Vino In My Dino

  • What's Your ZinStory?

    October 29, 2018 13:44

    What's Your ZinStory?

    ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) is an organization that has been promoting this uniquely Californian grape for over 30 years with special tastings and other nationwide events. Would you like to know more about our ZinStory?

    My ZinStory began when I first sipped it from my Dino cup when I was four years old. It is the inspiration behind the name of this blog as you may have guessed by now.

    Why don’t we start at the beginning of Zinfandel in Dry Creek Valley. The 1850’s saw many people moving into this area and they began to plant grapes along with other crops. They chose Zinfandel, among a few others, and the rest is ZinStory.

    On the winery property it started in the early 1900s when the Canata family planted Zinfandel and made barrels of wine destined for sale in San Francisco. Giovanni and Julia Pedroncelli bought the vineyard, shuttered winery and home mid-Prohibition in 1927. They acquired a 25 acre vineyard which supported the young family by providing grapes for home winemakers where each head of household could make 200 gallons.

    Zinfandel continues to be our most widely planted grape today with 33 acres of first, second and recently third generation vineyard on the original land my grandparents purchased 91 years ago. We continue our story with three Zinfandels: our Mother Clone located on the home ranch and spanning in age from 115 year old vines to 4 years old; our Bushnell Vineyard which is owned by third generation family member Carol Bushnell and her husband Jim. We have been getting fruit from this place since the 1940s; Courage is our newest member and comes from the multi-generation grape growing Faloni family. We believe it takes a lot of courage to be a farmer and grow Zinfandel!

    Our winemaker Montse says Zinfandel tells the story of the vintage. Whatever has gone on during the growing season through to harvest is reflected in this grape and the wine it makes. Recent examples of this includes the incredible concentration in the drought influenced year of 2015. 5 years before this a heat wave struck in 2010 and we lost nearly half of our crop-also a concentrated vintage due to the very low yields. There are many other memorable examples of quality from vintages like 2012 (the year of plenty), 1997 (considered the vintage of the century), 1985 (focused & concentrated) and 1978 (Zinfandel was the winner after years of drought brought excellent quality). Just remember every bottle tells its’ own ZinStory.

    Now, what is your ZinStory?

  • Our 91st Harvest: Vintage 2018

    October 29, 2018 13:39

    Our 91st Harvest: Vintage 2018

    We completed this year’s harvest on October 9th with a final load of estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Our vintage wrap up includes comments from winemaker Montse Reece and Vineyard Manager Lance Blakeley. Get the harvest scoop from the people who know.

    I will begin by saying there is one word that describes this harvest perfectly: abundance. This coming from an abundance of fruit and an abundance of good weather to bring in the fruit-yes a little rain fell in September and timing was good-we only had a few of red wine varietals on the vine including our Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah still hanging and these grapes are built for this type of challenge! We began with Sauvignon Blanc on August 30 and finished on October 9 with Cabernet Sauvignon. It was quick and chaotic at times and when it cooled down mid-September the weather extended hang time nicely.

    From Lance Blakeley comes his comments as the Vineyard Manager. In production all varietals were above average anywhere from 5% to 15% stemming from spring and summer growing conditions that led to a great crop set. Labor went fairly well as we teamed up with some other local growers to share some of their pickers. We machine harvested 15 acres and all went well in quality. The younger cabernet sauvignon blocks really stood out to me this year as did the merlot which got plenty of hang time and tasted outstanding. Our wine yields were good too as we had full bunches with very little, if any, shrivel or raisining.

    From Montse Reece her comments as Winemaker. This harvest we had more consistent weather without extreme heat spikes like last year. That reflects on the quality of Zinfandel which was exceptional and also the wine yields that were up by 20% over all varietals with respect to last year’s. We did see some challenges especially accommodating the bigger crop across the board but do note the Zinfandel came in at normal tonnage as we had less in 2017. This harvest all grapes, but in particular Zinfandel, were back to a normal cycle of ripening with mild to hot days and cool nights, that translated into a slowing ripening and a better retaining of the acids and phenols. This year I see impressive balanced wines with moderate alcohols and beautiful integrated acids.
    As with Zinfandel the good weather cycle this year elevated the acid, flavor and aromatic profile of the grapes. Cabernets had an extended hang time to reach their maturity and as a result we’ll see more concentrate flavors, colors and bright acidities. A vintage to look forward to.

