her lips blushed
a LaRocca Lush
plump, juicy, and sweet
her smile dimpled
with pure delight
a stray lock of hair
teeth pressed in
a nervous bite
her soul shined
in radiant gold
a Dionysus devotee
grape stomp beauty
draped in ecstasy
and purple toed
her windswept tassels
billowed like a horses mane
braided in grapevines
cascading the curves
of her divine frame
PHOTO VIA LAROCCA VINEYARDS
“The Late Harvest Lush Zinfandel was picked in November 24, 2005, allowing the grapes to hang longer on the vine. The grapes were picked at 34.5 brix at our Sutter Buttes Vineyard. Capturing the desirable effects of the Botrytis cinerea, the “noble” rot, this wine is rich, ripe and elegant with an enormous presence of raisin and luscious flavors of chocolate and berries which makes for a delightfully sweet finish. With hints of spice and pepper the wine is not overly powerful and is referred to as an aphrodisiac that only gets better with age. This wine pairs deliciously with a rich chocolate truffle or any desserts.”
LaRocca Vineyards grows on 110 acres in Forest Ranch, California, two miles down the windy mountainside Schott Rd, to the end of the pavement, and then a bit further. Nestled in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains at 2600 feet, LaRocca vines thrive on the sweet spring waters and rich mineral deposits of Mount Lassen.
PHOTO VIA LAROCCA VINEYARDS
Vintner Phil LaRocca does organic with a passion, the fruits of his labor grow chemical free, and his wines age to perfection with no sulfites added. Sulfites may occur naturally in some wines as a byproduct of fermentation, but the United States Organic Wine Standard strictly prohibits use of sulfur dioxide, synthetic additives and preservatives.All LaRocca vintages are tested for sulfite levels, if the readings are completely sulfite-free bottles are labeled with “no sulfites detected” to distinguish these hypo-allergenic products for consumers. Roughly 1 in 100 Americans have sulfite sensitivity, which can present as shortness of breath, hives, or anaphylactic shock in extreme cases.
When my big brother Bisbee was in high school experimenting with alcohol, he played a game of slap-bag with some friends of his, passing around cheap Moscato wine… until he passed out on the sidewalk at the Boys and Girls Club where our mother would pick me up after school. Bisbee was taken to Enloe, suffered a brutal hangover, and learned about sulfite sensitivity.
Sulfite sensitivity runs in our Dad’s side of the family, but we would never have guessed that he was allergic to wine, because both our parents drank LaRocca wines regularly when they were working at the vineyard. The LaRocca family has been growing grapes to stomp their wine since 1984, and under them my family has been working from vine to bottle to tasting room off and on for roughly 30 years.
Dad laid out irrigation, harvested the crops and stomped in the vats. They always joked about the hazard of vat death, apparently common in this profession, but I still remember the day Dad chopped the tip of his finger off with the pruning shears. The flap of skin was hanging by a thread, but we stopped for popsicles at The Store on the way down the mountain to the hospital, orange creamsicle was always my favorite. In the photo below, roughly 20 years later, I am cutting myself with those same shears. Turns out, the grape doesn’t fall far from the vine, but sadly, the popsicle selection at The Store just isn’t what it used to be.
Mom worked at the vineyard in racking, bottling and labeling, and later behind the counter at the Tasting Room when the original location opened in Forest Ranch. At the time, town consisted of The Store, The Diner, The Video Rental, and The Tasting Room. Over the years, several businesses have briefly occupied Forest Ranch storefronts, but the remote little mountain town provides a rather limited customer base, and rent for these locations is notoriously overpriced given the circumstances.
The new LaRocca Tasting Room is a classy joint in the heart of Chico, next door to the El Rey Theater. An intimate setting with limited capacity, the wine bar is a refreshing escape from the rowdy college scene that dominates Chico nightlife, but with special performers and trendy paint nights LaRocca is a tasteful alternative social hotspot.
LaRocca Vineyards Organic Wine Tasting Room
222 W. 2nd Street
Downtown Chico, California
Open Weds – Fridays 1:30-8pm
Saturdays 12 noon – 8pm
PHOTO VIA PHAEDRA LAROCCA
Even Bisbee got to pitch in with the LaRocca crew back in the day, as a tall and lanky child he was just small enough to drop into the vats for cleaning and just tall enough to climb his way back out again. For payment, being the little devil he was, my brother asked Phil for a Dallas Cowboys jersey. The 49ers haven’t won a Superbowl since he got that accursed jersey, but it is still packed away in the family home with baby keepsake clothes and old hippie hand-mades.
When my brother Wilder and I found our way home to Forest Ranch, Phaedra LaRocca had taken over business operations, with winemaker Phil doing what he does best. While we settled back in town, I started working for Phaedra around the vineyard, and fit right in like my mother never left. One by one familiar faces walked in, said hello to my mother… and one by one they did a double-take, wondering how she had managed to age backwards.
Dad, Wilder and I joined the limited friends and family crew when they came up shorthanded for the Pinot Noir crop that year. Another generation of Allens beside another generation of LaRoccas, another vintage, another snapshot, another generation of Forest Ranch memories. Phil prepared an organic feast that couldn’t be beat, with pineapple glazed ham, pasta salad, fresh fruits and veggies, and of course, LaRocca wine.
PINOT NOIR HARVEST 2015 — PHOTOS VIA LAROCCA VINEYARDS
From right: Dad, Me, Wilder, Phil and Crew