, Rob McNeill (vice president and GM) is leading the parade, while Paul Foppiano has surrounded himself with key players to keep the lamp lights on. According to Paul, from their Website:

“When Paul’s passion for viticulture first kicked in, he went to work with the Demostene Family at nearby Sausal Vineyards in Alexander Valley. Third generation viticulturists, David and Ed Demostene were eager to share their vineyard knowledge with Paul. ‘At a time in my life when I was really eager to learn, they taught me a lot about farming, and I respect them tremendously.’”

When you head out there, on Old Redwood Highway in Healdsburg, you’ll most likely find Paul behind the wheel of his tractor, living among the vines. He knows his stuff, and I’m just delighted to have watched this family so closely.

Louis retired from the winery, handing down the reigns to Paul, with Paul’s cousins also having a voice in the winery. It’s still a family affair, minus the few who have passed, from this continuing family outline.

  • Louis J’s wife: Della Bastoni died in 2002, just after a few months from when I had started with them.
  •  Children
    • Rod Foppiano (died of leukemia in 1984)
    • Louis M. Foppiano
    • Susan Foppiano Valera
  • Grandchildren
    • Paul Foppiano (Rod’s son)
    • Gina Foppiano (Rod’s daughter)
    • James Valera (Susan’s son)
    • Joseph Valera (Susan’s son)
  • Great granddaughters
    • Gianna Ann Foppiano (Paul’s daughter)
    • Joy Marie Hocker (Gina’s daughter)


TODAY ~ Mastering the World

with MS Evan Goldstein’s “Master the World

Since this is the holiday season, I’d be remiss to not suggest this as a holiday gift for your favorite wine lovers. Since the first day of Christmas is December 25, we still have 11 days of Christmas remaining (from the 12 days of Christmas). Who knows? You could start a new tradition. I highly recommend studying about wine with Evan Goldstein. It’s the turning point for running around with an arrow, or simply pulling the bow string back, focusing, releasing that bow, and hitting a bull’s eye! Evan’s got it all; he’s very knowledgeable, is a great explainer, and one of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet. He makes learning about wine a blast.

Foppiano Vineyards’ winemaker is Nova Perrill. He and Paul are two interlocking partners, consulting each other on each aspect. When they need a PR boost, they call in experts. This time it was Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein.

Evan was a great representative, for showcasing the Foppiano current vintages. The tasting was billed as “A family epic full of tradition, perseverance, contributions to the history of Sonoma County, and the wine industry…” and I was invited.

Evan’s company Master the World, first blind tasted Foppiano’s wine to evaluated which wines to focus their attention. About what they chose: “This Foppiano Vineyards line-up has been curated by our team of Master Sommeliers, for a unique and focused tasting experience, to develop your palate; while honing your skills in evaluating wine.” This is their “speak” for any of their tastings, be it trade or media. Since this tasting was with a group of wine writers, we pretty much tasted ahead of time, to easily connect all of our dot, while on ZOOM. Foppiano’s best foot forward and down-home fantastic, these are the wines we tasted:

  • Foppiano Estate Sauvignon Blanc 2019 (Russian River Valley)
    • It’s a very naturally, floral Sauvignon Blanc, with no residual sugar to suggest floral; but, it’s still present. This can happen, making it uniformly delicious. Since it was grown in a cooler climate (along the Russian River’s riverbank, the last place for fog to lift), it should be very typical of a Sauvignon Blanc coming from water regions. New Zealand is a similar parallel, with its reference to cat urine. BTW: I measure the flavors of Sauvignon Blancs in a five claw system.
      • A cooler climate is great for substantially alleviating this funky (for me personally) aromatic. The cooling influence of river helped to develop its characteristic flavors. For my palate and nose a cooler climate made this one milder and a more enjoyable Sauvignon Blanc. Think of it as a crisp and light-bodied white wines, with refreshing acidity.
    • What causes this aroma, you might ask? It’s a chemical compound called p-mentha-8-thiol-3-one. Yeah, we can’t really memorize it easily, but we can use this in a chemistry lab and everyone will get it there.
  • Foppiano Estate Petite Sirah “Centennial Blend” 1993
    • In the 1996s, I sat with others at Foppiano in a marketing meeting, and produced with a Centennial blend, calling it “Lot 96.” It’s personally rewarding to see the tradition continuing. For this 1993 Foppiano Estate PS, I knew what to expect and it delivered. The thing about Petite Sirah is that it’s big, bold, and bodacious on your palate… sometimes even when it’s 30, 40, or even 50 years old. The tannins (that which keeps an older wine still palatable years down the road) still allow for this Petite Sirah to have appreciable character, delivering classic blackberry jam, spices, and color that belies its age… ruby velvet. Their Petite Sirahs are classic, from rustic to cosmopolitan. This one is rustic on the earthy side. Worth every dollar.
  • Foppiano Estate Rivers Edge Pinot Noir 2016
    • Another wine that Foppiano Vineyards does really well is Pinot Noir. On the high end of the Russian River Valley, they slip into that category. I’ve always found their Pinots to be really delicious. As soft and silky as the silt of the river, it’s just a smooth example of what Pinot Noir, grown near a cool waterway, can become. The Foppiano Pinots of today are on the elegant side of the variety. If you’ve ever thought of them as rustic, it’s time to rethink it. Plums, raspberries, and blueberries is how I best describe them. Show a bottle to me and I begin to salivate.
    • Sidebar on the Russian River name:
      • The Russian River is so called, because Russian fur traders migrated to what is now California, coming through Alaska and as far south as the river, now called Russian River. They returned to Russian, just before the Gold Rush, as hunting was no longer plentiful. (Russian names, beyond the river: Fort Ross, Moscow Road, Russian Gulch, and Sebastopol.
      • On the southern side of the Russian River, Mexican inhabitants lived (and still live here). The evidence is the string of missions established by Spanish Padre Junipero Serra (with accompanying Spanish soldiers), like Santa Rosa, San Francisco, etc., right down the coast to San Diego.
  • Foppiano Estate Nono’s Block Zinfandel 2017
    • Foppiano doesn’t make a lot of Zinfandel, but when they do it’s fun. It’s a full-bodied Zin, due to it being on the higher side of alcohol (14.9 percent). It shows and delivers strawberries, raspberries, and black plum… It’s bold (perhaps some Petite?) It has dark chocolate and blueberry on the finish, with a hint of dried plum. The oak is well integrated with the wine, making it a powerful Zinfandel.
  • Foppiano Estate Gianna’s Block Petite Sirah 2017
    • This wine is name after Gianna Foppiano, Paul and Jacqui Foppiano’s child (born in 2006), carrying her name. It’s delightful to see their legacy (1896 to 2021) passed down to the next generation, by 2002. It pays homage to all that have come before her. This is a serious Petite with an inviting, rather sweet nose; but, the sweet wasn’t translated to my palate. Classic Petite with flavors of blueberries, black blueberry, ripe plums, along with chocolate and black pepper. The tannic structure is flavorful, bold, and nicely tamed.
      • Today’s Petites reflect what all winemakers shared at Foppiano’s First Petite Sirah Symposium… with Louis M. Foppiano, deciding it was time to revisit Petite Sirah (in 2002). Since that day, we can all be thankful for Louis M’s desire to learn more about Petite. It created a Petite Sirah whose tannins are greatly tamed, with a thoughtful and gentle fermentation. As they led the effort, word spread about “how to we tame this beast.”
    • Generations of Foppianos in US viticulture and winemaking
      1. Giovanni
      2. Louis A.
      3. Louis J.
      4. Louis M.
      5. Paul
      6. Gianna

This isn’t the end of this story, not by a long shot.