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Map of Rutherford
1880's Vintage map of Rutherford

RootsHistory of Morisoli Vineyard

Spanning over 120 years in operation, our vineyard is one of the longest continually run, family-owned vineyards in the Napa Valley.  This is a story of traditional farming, scraping through prohibition, hard work caring for vines, and making wine... before it was the popular thing to do.

1883 Rocco Morisoli Emigrates From Switzerland

Rocco Morisoli leaves his homeland and occupation as a goat herder and dairy farmer in Monte Carasso, Switzerland for the promise of a better future in California. His month-long journey takes him on the S.S. Labrador from Italy to New York, finally arriving in Napa in December of 1883. Hundreds of Swiss-Italians had already begun to make the trip and many settled in Napa County, bringing their culture, dialect and farming expertise with them.

Rocco Morisoli Emigrates From Switzerland

1893 Rocco Morisoli Weds Lodovina Poncetta

Rocco and Lodovina marry in 1893 in Napa, California. From the same region in Ticino, Switzerland, they find comfort in being close to other Swiss-Italian emigrants in Napa County. Rocco works a series of jobs milking cows and day laboring in Solano and Santa Barbara County only sparingly returning home to Napa County.

Rocco Morisoli Weds Lodovina Poncetta

1902 Roots in Rutherford

Rocco and Lodovina move to Niebaum Lane (then Watson Lane) and start a family. Their first son, Plinio Mario is born and they begin farming vineyards on the W. Kreckler Tract. Sharecropping at first, they work hard to save enough money to eventually buy their farmhouse and vineyard. Lodovina is seen here, standing on the porch with her little dog in a colorized photo c. 1902.

Roots in Rutherford

1910 Lodovina Saves the Ranch

Rocco Morisoli divorced from Lodovina and mysteriously disappeared a few years prior. There are no records of his departure or death in Napa County. Lodovina maintains the property and purchases it in her name. She has married Natale Tonarelli and together with her four children they continue to live in the tiny white farmhouse and grow grapes on Niebaum Lane. The “Old Block” is slowly replanted after being decimated by Phylloxera.

Lodovina Saves the Ranch

1920 Prohibition Disrupts Life in Napa

Prohibition disrupts life in Napa County. Wineries close, vineyards are destroyed and replaced with walnuts, plums, and prunes. Plinio and his mother keep the vines in the ground by selling grapes for sacramental wine to the Christian Brother’s Winery at Mount La Salle.

Prohibition Disrupts Life in Napa

1926 Newly Wed, New Business

Plinio marries Clementine Teping from San Francisco. Together they purchase the Rutherford General Store on the site of the present day Rutherford Grill. The two live in the apartment above the store where they sell food and supplies from all over California, there is even a butcher shop in the back. Clementine becomes the librarian of the Rutherford Branch of the Napa County Library, while Plinio sells mercantile and answers the Rutherford Volunteer Fire Department’s phone line to ring the siren during emergencies. Plinio also tends to his family’s vineyard and makes weekly trips to the top of Mt. St. John to deliver supplies to the quicksilver miners of the La Hoya and Bella Oaks Mines.

Newly Wed, New Business

1929 Bootleg Wines and a New Baby

Plinio’s mother Lodovina passed away a year prior. Her husband, Natale transfers the 10-acre vineyard to Plinio and he continues to farm and sell his grapes to Christian Brothers and the Italian-Swiss Colony Winery. Clementine gives birth to their only son Philip in June. While still in the grips of prohibition and now with a newborn baby, Plinio quietly makes wine in the basement of their farmhouse.

Bootleg Wines and a New Baby

1934 Prohibition Ends

Prohibition has finally been repealed. Plinio begins working for both the Italian-Swiss Colony and Louis M. Martini wineries as a field agent. He sources grapes around the valley and from his own vineyard for $20 a ton. In March, Plinio purchases another adjacent 10 acres of vineyard from the Doak Ranch which is planted to prunes and vineyard.

