Vino In My Dino
October 31, 2017 09:23
Even though we finished picking grapes on September 29 the cellar was still filled with fermenting the final tanks of 2017 through the third week of October. Now the last tank has been emptied, the crushpad and presses have been cleaned and retired for the season, and these wines are awaiting the next step whether it is to wait in the temperature controlled tank until bottling or to wait for a turn in barrels to age for a year or more. Barrel aging is the most important stage for red wines. You could call oak aging a multi-tasker as it plays a many layered roll in softening and developing the young wine. Our winemaker, Montse Reece, works with our house style in determining the use of oak. There are a few levels of choice from the type of oak (American, French, Hungarian) to the toastiness of said wood (light, medium, dark-barrel heads toasted or untoasted). Since the wine will be stored in there for a year-on average-it is important to choose wisely when it comes to our house style.
What is our style? Wines which are easily approachable, balanced between the fruit and the wood. American oak is the first choice for almost all of our red wines. French oak is used for our Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon and is desired for its’ backbone of tannin and warm spice notes as compared to the softer wood notes and hints of dill in American oak. Medium toast is preferred across the board with toasted barrel heads combined to add the complexity of toasty oak notes. Our focus is on expressing the fruit of a particular varietal and choosing the wood to complement it. Lastly our style calls for smaller amounts of new oak which results in a fruit focused wine without finding a 2 x 4 in the bouquet.
Polo Cano, our cellarmaster and the one in the photo at top, will be working in the Barrel Room over the next few months with his crew as they ready the 2016 vintage for bottling in the spring and add the 2017 vintage to their year-long home. A toast (pun intended) to the great multi-tasker, the barrel.
October 31, 2017 09:18
Fall: We call it the shoulder season here in Dry Creek Valley. The vineyards are mostly alive with the fall colors of red, orange, yellow and brown-kind of like the afghan my grandmother crocheted for me when I was a kid-she used my favorite colors! Mother Nature is weaving my favorite colors into the hillsides around me. The weather is pleasant with warm and shorter days giving way to cool nights. A recent sprinkling of rain produced my 2nd favorite smell in the world (besides fermenting wine). It is the oak leaves that have fallen and give off the most pungent and wonderfully acrid smell which signals autumn. More rain is expected over the first weekend of November-fall is here which means more dust will be settled and the pungent scent I love will be wafting on the breeze.
The vineyards and surrounding hillsides are turning color, the vines and oaks losing leaves with the increasing breezes. The vineyard crew is pre-pruning so you’ll see some of the vines already cut back to a foot or so of cane-this prepares them for the actual pruning that will be done later in the winter/early spring where the foot long cane is pruned back to two buds-the 2018 crop. We have learned that pruning the vines in this way helps prevent disease from spreading by providing a buffer before it is officially trimmed to the next year’s crop. Flocks of geese are flying overhead going south for the winter-or to the nearest lake. The starlings usually begin their amazing acrobatics about now--I know they can’t resist the leftover grapes on the vines which in turn ferments and makes them a little crazy. To the north of us at Lake Sonoma the wildlife population is beginning to settle into preparations for winter. The serene water at this time of year is peaceful surrounded by oak and fir. A picnic there or on our deck at the winery will afford you grand views. No picnic? Grab lunch at the Dry Creek General Store or head into Healdsburg or Geyserville for a bite to eat.
Many people wonder what to do now the fires have been contained. Day trips are wonderful ways to explore the different counties. Many of our trade associations are putting together itineraries for you. They’ll guide visitors like you to the large percentage of “Wine Country” that hasn’t been damaged. Visit, Sip, Eat, Repeat. We’ll have a splash of Zinfandel ready for you.
October 31, 2017 09:09
October 2017 will forever be defined as before the fires and after the fires for those of us in Wine Country. Like the recent hurricanes in the south, the 1989 earthquake and other disasters we will always remember where we were when they took place. I know how things could have turned out if the wind had whipped up again or the fire jumped the line and headed our way. It would have been a story for the ages losing everything like many of our fellow winery owners and homeowners alike. In the previous post I talked about how we weren’t affected by the wildfires to the east and south of us. Our area is untouched by fire having been saved the heartache by countless (and by that I mean thousands upon thousands) first responders who fought the fires with all they had-and some even while their own homes burned. They all have our deepest thanks for their efforts.
