Dry Creek Valley
June 25, 2019 15:04
The 7th post on Zinfandel this year and the focus is on the origins of this unique grape. Where did it come from, where is it planted and how many countries produce a Zinfandel these days. We'll dive into the background as we know it.
I am highlighting our flagship grape each month and I have been thinking through the origins of Zinfandel’s arrival to the U.S. It originated in Europe, was brought over sometime in the early 1800s in the form of cuttings and a century and a half later became known as ‘America’s grape’. Very similar to the way my grandparents made their way to the New World. There was opportunity to begin a new life here and to put down roots in a new place. For many of those early arrivers they brought something from the home country to make them feel at home in the new one. Wine was a tradition for many who came to America during that time and it follows the grapes from Europe were an important step in maintaining that connection in America.
From those early days of planting the grape, Zinfandel had many spellings and names. In some cases it may have been a misspelling similar to when an immigrant checked into Ellis Island and received a different spelling of their surname. Or simply someone couldn’t read the handwriting. Who knows? What did happen is over the first few decades the name went back and forth, at times similar to the varietal we know today (Zeinfindall) and other examples (Black St. Peter’s or Zirfantler anyone?) went out on a limb. Glad they finally settled on its’ current name of Zinfandel.
Today there are 42,000 acres of Zin planted in California alone! A little over 5000 acres are planted in Sonoma County and half of that amount is right here in Dry Creek Valley, the smallest of the four major appellations. It was first planted here in the mid-1850’s alongside other varietals like the Mission grape that made a wine that was easy to drink soon after fermentation. Other countries around the world, specifically Croatia where the lineage of the grape has been traced to recently-a great article here outlining the story-grow it and are at about 5 outside of the United States.
For your enjoyment here is a history taken from our Zin Kit produced in the 1990s and includes a 70 year timeline:
1832—First record of Zinfandel being grown in the US by William Prince on Long Island, New York. He identifies it as a Hungarian variety.
1834—First reported exhibit of Zinfandel by Samuel J. Perkins of Boston.
1839—Zinfandal vine wins its first award as part of the Otis Johnson collection on the East Coast.
1848—John Fisk Allen of Salem, Massachusetts, publishes description of locally grown Zinfandal that closely matches what is now called Zinfandel.
1852—The year Agoston Haraszthy imported Zin into California, according to his son, Arpad, writing in the 1880’s. Haraszthy is sometimes known as the “father of Sonoma County winegrowing”.
1857—Captain Frederick W. Macondray and J.W. Osborne exhibit Zinfandal at Mechanic’s Fair in San Francisco.
1858—Commissioner of Patents lists Zinfandal as part of its collection.
1858—A.P. Smith of Sacramento exhibits Zeinfindall at State Fair.
1859—Antoine Delmas wins first prize for his wine, believed to be Zinfandel, at the State Fair.
1860—William Boggs plants Zinfandel in the propagation garden of the Sonoma Horticultural Society. Leads to extensive Zin plantings in the county.
1860—General Vallejo’s winemaker, Dr. Victor Flaure, advises Sonoma growers to plant all the Zinfandel they can.
1864-1869—Dry Creek Valley attracts the first growers who planted Zinfandel and Mission grapes to support or start their own wineries.
1868—First North Coast award (a silver medal) for a Zinfandel given to Sonoma pioneer wine man Jacob R. Snyder at the Mechanics Institute Fair.
1872—The first winery in Dry Creek Valley was built by George Bloch. A vineyard boom soon followed bringing 15 growers to the valley by 1877.
1878—Zinfandel is the most widely planted varietal during California’s first wine boom.
1883—Dry Creek grape growers increased to 54 by this time and Zinfandel was the top planted varietal with a total of 395 acres.
June 25, 2019 15:00
July always marks a turning point during growing season in our vineyard. From March to June the vines start with budbreak, flower and set the crop all the while growing by leaps and bounds. Shoots measuring 6 inches in April are now 2 feet in length by the end of June. The turning point in the growth of grape bunches is when we begin to see the first shades of purple in our red wine grapes or the pale yellow-green as the white wine grapes soften and devleop-and that is called veraison.
