Vino In My Dino

  • #housepalate

    June 22, 2017 10:28


    Here in wine country if you aren’t careful you can get what we call a ‘house palate’ where the only wine you try is from one winery-usually the wines you represent. It is akin to staying with one food for the rest of your life like chicken or bread-a pretty boring existence.

    In the last seven days my palate was challenged a few of times. I was fortunate enough to taste through 27 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandels at the Zinfandel Throwdown held at Dry Creek Vineyard. I was a judge at the International Women’s Wine Competition where I tasted through 113 wines on Tuesday for several panels of wine ranging from Flavored Sparkling Wines to Malbec, as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and 30 Cabernet Sauvignons under $20. On Wednesday the Sweepstakes round included 35 wines for consideration of the top prize.

    My palate was challenged several times throughout the process. At the Zin, tasting which was done blind (meaning the bottles were covered by black bags), I found out later that I had picked our Bushnell Vineyard Zin out of 27 other choices. I preferred our house style to all the others! At the wine competition I conferred with the other two judges on my panel who were winemakers and much more experienced with different wine styles and flaws. I did identify two corked wines over the course of the day and asked for re-pours. My nose is very sensitive to corked wines while other flaws weren’t quite so apparent hence the discussion with the other two judges. While I didn't have to like them there were many wines I would never have tried if they had been revealed to me ahead of time including a blue sparkling wine which was completely dry. I liked it and appreciated the many other styles of wine represented in the 148 glasses I sniffed and sipped.

    While you have been tasting wine your own 'house palate' developed and you have discovered wines you love or dislike. In large part the education comes from the practice of tasting, kind of like Olympic trials but more fun. There is a world of flavors and choices of styles whether you are new to wine in recent years or have ‘done this’ since you, ahem, turned legal age. I often advocate for trying anything put in front of you-even if you haven’t heard of the varietal before. The good thing is you can always dump it out. Wine tastings, tasting rooms, wine bars, in-store tastings are a few of the ways you can go about your wine education. Ask questions, be curious, seek out the unknown-it may become your favorite grape and turn your palate from one note to a symphony of choices! A toast from my Dino to your glass with a splash of Sauvignon Blanc, my favorite summer grape.

  • Another View of 90

    May 30, 2017 14:15

    Another View of 90

    July 22, 1927 is the date Giovanni Pedroncelli signed on the dotted line and finished the sale of the property that is now the winery and Home Ranch vineyards. I am periodically including reflections on our 90 years in this place. Today I am writing about John and Jim, the next generation, as they stepped into their roles as family owners.

    This period was the heyday of this generation and a resurgence of wine appreciation. They learned the trade while growing up and then found their positions within the business.  The brothers were poised for success. In 1960 they had purchased additional land already planted to Zinfandel. By 1963 they officially purchased the operation from their parents taking the next step from the first to second generation. They continued buying more land as the winery expanded production. By the mid-1960s they focused on oak barrels, stainless steel tanks and a new bottling line, among other necessary equipment for a growing winery.

    At the time they were bottling in tenths, fifths, half gallons and gallons-the shift away from the large format bottles would come as the 1970s gave way to what I refer to as the wine renaissance. Consumers began to seek what they considered upscale wines in cork finished bottles, finding small family wineries, looking for varietals rather than those old-fashioned blends.

    There was quite a bit of experimentation going on in the vineyard as my uncle and dad learned about what the consumers were drinking and balanced this with what grew best in the northern part of Dry Creek Valley. Zinfandel was still a large part of what we farmed and we were among the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon (1966). We grew Pinot Noir, Napa Gamay, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Vert, Gewurztraminer and Riesling.  As times and tastes changed these were replaced by Sauvignon Blanc, more Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot by the 1990s. For the moment though, those early wine fans liked Chenin Blanc, Zinfandel Rosé, Riesling, French Colombard and Gamay Beaujolais. I was looking through the books at numbers during this time-in 1973 we produced 10,000 cases each of Chenin Blanc and Zinfandel Rosé!

