August 27, 2019 13:10
And it begins-the most exciting time of year for us as farmers. The grapes are ripe and they are ready for their moment in the tank. Time to shine as everything, from the crushpad to the presses to the fermenting tanks, is ready to process the grapes.
Our estate grown Sauvignon Blanc is always the first in to the winery each harvest. This year September 4 began vintage 2019 for us. With the late bud break through a fairly uneventful growing season this is right on track for a normal start date. In fact, I had to go back 14 years ago to the 2005 harvest to find a comparable start date of September! All the vintages from 2006 to 2018 began in August due to either warm weather or the drought years.
What's next? It will be soon be followed by Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer (for friends.white) and Pinot Noir and 11 other varietals we harvest.
Thoughts on the growing season: it was mostly an even one with a few heat spikes towards the end of August. The marine fog intrusion made it bearable for the vines by cooling things off once the sun set and kept a cool blanket of fog until around 9 in the morning aiding in the all important development of sugars, acid and phenols. The word is we have an above average crop in almost all of our varietals. We'll have a final wrap up when the last grape is picked to give a more indepth look at vintage 2019.
I'll let the photos below tell the story. It begins in the vineyard with the crew-thanks to their hard work. They began at 6:30am and the first two gondolas were brought in by 10am. The sample is taken from the gondola by vineyard foreman Manuel Diaz for analysis. Winemaker Montse Reece tests for sugar, acid and pH and she told me she is very happy with the results of this first load of Sauvignon Blanc. Next on to the crushpad where Cellarmaster Polo Cano prepares to transfer the grapes to the crusher. The fruit is destemmed and sent to the press where the skins and seeds are removed. We'll follow the juice as it ferments in the cellar over the next couple of weeks. Vineyard Manger Lance Blakeley, Polo Cano, Mitch Blakeley and Manuel Diaz discuss the next grape loads for the day. The stems, in the last photo, will be taken out to dry and will be spread along the vineyard avenues later on this year.
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.
December 21, 2018 09:58
I wrote about neighborhoods of Dry Creek Valley in November’s post (referenced here) beginning with our Wisdom vineyard. Now I’ll move on to our East Side Vineyard on the east side of Dry Creek and totaling about 45 acres of planted vines. Purchased by John and Jim in 1972 it was home to prune trees at the time.
If you see Jim ask him to tell you about prune trees and you’ll likely hear back how happy he was to pull them up. You see, Dry Creek Valley farmers planted acres of these fruit trees. They were still a large part of what was planted here when I was growing up. Picking them wasn’t too fun but they always made money for those who were industrious. Before prunes there were grapevines so it comes as no surprise when the wine renaissance rolled around in the 1970s that the orchards were replaced with vineyards once again.
The East Side Vineyard is home to our Bordeaux varietals: Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Petite Verdot. It is situated on the valley floor where the Sauvignon Blanc is planted and as you look east the land gently rises up by two or three percent and heads into the hills above. This slight bench is where the red wine varietals grow. The type of soil is represented by the loam-rich valley floor where Dry Creek once flowed and deposited the nutrient-packed soil. As you make your way to the rise it becomes gravelly with river rocks strewn here and there proving once again the creek at one time coursed over this area.
Neighborhoods, like the one you live in, are just that-made up of a certain set of homes, apartments, roads, or streets lined with familiar stores or neighbors. For us it means site specific examples of climate, soil and the right grape planted in the optimal spot. I'll continue the series next time focusing on our Home Ranch.
August 27, 2018 10:56
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!
August 24, 2018 10:34
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.
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.
August 17, 2016 12:39
We began our 89th harvest with Sauvignon Blanc from our East Side Vineyards located a mile west of the winery. We started harvest on the same date one year ago!
Here are some snapshots from the big event:
Winemaker Montse testing for Brix at the harvest lab. Measured 23.5-nice and ripe.
Next stop is the crush pad for destemming.
From the destemmer into the press-the rice hulls you see are part of the process to make sure we get all the juice from the skins (and the hulls are inert and add no flavor to the wine).
The 2016 vintage of our Sauvignon Blanc has been pressed, the juice flowing into the sump and on its' way to the fermentation tank. Let the vintage begin!
August 16, 2016 12:47
Cellar Master Hipolito Cano
His first harvest was 1990 having spent the previous two years out in the vineyard. He says it was a ‘pressure cooker’ situation because he had to learn as he went along. Going from tanks to presses to crushpad he did his best to keep up with everyone too busy to stop and explain. He became a quick study.
John Pedroncelli always advocated the team effort. He noted the cellar crew is great and it is a plus having a team that has a few years of experience behind them. It is like a well-oiled machine and they are motivated to get the task done and lend a hand when needed. He compared harvest time to being a singer and having stage fright right before going on stage-the happy day is coming and once it is here you begin to sing and everything is in tune. You find the melody and keep singing.
It doesn’t matter how prepared you are, harvest always takes us by surprise. Each year is a new challenge but I’m eager to take on the challenge.
