Vino In My Dino
December 3, 2019 16:11
December 5 marks the anniversary of the end of a long dry time in America. Each year, especially in wine country, we celebrate the end of Prohibition by raising a glass or two on the anniversary of Repeal of the 18th Ammendment-December 5, 1933. Prohibition itself played an important role in how we got into winegrowing. In fact, if Prohibition hadn’t happened I’m not sure we’d be in the wine business today.
The tale has been lost to history as to why my grandparents bought 90 acres in 1927. I think it is because my grandfather, who arrived to the U.S. from Italy as a teenager, wanted a piece of land he could call his own after working on other farms. The property included 25 acres of vineyard, a home and a shuttered winery. It was sold by the Canata family who could no longer shoulder the debt of owning the land-and there may have been more to the story there as well, also lost to history. Even though Prohibition began in 1919 if you still owned vineyard you could sell grapes to home winemakers if they were a ‘head of household’ and obtained the permit from the federal government. Each household could make 200 gallons of wine per year.
Now let’s think about this for a moment: this totals 84 cases or about 4 gallons per week. 20 bottles a week, or just shy of 3 bottles per day. Big families? Tradition? Thirsty? Many of these home winemakers had wine in their DNA-or at least were accustomed to enjoying wine with their meals every day. These were families from the old country with traditions which included wine on the table. Thanks to these home winemakers who bought grapes they also kept some vineyards growing through this period—and helped wineries reboot once Repeal rolled around. Statistically, the story is a sad one for Dry Creek Valley. Before 1919 there were 17 wineries making just over 1 million gallons of wine. Business was booming and then the hammer came down. Many of the vineyards were taken out and planted to prunes and other orchard crops. While there was still a market for wine grapes the bottom fell out by 1925 or so and part of the reason for the sale of the property. Gratefully December 5, 1933 ended this nationwide dry spell and we were poised at the right time to enter the winemaking business. Only 2 other wineries survived the next decade and it wasn’t until the 1970s when our county and valley saw a resurgence of wineries. Raise your glass, enjoy a bit of history and be thankful we are a nation that believes we should have wine on our tables.
For those who love details I found this blog post from the Consitution Center and National Archives is a blog post on the 21st Ammendment and 5 things you may not have known!
December 3, 2019 16:08
An invitation was sent out inviting donors to the Food Transforming America exhibit at the National Museum of American History which was refreshed this year after being on display for 6 years. I had received word that several of the artifacts my family loaned to the museum were now on display in the wine portion of the exhibit. Ed and I accepted and were wowed by the magnitude of having family heirlooms included.
A little background: early in 2013 we were approached by the National Museum of American History because they were working on an exhibit Food Transforming America. The museum found me because they had received a photo of my family at an alfresco gathering in the 1950s and they wanted to include it in the exhibit which also featured a wine focus. The museum sent two curators to wine country to touch base with the wineries who would be part of the exhibit. As I showed them around Paula Johnson, Curator in the Division of Work and Labor, along with Project Manager Nanci Edwards, saw other items of interest and they asked if the family would loan the museum several of our artifacts to be used for future exhibits. We agreed and crated up and sent our precious bits of history to Washington DC.
Fast forward to August 2019 and I received the invitation to attend the refresh of Food Transforming America from Paula. It was such a popular exhibit that they expanded and included more items. And this time some of our artifacts were included! I didn’t know what was chosen until we arrived at the museum shortly before the reception for the donors. What a surprise to see our winery sign, the stencil and my grandmother’s polenta pot along with an enlarged photo of my family’s alfresco dinner. The fact that wine is included in this exhibit to a large extent cements its place as an important part of how food (and wine) transforms our daily meals and special occasions.
When Paula Johnson visited our winery in 2013, she noticed the winery sign which had hung on our cellar door from the 1930’s through the 1970’s. This is the item that really lit up her face. She turned to me and asked, “Would you rather have hundreds of people see this or thousands?” So instead of hanging in our barrel room it now hangs in the Smithsonian's American History Museum and what Paula said has come true.
This photo shows the artifacts we donated:
December 3, 2019 15:25
This note wouldn’t be complete without a look at how Vintage 2019 turned out for us. As the harvest came to a close it was one of those textbook-perfect seasons from the abundant winter rains through the mild and even pace of the harvest. It will, however, be eclipsed by the Kincade Fire. I spoke to our winemaker Montse about her take on the harvest. She reminded me we had a good amount of rain and a good spring start in the vineyard. In fact the late rains in May encouraged a good sized production for our grapes. This was followed by a mild summer without any heat waves to challenge us. The result? Maturation of the grapes was nice, slow and evenhanded. There wasn’t the usual rush to ‘get the grapes to the crushpad’ and September and October rolled along like clockwork with each varietal. The production from the vineyard was just slightly smaller than last year and you’ll see some nice varietal expression coming out of the cellar.