    While John oversaw the vineyard expansion and planting along with winemaking duties, Jim worked on sales and marketing for the ever-expanding line of wines and the new demand for fine wines. He worked first by taking orders and delivering the wine to northern California stores and restaurants. One of my fondest memories was going with my dad Jim on a delivery to San Francisco when I was around 6 years old. I remember we stopped at the Doggie Diner for lunch-this country girl couldn’t get over the restaurant shaped like a hot ‘dog’. He went from these early sales to using a broker and beginning to distribute statewide. He developed a network of distributors across the nation with some of them driving to the winery to strike up business. By the 1980s he was exporting wine to Canada and Japan as well as smaller global markets. Jim would also spearhead a broker network to secure a wider network for sales. The story continues as the third generation joins the ranks in upcoming posts.

     A toast to this great generation for keeping the business growing into now four generations!

  • The Dating Game

    May 26, 2017 11:06

    The Dating Game

    The other day when taking guests on a tour of the cellar and other winery buildings we walked by a display of older vintages and labels from the 1960s through 1980s in our case goods warehouse. Since vintages are a part of my everyday life I tossed off a few points about the label changes over the years and the vintages themselves recalling if a particular vintage was considered ‘great’ or otherwise.

    I also pointed out the first year we vintage dated our wine which was 1965. Before this year we didn’t use vintages on our labels. The question came up ‘why is it important to feature the year on the label’? I pointed out it is tradition in the larger world of wine. We’ll often read about the great vintage years of (fill in the blank) or the bad years of… A few hundred years ago the first wines were vintage dated. Now we rely on this information to indicate a years' influence like the drought in 2015 or rain in 1989. Portugal declares 'vintage years' to signal exceptional quality. As a general rule, with a little digging on the internet, you can find out more about the growing and harvest conditions of each year which in turn will let you know what went on while the grapes were developing or being picked. 

    There are a couple of reasons why we didn’t date our wines before this point. One was we were making generic wines in gallons and half gallons and people were drinking these right away and not aging them. Going back even farther there wasn’t a need to vintage date as my grandfather literally bottled up the wine for them upon arrival-no vintage necessary as it was from the latest harvest and the label consisted of the name of the winery, the cellar number 113 and the town/state. We began dating our wines when the second generation, John and Jim, began the transition from jug wines to bottling our wines in cork finished bottles. It was with the idea that they would possibly be aged and, I suppose, it became more in vogue to put the vintage on the label making our wine more upscale as the U.S. market became educated about wine and labels. 

    A toast in my Dino with a splash of 1966 Cabernet Sauvignon-a very good year!


  • Old Wine, Tasty Wine?

    May 25, 2017 12:01

    Old Wine, Tasty Wine?

    As we move through our 90th anniversary year we are taking some of our cellared wines from the library and giving them some consideration. Many are 20, 30 and 40 years old. Today we are celebrating National Wine Day (May 25). I thought I’d discuss my experiences of tasting some of our older wines, a few of them in great condition and others have gone over the wine colored rainbow bridge.

    With this in mind I found, for the most part, our Cabernet Sauvignons have held their ground in the world of cellar aging. The 1966 I tasted last night was a bit tired in the aroma department and once tasted I think actually held onto some of its’ youth with touches of tobacco, a bit of acidity and tannin, overall very soft. At this point, for many wine lovers and fans, this wine has joined the ‘over the hill’ gang but I am still fascinated by the longevity—51 years old!

    A 1977 Cabernet Sauvignon fared a bit better-and coming from a drought period. The wine still captured the fruit and acidity with a bit more concentration from the lower yield influenced by drought that year.  With a bit of zestfulness it holds as one of the best from an uneven decade and did well in my opinion. Not for the faint of heart and certainly something you want to pour and serve almost immediately-the more aeration the faster the bouquet disappears and my advice is not to linger.

    Our 1995 Cabernet Sauvignon is a good example of a well-aged wine at 22 years old. It had life left including fruit framed by still-present tannins and hints of warm toasty oak, although the tannins had softened up and acidity provided the tart palate. Predictions of a Cabernet worthy of aging, based on the growing season that year, proved right. Decanting the wine would not be required, drink up because older wines don’t last into the next day.