    And with these comments we close the book on Vintage 2018. I, for one, am looking forward to tasting the first wines released from this harvest early next year.

  • Scents & Memories

    September 24, 2018 16:10

    Scents & Memories

    If you have been reading my posts for a while you’ll remember my favorite season is fall and the best aroma this time of year is the smell of fermentation. When I arrive at my office and get out of the car I am welcomed with the sharp and wonderful smell of grapes fermenting away in the cellar. This is an olfactory memory scent which takes me back to when I was a little girl growing up here. It is literally like coming home for me once fall and harvest begin.

    It brings back memories of making 'wine' from just picked wine grapes by squeezing them into plastic wine glasses which came with our play china set. I am certain it all became a sticky mess and my mom likely cleaned it up. We made 'vine houses' of the huge head-pruned French Colombard vines by claiming one of our own (I have three sisters by the way, all younger than me) and creating our own vine village using the canopy for the 'roof'. The time my sister Lisa, who was about 6 years old, walked across the sump and fell into the just-pressed wine. She was find and later on my uncle John labeled up a bottle of "Mountain Lisa" to commemorate the occasion. We would pick our own grapes and bringing them in to be weighed-pretty sure it was all of 20 pounds of second crop Zinfandel but we were so happy to do it-nothing back breaking like today's grape pickers!

    We wanted to be a part of the process that absorbed my dad and uncles' time especially since our house was right in the middle of the operation. The home was surrounded by winery buildings which were built as needed during the growth years of the winery. Today it is World Headquarters for J. Pedroncelli Inc-and my office is my old bedroom I shared with my sister Joanna. So many memories! Bee stings, scraped knees, muddy shoes, learning to ride a bike in pea gravel (try it sometime), digging around the old stuff left by my grandfather in the attic of the winery, finding where the latest kittens were born and trying to tame them-I even climbed up on top of a wine tank to get to them and I am afraid of heights and I had more of a problem getting down however, picking fruit and vegetables from our large garden, canning with my grandmother Virginia, drying walnuts and then helping to clean them, watching my mom prepare abalone that was caught by my uncle Al and getting to eat what is now a delicacy. All of these tie me back to my childhood growing up a Dry Creek girl.

    A toast to memories of harvests past, the current one ongoing and knowing there'll be more as we continue on to the next generations.

  • TasteUp #4

    September 24, 2018 16:02

    TasteUp #4

    We started these virtual meet ups with the help of Robert Larsen of The Larsen Projekt. Through this we connected with wine bloggers around the country last year in celebration of what is new and exciting at Pedroncelli in our 90th year. In September we completed our 4th of 5 gatherings for our 91st year.

    We invite wine bloggers from Texas, Illinois, Virginia, New York, Oregon, California, Iowa and Maryland to join us and we usually have between 12-15 who all log on at 4pm Pacific Time to chat for an hour. We send them the wines, the recipe and usually an ingredient from the recipe to help them along-this time it was dried Porcini mushrooms to go into the Slow Cooker Beef with Pasta and Porcini.

    Preparation on our part includes fixing the dish and taking photos of the process, prepping with background information on each wine along with winemaking notes and winemaker quotes, pouring the three wines we featured: our 2016 Pinot Noir and Merlot along with our 2014 Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon. We aim to have two of the wines pair up perfectly with the dish and, in this instance, the third wine, Pinot Noir, became the 'sipping' wine before the main event.

    What is so interesting about the hour is we have a dozen people tasting the wines individually and posting their thoughts (at the same time across three time zones), asking questions, posting their tasting notes, bottle shots, their take on the recipe as well as telling us what they did differently-making it low carb or not using the slow cooker method because time is of the essence. It is a great conversation to have while Ed and I, at the winery, scroll and type furiously while answering questions and engaging our friends. We look forward to our fifth and final taste up later this year. Now I get to have fun finding the next recipe as we've already picked out some great wines.