Fast on the heels of the final day of harvest we did experience a challenge. The Kincade Fire broke out to the east of the winery on October 24 early in the morning. Whispers of evacuation and power outages began and soon Geyserville, the nearest town to the fire, was evacuated and the lights went out for what would be nearly 10 days. It was a bit eerie to watch the progress of the fire and a bit of relief as it made its’ way south but this was toward Healdsburg, Windsor and northern Santa Rosa and these areas were also evacuated with me included as well as sister Lisa and many other staff members. The main fire fight was over the weekend and containment was a challenge with hurricane-force winds coming down over the mountains. Out of an abundance of caution the power was not turned back on until late on October 31 at the winery. We all made our way back to our homes and office, tasting room and vineyards by November 4.
We have a lot to be thankful for these days. Our 92nd harvest, the safety of family, staff, homes and the winery during the Kincade Fire as well as the first responders who valiantly fought the fire and saved lives and livelihood. As we sit around the table sharing stories and wine-be thankful we are safe, warm, fed and fortunate to live in this great country. Cheers.
September 30, 2019 15:53
Not only is it a busy season at the winery, the season known as SOND (September-December) is equally as hectic for the sales team as it takes us deep into the marketing season where quite a bit of my time as well as Ed’s is focused on spreading the good word about Pedroncelli from state to state, city to city. Market work began for me in August and will continue through November this year, the same for Ed. Mitch, who usually works the market as well, was busy with the harvest up to his elbows in grapes. He’ll be back on the road next year.
The highlights: Ed worked trade shows in Southern California hitting San Diego and Los Angeles. He is currently in Arizona and will make a foray to the Inland Empire and Missouri (three markets in one month!).
Here are my trip notes so far: Portland and Eugene were my targets on this trip to Oregon. We have very good support in the independent stores like New Seasons and Market of Choice as well as quite a few independent retailers like Elephant Deli (a wonderland of specialty products) & Barber World Foods in Portland as well as Capella Market and The Broadway in Eugene. This was a one day trip into Connecticut and we covered a lot of territory and made memorable stops in and around Glastonbury, Middletown and West Hartford including Toast Wines by Taste, The Best Wine Shop in Town (really-that’s the name) and M & M Wines.
Two days spent working around the western part of Massachusetts from Hopkinton to Worcester, Franklin to Wellesley. Medfield Wines, Juniper (fabulous restaurant) Marty’s (say hey to Rachel & Darryl) as well as Pour Richards and Rye and Thyme (another great restaurant). I did end my stop here at a sales meeting for our Wholesaler Classic Wine Imports and one last stop at Wine Empire in Ashland on my way out of town.
After a brief tour of Portland Maine I began my second week with a trip to South Carolina. Greenville first for a great event at Northampton Wine & Dine with a fun group of friends where we have been doing business for too many years to count. On to Columbia with the owner of our Wholesaler Tyler Miles of Milestone Beverage. Greens (a small independent chain), Bottles, Southern Spirits and The Grapevine were all places that carry and love our wines.
I’ll be visiting Seattle, New Jersey and Philadelphia over the next few weeks-my work on the road isn’t done just yet and I’ll chronicle more at the end of November. For now I'll end with a shot of the friendly folks at Northampton, looking forward to more of this on the road.
September 30, 2019 15:52
The true colors of Fall through the prism of Zinfandel can mean the changing shades of the leaves from green to orange, yellow & red in the Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard or the brilliant magenta hue of the fermenting Rosé. It is as much a part of life in Dry Creek Valley as it is when visiting the northeast and seeing the seasonal change in the trees during the fall. There’s a difference in the color palate of the hills too-the slant of the sun, the distance of sun from the earth and the late hanging fog all make for a myriad of colors and patterns and is why fall is my favorite of the seasons!
Here the deep purple color in the bunches is the harbinger of great flavor in the glass. As the juice and skins ferment together the resulting aspects of berry and spice come from this maceration and temperature controlled fermentation. Keeping things cool slows down the action of converting the natural sugar in the juice to alcohol.
The 'cap' consists of the skins rising to the top of the tank. Pumpovers ensure the juice is poured over the cap and in doing so absorbs more color and flavor.
The color of our Rosé of Zinfandel is another story entirely. Winemaker Montse Reece always takes a picture of it fermenting because it is so beautiful to her. For our style of Rosé the grapes are picked earlier than for red Zinfandel, not as ripe and allows more acidity which leads to a crisper fresher style. The juice tells the story, this is going to be a good year for this wine.
Finally, our Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard in all her glory-fall and harvest reflected in the leaves.
