You must enable JavaScript®!
Gold Medal Wine Club
5330 Debbie Road, Suite 200
Santa Barbara, California 93111
Google+ Google Plus youTube YouTube Pinterest Pinterest Instagram Instagram
Welcome to Gold Medal Wine Club. America's Leading Independent Wine Club since 1992. Celebrating 20+ Years!
View AllView All Packages Package Code
Membership Rewards
Save $$$ in the wine store when you buy six or more wines-- combine any wine*, any series!

*Does not apply to Sale or Specials wines.

Armida Winery - Russain River Valley, Sonoma Count

Bob Frugoli thought he had retired. In 1989 he left Chicago and his successful career with E.F. Hutton, to relax and enjoy his retirement days back in his native northern California. He thought maybe a nice small winery to occupy his idle time would be just the ticket. Well, open a winery he did, but retire he didn’t!
Bob had a head start over most new winery owners just getting into the business. In the early nineteen seventies he and his uncle bought a 12-acre parcel in Sonoma county with the thought of converting it into an RV park. When they couldn’t get the proper permits they instead decided to plant grapes. They planted French Colombard, Carignane and a few other varietals with marginal success. “We learned a lot from those days,” recalls Bob. A short time later Bob was transferred to Chicago, so he sold his portion of the land investment to his uncle. It was too late though—Bob had made the plunge into the wine world and had gotten hooked.

It didn’t take long for Bob to get back into the fray. In 1979 he and two other partners bought 100 acres of land not far from his original land purchase in the Russian River Valley. The property already had mature Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Merlot vines, with a bit of Riesling. They immediately added Chardonnay, and more Merlot. Unlike his previous selection of grapes, these varietals were perfectly suited for the soil and micro-climate of the area. For the next ten years Bob managed his vineyard from afar, selling his entire crop each year to other wineries.

In 1989 after retiring from his real job Bob and his wife Rita moved back to California and settled in the Healdsburg area near the vineyard. Most of his vines were now over 20 years old, producing less fruit but with more concentration of flavor. It was only natural that Bob began to think of starting his own winery using the superb fruit from his own vineyard. “When I retired I had no intention of building a winery,” says Bob. “But I think every grower has thoughts of making great wine from their own crop,” he adds.
Again he took the plunge and wasted no time in finding a suitable spot for his winery. The location was virtually everything he wanted—a beautiful setting with a magnificent view, and not far from his vineyard. The property even had three large geodesic domes left over from another owner’s attempt to start a winery. The structures were completely renovated and now house the winery, office and warehouse respectively. He affectionately named the winery ‘Armida’ after his grandmother. As a child growing up in the San Francisco area, he used to spend summers at his grandmother’s house in Healdsburg. “She was a wonderful lady and so very good to me,” recalls Bob fondly.

The winery’s first crush came the following year in 1990. Veteran winemaker Frank Churchill has been responsible for making Armida’s wines from Day One. His first wine, a 1990 Chardonnay, promptly won a Gold Medal in the major wine-industry competition held at the Orange County Fair. Also crushed that first year was an estate Merlot. And in 1991 a Pinot Noir was added. The Merlot and Pinot Noir vines are nearly 30 years old and the Chardonnay vines range from 5 to 13 years old. Their age, as well as ideal growing conditions, resulted in exceptional quality grapes.

By 1994 Bob figured he’d had enough of the day to day rigors of running a vineyard and winery. He sold a majority interest in the business to two brothers, Steve and Bruce Cousins. “It was time to bring in younger blood!” said Bob. “As good as the wines are now, there is still huge potential in making the winery an even bigger success. And that will require more attention than I’m able to give it,” he rationalized.

All of Armida’s wines are produced with 100% estate grown grapes. Their focus is strictly on those three varietals, Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Production has reached the 8,000 case level with plans to reach 15,000 sometime this decade. “We are just now putting in 6 acres each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel right next to the winery,” reports new co-owner Bruce Cousins. “We’ll add small quantities of those two wines, then that will be it,” he continued. Like many small, family-owned wineries, Armida will remain small and concentrate on maintaining quality. Since the first vintages of 1990, Armida has won over 40 awards in major national and international competitions.

Bob Frugoli - Steve and Bruce Cousins make up the winery team

Growing up Bob Frugoli spent many a summer at his grandparent’s house in Healdsburg. He recalls how at an early age his appreciation of family and his Italian ancestry was instilled by his grandparents. He reminisces about the fabulous home-cooked Italian meals his Grandmother Armida used to make. And he remembers how he was fascinated at watching and helping his grandfather make the wine they all enjoyed at these special dinners. The summers came to an end though, and going back home to San Francisco was like waking up from a great dream. Throughout his adult life and career he would dream of someday going back to that special place full of happy memories.