We are about two weeks behind since bud break was late and there is no ‘catching up’ in the vineyard. As a result, veraison will be a bit later this month and I’ve heard grape growers around here predicting a ‘normal’ harvest start date-which means at this point the end of August. Rule of thumb among the vineyard growers is six weeks to harvest from the time veraison begins. We'll see the white wine grapes like our Sauvignon Blanc come in first followed by red wine grapes like Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, the early reds, coming in a week or two later. This, of course, is dependent on the weather we receive in the next two months, once again deferring to Mother Nature and what she has in store for us.
June 25, 2019 14:56
Happy anniversary to our family business. This date marks our 92nd year. Here are some highlights over those years with some fun and serious moments. They all add up to four generations over farming over 9 decades in our corner of Dry Creek Valley.
On July 22 let’s all raise a glass to our 92nd year here in Dry Creek Valley. What does it take to span 9 decades of farming and winemaking? Beginning with grandparents Giovanni and Julia and including fourth generation member Mitch Blakeley in the fold how did we do it?
First generation founded the place in 1927 in the middle of Prohibition and 2 years before the Great Depression-quite a challenge. Selling grapes from 1927 through 1933 put food on the table and supported a young family including my dad Jim, youngest of four along with his older brother John and sisters Margaret and Marianne. There are tales of working together, getting lost among the vines, learning the ropes both in the vineyard and in the cellar-it was all hands on deck. Jim driving to town at the age of 12 without a license, John fishing with his brother Jim and big brother wouldn’t let him get the big fish, Jim convincing his parents he didn’t need milk anymore so he didn’t have to milk the cow.
The brothers, as the second generation, split the business between them. John took on the vineyard and winemaking duties while Jim became the face of the winery in sales and marketing. They grew the business beyond selling to friends and neighbors and bought more land, planted vineyards, bought grapes from neighbors and eventually developed a worldwide network to distribute the fruits of our labors. All the while maintaining a business relationship for more than 60 years. One that rode the waves of change without rocking the familial boat.
Third generation members and owners have worked alongside the second generation and are learning and growing in different ways than the first two. Along with my role as brand ambassador, my sisters Cathy and Lisa have their own along with my husband Ed (Sales & Marketing) and Lisa’s husband Lance (Operations and Vineyard Management). Our goals for going forward include remain relevant, keep our authentic voice, learn the way forward and keep our eye on changes in how wine is sold now (as compared to the first 8 decades). This keeps everyone on their toes.
Mitch Blakeley, fourth gen and a Millennial, has worked in the vineyard since he was in eighth grade. His Ag Business degree puts him in the position of working both in the vineyard and in the market. He works alongside his father Lance as well as soaks up the other side of the business by working with grandfather Jim and uncle Ed. He makes forays into the markets where he is most needed and has already made connections with the people he works with there.
It is hard to tell where the next generation will end up-right now there are four of them-my two grandsons and my sister Lisa’s two grandsons. They have each had their share of vineyard and winery visits. Who knows? Those grapes they’ve tasted at a young age may bear fruit one day-the seeds have been planted and the fifth generation may indeed continue the family business.
So how does this all get accomplished? I think we as a family learned it is one step at a time. Being conservative when needed and taking chances-where some ideas work and some fail. Resiliency is a word we talk about in wine country in the aftermath of the fires but I think it can be applied to my family and our business. Ed likes to put it this way “Blessed are the flexible for they won’t be bent out of shape.” Raise your glass to 92 years so far!
May 24, 2019 16:00
Here in Dry Creek Valley we have a north/south orientation with the valley being 16 miles long by 2 miles wide. The midpoint is at Lambert Bridge Road about 5 miles south of where Pedroncelli is located. Above this line the climate has always been a bit warmer-by a few degrees-in fact the fog rolls off of our property sometimes by 9am and it takes an hour or three later for the southern end.
Our visit to the south is the sixth and final installment about the Dry Creek Valley neighborhoods where our grapes are grown or sourced. In this visit to the southern reaches of Dry Creek Valley, about four miles south of Lambert Bridge Road, we have one very longtime grower for Pedroncelli: Frank Johnson. He purchased the land in 1971 which at the time was planted to orchards not vineyards. He started by removing the apple trees and replacing them with Chardonnay (where both our Signature Selection and the F. Johnson single vineyard are sourced), Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer.
