Vino In My Dino
September 14, 2018 15:33
I returned to my desk from an early September East Coast jaunt to find the sun was already making its’ way to fall. I could feel the change of seasons as the sun warmed my back with the unmistakable and different intensity of heat. Even the way the afternoon sun’s rays were subtly different in their slant was a harbinger of change-and an earlier sunset also signals this time of year.
One thing that hasn’t changed is harvest. This time of year finds the cellar and vineyard crew knee deep in fermenting fruit. The grapes are right on time this year, our 91st grape harvest, with the growing season beginning in mid-March with bud break through bloom and crop set through veraison and ripening over the mostly even heat this summer. The cool down the last two weeks of August was great as it gave the grapes even weather and more time to develop. We picked Sauvignon Blanc off estate vineyards on August 30. Soon we were bringing in Zinfandel for both the Rosé and Red wine lots followed by Pinot Noir, Merlot and Chardonnay. Over the month or so left at this writing we’ll see more of the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah and our Portuguese varietals for our Four Grapes Port. All in all things have gone smoothly so far and vintage 2018 is set to bring in great quality and development in the grapes.
At the helm of the winemaking team is Montse Reece who has been here since the 2007 vintage when she was hired as assistant winemaker to my uncle John. Remember, we have only had three winemakers for the entire 91 years beginning with my grandfather Giovanni from 1934-1948 when he went back out into the vineyards to work the land and tend the vines. My uncle John made wine here for nearly 65 vintages and developed our ‘house style’ of wine which are varietally correct, great acid and balance as well as food friendly. When he passed away in 2015 Montse, who had worked with him for 7 vintages, became our third winemaker and one of very few California women winemakers. The other side of the business of harvest and where all wine is born is in the vineyard. Lance Blakeley, our Vineyard Manager, learned from John how best to plant and harvest our grapes. He’s also the guy who is in touch with our growers. About half of our production comes from our neighbors and every grape picked is within 14 miles of the winery-regionally focused I like to say.
This note from home comes with a nod to what my grandparents began and achieved followed by the great regard and appreciation of what the second generation did by splitting the ‘chores’ of wine and grape growing (John) and sales & marketing (Jim). My generation, the third, works to secure the family business for the fourth and fifth generations and on into the future.
A toast to Vintage 2018 and all the hard work of past and current family and staff-we are in it together and always look to the future.
August 27, 2018 10:56
Our favorite white wine grape from our estate, the only white wine we grow, is always the first in at harvest time. This year the first load came in on August 30, 2018 and harvest began for the 91st time.
This is the only white wine varietal we have planted on our vineyards and, in my opinion, is the white wine counterpart to Zinfandel as the signature grape of Dry Creek Valley. For comparison’s sake here are the numbers: 2700 acres planted in Sonoma County, it is the most popular white varietal in Dry Creek Valley, with an estimated 1100 acres planted second only to the queen, Chardonnay. We have 11 acres planted on the valley floor where the sedimentary soils and balance of warm days and cool nights create perfect conditions for making great Sauvignon Blanc.
Located a mile west on the east side of Dry Creek, we farm two blocks where the vineyard crew takes special care during the growing season to tuck and cover the ripening fruit-this process is almost as important as where it is planted and what type of microclimate we have there. Tucking the shoots back makes way for sunshine to do its part in ripening up the grapes. As farmers, we always want the best of both worlds to ripen and protect the fruit which means a good balance of sun and shade. Leaves are a very important part of this cycle as they provide the much-needed cover for the grape bunches as they go through the season. Not enough shade, and the grapes become sunburned and raisins in due time, too much shade and the wine takes on unripe green flavors. Tuck and cover is an apt description for this vineyard process.
Today the first block was picked by hand, next Tuesday we'll be doing something different-the second block will be picked by machine harvesting, only the second varietal to be picked this way on our vineyards. Change is inevitable and we look forward to trying the 2018 when it is released early next year. As I like to say about our Sauvignon Blanc: it ripens on the vine, makes a stop at the fermentation tank and is bottled shortly after harvest capturing characteristic Dry Creek Valley tropical fruit and citrus on the nose and in the mouth finishing with crisp acidity.
Two snaps of this momentous day: A bucket of 2018 Sauvignon Blanc ready for the gondola and two generations of Pedroncellis at the crushpad-Mitch and Jim-making sure everything goes smoothly. Cheers to the 2018 harvest!
August 24, 2018 10:59
The way grapes are picked has changed over the years going from hand harvesting for centuries to machine harvesting which began more than 30 years ago in the vineyard. The decreasing labor force, and increasing costs have been an issue for grape growers for more than a decade.
