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California adds ‘Italian’ vineyard to its organic stable

Having acquired Fox Hill Vineyards in Mendocino last year, California’s Broc Cellars has succeeded in achieving organic certification for the estate, which specialises in Italian grape varieties.

Instagram /@broccellars

Broc Cellars snapped up Fox Hill Vineyards in May 2023, following a two and a half year process to finalise the sale. Having long been a fan of the estate’s grapes, buying from Fox since 2013 to make his own wines, Broc owner Chris Brockway took over the farming operations and management of Fox in 2021 following the death of its owners Lowell and Barbara Stone.

Unusually for California, Fox Hill has not prioritised plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay. Instead, 25 Italian grape varieties, two Portuguese varieties and one Spanish variety are among its 23 hectares of vines. Included in its Italian lineage are Nero d’Avola, Trebbiano, Sangiovese, Cortese and Dolcetto.

“This exciting milestone fulfils a longtime dream of ours and means we can further expand upon our vision to work with the best resources nature provides,” Brockway said at the time of the acquisition.

“The family wanted to sell to somebody that wanted to keep Lowell’s vision going,” Brockway explained. “Not have somebody come in that’s going to rip everything out and plant Cabernet.”

Fox Hill has been on the path to organic viticulture for many years, and finally received CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers) certification last month (January, 2024). CCOF was the first organic certification body to be established in the US when it was formed in 1973.

Brockway admits that the route to organic hasn’t always been easy and highlights a decision to ungraft a Primitivo grape variety from a Tokaji vine as one example that didn’t quite go to plan. “Not every decision has been great. We did it during a drought and the vines didn’t like it. They did not grow back. So, we’re still learning,” he told East Bay publication Berkleyside.

Since buying the site, Brockway has also added a smattering of Sicilian grape varieties to the mix, planting Frapatto, Cataratto and Grillo.

Broc Cellars considers itself to be a “natural winery”, and bases its winemaking philosophy on using native fermentations and organically-grown grapes, with strictly no sulphur. It specialises in producing lighter-bodied Californian wines from lesser-known grape varieties, and makes Zinfandel, Carignan, Chenin Blanc and Grenache Gris, among others.

Broc now plans to pursue regenerative farming certification for Fox Hill’s wines, which retail for around US$30-$38 per bottle.

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