John Pedroncelli, winemaker at the time, was seeking to add to our production and sought out Frank in the 1980s to begin a winery-grower relationship that continues to this day. Pretty sure it was a handshake contract then. We have been buying Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for all those years and, when Jim Pedroncelli came up with the idea to add Gewurztraminer to our friends.white, we added a third varietal from their vineyard.
Frank bought his property long before appellations lines were drawn. In 1983, when the boundaries were set, they divided the F. Johnson Vineyard with the Chardonnay ending up on the Dry Creek side and Pinot Noir on the Russian River Valley side-and they are just a few feet apart. So we have cooler-climate-grown Chardonnay with Dry Creek Valley as the appellation and we, of course, source part of our Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from the other part of the vineyard with thanks to those who drew the lines 36 years ago.
Our Dry Creek Valley neighborhoods are all wrapped up. I always say every grape picked is within 12-14 miles of where the winery is located. We are regionally focused on local or estate vineyards when making our wine and the fruit comes from some of the best vineyards in the county.
May 24, 2019 15:53
There are many articles about pairing wine with barbecue. You know the stuff: smoky, layers of flavor from the many spices used or the sauce is a bit sweet to offset the heat. And there’s something about Zinfandel being the ‘all-American’ grape that makes it a great choice.
When I am putting together a menu I always keep wine in mind. What am I fixing and which of them will go best? There are a few things to consider as I choose which meat, which sides, which wine-or is it which wine, which meat? The other things I take into consideration are fat and heat. Now I think I am complicating things. It should be very easy. Chicken or the egg-which comes first? Let’s go with the wine.
Zinfandel in this case. The berry-spice quality of this varietal makes it a easy when it comes to pairing with the flavors of barbecue. It has some softness from the berry fruit, lighter tannins (as compared to Cabernet Sauvignon or Petite Sirah) and the zing from the spice partners nicely with the world of barbecue flavors. Balance is important too because when there is balance between the fruit, acidity and tannin there is a more perfect pairing between Zin and barbecue fare.
Other things I consider are the protein: pork or beef. These are my favorites to pair with Zin especially pork. And then there is the level of spice and fat—which cut to use and making sure it is fattier like ribs, pork shoulder or brisket. Fat is the bridge between wine and food and in order to make the pairing sing you need to have enough fat. It acts as the buffer and allows you to truly enjoy the pairing. Fourth is bringing the heat or not. I like a little spice but not chipotle/cayenne/ghost pepper hot. I go for layers using different mild to medium chili powders and backing them up with dried herbs to match like oregano. Again balance is what I am seeking for an enjoyable and tasty meal. Sweetness is your fifth consideration but not necessarily the deciding factor. Sometimes there is too much sweet for me and it interferes with the wine and food.
I said easy so here it is in a nutshell. The berry-spice quality of Zinfandel makes it the best choice when it comes to pairing with pork (pulled or ribs) and beef (brisket or steak). I use mostly dry rubs instead of sauce because there is less sweetness to interrupt the great combination of flavors. I like the idea of balance from the wine to the ingredients in a dish. So there you go-Zinfandel, the go-to, All-American choice for this summer’s BBQs.
May 24, 2019 15:50
120 issues of my enewsletter have gone out to all of you, my friends, over the last 10 years-June marks the anniversary. Going even further back I have been writing the Pedroncelli newsletter for nearly 30 years beginning with the first issue in the spring of 1990. I’ll be taking a look at some of the articles over the next year as I walk down memory lane-pretty sure many things have changed in the last 10 years and especially in the last 30.
The first enewsletter was sent in June 2009. Before this I had been sending out a newsletter quarterly via snail mail-and it didn't always have the most up-to-date information because of the lag between writing it, getting it printed and sent out. Using the enews via email did two things: I could deliver more timely information in a monthly format and save a bunch of trees in the process. It added a bit more to my plate but it also engaged me with what was going on in the cellar and vineyard on a more regular basis.