    Heading into the first decade of the new millennium the Cabernets of this period tend to be doing well with plenty of aging capability left. The 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon shows fruit over tannin, beautiful toasted oak and acidity frame the wine. Decanting at this stage in the aging game would be recommended.

    Take a look around your stash and don’t wait too long to enjoy the fruits of your cellar. You don’t have to reach into your cellar (closet, garage, wine refrigerator) for an older wine. Enjoy a glass of your favorite today. Pair with whatever you are having, from a quick weeknight meal to after dinner reflection.  Post photos using #NationalWineDay on your favorite social media channel. A toast in my Dino with a splash of 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon!

  • An Icon: Jim Pedroncelli

    April 18, 2017 11:07

    This week the Sonoma County Vintners are hosting their third annual Barrel Auction. Each year they have chosen icons who embody Sonoma County winegrowing. This year my dad Jim was chosen and will be honored on Thursday at a special event.

    An icon as defined on Google: “a person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something.” Or ‘a person who is very successful or admired: a pop icon.  Dad is a Sonoma County wine icon and is one of the early adopters of placing the appellation on our label, a tireless supporter of programs the Sonoma County trade group has sponsored over the years, and, of course, the leader at Pedroncelli Winery.

    Going back to the beginning, my dad was born in Geyserville at the family home, the youngest of four. Working from the ground up he, along with his brother John and sisters Margaret and Marianne, experienced the many aspects of the job that come from being in the family business: vineyard and cellar work followed by sales and marketing. There are many stories about him growing up at Pedroncelli: during vineyard work he was lost among the vines and found with his dog at his side; he scraped redwood tanks for tartrates and these were used to make munitions during World War 2; showing early interest in marketing he suggested including Sonoma on our labels in the early 1950s; he developed the distributor network we have today and created a broker network, Winery Associates, to support national sales.

    All along he consistently promoted Sonoma County while others were promoting sub-appellations and was ever present on the Sonoma Tour as the trade association worked to promote the region. He is the strongest Sonoma County advocate alive today. He has committed his life to promoting Sonoma County wine —often, and regularly, above his own brand. He is a charter member of Sonoma County Vintners, Wine Road, Sonoma County Grape Growers, Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley, and long term member of Wine Institute.

    My dad has been known to give the tie from around his neck at a wine tasting, give the shortest winemaker talk at a dinner which was much appreciated by the crowd, and is one of the most generous individuals in the business. His being named an Icon is a well-deserved honor.

  • Women's History Month: We Are Family

    March 23, 2017 06:17

    A while ago I took part in a seminar entitled “Growing up Among the Vines” and one of the stories I told was about my sisters and I building vine houses under head pruned Chenin Blanc vines. I remember it was cool inside the canopy of long canes and large leaves in the days just before harvest. We had our own vine village. This and many other memories are with me as I reflect on four generations of family ownership.

    March is Women’s History Month designated each year by proclamation from the President. Women’s History Month is chosen each year to celebrate the achievements and contributions made to our great nation. We have been quietly working in our corner of Dry Creek Valley with women in every generation contributing to the success of the winery.

    As a third generation member and the oldest of four Pedroncelli daughters my experience is filled with many memories of growing up side by side with the family business.  My grandmother Julia, matriarch of the first generation, kept the books, entertained many visitors with her cooking and hospitality, and helped our family business blossom. Daughters Margaret and Marianne, sisters to John and Jim, took part in the early years out in the vineyard and farm. Later Margaret, along with husband Al Pedroni, became a longtime grower of Zinfandel, an extension now of our estate vineyards farmed by daughter Carol and her husband Jim Bushnell.

    Grandparents, aunts, uncles, dad and cousin celebrating Sunday dinner.

    Also from the second generation, my mom Phyllis took over bookkeeping when my parents moved to the family home at the winery in the mid1960’s. She weighed in grape trucks, managed the office and later went on marketing trips with my dad doing all she could to help the winery go forward. Christine, uncle John’s wife, worked side by side to further the business as well. Her interests took her into the world of politics with many community and civic activities including the first woman president of the Santa Rosa Junior College Board of Trustees, appointed by Sonoma County on the Dry Creek Zoning Committee, part of the committee to build the Geyserville Educational Park, Chairman of the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees and many other accomplishments.