Vineyard Manager Lance Blakeley
From early to late harvests it’s the best part of the year. There is more of a laser focus because you are doing one thing at harvest-picking grapes when at other times of the year you are multitasking. Harvest focuses the efforts on one thing: grapes which are the foundation of wine.
He noted there are lots of characters when it comes to our history of grape growers and cellar workers who have been part of our harvests. One grower brought their grapes in an old truck bed on top of their pick up-a challenge when it came time to empty the grapes into the crusher. We were often the first place growers sold their grapes to and some have stayed and others moved along to other wineries or even started their own winery.
He remembers the first time we received machine harvested grapes and reminisced that John Pedroncelli didn’t like the quality in the fruit. He noted machine harvesting has come a long way in preserving quality but back then it was pretty rough and created lots of juice and fermentation happening before the must went into the tank. He also feels that white wine varietals can handle being machine harvested while red wine varietals seem to keep better quality when hand-picked. Every vintage brings different challenges (weather, low or high production, rain, heat) and is expressed in our wines and is due in large part to hand picking our vineyards.
Winemaker Montse Reece
It was 1993 and her first harvest experience was while studying winemaking at university. It took place at a small wine cooperative in the Penedés. She had one other cellar guy working with her and the winemaker was 100 kilometers away-but she had his phone number! She learned a lot by her experience there bringing in white and red wine grapes and making all the decisions about fermentation. She called the winemaker many times for guidance and ultimately the wines were guided by her hand.
She is married to Ferrari-Carano Winery's maintenance manager Pat Reece so harvest is a time to balance their lives-they have a seven year old daughter Marion who needs time with Mom and Dad. Sometimes she comes to work on Saturdays and experiences a work day with mom.
The first year she worked with John Pedroncelli they were talking about when to bring in the grapes from a particular vineyard. It looked like Sunday would be the best time to harvest them but John advised Montse: “People are first.” He felt giving them a day off, after working so hard, would be best. “The grapes will be fine-we’ll harvest on Monday.” She says he was revolutionary because he didn’t push people over their limits and this concept is very unusual during the busy harvest time.
A toast to our winemaking crew-with some Sauvignon Blanc in my Dino-since this is the first varietal we pick each harvest.
Here is a throwback photo since John was an integral part of putting the team together. Here he is amidst his 'crew': Hipolito, John, Montse and Lance.
August 2, 2016 12:59
Growing up in the middle of the vineyards and winery has imprinted many sights, sounds, and smells over the years. The earliest memory of harvest I have is the smell of fermenting wine. It is hard to miss when you live right next to the cellar and the pungent aromas have been woven into my life for over 50 years. My family moved to our home at the winery in 1965 after my grandparents had built their retirement home just a hop and a few skips from the winery-in the middle of our Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard in fact.
Our estate vineyard is all hand-picked so there is usually a small army of 15-25 grape pickers going through as quickly as possible and the speed at which they would move from vine to vine made the whole vineyard come alive. When I was younger I tried my hand at ‘harvest’ by going out and picking second crop Zinfandel with my sisters-we used wheelbarrows and buckets to bring in the bunches and proudly stopped at the weigh station to find out how many pounds we had picked-I think is was around 15 pounds-if that. We were so happy to be a part of what my dad and uncle did.
I also remember just after I first began working for the family business, in the tasting room, wanting to learn more about the winemaking process. So during the 1987 harvest I weighed and tested grapes as they arrived at the weigh station. I would listen and watch for gondolas of grapes from my office and meet the tractors to begin the process. I learned quite a bit by being at the start of grape crush, from weighing the grapes (which is serious business because the government watches this closely) to testing juice samples from the particular load of grapes checking for sugar with a refractometer as well as total acidity and pH, two other indicators of quality of a load of grapes.
More recollections to come as we make our way towards the 2016 harvest. A toast to memories with a bit of Zinfandel in my Dino!
The sampling process from last year-the bucket with the crushed Sauvignon Blanc and the juice sample representing the load of grapes-ready to be tested.
October 23, 2015 13:45
More cellar know-how continues in my posts this month along with other vineyard matters. Today I am focusing on cold stabilization and how important it is to white wine production.
Cold stabilization is the only method we use for our white wines, rosé and even our Pinot Noir in order to prevent a certain type of sediment. This procedure is to make sure you don’t get potassium bitartrates, commonly referred to as tartrates (and wine diamonds), in your wine once it has been refrigerated or caught on a shipment in the deep freeze north or perhaps thrown in your freezer for a quick chill and you forgot to take it out in 30 minutes. This means the temperature controlled stainless steel tanks are brought down to 32 degrees Fahrenheit and the harmless wine diamonds drop and are filtered out. Simple as that-a toast to cellar work post-harvest with a splash of Chardonnay in my Dino.
Frosty 2015 Sauvignon Blanc during the cold stabilization period to remove tartrates.
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