September 30, 2019 15:49
We usually are wrapping things up as September comes to an end-but not this year. We didn’t pick our first grapes until September 4th and will be harvesting grapes until the 2nd week of October. Here are a few observations from the busy days of September-and a final wrap up of numbers for you coming your way soon.
If there is one word we can use for Vintage 2019 it is ‘steady’ and was coined by Mitch Blakeley, fourth generation family member, when he described this year’s harvest at a recent staff meeting. His role is to assist in the vineyard with his father (and our vineyard manager) Lance as well as in the cellar as needed. As a family business you need to be light on your toes and fast on your feet in order to respond to the many responsibilities that comes when the grapes are ripe.
The harvest really began months ago when our dormant vineyards were seeded with the heavy rainfall received in the winter which delayed the start of growth in the vineyard by a couple of weeks. While the steady and above-average rainfall (20 inches or more above the normal 40” average) was welcome and extended into May, the moderate growing season that followed was equally as important and the two factors are the reason for the full production the vines are producing in 2019. No heatwaves, no big cooling off, we had an evenhanded, nice and ‘steady’, growth and development in the vineyards.
Since the first day of picking grapes, which was also delayed by a couple of weeks (see the pattern?)- this sense of steadiness grew over the month. Each varietal like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay or PInot Noir had its moment and was picked at the right time. We didn't pick our last Zinfandel block until the end of September which was a sign of the season and continued the pattern. Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah and our Portugeuse varietals are still hanging because of the cool temps at the end of the month. Mid-month there was higher heat which tilted some of our days over 100 degrees but just a few days-and all this did was speed things up a tad.
It isn't over until the last grape is picked, the last tank is fermented and the wines slowly make their way to bottle (Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé) or to barrel (Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon). I'll have more of the story behind the 2019 harvest next month.
August 27, 2019 13:43
There is dinner in a vineyard and then there is Dinner in a Very Special Vineyard where you come to find out how a special connection from years ago links my grandfather with a vineyard and a church in Cloverdale, the next town north of Geyserville.
Ed and I were invited to attend a Dinner in the Vineyard by my parents Phyllis & Jim in support of the Italian Catholic Federation at St. Peters Church. We picked up my parents and made our way to the event and as we were getting out of the car my dad remarked on the history my family has with this place.
Some of you may recognize the ‘St. Peter’s Church’ as a single vineyard designation on a few winery labels as it is a very special vineyard in many winemaker’s and wine lover’s eyes (the late Kent Rosenblum among them). It is a vineyard with a long pedigree and has been planted to Zinfandel for nearly 160 years.
The connection? My grandfather Giovanni used to help farm it in the late 1940s to mid 1950s. A bachelor named Andrea Ghiotti owned the property that included this vineyard. He also owned a winery not too far down the road from this site-that was housed below his home. My grandfather even bought his grapes during this time and added them to our own Zinfandel blend. When he passed away my grandfather was instrumental in having the land donated to the Catholic church and, in turn, it became the new home of St. Peter’s Church along with the vineyard. It took a few more years before it became known as "St. Peter's Church Vineyard' and I was happy to find out how my family was connected.
The roots do run deep in Wine Country and this is one of the countless examples from our storied 90+ years in this great place.
August 27, 2019 13:35
Our first Zinfandel harvest was in 1927 shortly after my grandfather purchased the property. 92 years later we are still harvesting Zinfandel-the rest is our story.
During those early days, when Prohibition was still in place, the grapes were sold to head of households who had obtained their government permit to make 200 gallons of wine. From Repeal onward Zinfandel has been a central grape on our estate and in our line of wines. There are many high points and challenges in the last 92 years for this varietal when the grapes were selling for low prices, the yields weren’t as high as we wanted or the weather didn’t cooperate. Then there are glorious, highly lauded harvests, every farmer's dream, where the weather and growing season came together beautifully and produced a bounty of fruit perfectly ripened.
There are three generations of Zinfandel on our Home Ranch: the original dating to the early 1900s with very few vines left but most of them over 100 years old; the second generation, nearing 40 years old, was patterned after the original vineyard using budwood from the old vines as well as neighbor's vines and finally the newest which was planted with the Rockpile Clone, a hearty hillside choice with distinctive bunches and DNA to bring out the best in this grape. Known as our Mother Clone vineyard it is mostly head pruned (goblet trained or bush vine to the Aussies) along with some experimental blocks that are trellised.