Fortunately, machine harvesting has advanced at a similar pace. Increased harvesting quality and cost reductions make this a real and worthy option. Considering the improved quality of mechanical harvesting, and the shrinking labor force machine harvesting brings three things to the crushpad: picking the grapes at night allows the cellar to process cooler (temperature) fruit which maintains quality; technology has come a long way bringing with it more precise results in the field (cleaner pick without leaves/sticks and more careful passes through the rows without taking out a vine arm) and finally harvesting a vineyard is accomplished much faster than a team of people hand harvesting-by 50%.
When our vineyard manager Lance replanted a block of Cabernet Sauvignon he trained it so that in a few years it could be machine harvested. The results, two years ago, were positive all the way around from the standpoint that it picked the block in half the time and winemaker Montse was happy with the quality of the fruit that came in from the night harvest. Along with the Cabernet block we are adding one section of our Sauvignon Blanc vineyard to be harvested by machine this vintage. Our Merlot will soon be picked this way as well because the vineyard crew has begun cane pruning the blocks in preparation for a machine to roll through in the coming harvests.
Machines, however, only do well on flat pieces of land. Our hillside Mother Clone Zinfandel will always need to be hand-picked hence much of the Home Ranch (about 90%) will need a labor force to help pick. We have a strong sense of tradition. Knowing that we'll be hand-harvesting the home ranch into the foreseeable future is okay with us. There is something wonderful about handling each bunch, even if it is a nod to the traditions of the past.
August 24, 2018 10:34
Join me as we prepare for our 91st harvest. Get the scoop on the preparation and the anticipation of the 2018 vintage.
Summer brings more than hot weather and ripening of the grapes. It brings with it a sense of anticipation because we know the beginning of harvest will soon be here-sometimes sooner rather than later as in vintages past (we harvested Sauvignon Blanc on August 10 in 2004 for instance-which was the earliest harvest on record). 2018 started a bit behind 2017 by just two days later and this timing is considered a normal start to the process of bringing in the grapes.
Over the last few weeks the cellar crew has finished barrel work and any bottling needed, cleaned up and tested equipment from the de-stemmer to the presses, the pumps and the chiller. The vineyard crew, with 100 acres of estate grapes, mainly kept watch if the vines needed water, checked grape loads on the vine or cleared out canes if the block was to be machine harvested. Lance, vineyard manager, went out and gathered grape samples to assess the brix (sugar) and acid.
The most important part of harvest preparation is how we go about deciding when to pick. Between the grape samples brought in and their analysis winemaker Montse works with Lance to decide the best time to bring in the grapes. Montse’s focus is on the acidity and pH rather than the sugar. Our style has always leaned to higher acidity rather than overly ripe fruit, balancing all of it to bring out the best in each varietal.
Harvest means the first grapes coming are indeed the first wave. It doesn’t mean every grape we grow or buy comes in one right after the other. It means sometimes there are pauses between varietals. After Sauvignon Blanc, the first grape in, comes the Zinfandel for our Rosé program (early pick to give us lower alcohol and higher acidity) followed by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Depending on the weather (you know us farmers-always at the mercy of what Mother Nature gives us) and as the individual blocks ripen more red varietals will make their way to the crushpad.
We began on August 30 and will likely take in our last grapes six weeks from now. That is if all the right pieces fall into place as we turn from August to September and beyond.
July 26, 2018 13:54
I consider myself lucky being here in the wine country. Invitations for tastings like the Cabernet Sauvignon Round Up hosted at Passalacqua Winery featured mostly Dry Creek Valley Cabernets with a sprinkling of some ‘outsiders’ from the Alexander, Russian River and Napa Valleys.
I tasted through Cabernets ranging from a 2011 vintage to 2015 with a library 2007 thrown in for good measure as well as a magnum. It was a wide-ranging field for the King of Red Wines. I sipped and spit my way through 33 of them and came across some favorites. And to be fair I will not be ‘naming names’ because I didn’t take extensive notes (I was 'speed tasting') and because I wanted to just take notes about Cabernet Sauvignon without the brand being a thing.
The first wine that stood out to me was the one from the 2011 vintage. This was a cooler vintage and in fact it rained on a lot of Cabernet as most of the fruit wasn’t ready to be picked and had to wait out the rain, the ensuing mud and we all wanted it to ripen up a bit more before taking in the grapes. This one had what I thought was the perfect ‘dried cherry’ center. It was the lightest in color of all the others, wasn’t overwhelmed by new oak and when tasted left the most pleasant cherry essence. I immediately thought it would pair well with grilled salmon. The second wine that claimed my palate was a 2013 from an area of Dry Creek Valley that is quite steep. It had all the qualities I look for in Cabernet-it had dark fruits like plum and berry but tinged by a touch of tannin which balanced with the correct acidity. I thought of a pork chop and mushroom sauce.