My format in those days-and the format has morphed and changed over time-was to lead with The Latest which, in the inaugural issue, highlighted an exciting new venture for our wines. We had just released our first wines bottled in screw caps: 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Signature Selection Chardonnay and Dry Rosé of Zinfandel. I followed with Revealed which featured a list of recent medal winning wines. Released, featured our new releases along with The Family that highlighted fourth generation member Rose Proctor who worked the summer in the Tasting Room following her graduation from college. The Archives is where I noted some of our history and we were about to celebrate our 82nd anniversary so I gave the background on the founders, my grandparents. The Menu featured grilled pork tenderloin paired with a corn salad.
In the 10 years of editing the enews I have changed the format a few times, most recently because I started this winery blog called Vino in My Dino. it became the repository for my newsletter stories. Winery blogs were not a 'thing' back then and it allows me to share online and store them for all to read. A big change from those printed newsletters of long ago. Think about how newspapers and magazines have changed and the way we depend on the internet for most if not all of our information.
Other changes between the first issue and now include four more of our wines are now under screw cap, we are still receiving medals for our wines but more accolades come in from third party wine bloggers these days. Rose is on her life path in North Carolina and we are getting ready to celebrate 92 years here in our little corner of Dry Creek Valley. And the menu always features wine friendly recipes just like the first edition. Things change, things stay the same and I'll keep my eye out for any avenues to help communicate our family and winery stories.
Here is my first edition screen shot:
April 21, 2019 12:21
Crop reports help the agricultural community know where they stand on how productive or unproductive their commodity is whether it is wine grapes, wheat or corn. It is a marker for the year-or in our case the vintage-and helps the farmers see patterns where patterns exist or how the weather may have affected their crops in the growing season. We just received the Sonoma County Grape Crush Report for the 2018 vintage.
The Sonoma County Winegrape Commission, our grower trade group, sent out the information about the 2018 Crush Report in April. The information that follows is from the newsletter. I will add my two cents following the quoted material.
“In 2018, Crush District 3, Sonoma and Marin Counties, experienced a record total tonnage crushed of 275,977 tons (an increase of 34% compared to the 2017 harvest). The 2018 crushed tonnage saw a price increase of 0.4%, resulting in gross grape revenues of $777,675,307 which is up 34.5% versus 2017. The average price per ton was $2817.9/T.
An important note: Although the 2018 vintage represented the largest vintage on record, it is only 2% larger than the 2013 vintage, which held the previous record for tonnage. In value, the 2018 vintage represents a 27% increase in gross grape revenues as compared to the 2013 vintage. This is driven by winegrape price increases over the past 6 years.”
To put it in perspective we crushed 860 tons (we make about 55,000 cases of wine) which, for us, was 20% higher than the 2017 harvest. Price per ton, while having an increase over the last 6 years as noted, stayed relatively the same between the last two vintages. What does this mean for the buyer of our wine? We are able to keep our price point the same and the growers are reaping the benefits of the rising price per ton.
How about crop size? The 2018 vintage was, from what I heard from winemaker Montse Reece and vineyard manager Lance Blakeley, a juicy one (with more ratio of juice than in previous vintages) and a very good quality harvest. Lots of happy growers when we have this type of harvest-ripeness, lots of juice which equals more per ton and a smooth growing and harvest season.
For us and our grapegrowing and winemaking friends in Sonoma County it was a very good vintage. We have quite a bit to celebrate and the 2018 white and rosé wines which we have released are shining examples of the quality. The red wines will follow suit in a year or so and I'll look forward to sharing them with you.
For the grape geeks out there if you want to take a more in-depth look here is the whole enchilada including grape crush reports going back to 1976 from the USDA's Agricultural Statistics page.
April 21, 2019 12:16
The reference in the title is for a license plate frame we had created in the 1980s when we made three styles of Zinfandel-Red, White and Rosé. Zinfandel is part of our history as a brand and as grape growers. The name 'zinfandel' itself has quite a complicated past-not always called Zinfandel but the good news is the name prevailed!
Zinfandel has been grown on the hillsides surrounding the winery since the early 1900s and, what became known as our Mother Clone vineyard, covers 32 acres and has three generations planted on the Home Ranch. We have diversified our Zin-folio to include three red Zinfandels, one Rosé and two blends. Zin-Zin-Zin takes a look back and forward with this versatile varietal.
