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Pinot Noir

  • The Names Tell Our Story

    April 21, 2019 12:14

    The Names Tell Our Story

    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.

  • Aged Wines: Old and Not So Old

    December 21, 2018 09:51

    Aged Wines: Old and Not So Old

    50 years is a long time to store wine-and we have a few bottles tucked away in our cellar from our earliest vintage dated wines which began in 1965. Even 15 years is considered a long time since most people who buy wine consume it within a few weeks of purchase. We have the convenience, longevity and a warehouse where we can take a save a few cases from each vintage and store them away for education and enjoyment years later.

    Wine blogger Gabe Sasso visited the Dry Creek Valley in December. His focus this trip was on Petite Sirah. He wanted to know more about Pedroncelli’s long relationship with this singular grape. We pulled together some information and Ed put together a vertical of the wines ranging from the first year made (1997) to a barrel sample of the 2017. Not every year but a nice range with an average of 15 years old. We used Petite Sirah previous to 1997 as a blending grape with Zinfandel and other wines.

    During our pre-meeting chat I mentioned if we really wanted to throw in a ringer we should include one of our pre-1975 Pinot Noirs. Wine Geek Fact: the ruling came down from the government that the varietal shown on the label should be 75% of what is in the bottle. Before this the varietal on the label could be made up of other grapes and in larger percentages. In the instance of the 1969 Pinot Noir we poured it was about 50-50 Pinot Noir and Petite Sirah.

    We had been growing Pinot Noir on the home ranch but it wasn’t the right spot. Just as we were pulling up Pinot Noir and replanting with Zinfandel a fellow named Frank Johnson was pulling out orchards and planting Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the very south area of what is now defined as Dry Creek Valley (DCV was named an American Viticultural Area in 1983) but from his vineyard you are a rock’s throw to the Russian River Valley. We began buying fruit from him in the early 1980s. Today we still bring in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from this vineyard.

    Petite Sirah has been woven into our story since the early days. Most vineyards were field blends and along with the varietals of the day like Zinfandel they also included Carignane, Alicante Bouschet and even Golden Chasselas and Riesling. All of these were picked and fermented together. It wasn’t until later on, well after Prohibition, that the varietal itself was on the label. This hearty grape is known for giving what I call backbone to the wine-and depth of color too.

    A few years ago wine writer Dan Berger advocated that this grape would make wines which age longer than Cabernet Sauvignon! I agree it is one for the cellar. So we found ourselves tasting 50 to 15 year old Petite Sirah with life still in them-fruit, acid, structure and the tannins just beginning to soften in the youngsters. A wonderful opportunity to revisit these old and not-so-old vintages. Cheers with a splash of Petite Sirah in my Dino!

  • In the Neighborhoods

    October 29, 2018 13:48

    In the Neighborhoods

    I often refer to our neighborhoods of grapes found right here in Dry Creek Valley-the smallest of the four major Sonoma County winegrape appellations-because there are diverse little micro-climates and steep hillsides producing some of the tastiest fruit around. And some of the grapes come from longtime neighbors going back 60 or more years!

    You can see by the Sonoma County appellation map with all of the 19 American Viticultural Areas (AVA) outlined that we are a county of neighboring appellations. And within each AVA are hills, benches and valley floors. In each of these there are thousands of acres of varieties and vineyards making up a total of 60,000 acres in Sonoma County (and there are 1 million acres in Sonoma County).

    With a little inspiration from the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley here is how we see the appellation in neighborhoods: As defined by soil and area the Dry Creek Valley is split into these areas: Western Benchlands, Eastern Hills (that’s us!) and Valley Floor. The appellation itself, 16 miles long and about 2 miles wide, is furthermore split almost in two by Lambert Bridge Road where south of the bridge is cooler than the vineyards to the north by several degrees at times. For instance our Chardonnay comes from south of the bridge on the valley floor. Our Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon from north by almost 5 miles where it is on the eastern hillsides.

    When you then drill down to estate vineyards and our growers you get 8 different locations in the valley. Each one is planted to one or more varietals. I’ll use our Wisdom vineyard as an example: it is located on West Dry Creek Road (Western Benchlands) and has been planted to Cabernet Sauvignon for more than 50 years. This neighborhood is known for producing excellent Cabernet as well as Zinfandel (the Courage/Faloni vineyard is just around the corner).

    I’ll introduce you to our other ‘neighborhoods’ in the coming weeks.

  • 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.