Dry Creek Valley
April 19, 2018 15:52
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.
February 28, 2018 14:15
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.
February 27, 2018 16:38
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.
February 27, 2018 15:30
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.
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!
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.
June 30, 2017 09:47
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!
June 28, 2017 16:40
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!
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.
May 25, 2017 12:01
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!
- Aged Wine
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Food and Wine
- founding winery
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- Sauvignon Blanc
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- Barrel aging
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Barrel Tasting
- Vintage Wine
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- International Women's Wine Competition
- National Wine Day
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- Heat wave
- Sonoma County