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Armida Winery - Sonoma County

Armida Serves Notice to Other Chardonnay Makers

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. 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, are resulting in exceptional quality grapes.

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. Like many small, family-owned wineries, Armida will remain small and concentrate on maintaining quality. “We want to distinguish ourselves by consistently offering a superior product,” states Bob. The Armida team consists of owners Bob and Rita Frugoli, winemaker Frank Churchill, assistant winemaker Scott Wilkins, and marketing director Corinne Reichel.

Bolstered by his success with Chardonnays, Armida will release about 400 cases of Reserve Chardonnay in mid-nineteen ninety five. Bob admits to also wanting to someday produce small batches of ultra-premium wines under a “Robert Frugoli” label. Knowing his penchant for not wasting time, we’re sure he’s already working on it!

Meanwhile wine consumers can enjoy his premium Armida wines which have gained recognition rarely achieved by a small winery in such a short time. In the past two years Armida has had 28 entries in the twelve major wine competitions and has earned no fewer than 27 awards. “The 1992 Chardonnay is my best one so far,” says Bob. “It is more complex, has terrific balance and a wonderful finish in the mouth. It’s not heavy-handed in oak like a lot of Chardonnays on the market, it has lots of finesse.” he adds.

With many of the major wine competitions yet to be held, Armida’s 1992 Chardonnay has already captured a Gold Medal at the New World International event. Only 29 Chardonnays out of over 300 entries earned top honors. It’s a sure bet this wine will continue on its winning way throughout the summer. It is also a sure bet that Armida Winery will continue to be recognized as a hot new entry into the already crowded wine scene. Enjoy this wonderful Chardonnay.

Bob Frugoli spent summers in Healdsburg with the grandparents

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. The winery is five years old now and ready to break into full stride.
The Frugoli’s have three daughters, Lisa, Karen and Linda, who have all been involved with the winery at one time or another. No doubt their children will spend summers in Healdsburg with the grandparents and live the dream their grandpa did.