Mother-daughter duo of Rickey Trombetta Stancliff and Erica Stancliff have a passion for wines they showcase in the Trombetta Family Wines. With their “harvest-to-table farming,” this duo is taking California’s Petaluma Gap AVA by a storm.

The Unique Petaluma Gap AVA

One of the most exciting new potential Agricultural Viticultural Areas has got to be Petaluma Gap. This swath runs through the lower half of California’s Sonoma County and touches the San Pablo Bay. It captures the fog and wind that comes off the Pacific and distributes it right across prime Pinot Noir and Chardonnay growing land before warming up in the later hours of the day.  Basically, Petaluma Gap is a wind tunnel funneling cool air into the Sonoma Valley and slowing the physiology of grapes.  They ripen evenly, are thicker-skinned and packed with flavor.

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Mother Rickey Trombetta Stancliff with winemaker daughter Erica Stancliff. Photo courtesy Trombetta Wines

These vineyards produce incredible Burgundian varietals and now, under the direction of a committee headed by the charming Rickey Trombetta Stancliff, they are about to get the stamp of approval that designates a special growing area. The winemakers who have sought out this fruit have known they have quality in the barrel and their customers know it in the bottle.

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Trombetta wines from the Petaluma Gap AVA Photo by Barbara Barrielle

Italian Family Heritage of Wine and Food

Rickey Trombetta grew up in Santa Rosa after her Italian parents moved there in 1953 when the population of the city was only 10,000 people. They were not in the wine business and, in fact, didn’t even regularly drink wine. But, the Trombettas loved raising food (her father was a master fruit tree grafter) and entertaining. This approach to life and family is what Rickey has carried into her own family.

Rickey and her husband, Roger Stancliff, bought several acres in Forestville and planted it to gardens, fruit trees and vegetables.  Although making wine was not a consideration in the early days, the Stancliffs planted grapes in their prime Pinot Noir growing area.  Rickey’s interest in winemaking grew when Roger introduced her to co-workers who were learning to make wine. This led to the couple taking classes at the local Santa Rosa Junior College and exploring wine.

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Trombetta’s Pinot Noir was recognized for its excellence by Pigs and Pinot, the foremost Pinot Noir event in Northern California. Photo by Barbara Barrielle

Legendary Winemaker Paul Hobbs Enters the Picture

In 1998, Rickey met renowned winemaker Paul Hobbs who was looking to launch his vineyard, Lindsay’s Vineyard, in the Russian River Valley. Ever the entertainer and organizer, Rickey helped Paul with a launch party and he helped change the direction of her life.  She worked harvest for years, learned winemaking from Paul and through classes at UC Davis. Hobbs was also a regular at her family’s dining room table where they explored wine and food even more.

It was at these many dinners that daughter Erica Stancliff, just a child and oblivious to wine, smelled a wine on which Paul was trying to get tasting notes. She nailed the description in a way that only a truly trained palate—or a truly innocent one—could do.  This first encounter potentially set the stage for Erica’s own winemaking career.  She is now winemaker for Trombetta Wines as well as Furthemore Wines.

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Trombetta Pinot Noir pairs perfectly with Rickey’s Osso Buco at her gorgeous table around which famed winemakers shared many secrets…and bottles. Photo by Barbara Barrielle

Winemaking and Equestrian Pursuits

Rickey and Erica also share a passion for horses and, when not making or marketing Trombetta Wines or promoting the Petaluma Gap as an AVA, they could probably be found at the horse barn. Erica, in fact, went to Fresno State University on an Equestrian competition scholarship. The school also has an excellent winemaking program, enabling Erica to enjoy both of her loves.

The first wine produced by Trombetta Wines was from the 2010 vintage and was Pinot Noir from the Gap’s Crown Vineyard on the western slope of Sonoma Mountain.  Paul Hobbs offered to be consulting winemaker and the clones of 777, Swan and 828 were chosen because they exemplify the rich minerality, soils and cool weather of the Petaluma Gap.

This first wine was Ricky’s baby. She walked the rows of wines from bud break through harvest. She worked the night pick with the crews, making sure each bin was clean and dry before the fruit arrived.

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Another inspired pairing of Trombetta Chardonnay with soft cheeses and honey from Rickey’s bees. Photo by Barbara Barrielle

Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from the “Gap”

The 600 cases of Trombetta Wines produced in 2010 have long sold out, but the 2011 vintage through the current 2014 release have been just as popular.  All of the Trombetta wines are made from hand-harvested grapes, fermented with wild yeast and allowed to develop with native malolactic fermentation in French barrels.

In 2012, Trombetta introduced a Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast. The family has since expanded to Chardonnays from the Russian River Valley. There is also a tiny 42-case Chardonnay lot from the Gap’s Crown Vineyard their prized Pinot Noir calls home.

The current vintage, 2014 Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast is a cool, coastal breeze-influenced Pinot. It has bright cherry, cranberry aromas with earthy pepper and tart cherry and rose on the palate with hints of white pepper on the finish.

The 2014 Trombetta Gap’s Crown Vineyard Pinot Noir benefitted from a dry winter and mild summer, which allowed a long, even hang time and an early harvest producing perfectly ripe fruit.  Gorgeous color with blackberry and other dark fruit aromas give way to lush blackberry, red berries and currant flavor with a finish of cinnamon and other baking spices.

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Already legendary among winemakers, watch for the Petaluma Gap AVA to become sought after by savvy consumers for the ultimate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Photo by Barbara Barrielle

The 2015 Gap’s Crown Chardonnay, with a scant 42 cases, is a special wine from a vineyard Rickey and Erica know well from their years of making Gap’s Crown Pinot Noir.  This Petaluma Gap Chardonnay has honey, white flowers and citrus on the nose. A balanced palate with green apple flavors, vanilla and tropical fruit give way to a long finish with rounded acid and lingering honey.

2015 Trombetta Indindoli Chardonnay comes from the vineyard of a longtime Trombetta friend and vineyard manager to many in the Russian River Valley.  The grapes grow on Vine Hill Road and are Wente and Robert Young clones resulting in an apple-pear nose with notes of honey and flavors of vanilla and baked apple.  A beautiful wine from the vineyard of Carmen Indindoli, who Rickey describes as a wonderful man who makes sure all of his workers have an opportunity at higher education…and he pays for it.

The 2015 Four Brothers Chardonnay along a ridge of Sonoma Mountain is meticulously farmed. This shows in the glass with aromas and white peach and tangerine with bright acidity and stone fruit flavors and long complex finish.

All of the Trombetta wines are highly awarded, with excellent scores from top wine critics.  The current vintage recently received all 90+ scores from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.

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Spending an afternoon with Rickey Trombetta Stancliff is full of fabulous wine, Italian food from family recipes and great friendship. Photo by Leanne Sarasy

To spend time with Rickey and her family means lingering around a table laden wonderful food, much of it from her family’s Italian recipes, and enjoying spectacular Trombetta wines from vineyards that are sourced for the utmost representation of the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay Trombetta produces.  As Rickey says, “We want the vineyard to tell the story.” The vineyards speak in every glass of Trombetta wines.

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