A third from the 2015 vintage seemed to embrace the personality of the vineyard, located mid-valley, and featured the concentration this vintage is known for (the drought reduced production and the resulting wine, without enough rain, showed intense fruit). With that in mind I paired this with tri tip and roasted potatoes.
One from 2014 kept drawing another sniff of the glass. Concentrated like the 2015 vintage it was softer and more supple with those dark fruits showing through like boysenberry pie. This would go well with prime rib or a t-bone steak.
Others reflected oak notes both big and bold as well as soft and muted. Overall I could detect that bit of rotundone (think peppery) in most of them-except for the 2015s which were the most concentrated. That hint of herb defines Dry Creek Valley Cabernet for me and sets it apart from other appellations that are warmer and to the east of us. I appreciated the chance to taste and compare.
July 26, 2018 09:29
July is a special month for us. July 22 is the date in 1927 when my grandfather signed the paperwork to buy the shuttered winery, 25 acres of vineyard and a home. We celebrated our 90th just over a year ago with our trade and consumer friends in two events. It was quite a year for us.
What have we been doing since? Sitting on our laurels? Nope. Ed, Mitch and I traveled more than ever to keep the Pedroncelli message in front of our wholesalers and accounts. We finished certification of the winery as part of our dedication to sustainability. Ed and I continued our taste up series which will number 5 virtual gatherings by the end of this year. The word of mouth is expanding as we see the results of these sessions numbering in the 100,000s of impressions. Word of mouth indeed! It's how we began in my grandparent's time and how we continue today to make headway in a wine world of many choices.
You could also call it the Year of the Woman here at Pedroncelli. Our focus is telling the story of the women of Pedroncelli from my grandmother Julia in the first generation; my aunts Margaret and Marianne following in the second generation as well as my mother Phyllis and aunt Christine who blazed their own trails in the family business. These five women paved the way for the third generation and majority ownership (70%) which includes my sisters Cathy, Lisa and Joanna along with cousins Maureen and Connie, their daughters Alea and Roseanne, Richard’s daughter Lauren, cousin Denise who is our graphics designer (and fourth gen family member). Montse Reece, who has been our winemaker since 2015, worked with winemaster John Pedroncelli until he passed. She has taken our wines to the next level and made her own place here in the Pedroncelli story.
Here’s to another year of wine, family, friends and more.
July 26, 2018 08:54
Veraison is the foreteller of harvest. Once the grapes begin turning color (from dark green to pale yellow in white wine grapes and from green to purple in red wine grapes) we know harvest is about six weeks away-ish. It all depends on what the next 75 days brings to the vineyard whether it be high heat and cool nights or, heaven forefend, rain and cool weather.
This is also the most exciting phase of fruit development as the process involves the color change, the softening of the berry, the ripening toward more sugar as well as less acidity. Can you imagine taking a bite of a green berry? I did! When I was a kid running through the vineyard one day I stopped at a green bunch of grapes and popped it into my mouth. Boy was I surprised. It wasn’t very sweet, almost crunchy and full of bitter seeds. I spit it out wondering what the big deal was about these grapes. The other day as I was walking the vineyard with Dirk I revisited the experience in our Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard and plucked a green berry off the bunch. Still pretty tart but I could detect a hint of sweetness and a hint of the grape flavor I love in our Zinfandel-just hints but we have a month and a half before harvest and the vine has its’ work cut out for to ripen as best it can give the hot summer days and cool evenings. Right now the temperatures are hovering in the low 90s and going down to the low 50s at night. The perfect weather frame for harvest 2018.
Our Mother Clone Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon are featured here in order. Taken July 27th.
June 25, 2018 16:53
Each June I look forward to the opportunity to taste through wines with a different set of judges at the International Women’s Wine Competition housed at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa. This time I judged on Panel 4 with Melody Fuller and Allison Crowe. Our coordinator was Danyelle Blue with Coopers Creek in New Zealand and she had the important job of tabulating each wine and each medal awarded.
We tasted through 126 wines broken down into 10 flights. Other Red Blends, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Italian Type Blends, Rieslings, and Varietal Rosés were the divisions we judged with the Rosé category being the largest at 41 wines ranging from driest to sweetest. Each category brought us a cross section of wines from different appellations-the common denominator was the varietal or class.
As we began with the first flight of the day, red wine for breakfast, we also were learning what each of us do in our respective jobs with a free-flowing discussion led by Melody. Alison is a winemaker and author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book; Melody is a wine writer, author, educator and President and Founder of the Oakland Wine Festival. I was in very high-level company as I was the ‘newby’ in the bunch when it came to judging wine-while working with wine for more than 30 years judging wine is a recent accomplishment.
