California Winemaker Louis J. Foppiano Passes Away

The Sonoma County wine legend and owner of Foppiano Vineyards dies at age 101.


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Louis J. Foppiano, a pioneering Sonoma County vintner, passed away on Friday, March 23, at Sutter Hospital in Santa Rosa, California. He was 101 years old.

Louis J.’s grandfather, Giovanni Foppiano, purchased the then 80-acre property in 1896, launching Foppiano Wine Company. It became a prominent supplier of bulk wine sold in tank cars to Northern California customers. Later, during Prohibition, Giovanni’s son (and Louis J.’s father), Louis A., took over the family business and began shipping grapes to home winemakers in an effort to stay financially afloat. After Louis A. passed away in 1924, the company was left in the hands of Louis J. and his two sisters Rosalind and Norma.

In the 1950s, with Louis J. at the helm of the company and California wine undergoing a seminal revolution, the company began supplying varietal wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon, to California wineries. “He also opened a retail tasting room...and discovered that visiting connoisseurs are willing to pay a dollar a bottle more for Foppiano Cabernet and Pinot Noir than for his Burgundy made of Zinfandel,” wrote historian Leon D. Adams in his book, "The Wines of America" (Houghton. Mifflin Co., 1973).

But it wasn’t until 1967, when Foppiano Wine Company bottled and released Foppiano Petite Sirah to critical acclaim, that the winery really shot to stardom. Some praised the wine as one of the best in the state, while others declared it was the winery’s best bottling. Today, Foppiano’s Petite Sirah is still a star wine.

Louis J.’s love for the variety propelled him to help launch P.S. I Love You (www.psiloveyou.org), an organization dedicated to promoting Petite Sirah to consumers. “He was one of the wine industry’s great pioneers of our industry,” says Jo Diaz, executive director of the organization. “Although he was well known for being a tough businessman, he was also known for being just and fair in all of his dealings. His word was trusted and respected.”

Foppiano was also a founding member of the Sonoma County Wine Growers Association in 1946 and the organization’s first president. He also helped launch the Wine Institute, where he served as a director for 45 years.

Louis is survived by his son, Louis M. Foppiano, daughter Susan Foppiano Valera and four grandchildren. The family has yet to announce details for a memorial service. Contributions in Louis J. Foppiano’s honor may be made to St. John the Baptist Catholic School, 208 Matheson St., Healdsburg 95448.

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