    Christine, Jim and Phyllis partners from the second generation.

    In the third generation, my sisters Cathy, Lisa and Joanna all have made great contributions throughout the years as well as cousin Maureen with her singular talent as chef. Fourth generation member Denise is our graphics designer. To this day we work side by side here at the winery each of us using our own talents like the previous generations to shepherd our interests forward. I am honored to follow in the footsteps of such great examples and strive to do more and be more in the coming years. A toast with Sauvignon Blanc in my Dino to generations of women in our family-90 years and counting!

    The Pedroncelli sisters Joanna, Julie Lisa and Cathy.


  • Vineyard View: From Drought to Plenty

    March 10, 2017 07:37

    The phases our Mother Clone vineyard has experienced in the last five years echoes a climate pattern that reaches back 90 years ago. Soon after my grandparents bought the ranch in 1927 they experienced one of the longest droughts on record spanning 1928-1934. Our recent drought period of 4 years ended with the 75 inches of rain that we have received (so far) for the 2016-2017 season. Average rainfall typically is in the 35 to 40 inch range.

    The impact on vineyards during drought periods are pretty evident. The vines protect themselves and lower production of fruit in order to survive. If they didn’t cut back then depletion within the vine system would do more harm, nutrients would be lost and quality compromised. If there are diseases in vines like a virus it is even more evident in the fall as bright red leaves shows the stress. As farmers during the recent drought we were on strict conservation measures and gave ‘just enough’ water to each vine, trying to keep a balance between the two extremes.

    The state of California has been measuring precipitation over 2 centuries. In studying the data, it shows the climate patterns we have experienced and the devastation that follows. “Droughts and floods can occur in close proximity. For example, the flooding of 1986 was followed by six years of drought (1987-92). At the beginning of the state's historical record the so-called "Noachian" floods of winter 1861-62 were followed by two severely dry years.” As quoted from California department of Water Resources on their website.

    We have had 5 historical droughts in the last 90 years and each one of them made their mark on agriculture. Once again I’ll point to the circular nature of climate. We do not live in a world where we can control the elements and are dependent on the weather each and every year-even when one season mirrors another it can be very unpredictable. A toast to both sides of Mother Nature-the extreme of drought to the overabundant rains we have had, so far.

  • 40 Years of Barrel Tasting

    March 3, 2017 07:25

    40 Years of Barrel Tasting

    This weekend we are celebrating 40 years of barrel tasting at Pedroncelli—we were one of the founding wineries and have participated in this educational event since the first year-1977. While I was too young at the time to participate I worked my first barrel event in 1986. It was free back then, people even brought their own wine glass with them because the wineries weren’t equipped to wash enough glasses to supply the event. Ahhh those were the days-it is more upscale now with glass included in the ticket price.

    The next two weekends we’ll welcome event attendees into our cellar (yours truly will be the greeter) and thief samples of our 2015 Mother Clone Zinfandel side by side with our 2015 Bushnell Vineyard Zin. Our winemaker Montse will be here tomorrow to answer your burning barrel questions; cellar master Polo will be here next Saturday to do the same. Don’t be shy-barrels are a big part of a wine's story.

    Here are a few stats to whet your whistle:

    Why taste from the barrel? This gives you an idea of the aging process-compare an unfinished wine with a finished wine for the best comparison like our 2015 Mother Clone vs the current 2014. You'll find subtle and extreme differences between the two.

    What happens inside the barrel? During the aging process, as the water and alcohol dissipate and thereby concentrating the wine, the young wine softens little by little. It will take on aspects of the oak as well as loosen up its' grip. If you are trying a wine from the recent harvest be prepared-the tannins are pretty harsh but the silver lining is you get a glimpse of things to come—the fruit components, the acidity, the body—and some of the characteristics will dominate the others.

    How many barrels do we have and what kind of oak are they? There are 2000 barrels in our Barrel Room. Most are American oak, some French and a smattering of Hungarian. Each barrel holds about 25 cases of wine-50,000 cases of vino at any given time.

