Rockpile Appellation has a rich history that includes prominent pioneers of Sonoma County, a notorious outlaw from the Jesse James gang, and actors from the Bonanza television series. The legend begins with a controversial Sonoma County Sheriff, Tennessee Carter Bishop who founded Rockpile Ranch in 1867, though the rugged name can be traced to a thriving Pomo Indian village, at the base of Rockpile Peak over 200 years ago.

Tennessee Bishop's daughters on Rockpile Road
Bishop is said to have used prisoners in the county jail to carve Rockpile Road along the mountain ridge above Dry Creek Valley for 15 miles to his front door. He and his neighbors brought sheep to the mountainous region and the area became home to some of the most successful sheep ranchers in Northern California. They helped make Sonoma County the heart of sheep ranching in the state for more than fifty years. Taking advantage of the abundant wildlife, these ranchers also established hunting clubs for both pleasure and as a sideline. The clubs attracted members of San Francisco's high society as well as local gentlemen. In spite of all of the ranching success it was the hunting that gave the region its greatest fame before the new generation of wine grape growers proved that the terrain could produce premium grapes.

The Hallengren family household,
now under Lake Sonoma
Wine grapes were first planted in the AVA by Bishop as early as 1872 and some years later S.P. Hallengren, a Swedish immigrant started a family legacy in the AVA when he planted vineyards. Hallengren's Great-Grandsons Chris and Tom Mauritson now farm 700 acres of wine grapes in the AVA and Hallengren's Great-Great-Grandson, Clay Mauritson runs the family winery specializing in wine from Rockpile grapes.

Vineyards returned to Rockpile in 1992, with Rod and Cathy Park kicking off the modern era with their Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard in the northwest end of the appellation, followed by Gary Branham.

Rod and Cathy Park's Rockpile Vineyard
ushered in a new era of grape growing.
Two years later, Jack Florence, Jr. planted his Zinfandel vineyards in the southeastern end of the appellation. In somewhat poignant coincidence, the Zinfandel used to bud Jack’s vines came from a vineyard planted during the 1870’s, making it a peer to Bishop’s ancient planting. Planted by McElarney & Smith, this Cloverdale vineyard, now owned by the St.Peter’s Church, is one of the oldest surviving vineyards in California today, and is the source for most of Rockpile’s Zinfandel.
Information regarding historic Rockpile Ranch and Native Americans provided by Cathy and Rod Park, information regarding history of Mauritson vineyards provided by Clay and Thomas Mauritson.