    If you'd like to follow the whole conversation click this link to #tasteup4

    The beginning of deliciousness. Slow cooker ready.

  • Harvest 2018, So Far

    September 24, 2018 15:57

    Harvest 2018, So Far

    I saw an article this week that talked about Vintage 2018 being a late harvest this year predicting some wineries will be picking until November (!). The article said this was due to the cool weather we had in the last two weeks of August just as harvest was beginning and continued over the first three weeks of September. But for us in the upper part of Dry Creek Valley where we have been picking since August 30 it is warmer than say the Russian River Valley or the Sonoma Coast.

    A blanket statement or headline like this makes many people think we are all the same, that the vast Sonoma County vineyard acreage is in lockstep with one quote and one type of climate. So it follows that an article can't put all appellations into one basket. We have warmer days than some of our cooler cousins to the south and west of us. In fact it is the distinction of Dry Creek Valley itself, when it comes to climate, where we have those warm-to-hot days and cool, marine-fog infused evenings that make this area so special. We are reaping the benefits when it comes to quality in the grapes because those cool nights bring development of sugars, tannin and acidity. The last word, acidity, is what signals Montse Reece, our winemaker, to set things in motion to pick a particular block or vineyard. She relies on this above all others to bring in The grapes are ripe but not overripe which will give the varietal character without going full tilt into fruit bomb territory. The tannins are rounded and smooth leading to a solid structure.

    With all that said we are winding down harvest here and will finish at the end of the first week of October. We have had a warm final week of September (96 degrees on Wednesday) and it pushed many of our varietals to the perfect range. Cheers to our 91st harvest and looking forward to tasting the first wines of the vintage early next year!

  • A Note From Home: Thoughts on our 91st Harvest

    September 14, 2018 15:33

    A Note From Home: Thoughts on our 91st Harvest

    I returned to my desk from an early September East Coast jaunt to find the sun was already making its’ way to fall. I could feel the change of seasons as the sun warmed my back with the unmistakable and different intensity of heat. Even the way the afternoon sun’s rays were subtly different in their slant was a harbinger of change-and an earlier sunset also signals this time of year.

    One thing that hasn’t changed is harvest. This time of year finds the cellar and vineyard crew knee deep in fermenting fruit. The grapes are right on time this year, our 91st grape harvest, with the growing season beginning in mid-March with bud break through bloom and crop set through veraison and ripening over the mostly even heat this summer. The cool down the last two weeks of August was great as it gave the grapes even weather and more time to develop. We picked Sauvignon Blanc off estate vineyards on August 30. Soon we were bringing in Zinfandel for both the Rosé and Red wine lots followed by Pinot Noir, Merlot and Chardonnay. Over the month or so left at this writing we’ll see more of the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Sirah and our Portuguese varietals for our Four Grapes Port. All in all things have gone smoothly so far and vintage 2018 is set to bring in great quality and development in the grapes.

    At the helm of the winemaking team is Montse Reece who has been here since the 2007 vintage when she was hired as assistant winemaker to my uncle John. Remember, we have only had three winemakers for the entire 91 years beginning with my grandfather Giovanni from 1934-1948 when he went back out into the vineyards to work the land and tend the vines. My uncle John made wine here for nearly 65 vintages and developed our ‘house style’ of wine which are varietally correct, great acid and balance as well as food friendly. When he passed away in 2015 Montse, who had worked with him for 7 vintages, became our third winemaker and one of very few California women winemakers. The other side of the business of harvest and where all wine is born is in the vineyard. Lance Blakeley, our Vineyard Manager, learned from John how best to plant and harvest our grapes. He’s also the guy who is in touch with our growers. About half of our production comes from our neighbors and every grape picked is within 14 miles of the winery-regionally focused I like to say.

    This note from home comes with a nod to what my grandparents began and achieved followed by the great regard and appreciation of what the second generation did by splitting the ‘chores’ of wine and grape growing (John) and sales & marketing (Jim). My generation, the third, works to secure the family business for the fourth and fifth generations and on into the future.

    A toast to Vintage 2018 and all the hard work of past and current family and staff-we are in it together and always look to the future.