    It's cold in here-what is the cellar temperature? This is important-our barrel room is kept at a constant 55 or so degrees. It is also humidified because this helps to slow down the oxidation within each barrel-which helps to save wine.

    A toast to barrels-get it? toast ha ha-with a splash of Zinfandel in my Dino!

  • Pillars of Pedroncelli: Farming

    February 28, 2017 13:42

    Plans for our 90th anniversary are being rolled out via press releases, wine writer samples and extra market travel. When we decided to focus on the whole year as a celebration we will make sure each event we host or participate in focuses on and celebrates our 9 decades as a family owned and farmed winery in Dry Creek Valley. We developed the “Pillars of Pedroncelli” to emphasize what has made our business so successful. The first of the three is family, the second is farming.

    Dry Creek Valley is very special to us. I am glad my grandparents put down roots here when they could have chosen anywhere else. Today we know this is one of the best places on earth to farm grapes. And great wines begin with the best vineyard locations.

    Cesar Perez with Silver plowing hillside Zinfandel-circa 1960s. Very few photos of our vineyard survive. This is a good representation of our home ranch.

    Our winery and vineyards are located in this American Viticultural Area we helped form. Renowned as prime land for grape growing, high quality wines are the result. The climate, where the development in ripening grapes is protected from the heat by the marine fog intrusion in the evenings, is singular and unparalleled. Pedroncelli wines are regionally focused and site specific and we’ve learned to pair the right varietal with the best site creating great character. Farming at its best is when you take the sum of experience and find just the right spot for a varietal. Wine excellence follows.

    Fog burning off the vineyard, typically late morning, and it makes all the difference in quality.

    A little background on the valley itself. It is 2 miles wide and 16 miles long and is associated with three towns: Healdsburg, Geyserville and Cloverdale. It is the smallest of the four major appellations within Sonoma County. Populated in the mid-1800s by settlers, grape growing began in earnest by the 1860s. Wineries cropped up by the 1870s and the rest is history. Well except for that 13 year Prohibition ‘experiment’. By 1972 a wine renaissance drew many new vintners to the area as we were the only commercial winery during those lean years following Repeal. Today 9000 acres are planted with more than 70 wineries and we welcome visitors to experience what wine and grape farming are all about. A toast in my Dino with a splash of to farming the best spot on earth!

    Second generation Cabernet Sauvignon-you do gain a lot of wisdom from 50 years of growing the same varietal on the same site.

  • Pillars of Pedroncelli: Flagships

    February 28, 2017 13:37

    Plans for our 90th anniversary included defining the three pillars of Pedroncelli-what sets us apart from all the others. This month's posts included family first-who we are and what we have been doing for 90 years to carry on our heritage; the second is farming-this singular place where development in the grapes we plant are defined by climate and soils making high quality wine and the importance of being good stewards of the land for 9 decades. Finally our flagships: Zinfandel, of course, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

    Dry Creek Valley and Zinfandel are synonymous so it’s natural that it would be our first varietal produced and our flagship. It was among the first grapes to be planted in the 1860s when Dry Creek Valley became home to vineyards. Our home ranch has been planted to the grape since the early 1900s and we kept the vineyard going through Prohibition by selling to home winemakers. Zinfandel was the first varietal wine we made in 1948 and followed with Rosé by 1954. Today half of all Zinfandel grown in Sonoma County (2500 acres) is grown in Dry Creek Valley. We have found it to be distinctive when grown here showcasing the berry-pepper dynamic of fruit on one side and the signature black pepper spice on the other.

    Old Vine Zinfandel

    We were the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon in Dry Creek Valley where it flourishes after 50 years and has its own unique qualities of fruit and spice. Having purchased this 5 acre piece in 1965, located on West Dry Creek Road, we learned site specific qualities gaining wisdom over the years as how Cabernet thrived in the climate, soil and which trellising ripened the grapes best. 3200 acres are planted in the valley putting the king of grapes at the top of the list.


    It makes sense that these two varietals make up over 50% of our estate vineyards and both are considered hallmark wines here in Dry Creek Valley. A splash of Cabernet in my Dino as a toast to flagships.