Vino In My Dino

  • Certified!

    August 2, 2017 15:40


    Around the winery we like to say we have been sustainable for 90 years and counting. Or even, as Ed says, ‘it’s in our DNA’. They say timing is everything and it couldn’t have worked out better for us. The certification came through the week we were celebrating our 90th anniversary (July 22). The signs went up on our three estate vineyards just as guests began to arrive from all over the country.

    I’ll let the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA) explain: The vision of the Sustainable Winegrowing Program is the long-term sustainability of the California wine community. To place the concept of sustainability into the context of winegrowing, the program defines sustainable winegrowing as growing and winemaking practices that are sensitive to the environment (Environmentally Sound), responsive to the needs and interests of society-at-large (Socially Equitable), and are economically feasible to implement and maintain (Economically Feasible). The combination of these three principles is often referred to as the three "E's" of sustainability. 

    These three overarching principles provide a general direction to pursue sustainability. However, these important principles need to be translated into the everyday operations of winegrowing and winemaking. To bridge this gap between general principles and daily decision-making, the Code of Sustainable Winegrowing Practices workbook's 15 self-assessment chapters translate the sustainability principles into specific winegrowing and winemaking practices.

    In addition to meeting the prerequisite thresholds and other program requirements, all CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE participants must demonstrate improvement in their sustainability practices in order to renew their annual certification. CERTIFIED SUSTAINABLE encourages companies to use their own baselines to determine what areas need to be improved to make the most meaningful difference for their organization, and continually improve year after year.”

    Mitch Blakeley, fourth generation Pedroncelli, worked through the many-140 in all-questions from the CSWA’s binder which took about a month to complete. He then met with a 3rd party certification expert and they went over the self-assessments. Some of the questions were about shoot density, soil analysis, soil amendments, water usage, tractor use, the overall health of our vines. The goal for the CSWA is to collect data on how we manage our vineyards with an eye to improving everything we do from drip irrigation to making less passes in the vineyard with our tractors. Increasing efficiency is key to sustainable vineyard practices.

    He learned a few things from the process including we were more sustainable than he thought and basically we were certified for doing the right thing all these years. Basically the “proof was now in the pudding” as he put it. He will be instituting more records of the process, placing meters on our wells, monitoring fuel usage more closely among other things. There is a machine that will take a grape leaf and squeeze it to let vineyard managers know how much water is in the leaf in order to know when to turn on drip irrigation-this could save us thousands of gallons of water in the long run and make sure the vineyard is properly irrigated.

    Here’s to the Next 90 knowing we are in good hands. A toast with some Zinfandel in my Dino to Mitch, and to the generations who came before him with good stewardship of the land in mind.

  • On Turning 90

    June 30, 2017 09:47

    On Turning 90

    July 22 1927 is an important date at the winery. My grandfather signed the papers for the property that included 25 acres of grapes, a shuttered winery and a home mid-Prohibition 90 years ago this month. He left quite a legacy.

    Other inventions and remarkable achievements of 1927 include Wonder Bread and Lender’s Bagels, the Oscars (!) founded by Louis B. Mayer, Babe Ruth hit his 60th homerun (he held the record for 30 years!) and Charles A. Lindbergh, at age 25, made the first transatlantic non-stop solo flight.

    Actually my grandparents and the second generation of John and Jim left a legacy that continues today through the fourth generation, so far. I am certain when my grandfather signed the papers he had his young family of three on his mind (my dad Jim would be born 5 years later) and had hope this property would support them. Both vineyard and farm at this time, they raised everything needed from the animals to the crops which supported them. I remember in the 1960s, after we moved to the family home when my grandparents retired, venturing into the basement and seeing rows of mason jars full of the previous year’s harvest, venison sausages aging on hooks and the smell of vinegar being made in barrels around the corner.

    Stories of my grandparents surviving Prohibition, the Great Depression which kicked in two years after the purchase and the start-up of a business new to them are fun to recall. The time my grandfather and uncle John delivered grapes to a place near Redding and the axle broke. My grandfather had to go to the nearest town to get help leaving 7 year old John in the truck with the grapes. Or when my grandparents returned home after a day of work in the vineyard only to discover they were missing 5 year old Jim. They found him under a vine with his dog, safe and sound. I have my own memories of roaming the cellar and the vineyards with my sisters making the whole place our playground. I have seen my own grandchildren and grandnephews running around the place and hope to see the sixth generation doing the same.

    It’s all in a days’ work in our little corner of Dry Creek Valley. From those humble beginnings we, as a family, are tending the vineyards, producing great wines, hosting friends, making sure we continue the legacy born on July 22. A toast to those early days with a splash of Zinfandel in my Dino!


  • Heat & the Vine

    June 28, 2017 16:40

    Heat & the Vine

    What happens in the vineyard when summer hasn’t even begun and we have one of the hottest days on record? On Sunday June 18th the temperature hit 110 degrees in our little corner of Dry Creek Valley. The days that followed were not much better and the mercury wavered between the mid 90s to over 100 degrees again on Thursday. This pre-summer heat wave definitely had my attention.

    I was curious-what does happen to the vines as it gets unseasonably hot? It isn’t the first time the month of June has seen this heat and it does some good to know the following week we had our fog back in the evenings with pleasant temps in the low 80s. I asked our Vineyard Manager Lance Blakeley to explain a few things to me. How does he prepare? What happens to the fruit? Was it a good time to have a heat wave?

    First of all he was ready for the heat-farmers are always weather watchers and he and the crew prepared the vineyard for what was coming by drip irrigating the ranches, which totals 105 acres. This in and of itself helped the vines to survive the brutal heat which hit on the 18th. The fruit was protected by the canopy of canes and leaves. There was little to no scorching of the green berries. If there was a good time to have a heat wave this was it-if it had occurred during bloom time we would have a more drastic story to tell.

    I learned something too. The leaves actually move to cover either the stem or the fruit, whichever is in danger of scorching. One way to test if the vine is keeping cool is to feel the leaves-if they are cool then they are safe. If they are warm to the touch then they need some help as they’ll begin to wilt and become overwhelmed by the heat. Kind of like people-we wilt when it becomes too hot and just want a cool drink of water. The good news is, with temperatures rising in the first week of July, the vineyards are acclimated to the heat by this first wave. Here's to the vines and the hard working crew who takes care of them with a splash of Rosé of Zinfandel 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.