Rosella Franscioni called "An Icon in California Winemaking"
Compiled by Chronicle Wine Editor Linda Murphy
It was love at first sight nearly 30 years ago when Gray Franscioni, a Cal Poly San Luis Obispo graduate and scion of a Monterey County farming family, met and later married Rosella Munoz, a hair stylist whose family had relocated to Gonzales (Monterey County) from the Mexican state of Durango.
While running the Franscioni ranch, the couple in 1996 planted Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah vines on their Santa Lucia Highlands property west of Gonzales. They called it Rosella's Vineyard, and now, 10 years later, Rosella, the daughter of migrant workers, is an icon in California winemaking.
On The Chronicle's Top 100 Wines of 2005 list, Rosella has her name on an amazing eight wines -- seven Pinot Noirs and a Syrah, produced by six different wineries plus the Franscionis' own two brands, Roar Vineyards and August West. In the annual compilation of our tasting panel's favorites from California, Oregon, Idaho and Washington State, it's common for one vineyard to produce three or four standouts on our list. But eight from Rosella's? Impressive.
It's not just her name on the bottles, either; Rosella Franscioni is fully involved. While her husband manages the vineyard, she runs the business end, plus human resources, label design and decision-making on the final blends of the Franscionis' wines.
Bernardus Vineyards & Winery in Carmel Valley, Miner Family Winery in Napa Valley, Morgan Winery in Monterey County, Testarossa Vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains and Vision Cellars in Sonoma County purchased Pinot Noir grapes from Rosella's Vineyard and turned them into 2005 Top 100 wines. Adam and Dianna Lee of Novy Wines in Santa Rosa scored with their 2003 Rosella's Vineyard Syrah (they also own Siduri Wines and make a fine Rosella's Pinot Noir).
The Franscionis are also represented on the Top 100 by their 2003 Roar Rosella's Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir and the 2003 August West Rosella's Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir, a brand they own with winemaker Ed Kurtzman and grape grower Howard Graham.
The 2003 August West is among our top 10 picks -- aromatic and packed with juicy black-fruit flavors and spice, and with wonderful balance and palate-refreshing acidity. Its bold, ripe fruit is characteristic of Pinots made from Rosella's. Gary, who also co-owns Garys' Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands (with friend Gary Pisoni), credits a combination of climate, clones and custom farming for the success the 10 wineries that buy fruit from him have experienced.
Rosella's is in the cool north-central portion of the Santa Lucia Highlands, so the grapes ripen later than those of other vineyards in the appellation, thus developing higher natural acidity and more fruit maturity without the high alcohol levels of wines made from grapes grown on warmer sites. The vineyard is planted to six Dijon Pinot Noir clones from France's Burgundy region and one known as the Pisoni clone, also traced to Burgundy. It's this mix of vines with different pedigrees that extends to diversity in the wines.
Franscioni farms to each winemaker's specifications -- altering how much water the vines get, how many leaves are removed to allow sunlight on the clusters, the number of clusters that each vine will carry, applications of certain organic treatments, when to harvest, etc.
The winemakers then apply their own spins, from determining how to press the grapes, to the selection of fermentation yeasts and temperatures, to the type and toast levels of barrels, whether to fine or filter the wine, and more.
Most pay by the acre ($3,500 is a typical per-acre price) rather than by the ton, and with the small clusters, low yields produced and intensive labor, Rosella's grapes are not inexpensive, and thus neither are the wines produced from them.
In fact, Pinot Noirs in The Chronicle Top 100 are a pricey category -- and also our favorite -- with 22 Pinots among the 100 wines on the list. Those 22 average $40.50 in suggested retail price -- and that includes two terrific values, the 2003 Castle Rock Carneros Pinot Noir ($10) and 2004 Siduri Sonoma County Pinot Noir ($19).
It's a fact that the very best wines on Earth are expensive, though not all expensive wines are great. Quality commands top dollar, and demand regulates what top dollar is. The post-"Sideways" consumer rush to buy Pinot Noir, low yields, the gentle handling the Pinot Noir grape requires and the custom farming done by the Franscionis and others make buying stellar Pinot Noir mostly a costly proposition.
Our Top 100 Wines are those predominantly rated "excellent," or the higher score, "outstanding," by our panel throughout the year. Some wines were recommended by the tasters as "very good" and appear on the list thanks to their bang for the buck.
Note: Not all wines listed are available in all stores and restaurants. Some are made in small quantities, some are sold only to restaurants and others were released early in 2005 and may be difficult to find. Shop around, consult your local wine merchant, contact the wineries for sales locations and consider ordering online.