There is something troubling to me in the last couple of weeks. I have found it is a bit confusing to read headlines proclaiming “Wine Country Devastated by Wildfires” as that covers all of the four counties involved: Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake. Our little corner of Dry Creek Valley is safe, picturesque, and the vineyards are showing their fall colors now. I’ll give you an example and perhaps this will help the larger picture: there are over 1 million acres of land in Sonoma County alone and the wildfires destroyed about 10% mostly in non-urban areas except to the south in Santa Rosa. Vineyards even became fire breaks because they don’t have much fuel on the ground like the grassy areas outside of them. Headlines of smoke taint were also touted as destroying the 2017 vintage completely. Not true. We picked our last grapes on September 29-10 days before the fires. There was no disruption during fermentation and winemaker Montse Reece said there are no problems of smoke taint at Pedroncelli-and it is true for our neighbors as well. Harvest was almost over by the time the fires erupted and the majority of the grapes were already in at the winery. The vintage has not been destroyed.
Here are some numbers to keep in mind: 90% of the winegrapes had been harvested by October 9 when the fires began. 90% of over 1 million acres were not burned in Sonoma County. Remember the ‘90s’ when it comes to the first 2017 wines on the market. And we’ll celebrate our 90th harvest when they are released!
October 19, 2017 09:36
First of all, on behalf of my family, thank you very much for all of your phone calls, emails, texts and social media messages conveying your deep concern for our lives and livelihood during the fires and the devastation that was playing out over all media channels.
The good news is we are all fine-Dry Creek Valley was left untouched by the fires. We are thankful that family and staff are safe and the winery, which was several miles west of the closest fire, is still standing. In an abundance of caution, due to the vagaries of the fire and the air quality, we chose to close our Tasting Room and to cancel our Sip & Savor event scheduled on October 14. This was unprecedented but we wanted everyone to remain safe. That was last week and we re-opened for business on October 16 and many of our winery, restaurant and hotel neighbors are open as well.
While our valley was untouched, many have lost their homes, jobs, and loved ones. The communities of Sonoma County have come together to offer their services via food, shelter, donations, a shoulder to cry on, and their time as volunteers. The amazing first responders and all other agencies (some local, some from Australia & Canada) came to our rescue in more ways than one and worked hard at combating and containing the fires so that we all felt safeguarded. Our local radio stations like KSRO and KZST gave the airwaves over to reports with Supervisors, the Sheriff, Fire Chiefs and other officials. We were and are working together to be aware of opportunities to help and bring healing to our beautiful wine country.
We have had many requests about where to donate and help out and have included a few agencies where a donation will help support recovery and rehabilitation in the devastated areas.
Sonoma County Resilience Fund through the Community Foundation
Sonoma County Search & Rescue The mission of this group is to assist Sonoma County Sheriff's Dept. with missing or lost persons; rescue as needed and mutual aid when called.
Redwood Empire Food Bank which supports all food efforts within the area.
#CAWineStrong Under this slogan Wine Industry leaders have formed a support network to provide immediate assistance and long-term aid to the victims of these fires. I am also amazed and awed by the support the likes of Paso Robles, Santa Barbara, Livermore and beyond are fundraising as I write this.
We are also galvanized to help our neighbors. We are donating $1 on every bottle sold in our tasting room from now until November 1st.
We came through the week unscathed, our hearts go out to those who lost everything. We've been here for 90 years, and plan to be here for 90 more. It is times like these when we are thankful for what is important in our lives: family and friends like you.
Julie Pedroncelli St. John and The Pedroncelli Family & Staff
September 28, 2017 07:16
The theme of harvest this month includes the end of harvesting grapes but the cellar crew doesn’t consider harvest over until the last tank of wine has been fermented and pressed and sent to rest and await barreling in the winter. The process of fermentation, which transforms the sugar in the grapes to alcohol through a little chemical magic utilizing yeast, is the beginning of wine. The vineyards have done their work growing the grapes but once they are in the tank it is the winemaking crew that begins the transformation from a sticky mass of juice and berries to new wine.
We use temperature controlled stainless steel tanks to hold the must-which is a combination of the juice, skins and seeds transferred from the crush pad. If the grape is a white varietal like Sauvignon Blanc the must goes directly to press where the skins and seeds aren’t needed and then is transferred to tank for fermentation. Red wine grapes like Zinfandel go directly past the press and into the tanks. In the case of both white and red grapes the must rests for 24-48 hours to chill before yeast is introduced to begin the fermentation. This gives it time to cool down and the importance of this is to slow the process down to give time to the actual fermentation. Akin to a race horse, the juice is raring to get out of the gate and finish-which doesn’t allow for development of flavors. The winemaking team chooses the right yeast for the right grape in order to get the best out of the grape.
Another way to get the flavor developed is to pump over the cap. The skins and seeds naturally rise to the top of the tank so the juice is pumped up and over the cap-kind of like the immersion of a tea bag where you get more color and flavor when immersed. This occurs every day until fermented dry-every last ounce of sugar is converted to alcohol.
