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Dry Creek Valley

  • 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

  • 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

  • Zealous for Zinfandel

    April 19, 2018 15:52

    Zealous for Zinfandel

    I know I have a pretty good life here in Dry Creek Valley. Either I’m looking at or walking through our Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard, visiting my markets where I present our wines to accounts (always with Zin in the bag) or attending events featuring more Zin. It is a good to be in the Zin business these days.

    Recently I was a guest at an event called Sonoma Summit sponsored by the Sonoma County Vintners, hosted by Sbragia Winery (thanks Ed and Adam-the view was fabulous) and the guests were 30 sommeliers from across the U.S. I was there, along with 11 other Zinfandel producing wineries, to talk about our own individual Zealous for Zinfandel stories. I was the only one who wasn’t a winemaker by the way-so I didn’t get into the weeds trying to talk about pH or brix. The organizers paired up four wines at a time from different appellations within Sonoma County. Some vintages varied between 2015 and 2016. Each speaker told their stories of farming zinfandel, waxed eloquent about the process, gave inside stories on what Zinfandel means to them. Then we tasted through the flights with the stories fresh in our minds.

    I found the Zins all shared some wonderful DNA characteristics-whether grown in Sonoma Valley or Rockpile, Dry Creek Valley (represented with 4 offerings) or Russian River Valley. The ‘Z’NA I write of was the defining spice-berry dynamic of the Zinfandel grape that wove itself throughout the 12 wines. It was pointed out a couple of times how difficult a grape it is to ripen hence to bring out the dynamic between fruit and spice, soil and hillside. At Pedroncelli we call it personality. Our Mother Clone Zinfandel has quite a personality. It’s spice-forward rather than fruit-forward and showed quite an affinity to pairing up with the Hoisin-braised Pork Belly, the featured dish of the Dry Creek Valley flight.

    All in all it showed we were all fans of this grape with roots in Dry Creek Valley going back to the 1850s when it was first planted. Half of all Zinfandel grown in Sonoma County is right here in our little valley-a mighty showing from the smallest of the four major appellations! And the opportunity to compare with 5 other sub-appellations was priceless. The next time you try a Zinfandel do some detective work: where it came from, what shows up in the aromas and flavors, and realize how different this grape is from other red wines out there.

  • The D Word

    February 28, 2018 14:15

    The D Word

    Drought. The word is bandied about these days as we look to the last significant month in our rain cycle. March is usually the final frontier when it comes to the rain season. If we haven’t had enough (and we haven’t) then this is the last stand to make up for the small amount we have received so far. In fact the warm weather (in the 70s) we had in February almost made our vines think it was spring.

    We’ve had between 12 and 13 inches of rain this season. Average rainfall is around 30 inches. That’s why the dreaded D-word ‘drought’ is now being used. While considered moderate we’ll need a few more inches to even get close to normal.

    From the California Department of Water Resources comes this when defining drought for our state, “California is no stranger to drought; it is a recurring feature of our climate. We recently experienced the 5-year event of 2012-2016, and other notable historical droughts included 2007-09, 1987-92, 1976-77, and off-and-on dry conditions spanning more than a decade in the 1920s and 1930s. Paleoclimate records going back more than 1,000 years show many more significant dry periods. The dry conditions of the 1920s-30s, however, were on a par with the largest 10-year droughts in the much longer paleoclimate record.”

    The great amount of rain we received in 2017, while a distant memory, is something that isn’t repeated too often. The good news is it filled up reservoirs and even recharged groundwater storage in some places which is an important if unseen effect-without underground water the wells so many of us rely on for farming would affect our ability to deliver water when most needed.

    It remains to be seen what March will bring. We all hope for more rain to give the vines and other agricultural crops the water they need.

  • WOW: Pedroncelli is a Women Owned Winery

    February 27, 2018 16:38

    WOW: Pedroncelli is a Women Owned Winery

    Family businesses are different than others because most of our co-workers are spouses, siblings or cousins. You know, when we were growing up here at the winery, women outnumbered my Dad 5 to 1. With four daughters and my Mom he survived but as my sister Lisa put it “his lifetime achievement award was well deserved-he survived four teenage girls”. He was raised in part by his sisters Margaret and Marianne who were 10 and 9 years older than he was so he had a good start in the girl department.

    Women over the years have played an important part in this family business of ours. My grandmother Julia helped everywhere from the vineyard to administration to maintaining the family home and the countless dinners they hosted. Don’t forget my aunts who not only took care of my dad but they also worked with their parents to run the vineyard and farm. Later on Margaret and my uncle Al grew Zinfandel and Petite Sirah for the winery. My mother Phyllis and aunt Christine, from the second generation, also had roles in the running of the business from market visits to weighing in grape trucks, bookkeeping to hospitality.

    Because of the hard work and dedication of the first two generations the third and fourth generation became owners. Those generations are predominately women (see note above about me and my three sisters and includes cousins too).