From the beginning there was red Zinfandel. It was the first varietal planted on our property and is what sustained my grandparents and their family through the end of Prohibition. It made a style of wine that was drinkable soon after it was made-which is why it was so popular with heads-of-households who would purchase our Zinfandel and make their own 200 gallons of wine during the ‘dry years’. It was also the predominant grape in the blends my grandfather made as he began the family business after Repeal.
By 1948 we introduced a Zinfandel at the same time as we put our first label on bottles of our wine. It was made by son John in his first year as winemaker. As time went by we increased our line of wines giving our customers a wider selection to choose from. The next wine in the Zinfandel legacy was a Rosé introduced in the mid-1950s when John wanted a lighter styled wine. These Zinfandels would become the backbone of our winery in the ensuing years even as we added Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and others to the list.
As we entered the 1980s the wine world was finding out about a lighter styled rosé called White Zinfandel which was becoming very popular. We made our first one in 1985 and continued for 15 years making a sweeter lighter version of this popular wine side by side with our traditional styled Zinfandel Rosé. The latter began to make a comeback in the early 2000s as more people desired a more complex rosé and we began increasing our production proving the original style was more popular.
During the 1990s winemaker John Pedroncelli chose some outstanding vineyards which deserved recognition on our labels. Our Mother Clone and Bushnell Vineyard Zins were created. The Mother Clone maintained the style we were always known for which was a classic Dry Creek Valley combination of fruit and spice. The Bushnell Vineyard, with a family connection, was set aside as a Single Vineyard choice focusing on a block among the 15 acre vineyard. This block showed more spice followed by deep fruit aromatics and flavor. In 2016 we added a second single vineyard wine-Courage from the Faloni Vineyard. Our winemaker Montse noticed this vineyard block had a different aspect to it and shows a pretty floral-berry aroma and flavor. We welcomed the new addition to our expanding line of wines.
Finally our Zinfandel makes appearances as a supporting player in our friends.red and Sonoma Classico-both blends with other varietals combining for the best of their characteristics. You could say we are going back to our roots when we offer these blends-just like my grandfather did when he first started blending the wines in his cellar all those years ago.
April 21, 2019 12:14
Wine labels are full of information-they are the face, so to speak, of our wines when they are on the shelf. I explore how some of those names we have developed tell our story in obvious and not so obvious ways. Place names like our Three Vineyards or a bit more curious like Mother Clone. Where did they come from? How did they evolve?
There are many articles about deciphering what all the information on a label means. You can determine quite a bit if you know what to look for: the appellation-where it comes from, the vintage date-the year it was harvested and the varietal-Zinfandel, Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon. Beyond these there may be reference to a place name or single vineyard, or a name which was created to help market the wine.
Let’s begin with one of my favorites. Mother Clone. It is a name created in the 1990s when we were diversifying our line focusing on the place which was as important to us as the grape itself. Our ‘mother’ vineyard planted in the early 1900s was in need of replanting. In the early 1980’s we began block by block to replace the 70 year old vineyard. The vineyard was ‘cloned’ into place using the same rootstock, head-pruned style and budwood from the previous generation.
Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon is estate sourced now but when Jim Pedroncelli developed the name in the 1990s it was because it was from three vineyards: our own and two other growers. When our estate vineyards filled in and matured with a total of 30 acres of Cabernet we didn’t change the name. It is a blend however of several blocks including Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Malbec.
The single vineyard wines like Wisdom, Bushnell, Courage and F. Johnson all refer to a specific block or section of a vineyard. Wisdom was created because we have farmed the same varietal over more than 50 years in one singular place. Courage is a neighbor to Wisdom, actually just a vineyard block away, and is so named because it takes courage to be a farmer and to grow quality Zinfandel. Bushnell has been a source of Zinfandel since the 1940s when it was owned by my grandfather who in turn sold to his daughter and son-in-law in the 1950s and now my cousin Carol farms it. F. Johnson is Frank Johnson who had the foresight to pull up apple orchards in the 1970s and plant Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Gewurztraminer. We source these grapes for our wines but the one block of Chardonnay stands out for us and is included with the single vineyard designation.