  • First Pick: Sauvignon Blanc

    August 27, 2018 10:56

    First Pick: Sauvignon Blanc

    Our favorite white wine grape from our estate, the only white wine we grow, is always the first in at harvest time. This year the first load came in on August 30, 2018 and harvest began for the 91st time.

    This is the only white wine varietal we have planted on our vineyards and, in my opinion, is the white wine counterpart to Zinfandel as the signature grape of Dry Creek Valley. For comparison’s sake here are the numbers: 2700 acres planted in Sonoma County, it is the most popular white varietal in Dry Creek Valley, with an estimated 1100 acres planted second only to the queen, Chardonnay. We have 11 acres planted on the valley floor where the sedimentary soils and balance of warm days and cool nights create perfect conditions for making great Sauvignon Blanc.

    Located a mile west on the east side of Dry Creek, we farm two blocks where the vineyard crew takes special care during the growing season to tuck and cover the ripening fruit-this process is almost as important as where it is planted and what type of microclimate we have there. Tucking the shoots back makes way for sunshine to do its part in ripening up the grapes. As farmers, we always want the best of both worlds to ripen and protect the fruit which means a good balance of sun and shade. Leaves are a very important part of this cycle as they provide the much-needed cover for the grape bunches as they go through the season. Not enough shade, and the grapes become sunburned and raisins in due time, too much shade and the wine takes on unripe green flavors. Tuck and cover is an apt description for this vineyard process.

    Today the first block was picked by hand, next Tuesday we'll be doing something different-the second block will be picked by machine harvesting, only the second varietal to be picked this way on our vineyards. Change is inevitable and we look forward to trying the 2018 when it is released early next year. As I like to say about our Sauvignon Blanc: it ripens on the vine, makes a stop at the fermentation tank and is bottled shortly after harvest capturing characteristic Dry Creek Valley tropical fruit and citrus on the nose and in the mouth finishing with crisp acidity.

    Two snaps of this momentous day: A bucket of 2018 Sauvignon Blanc ready for the gondola and two generations of Pedroncellis at the crushpad-Mitch and Jim-making sure everything goes smoothly. Cheers to the 2018 harvest!

    Bucket of 2018 Sauvignon Blanc First Grapes In: Sauvignon Blanc 2018

  • Rolling with the Crew: Machine Harvesting

    August 24, 2018 10:59

    Rolling with the Crew: Machine Harvesting

    The way grapes are picked has changed over the years going from hand harvesting for centuries to machine harvesting which began more than 30 years ago in the vineyard. The decreasing labor force, and increasing costs have been an issue for grape growers for more than a decade.

    Fortunately, machine harvesting has advanced at a similar pace. Increased harvesting quality and cost reductions make this a real and worthy option. Considering the improved quality of mechanical harvesting, and the shrinking labor force machine harvesting brings three things to the crushpad: picking the grapes at night allows the cellar to process cooler (temperature) fruit which maintains quality; technology has come a long way bringing with it more precise results in the field (cleaner pick without leaves/sticks and more careful passes through the rows without taking out a vine arm) and finally harvesting a vineyard is accomplished much faster than a team of people hand harvesting-by 50%.

    When our vineyard manager Lance replanted a block of Cabernet Sauvignon he trained it so that in a few years it could be machine harvested. The results, two years ago, were positive all the way around from the standpoint that it picked the block in half the time and winemaker Montse was happy with the quality of the fruit that came in from the night harvest. Along with the Cabernet block we are adding one section of our Sauvignon Blanc vineyard to be harvested by machine this vintage. Our Merlot will soon be picked this way as well because the vineyard crew has begun cane pruning the blocks in preparation for a machine to roll through in the coming harvests.

    Machines, however, only do well on flat pieces of land. Our hillside Mother Clone Zinfandel will always need to be hand-picked hence much of the Home Ranch (about 90%) will need a labor force to help pick. We have a strong sense of tradition. Knowing that we'll be hand-harvesting the home ranch into the foreseeable future is okay with us. There is something wonderful about handling each bunch, even if it is a nod to the traditions of the past.

  • Harvest 411

    August 24, 2018 10:34

    Harvest 411

    Join me as we prepare for our 91st harvest. Get the scoop on the preparation and the anticipation of the 2018 vintage.