Prohibition Ends

1939 Plinio Manages the Greystone Winery for Schenley

Plinio, Clementine and Philip all move to Hunt Avenue in St. Helena to be closer to town. Plinio leaves Martini winery and begins a new job managing the Schenley Winery at Greystone. During his free time, he continues to meticulously tend the ranch in Rutherford.

Plinio Manages the Greystone Winery for Schenley

1952 Wanted: Tractor Work

Philip marries Joanne Logan and begins managing vineyards and contracting tractor work for clients around the valley with his newly purchased D2 Tractor. They live on Hunt Avenue in St. Helena.

Wanted: Tractor Work

1953 The Fourth Generation

Philip and Joanne have an only son, Gary. He grows up on tractors and in the vineyard, helping his grandfather Plinio at the ranch in Rutherford. Shortly after, Philip buys 17 acres of the adjacent Edington Ranch.

The Fourth Generation

1974 Farming in the Dust

Fruit from Morisoli Vineyard is sold to Sunny St. Helena Winery and the Napa Valley Co-Op. Petite Sirah, Chenin Blanc and Zinfandel Field Blends are the predominant grapes planted in the vineyard at the time. Gary Morisoli takes over the farming and eventually moves to the Niebaum Lane Farmhouse.

Farming in the Dust

1980 A St. Helena Wedding

Gary marries Melody Eisan whose family owned Mel’s Clothing in St. Helena and previously had run a chicken and egg farm on White Sulphur Springs Road. They move full time to Rutherford and Gary manages over 300 acres of adjoining vineyards, including his grandfather’s vines.

A St. Helena Wedding

1984 Fifth Generation Arrives

Christopher Morisoli is born and grows up in Rutherford. Gary purchases 17 adjoining acres to the south from his father Phil a year later. The vineyard is mostly planted to Chenin Blanc and Italian field blends. Ray Coursen, while living next door, convinces Gary to start planting Cabernet Sauvignon.

Fifth Generation Arrives

1987 Single Vineyard Wines Emerge

The first Single Vineyard designated wine from the vineyard is made by Ray Coursen of Elyse Winery. Shortly after, the 1990 Whitehall Lane “Morisoli” Single Vineyard is named one of the top 10 Cabernets in the world by the Wine Spectator. Seen above are four generations of Morisoli’s in one photo.

Single Vineyard Wines Emerge

1991 Zieger Property Purchase

Gary purchases an additional 20 neighboring acres of the Zieger ranch. This was previously the Cosentini property until it was purchased by Richard Zieger, a German immigrant who escaped Nazi Germany in May of 1939. Gary replants 13 acres to Cabernet Sauvignon and leaves the other seven planted to Zinfandel. This purchase completes the current 53 acres of planted vines at Morisoli Vineyard.

Zieger Property Purchase

1995 Single Vineyard Wines

Multiple wineries make Morisoli Vineyard designates as the Vineyard becomes well known. Sequoia Grove, V. Sattui, Elyse Winery, Etude, Amici and Trujillo all designate the vineyard in some of their highest quality Cabernet Sauvignons.

Single Vineyard Wines

2018 First Vintage of Morisoli Vineyard Wine

Chris returns home from 12 years of active duty in the Army as a MEDEVAC Pilot. The first vintage of Morisoli Vineyard is harvested from the best section in the vineyard. This marks the first year the Morisoli Family has made wine for sale and not just for their own consumption!

First Vintage of Morisoli Vineyard Wine

2023 Wine Spectator Top 100

2019 Morisoli Cabernet Sauvignon listed #100 on Wine Spectator Top 100 wines of 2023. First harvest of “Old Block Zinfandel” under the Morisoli Label.

Wine Spectator Top 100

The Cabernet Sauvignon 2018, 2019, and 2020 each reveal wonderful restraint with taut, muscular fruit and plenty of savory/earthy nuances. These are wines built for cellaring.

Lisa Perotti Brown
Morisoli Illustration of Tractor and Vines

Morisoli Wines Are Offered By Allocation

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