Log In / Join Now


Growing Syrah in the heart of Napa Valley

Tim Fish
Posted: March 18, 2003

Mary Fran Rocca and Eric Grigsby had an outstanding first effort with Syrah in the 1999 vintage.
California Rhône Tasting Report
Led by Syrah, California's Rhône-style reds are reaching new heights.
Winery Profiles:
Sean Thackrey
Winemaking on the edge in a Marin eucalyptus grove
Putting the family to work in Sonoma
Excelling with an unlikely Ventura winery

You'd expect a beautiful smile from Mary Fran Rocca, and it's not just because her 1999 Syrah is an impressive first effort. Before Rocca and her husband, Eric Grigsby, bought their vineyard in Yountville, she was one of the valley's best-known specialists in cosmetic dentistry.

Rocca Syrah Yountville 1999 (90 points, $42) is so densely hued that it could darken the pearliest of whites. It's rich and plush, with exotic aromas of blackberry, game and coffee.

"I just love Syrah," says Rocca, 45. "I can't tell you that we had a particular model that we wanted to create. We just wanted to see what this property could do, and luckily we love what it does."

The Syrah comes from the family's 21-acre vineyard off Silverado Trail. While the appellation on the label is Yountville, Rocca recently discovered that portions of the vineyard may fall within Stags Leap District and Rutherford. But whatever the appellation, it seems a suitable location for Syrah, not to mention Cabernet Sauvignon, which accounts for 14 of the 21 acres.

After buying the vineyard in early 1999, Rocca hired Celia Masyczek, former winemaker for Staglin Family Vineyard and noted consultant. Then they made a fairly bold and expensive decision. Realizing that their soil was simply too fertile, and not wanting to pull out a healthy 8-year-old vineyard, they planted new rows of vines between each existing row.

"This is deep soil, so it's not going to hurt them at all to fight over it," says Rocca, who has invested more than $2 million in the vineyard.

The wine is made at nearby Laird Family Estate, but Rocca and Grigsby hope to build a small winery at the Yountville vineyard. Plans for growth are modest: A 10-acre vineyard in the Coombsville area east of the city of Napa has just been planted, and they recently bought a ranch near Sobon Estate in the Sierra foothills, where they may plant a few acres of Zinfandel.

Rocca was born and raised in Santa Rosa, in Sonoma County. As a teenager, she moved south to Marin County, where her parents operated the Palace Market at Point Reyes Station. She met Grigsby while in college. He was studying to be a doctor, and following his residency and early practice, which took them around the country, the couple eventually settled back in Northern California in 1989.

Today, Grigsby is a pain-management specialist, and the couple has four children, ages 8 to 14. Rocca now runs her family's market in Marin, but spends most of her time on wine. Grigsby enjoys working in the vineyard on weekends, often using two Belgian draft horses instead of a tractor. "They don't compact the soil as much," Rocca says. "We're trying to do everything as organic and sustainable as we can."

In addition to the 1999 Syrah, Rocca also has released a 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon and a Syrah-based blend called Bad Boy Red from the 2000 vintage.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.