Other fanciful names include our Alto Vineyards Sangiovese so named for the hillsides the vineyard is located high above our Home Ranch. Family Vineyards Petite Sirah was named for the collaboration between estate and Bushnell Vineyard sources with 50% coming from each vineyard. East Side Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc was named for the place the grapes grow on our estate-on the east side of Dry Creek! Block 007 Cabernet Sauvignon began as Block 07. Jim Pedroncelli added a zero and it became the James Bond of our Cabernet vineyards. Bench Vineyards Merlot refers to the bench the vineyard sits on as the valley floor rises to the hillsides. Truth be told the bench here is not steep at all but our distinctive Merlot grows well in the gravelly soil found there. Our Four Grapes Vintage Port was named for the four Portuguese varietals we grow: Tinta Madeira, Tinta Cao, Touriga Nacional and Souzao. And every year we 'declare' the vintage for our delicious Port.
The remaining wines bear the Signature Selection moniker (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Rosé) and are where we make our mark-a lightly oaked Chardonnay, Pinot Noir sourced from high quality Russian River Valley growers and our Rosé which has been a signature wine for 65 vintages. Our easy-drinking friends wines-both red and white-along with our Sonoma Classico all celebrate the roots of our family business hearkening back to how my grandfather made his wines as a blend not a varietal-that came later.
What’s in a name? When you next see a wine label note the story it tells-there is so much more to explore in each bottle of wine.
March 27, 2019 13:33
Many of us farmers are down to earth in fact rely on the very soil beneath our feet to develop the grapes and the quality in our wines. What does that mean in the context of sustainability? I checked in with 4th generation family member Mitch Blakeley who is in his second year as the ‘go to’ sustainability contact here at Pedroncelli HQ.
Why down to earth this month? April is designated Down to Earth month with the national observance of Earth Day taking place on April 22. Being farmers for over 9 decades puts us in touch with the earth on a daily basis. We are at the mercy of weather and happily have landed in a place where soils, climate and geography produce grapes and wine of highest quality. What is sustainability for us? It covers a lot of ground, pardon the pun.
We compost much of what is left after the grapes have been brought in at harvest: stems, pomace (the skins and seeds left from fermentation-some Italians in the area produce Grappa from this extending the life even further), vineyard prunings and other organic materials are cut up and spread in the vineyard.
More soil improvement comes from cover crops which feed the land, help control erosion and of course are a landing spot for the local insects which are also beneficial to our vineyard. In turn the cover crops are chopped and turned into the soil to replenish nitrogen and oxygen.
We limit tilling which can eat up natural resources and deplete the land on one third of our vineyard. Irrigation is now checked weekly and dictates just how much if any water is needed during the growing season-pretty sure we are good to go until well into the season this year with 60 inches so far and more coming down.
In the winery we are working on more and more ways to save including motion sensitive lighting in all production buildings. We also are mapping our usage in the areas of energy and fuel with an eye to even more savings. Sustainability isn’t just the big things it is the little ones like making sure we are working with our suppliers to lower our footprint in many ways from packaging to buying local.
There are the three 'E's of Sustainability: Environmentally sound, Economically feasible, and (Socially) Equitable. Each of these takes us back to our roots where we have been and still are good stewards of the land; being sustainable also means it is less expensive to farm which makes it easier on the pocketbook when you buy our wines; generations have called this little corner of Dry Creek Valley home-not only family but our employees as well. We are doing our part and continue to work up the sustainable ladder by raising the bar in many areas of the vineyard and winery-and of course making sure the next generations are in place to do the same.
- Aged Wine
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Dry Creek Valley
- Food and Wine
- founding winery
- Harvest 2018
- Machine Harvesting
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Sonoma County
- Vintage Year
- Dry Creek Valley
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- National Wine Day
- certified sustainable
- Growing Season
- family business
- Courage Zinfandel
- Faloni Vineyard
- Bushnell Vineyard
- food and wine
- Barrel Tasting
- Montse Reece
- Aged Wine
- Mother Clone
- Crush Report
- Sonoma County
- Estate Vineyard
- harvest 2018
- machine harvesting
- International Women's Wine Competition
- 21st Amendment
- Lance Blakeley
- Barrel aging
- Heat wave