As we get ready for vintage 2019 I am looking out over the Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard. She has a lot of stories to tell! My grandfather's days of bringing in the boxes of grapes aided by the whole family including young sons John and Jim entailed great effort; son John's first crush as winemaker was in 1948 and he along with 2 other men processed 800 tons-as he said in his Oral History it was 'a heckuva crush'; Jim recalls very cold and rainy harvests especially in 1964 when it rained and made it difficult to ripen and pick-one of the latest harvests on record that year at the end of October; the drought of the mid-1970's which produced fabulous vintages but lower production; the 1980s at first brought above average rain and abundant harvests to a drought at the other end and 1985 stood out as the best of the decade for Zinfandel; on to the 1990s with the '97 vintage considered the 'vintage of the century' because everything aligned from production to perfect weather but there were other standouts like 1995 for Zinfandel-considered one of the best due to great growing conditions again; in the next decade we saw one of the earliest harvests on record (2004) and one of the best of the decade-2005 (there seems to be a theme of years ending in '5') with remarkable quantity and quality; the last 9 years have brought a long period of drought which in turn gave great concentration to our Zinfandels as well as a couple of heat spikes that virtually fried the vineyard after a long cool summer (2010) as well as high temperatures over the 2017 Labor Day Weekend prompting the vineyard and cellar crew to pick the Mother Clone vineyard as soon as possible.
Today I can see the vineyard is in the final week or two of ripening. I can tell by the way the canes are beginning to droop and the bunches are turning deep purple. This is turning out to be a good production year for our Zinfandel with a late start to the growing season and a normal picking time expected in a couple of weeks. My judgement on the vintage is reserved until after fermentation is over. I'll look forward to this vintage like my father and my grandfather before me-with a farmer's eye and an appreciative palate.
August 27, 2019 13:10
And it begins-the most exciting time of year for us as farmers. The grapes are ripe and they are ready for their moment in the tank. Time to shine as everything, from the crushpad to the presses to the fermenting tanks, is ready to process the grapes.
Our estate grown Sauvignon Blanc is always the first in to the winery each harvest. This year September 4 began vintage 2019 for us. With the late bud break through a fairly uneventful growing season this is right on track for a normal start date. In fact, I had to go back 14 years ago to the 2005 harvest to find a comparable start date of September! All the vintages from 2006 to 2018 began in August due to either warm weather or the drought years.
What's next? It will be soon be followed by Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer (for friends.white) and Pinot Noir and 11 other varietals we harvest.
Thoughts on the growing season: it was mostly an even one with a few heat spikes towards the end of August. The marine fog intrusion made it bearable for the vines by cooling things off once the sun set and kept a cool blanket of fog until around 9 in the morning aiding in the all important development of sugars, acid and phenols. The word is we have an above average crop in almost all of our varietals. We'll have a final wrap up when the last grape is picked to give a more indepth look at vintage 2019.
I'll let the photos below tell the story. It begins in the vineyard with the crew-thanks to their hard work. They began at 6:30am and the first two gondolas were brought in by 10am. The sample is taken from the gondola by vineyard foreman Manuel Diaz for analysis. Winemaker Montse Reece tests for sugar, acid and pH and she told me she is very happy with the results of this first load of Sauvignon Blanc. Next on to the crushpad where Cellarmaster Polo Cano prepares to transfer the grapes to the crusher. The fruit is destemmed and sent to the press where the skins and seeds are removed. We'll follow the juice as it ferments in the cellar over the next couple of weeks. Vineyard Manger Lance Blakeley, Polo Cano, Mitch Blakeley and Manuel Diaz discuss the next grape loads for the day. The stems, in the last photo, will be taken out to dry and will be spread along the vineyard avenues later on this year.
July 26, 2019 17:06
The subject of sustainability and how it sells wine is a fascinating one these days. We’ve been certified by a third party auditor. We’ve made changes over the years and plan on making more changes over the next decades to maintain our status. What sells us on the concept? More importantly what sells you, the reader, on the concept? Sold on Sustainability sheds light on the ‘sale’ability of the very thing that keeps the grape and wine business going.
What sold the sustainability concept for me was the focus on the future. The emphasis is placed on what we can do better in order to leave the earth and environment in good condition for future generations. This includes the vineyard, winery and human resources. We are audited annually via a third party California Sustainable W A representative. Before they arrive Mitch Blakeley, fourth generation family member tasked with the project, submits paperwork that includes changes and upgrades to the previous year’s work.
When we talk about sustainability in the market place whether it is to our tasting room visitors or a wine shop buyer it is about what we have achieved and how we will go forward to continue the process begun 90 years ago. We continue being good stewards of the land, to treat the wines and people with respect and with an eye on how it will impact the environment and the world in the years ahead. This is sustainability to us.
How does this sell the concept? If our friends know we are invested in the future in such a way that each year will bring mindful choices about our land, our wines and our way of life then we have all that we need to live the legacy of our founders and the next generations. We are indeed sold on sustainability.
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