The M.O. of judging is you have the glasses numbered before you. All we know is the varietal or class-no vintage/appellation/other information. We pick up the first glass and dive into the bouquet-I like to go through all wines in the flight making sure there are no problems like cork taint. Spitting is a must and we have plenty of water, bread, bites of roast beef and olives to cleanse our palates. We then take notes and give it a Gold, Silver or Bronze. Once everyone is done with this Danyelle asks us to call out the medal we awarded the wine. Once tabulated we see if the wine is overall a Gold/Silver/Bronze and very few times a No Award due to flaws. Sometimes we all gave it a Gold which means Double Gold status for the wine. We also will send wines like this to the Sweepstakes round.
We take a lunch break with the other judges and have a few more panels before wrapping up around 3pm. We adjourn until the next day when we gather together for the Sweepstakes tasting of all the deserving wines, this year there were 32. I must say it was another great experience expanding my palate and knowledge especially with such great company! Until next year and new judge-mates, I look forward to doing it again.
June 25, 2018 16:51
A look into the developing vineyards just before the all-important veraison when the grapes begin to soften and turn color.
July is the harbinger of hot weather, cookouts, vacation and veraison. Which of these has to do with what is going on in the vineyard? As the weather warms up, and it did as June came to a close, the vines are also developing the individual bunches of grapes because they are stocked up on water and nutrients from the dormant wintertime. The berries begin to change from tiny, hard, intense green to a lighter color and the berries themselves are beginning to grow larger and will be softening as they begin to turn color. Color, in a wine grape, can be a lighter green-turning-to-yellow for the white varietals and different shades of purple for the red wine varietals. The vineyard crew continues visiting each of the blocks (we farm 105 acres of estate grapes) keeping them trimmed of suckers, beginning to train the canopies, discovering the vine’s proclivities to the sun for best ripening and working toward harvest 2018.
Here is a short video outlining the process by yours truly via a ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) produced video.
June 25, 2018 16:39
Last month I wrote about what a market visit is like now I review the two week trip I took in June spanning Manhattan down to Columbia South Carolina and it was a planes, trains and automobiles type of jaunt.
Beginning in New York with a raft of events for the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers (ZAP) and among other things I attended two lunches, dinner at the James Beard House, a rooftop rosé tasting, took part in a panel talking about Zin and poured wine for hundreds of trade and consumers at NYY Steakhouse. In the meantime I was lucky enough to touch base with some wine bloggers out there-Sara Lehman (@SommintheCity), Lori Budd (@Dracaenawines) and Julia Coney (@JuliaConey)! I even managed to sneak in a quick Franciacorta tasting. The week overall was a good one to start and a bit different than a ‘market visit’.
I did plan a stop by our wholesaler in New Jersey on Friday for a special sales meeting featuring several of our wines and an update with 45 of the Gateway division within Fedway. We have been with Fedway ever since we began distributing wine in this state-40 years and still going strong.
I then took an Amtrak train from New Jersey Penn Station to Richmond Virginia where I would rent a car and begin my trek to North Carolina by way of Charlottesville home of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and also some great wine country albeit different than what we have here in Dry Creek Valley.
Leaving there I drove south to Boone North Carolina since I needed to be in Charlotte but it was blazing hot so I skedaddled to the mountains for a cool day and a half-enjoying the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Smoky Mountains.
Monday afternoon I drove to Charlotte to begin my western North Carolina market visit. I worked two days with two different sales representatives from MIMS Distributing: Jeremy and Jennifer. We covered several areas in and around this big city. I even did a wine dinner at Letty’s-a wonderful neighborhood spot which is perfect for our wines-I think I liked the prosciutto wrapped pork tenderloin with the fig preserves the best-paired with Zinfandel of course! Our last stop on Wednesday before I headed to Asheville was at the 7th Street Public Market where I signed bottles for Joshua and spoke to a group about to taste our wines with a wonderful cheese selection from Orrman’s Cheese shop.
Thursday morning I met up with another wine blogger, Elizabeth Smith, Traveling Wine Chick, for coffee before my day started with MIMS rep Rebecca. She is from Asheville but lives in Napa and had just landed to do an article on the Biltmore Estate.
I worked the day there and then met Mandy Freel who just moved to Asheville from California for a quick glass of vino. The next morning I made my way to Columbia South Carolina for a speed tasting at wholesaler Breakthru Beverage followed by a meeting with Erlinda Doherty who is a wine curator and educator plus writes for the Columbia Star. Phew! With that I headed home.
Some photos from the road:
- Aged Wine
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Dry Creek Valley
- Food and Wine
- founding winery
- Harvest 2018
- Machine Harvesting
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Sonoma County
- Vintage Year
- food and wine
- wine tasting
- harvest 2018
- Vintage Year
- machine harvesting
- Dry Creek Valley
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Barrel Tasting
- Sonoma County
- family business
- Barrel aging
- International Women's Wine Competition
- Heat wave
- National Wine Day
- Vintage Wine
- Wine Road
- woman owned