Some wines go through the secondary fermentation called malo-lactic fermentation. Quick definition: malic acid is similar to tart green apple, lactic acid is similar to butter. Sauvignon Blanc and our Rose do not go through this process but part of our barrel fermented Chardonnay does and all red wines do. The reason? This secondary process softens the wine and instead of rustic rough edges you'll have one with smoother mouthfeel (or palate appeal).
Now that we are finished with the fermentation the next stop is the press (for red wines) to remove the skins and seeds. The resulting mass is called pomace. It is taken up to the vineyard to 'season' for a year and then we add it back to the soil. Now we're done with harvest-in real time it will be mid-October before the final pressing. Until then I'll toast this harvest with a splash of Sauvignon Blanc!
September 28, 2017 07:07
Harvest for us started on August 25 with Pinot Noir from one of our growers. Estate harvesting began on August 28 for our Sauvignon Blanc. The last grapes in were Cabernet Sauvignon from the Three Vineyards block on September 28. Just over 5 weeks and we crammed quite a few grapes into tanks during that time. I asked Montse Reece to sum up this year-her 11th harvest at Pedroncelli, in three words. "Heatwave, concentration, and good." She continued, “The rain during the growing season helped restore nutrients in the vines, so I am seeing intense colors and aromatics across all varieties. The heatwave on the Labor Day weekend only affected our zinfandels, lowering yields but concentrating the already high phenols (color+aromas). Overall a good harvest season.” We have seen many harvests here at Pedroncelli. Our goal is to showcase the best of the vintage. This year had its challenges and we met them as they came along. It’s what farmers do. Now onto the next stage of the wine's journey as they ferment and settle in the cellar. The vines will rest now and enter their dormant phase readying themselves for what the next growing season will bring. I'll celebrate with a splash of Mother Clone Zinfandel in my Dino!
September 28, 2017 07:01
The last five weeks have been filled with exciting weather patterns from the 112 degree heat wave over Labor Day Weekend to the cooler weeks following with a few heat spikes. Natural for September-we’ve seen it all before. As farmers we all need to be prepared for weather challenges. Usually it is rain that we worry about but the heat spike that came just 7 days after the first grapes were harvested at Pedroncelli was reminiscent of a nearly identical one in 2010. We lost nearly half of our Zinfandel that year because the heat spike came at the end of a very cool summer. This year we had a hot July followed by a temperate August. Then September roared in with heat blazing. The vines and grapes felt the heat and we employed drip irrigation to give the vines much needed hydration. Many vineyards including ours did suffer from loss of juice due to dehydration especially in the Zinfandel vineyards. The crew picked the Mother Clone Zinfandel as fast as they could and dealt with shorter days due to the excessive heat. While it wasn’t as intense as the 2010 heat wave it had its’ effect. Loss of juice translates to a higher concentration of flavor in the wine-and Zinfandel was most affected because it was closest to being ready. While it is a bit early to tell, Lance Blakeley, Vineyard Manager, estimates a 25% loss for our Zinfandel production. Many other red varietals weren’t as affected because they still had some ripening to do. This one is in the books at the end of September. I am looking forward to trying this Zinfandel in a few years to see the effects of this harvest year.
August 31, 2017 09:12
August began and ended with a tweet-up or taste-up as we have named them. Between 10-15 bloggers received wine samples and we all met online to share photos of the food they prepared to go with our wines, ask questions, share impressions and reviews of the wines and learn more about Pedroncelli.
The amazing thing is each of these bloggers has a following, in the tens of thousands in some cases. And we were all online from across the United States and sometimes there were comments from across the globe. Several of the questions were about harvest, Dry Creek Valley, veraison, tasting notes on particular wines, and the process of making wine.
Here are some excerpts or reviews from each of the taste ups:
@Talesofthecork: A couple of days ago, we paired @PedroncelliWinery Chardonnay w/ roasted shrimp orzo salad. Perfect!
@SLBriscoe: Not gonna lie, enjoyed the @Pedroncelli w/pizza crisp acidity and baking spices pair well w/cheesy things
@TheWiningHour: MC #Zinfandel is delish! Spicy, dark berry fruit. Paired with a porterhouse.
@smgwinespeak: “tasted this two weekends ago-LOVED IT! all wines possess consistent quality at price points you can't beat!”
@always5star: Love chatting about @Pedroncelli wine & sipping their fabulous Cabernet Sauvignon - Lovely w/cherry, plum & blackberry.
@winecheesefri: Haven't tried @Pedroncelli wines yet but was excited to see it is from #sonoma!
I enjoyed engaging with people from near to far flung places and learned we need to do more of this type of gathering. Telling our story to so many people is fun and the challenge is connecting them with a way to find our wines in their local stores. Our next gathering is on October 5. We tweet live from the Heritage Room with the wines and food I paired. Join us virtually or at the winery! #ped90th
August 31, 2017 09:04
August 28 was the official date for our 90th harvest. 11 acres of Sauvignon Blanc was picked the final week of August leading into the first of September. Pinot Noir was also brought in from a grower or two in the Russian River Valley.