    Summer brings more than hot weather and ripening of the grapes. It brings with it a sense of anticipation because we know the beginning of harvest will soon be here-sometimes sooner rather than later as in vintages past (we harvested Sauvignon Blanc on August 10 in 2004 for instance-which was the earliest harvest on record). 2018 started a bit behind 2017 by just two days later and this timing is considered a normal start to the process of bringing in the grapes.

    Over the last few weeks the cellar crew has finished barrel work and any bottling needed, cleaned up and tested equipment from the de-stemmer to the presses, the pumps and the chiller. The vineyard crew, with 100 acres of estate grapes, mainly kept watch if the vines needed water, checked grape loads on the vine or cleared out canes if the block was to be machine harvested. Lance, vineyard manager, went out and gathered grape samples to assess the brix (sugar) and acid.

    The most important part of harvest preparation is how we go about deciding when to pick. Between the grape samples brought in and their analysis winemaker Montse works with Lance to decide the best time to bring in the grapes. Montse’s focus is on the acidity and pH rather than the sugar. Our style has always leaned to higher acidity rather than overly ripe fruit, balancing all of it to bring out the best in each varietal.

    Harvest means the first grapes coming are indeed the first wave. It doesn’t mean every grape we grow or buy comes in one right after the other. It means sometimes there are pauses between varietals. After Sauvignon Blanc, the first grape in, comes the Zinfandel for our Rosé program (early pick to give us lower alcohol and higher acidity) followed by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Depending on the weather (you know us farmers-always at the mercy of what Mother Nature gives us) and as the individual blocks ripen more red varietals will make their way to the crushpad.

    We began on August 30 and will likely take in our last grapes six weeks from now. That is if all the right pieces fall into place as we turn from August to September and beyond.

  • Cabernet for Days

    July 26, 2018 13:54

    Cabernet for Days

    I consider myself lucky being here in the wine country. Invitations for tastings like the Cabernet Sauvignon Round Up hosted at Passalacqua Winery featured mostly Dry Creek Valley Cabernets with a sprinkling of some ‘outsiders’ from the Alexander, Russian River and Napa Valleys.

    I tasted through Cabernets ranging from a 2011 vintage to 2015 with a library 2007 thrown in for good measure as well as a magnum. It was a wide-ranging field for the King of Red Wines. I sipped and spit my way through 33 of them and came across some favorites. And to be fair I will not be ‘naming names’ because I didn’t take extensive notes (I was 'speed tasting') and because I wanted to just take notes about Cabernet Sauvignon without the brand being a thing.

    The first wine that stood out to me was the one from the 2011 vintage. This was a cooler vintage and in fact it rained on a lot of Cabernet as most of the fruit wasn’t ready to be picked and had to wait out the rain, the ensuing mud and we all wanted it to ripen up a bit more before taking in the grapes. This one had what I thought was the perfect ‘dried cherry’ center. It was the lightest in color of all the others, wasn’t overwhelmed by new oak and when tasted left the most pleasant cherry essence. I immediately thought it would pair well with grilled salmon. The second wine that claimed my palate was a 2013 from an area of Dry Creek Valley that is quite steep. It had all the qualities I look for in Cabernet-it had dark fruits like plum and berry but tinged by a touch of tannin which balanced with the correct acidity. I thought of a pork chop and mushroom sauce.

    A third from the 2015 vintage seemed to embrace the personality of the vineyard, located mid-valley, and featured the concentration this vintage is known for (the drought reduced production and the resulting wine, without enough rain, showed intense fruit). With that in mind I paired this with tri tip and roasted potatoes.

    One from 2014 kept drawing another sniff of the glass. Concentrated like the 2015 vintage it was softer and more supple with those dark fruits showing through like boysenberry pie. This would go well with prime rib or a t-bone steak.

    Others reflected oak notes both big and bold as well as soft and muted. Overall I could detect that bit of rotundone (think peppery) in most of them-except for the 2015s which were the most concentrated. That hint of herb defines Dry Creek Valley Cabernet for me and sets it apart from other appellations that are warmer and to the east of us. I appreciated the chance to taste and compare.

    Cabernet Round Up