Sonoma County region
100% Russian River Pinot Noir
During our recent journey to Armida Winery for the Gold Series Wine Club we discovered a wonderful, deep, rich, Burgundian style Pinot Noir made in such limited quantity that only lucky visitors to the winery had a chance to sample. By virtue of our relationship with winery owner Bruce Cousins, we were able to twist his arm to free up this rare beauty to share with our Platinum Series Wine Club members. We hope you enjoy it as much as we do. Having just featured Armida in the Gold Series Wine Club, many of you are already familiar with their story. If so, great—pour yourself a glass and enjoy. If not, please read on . . .
In the early 1970s while managing a successful career at E.F. Hutton, Bob Frugoli and his uncle purchased 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. 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 property in the Russian River Valley. The land 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 microclimate 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 quantity of 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.
Again he took the plunge and wasted no time in finding a suitable spot for his winery. The location he found had virtually everything he wanted—a beautiful setting with a magnificent view, and not far from his vineyard. The property had three large geodesic domes left over from the previous owner’s attempt to start a winery. The structures were completely renovated and now house the winery, office and warehouse respectively. He affectionately named his 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.
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 14,000 case level with plans to grow slowly over the decade. In 1999, the Cousins brought on wine industry veteran, Michael Loykasek to direct the winemaking efforts. Mike’s hefty resume is packed with numerous award-winning wines, including a spot in the top 100 “Wines of the World” list by the Wine Spectator. Mike’s creativity and enthusiasm give an added dimension to Armida, as evidenced in the complexity of his handcrafted wines.
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.