Occidental Road Cellars
Russian River Valley AVA
Consistently awarded with top medals and lofty ratings
With inspiration to continue a long standing family farming tradition, Occidental Road Cellars was established in 2005 by Richard and Joelle Prather. The exquisite Russian River Valley property has been in the family since 1910, and the Prathers continue to leave their mark with a new reputation for beautifully crafted, estate grown wines.
Located about a mile east of Occidental in Sonoma County, the property has always been full of potential and originally caught the eye of Joelle’s great grandparents in 1910. After purchasing the site, they cleared the ridges and planted an orchard of Gravenstein apples and Royal Anne cherries. At the time, apples and cherries were abundant in the Sonoma County region, and it was only natural to take part in the prosperous industry. The family farm was named El Centro Orchards, and expanded over the years to include an array of livestock such as horses, chickens, and sheep.
Fast forwarding to 1996, Joelle’s father, the late Vince Pedroia, made a decision that took the family farming business to the next level. He realized the potential in growing premium wine grapes, and cleared a portion of the orchard to plant a small 11-acre vineyard of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. For many years he tended the vines and sold the fruit to several prominent Sonoma and Napa County wineries. Vince was also a well recognized veterinarian in the Santa Rosa area, specializing in vet neurology, and serving on the Animal Care Center’s Board of Directors for a number of years. When he wasn’t caring for animals, Vince could be found practicing his second passion in life, farming and nurturing his fine Russian River Valley vines.
Vince’s daughter Joelle, didn’t immediately join the family business. She instead worked as a corporate executive for a local telecommunications company and her husband, Richard, was a successful salesman working for DuPont. Richard had grown up on an alfalfa farm in Washington, and since leaving his home state in the early 1980’s, swore he would never work on a farm again - boy, was he wrong!
Richard Prather began showing interest in his father-in-law’s vineyard, so much in fact that he decided to go back to school at the Santa Rosa Junior College and earn a viticulture degree. He then interned at nearby Dutton Estate Vineyard and eventually became the assistant winemaker under Mat Gustafson. Richard’s renewed love of farming and passion for winemaking lead him to take over the family vineyard operations in 2003 and produce his first commercial wine release in 2006. Occidental Road Cellars was born!
Joelle began assisting Richard with the winery operations and ultimately took over the sales, marketing, and wine club management, leaving the vineyards and winemaking to her husband. The two have successfully run Occidental Road Cellars completely on their own since its inception.
“We’re the CFO’s and also the janitors!” Joelle has laughingly stated. All jokes aside though, the Prathers do everything for the winery, and they do it with the kind of love, precision, and expertise that you can’t help but admire.
The winery’s estate vineyard has expanded in recent years to its current size of 20 acres and includes plantings of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and Syrah. Richard and Joelle have also acquired a 12-acre vineyard down the road. They still sell about 90% of their grapes to neighboring wineries, and keep just the tiniest amount for their boutique family label.
“We have the potential to someday grow and maintain more fruit, and we do have the goal of ultimately doubling our production,” Richard recently explained. “Making 1,000 cases a year is a high for us right now, and some years we’re even as low as 500 cases. When we say we’re a small family winery, we mean we are a small family winery!”
Occidental Road Cellars is the definitive hidden gem of Sonoma County wineries, and the feedback on the wines has been truly exciting. From their finely structured Pinot Noirs to the rich and complex Syrahs, Occidental has landed quite the collection of Gold Medal winnings and continues to earn more attention with each anticipated release.
While in the works of building a new winery and tasting room at the family vineyard site, Occidental currently offers tours and tastings by appointment only. We are pleased to introduce this month’s special feature and hope you enjoy this award-winning wine. Cheers!
About the Vineyard
Occidental Road Cellars’ estate vineyards are found in a very unique location, actually straddling the Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley appellations - the designating line goes straight through the site! This cool climate, 880-feet elevation site has performed remarkably well for Richard and Joelle Prather’s premium wine grapes, and their fruit has become among the most desirable in the region.
Their primary vineyard of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Syrah is named Horseshoe Bend Vineyard, after the narrow gauge North Pacific Coast Railroad that once passed along the edge of the property in the early 1900’s. Everyone referred to the turn as Horseshoe Bend, so it only seemed appropriate that the vineyard be named after it. According to Joelle, you can actually still see the old rail!
The Prathers also manage a smaller Zinfandel vineyard that was named Helen’s Ridge Vineyard after Joelle’s grandmother. The vineyards are both managed by Richard, who strives to always optimize the fruit’s potential.
Richard Prather - Owner, Vineyard Manager & Winemaker
Richard Prather wears a number of hats at Occidental Road Cellars, including owner, vineyard manager, and also winemaker. After honing his winemaking skills under Mat Gustafson at Dutton Estate Vineyard, he felt confident trying it on his own and experimented with home winemaking before Occidental’s first commercial release in 2006.
Being the vineyard manager and winemaker means Richard knows his vines and fruit incredibly well, and he knows how to make the most of his premium grapes. His wines have been featured nationwide at prestigious industry events, and each vintage garners more ratings and Gold Medals to add to the winery’s proud collection.
If not working in the winery or vineyard, Richard can be found with his 6-year-old daughter, whom he and Joelle adopted just 3 years ago. The couple also enjoys traveling and snowboarding in their free time.