Part of the difference with this year’s harvest is the vineyard crew is relying more on machine harvesting than ever before-a milestone for us because we first machine harvested a small test block last year (Cabernet Sauvignon) and it went well. Because our vineyard wasn’t planted with machine harvesting in mind, in the last 10 years or so we have changed the way we think about grape harvesting. This means Lance Blakeley, Vineyard Manager, has been preparing those older vineyards and when replanting he has made sure the vines will hold up to the machine.
Training the vineyard specifically for machine harvesting whether old or new is a matter of using what we call cane pruning. This actually does a couple of things for the vineyard crew which is usually short of time: less passes in the vineyard due to this type of pruning and it can be mechanically harvested. 30 years ago John Pedroncelli didn’t like the idea of using machines because they seemed too rough on the vines. Technology has come a long way and now winemaker Montse Reece has approved of the quality this new way of picking grapes has brought to us.
In the last 10 years another telling reason for going the way of the machines is labor. Not only now but for over a decade it has been difficult to gather the crews needed for picking grapes. There are a variety of reasons (yes we can blame the Cannibus industry too) but it comes down to one thing: the harvest. When the grapes are ready we need to act and act quickly to preserve the quality of the fruit. When they say ‘wine begins in the vineyard’ they mean you need them at the prime moment for quality and flavor. One area of our vineyard that will never be machine harvested is our Home Ranch. Zinfandel is the primary planting on head trained vines-not conducive to machines. Hillsides are also a hindrance to machine harvesters so the 50 acres here will always need a crew. A splash of Sauvignon Blanc as we enter the fray and a toast to our hardworking vineyard and cellar crew-their work is just beginning.
August 31, 2017 08:50
While July 22 was the epicenter of our 90th anniversary because it was the date in 1927 when my grandparents bought the winery, vineyard and home mid-Prohibition we have had many other celebrations both big and small. In July our trade and media partners joined us followed by our club members who joined us on August 12 where, on both occasions, we enjoyed a full day of flagship flights, vineyard dedication, bubbly, big bottle receptions and dinner in the Barrel Room.
I wanted to excerpt a couple of things I learned from two of our July guests. Nationally syndicated columnist Dan Berger led our guests through two flights of our library wines (Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon). Author and wine writer Dick Rosano spoke to the Italian influence on winemaking in America. Here is something Dick spoke about which merits repeating: In 1833, the Mexican government sold off the missions and their wineries. Mexico still controlled the American west coast (California wasn’t admitted as a state until 1850), and when they ended the subsidies of the missions in California, the wineries were turned over to private ownership, a step which represents the beginning of commercial winemaking in the Golden State. The Great Migration 1880-1920 brought millions of Europeans to the United States, including more than four million Italians. This influx of Europeans coincided with the spectacular growth of vineyards and wineries in California, where the “touch” of the Old World was critical in changing the perception of wine. Note of irony: In the midst of this period (1890s), Italians who were considered “foreigners” were denied the right to buy valley floor vineyards, thought to be the “prime” land. Of course, the Italians knew, as we now know, that hillside vineyards such as at Pedroncelli, are the best. A final note here wrapping up the first century of commercial wine in the U.S.: Prohibition was repealed in 1933-100 years after the wineries were privatized.
From Dan came this as he wrapped up the Flights tasting and frankly brought many of us to tears: The Pedroncelli Family has always done things without a lot of fanfare because the entire goal was always to make fine wine affordably, and to do so with as little ostentation as possible. Even the location of the winery tasting room is in a less visible location than it might have been, off the main highway. And the wines have always reflected the quiet personality of the owners, with structure and balance, varietal integrity, and respect for the land as the key components. It is no wonder that so many people who became affiliated with the family decades ago have chosen to remain loyal to them and to honor the family's traditions. As such, the wines never displayed any artificiality, such as slatherings of new oak, high alcohol, or artificial extract that could possibly destroy the drinkability of the product. They have always had the grace that marks great wine, not the more recent explosiveness that may be flashy, but is short-lived. To have done this for 90 years and maintain the respect of the entire industry is not only an achievement but a worthy goal that has been achieved far under the radar. But that's the style of the Pedroncelli family. It is a joy to participate in such a celebration.
The highlight for me was seeing so many longtime friends both from the wholesale side as well as the consumer side. It was also overwhelming to me because we were celebrating 90 years-9 decades-of family ownership, dedication, vision and it all boiled down to what was in our wine glasses. If you’d like to join us for another event we’ll be toasting the end of our 90th harvest on October 14 with our friends as well as our grape growers. A toast with some Zinfandel in my Dino to the Next 90!