In the late nineteen-forties Bob attended school at St. Mary’s near Oakland, California where he gained a Liberal Arts degree. After college he landed a job as a clerk at American Trust in San Francisco (now Wells Fargo Bank). Not one to sit around, he quickly climbed the ranks to become their youngest officer in the bank’s history. Then eight years later he was off to serve in the Korean War.

He spent a total of ten years in the banking business—eight years prior to the war, then two years afterwards. During his banking career Bob became interested in stocks and bonds, more as a hobby than anything else. But his career soon followed his avocation when in 1959 he joined E.F. Hutton. At E.F. Hutton he began as an account executive and steadily worked his way up to assistant manager of the San Francisco regional office. Then in 1972 he was offered and accepted the manager position at Hutton’s Chicago office. In his 15 years at the Chicago office, Bob orchestrated E.F. Hutton’s Midwest expansion efforts, opening 50 additional offices in the five state region. In 1989 he retired as Executive and Regional Vice President.

That same year, Bob and his wife Rita moved to Healdsburg to begin yet another career as winery owners. ‘I must have been crazy!” he says. ‘But the timing was right for me to do something I have always thought about,” he adds. So much for a leisurely retirement! It seems that making great wine isn’t enough these days. When the Frugoli’s started their venture, the wine industry was as crowded with wineries as it has ever been, with lots of wineries struggling to make a name. Overall wine consumption in the U.S. was declining and the recession was just beginning to heat up. Not a great time to start a winery from scratch. Perseverance though helped the Frugoli’s winery to survive through those tough start-up years.

In 1994 the Armida torch was passed to two energetic brothers who have brought their business savvy and great love of wine to carry on the winery’s short but noteworthy history. ‘We wanted to do our own thing first and foremost,” Bruce starts to explain. ‘Given our backgrounds we knew that owning and operating a small, boutique winery would be perfect,” he adds.

‘My brother Steve met Bob Frugoli at a winery association meeting several years back,” Bruce explains. ‘Bob wanted to remain a part of his winery financially but did not want to run it,” he continued. Bruce and Steve quickly discovered that the Armida operation had exactly the ingredients they were looking for. The winery was relatively small. It had a modest sized, but excellent fruit source in the vineyards. And the existing wine in the barrels were of excellent quality. The latter fact meant they could release great wines right away and not skip a beat during the transition. In August of 1994 they bought a majority interest in Armida Winery and went to work.

The Cousins brothers are from San Jose, California. They attended high school locally then attended Santa Clara University, both majoring in Marketing. They each vividly recall the strong influences of their strong Italian heritage upbringing and with it a love of food and wine. ‘Our parents own a gourmet food store in the town of Los Altos,” says Steve. ‘And our grandparents were home winemakers. So the lifestyle elements of this industry are in our blood!” he quips.

Steve, who is 15 months older than Bruce, ventured into the wine industry immediately after graduating. He landed a job as Director of Marketing for Somerset Wine Company where he remained for almost 8 years before jumping at an opportunity to help start a new winery, Corbett Canyon. As head of Sales and Marketing there, he orchestrated the winery’s quick beginnings by growing it to a 300,000 case production within 4 years.

Steve moved on to various other endeavors over the next ten years, each step of the way gaining more valuable food and wine industry experience. He headed up operations for two different restaurant groups during that period and also spent several years as President and CEO of Buena Vista Winery and it’s parent company, Racke USA. In 1994 he decided to strike out on his own as an industry consultant while he and his brother searched for a small winery to purchase.

Brother Bruce started out after college in a different direction than Steve but fate pulled him around full-circle with the purchase of Armida Winery. After college in 1975, Bruce ventured into the Interior Design business. After learning the ropes he started his own design company in 1980. ‘I was running my own business, living in San Jose, doing just fine,” recalls Bruce. ‘Then my brother called and talked me into running a winery with him!”

We’re sure it wasn’t that simple but with the brothers food and wine oriented upbringing, Steve’s wine industry background and both of their marketing and business experience, running their own winery just seemed to make sense.

Both brothers of course are active in Armida Winery. Bruce lives on the winery property and oversees the day-to-day operations as General Manager. Steve handles the sales and marketing. Even though they plan to remain a small operation, together the two brothers have all the right stuff to put Armida Winery in the spotlight.