    I was asked a great question at the #winestudio discussion earlier this month when the tweet up was the subject of women owned wineries. How did I find my voice and my calling amidst a family business? When I was attending college my parents encouraged me to do what I wanted to do-to pursue my dream. I majored in English with a Writing Emphasis and thought I’d go into the publishing world. A weekend side job of helping my sister in the tasting room had me commuting between El Cerrito in the East Bay to Geyserville-where I realized how much I missed Sonoma County. A few months later my dad and I had a chat in the case goods warehouse and he asked me if I’d be interested in working for the winery. I had had enough of the city life (cue Green Acres music) and came back home armed only with an English degree and willingness to learn.

    Part of the blessing of a family business is when we are hired we are encouraged to take a part of the business that speaks to us-sisters Cathy and Lisa work with administration-they are numbers ladies. I found my voice by writing for the winery-newsletters, background stories, fact sheets, press kits and a blog. Good thing I majored in English w/writing emphasis. I was also afforded the freedom to find my passion about wine not only by writing about it but also traveling around the U.S. markets. When I was growing up in the heart of the winery operations I took for granted what takes place in the vineyard and the cellar. I don’t anymore—I have learned much about the process and if it is possible I have become even more of a wine fan than ever before because there is a world of wines to discover.

    Amy Bess Cook has started a WoW: Women Owned Wineries website highlighting Sonoma County WoW. Check it out here.

    A toast with a splash of Zinfandel in my Dino-the first wine I ever tried.

  • Barreling Through The Years

    February 27, 2018 15:30

    Barreling Through The Years

    Barrel time in wine country is important enough to have its’ own celebration in the form of two Barrel Tasting weekends in March. 41 years ago the Barrel Tasting, originally sponsored by the then Russian River Wine Road (now simply Wine Road) a group of wineries located near the Russian River, began as a way for people to discover northern Sonoma County. 41 years ago there were less wineries hence wines to try-it was at the beginning of the wine renaissance here. Today you have the joy of discovering new and old friends in the mix with over 100 wineries thieving samples out of the barrel for you. The event takes place between Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys.

    Back in those early years there were less than 30 wineries participating. I have been here for 33 years and have worked a majority of those weekends. We went from trying to keep up with cleaning glasses to having folks ‘BYOG’ followed quickly by the first branding efforts with an official logo glass for $5. Numbers of wineries now range over 120 participating! Futures were added later on and not much has changed except the number people attending going from 100 to 25,000 at the peak in 2008. These days we see less people than at the peak-much less-which in turn gives us more time for visitors to taste and ask questions. Winemakers and cellar crews stand at the ready to talk about the wine and process of barrel aging. Join us this year as we feature the Past, Present and Future of our Alto Vineyards Sangiovese-a library release, our current 2015 vintage and the 2016 still in barrel. A splash of Sangiovese in my Dino with a toast to 40 more years of barrel tasting.

    **You still have time if you want to attend, tickets are sold at the door.

  • Checked off the Bucket List: 90th Anniversary 2017 Harvest Completed

    September 28, 2017 07:07

    Harvest for us started on August 25 with Pinot Noir from one of our growers. Estate harvesting began on August 28 for our Sauvignon Blanc. The last grapes in were Cabernet Sauvignon from the Three Vineyards block on September 28. Just over 5 weeks and we crammed quite a few grapes into tanks during that time. I asked Montse Reece to sum up this year-her 11th harvest at Pedroncelli, in three words. "Heatwave, concentration, and good." She continued, “The rain during the growing season helped restore nutrients in the vines, so I am seeing intense colors and aromatics across all varieties. The heatwave on the Labor Day weekend only affected our zinfandels, lowering yields but concentrating the already high phenols (color+aromas). Overall a good harvest season.” We have seen many harvests here at Pedroncelli. Our goal is to showcase the best of the vintage. This year had its challenges and we met them as they came along. It’s what farmers do. Now onto the next stage of the wine's journey as they ferment and settle in the cellar. The vines will rest now and enter their dormant phase readying themselves for what the next growing season will bring. I'll celebrate with a splash of Mother Clone Zinfandel in my Dino!

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  • The 2017 Harvest Weather Report

    September 28, 2017 07:01

    The last five weeks have been filled with exciting weather patterns from the 112 degree heat wave over Labor Day Weekend to the cooler weeks following with a few heat spikes. Natural for September-we’ve seen it all before. As farmers we all need to be prepared for weather challenges. Usually it is rain that we worry about but the heat spike that came just 7 days after the first grapes were harvested at Pedroncelli was reminiscent of a nearly identical one in 2010. We lost nearly half of our Zinfandel that year because the heat spike came at the end of a very cool summer. This year we had a hot July followed by a temperate August. Then September roared in with heat blazing. The vines and grapes felt the heat and we employed drip irrigation to give the vines much needed hydration. Many vineyards including ours did suffer from loss of juice due to dehydration especially in the Zinfandel vineyards. The crew picked the Mother Clone Zinfandel as fast as they could and dealt with shorter days due to the excessive heat. While it wasn’t as intense as the 2010 heat wave it had its’ effect. Loss of juice translates to a higher concentration of flavor in the wine-and Zinfandel was most affected because it was closest to being ready. While it is a bit early to tell, Lance Blakeley, Vineyard Manager, estimates a 25% loss for our Zinfandel production. Many other red varietals weren’t as affected because they still had some ripening to do. This one is in the books at the end of September. I am looking forward to trying this Zinfandel in a few years to see the effects of this harvest year. Cabernet Sauvignon

  • 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!