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Zinfandel

  • The Colors of Zin

    September 30, 2019 15:52

    The Colors of Zin

    The true colors of Fall through the prism of Zinfandel can mean the changing shades of the leaves from green to orange, yellow & red in the Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard or the brilliant magenta hue of the fermenting Rosé. It is as much a part of life in Dry Creek Valley as it is when visiting the northeast and seeing the seasonal change in the trees during the fall. There’s a difference in the color palate of the hills too-the slant of the sun, the distance of sun from the earth and the late hanging fog all make for a myriad of colors and patterns and is why fall is my favorite of the seasons!

    Here the deep purple color in the bunches is the harbinger of great flavor in the glass. As the juice and skins ferment together the resulting aspects of berry and spice come from this maceration and temperature controlled fermentation. Keeping things cool slows down the action of converting the natural sugar in the juice to alcohol. enter image description here

    The 'cap' consists of the skins rising to the top of the tank. Pumpovers ensure the juice is poured over the cap and in doing so absorbs more color and flavor.

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    The color of our Rosé of Zinfandel is another story entirely. Winemaker Montse Reece always takes a picture of it fermenting because it is so beautiful to her. For our style of Rosé the grapes are picked earlier than for red Zinfandel, not as ripe and allows more acidity which leads to a crisper fresher style. The juice tells the story, this is going to be a good year for this wine.

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    Finally, our Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard in all her glory-fall and harvest reflected in the leaves.

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  • Harvest 2019-To be continued...

    September 30, 2019 15:49

    Harvest 2019-To be continued...

    We usually are wrapping things up as September comes to an end-but not this year. We didn’t pick our first grapes until September 4th and will be harvesting grapes until the 2nd week of October. Here are a few observations from the busy days of September-and a final wrap up of numbers for you coming your way soon.

    If there is one word we can use for Vintage 2019 it is ‘steady’ and was coined by Mitch Blakeley, fourth generation family member, when he described this year’s harvest at a recent staff meeting. His role is to assist in the vineyard with his father (and our vineyard manager) Lance as well as in the cellar as needed. As a family business you need to be light on your toes and fast on your feet in order to respond to the many responsibilities that comes when the grapes are ripe.

    The harvest really began months ago when our dormant vineyards were seeded with the heavy rainfall received in the winter which delayed the start of growth in the vineyard by a couple of weeks. While the steady and above-average rainfall (20 inches or more above the normal 40” average) was welcome and extended into May, the moderate growing season that followed was equally as important and the two factors are the reason for the full production the vines are producing in 2019. No heatwaves, no big cooling off, we had an evenhanded, nice and ‘steady’, growth and development in the vineyards.

    Since the first day of picking grapes, which was also delayed by a couple of weeks (see the pattern?)- this sense of steadiness grew over the month. Each varietal like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay or PInot Noir had its moment and was picked at the right time. We didn't pick our last Zinfandel block until the end of September which was a sign of the season and continued the pattern. Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah and our Portugeuse varietals are still hanging because of the cool temps at the end of the month. Mid-month there was higher heat which tilted some of our days over 100 degrees but just a few days-and all this did was speed things up a tad.

    It isn't over until the last grape is picked, the last tank is fermented and the wines slowly make their way to bottle (Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé) or to barrel (Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon). I'll have more of the story behind the 2019 harvest next month.

  • Dinner in a Very Special Vineyard

    August 27, 2019 13:43

    Dinner in a Very Special Vineyard

    There is dinner in a vineyard and then there is Dinner in a Very Special Vineyard where you come to find out how a special connection from years ago links my grandfather with a vineyard and a church in Cloverdale, the next town north of Geyserville.

    Ed and I were invited to attend a Dinner in the Vineyard by my parents Phyllis & Jim in support of the Italian Catholic Federation at St. Peters Church. We picked up my parents and made our way to the event and as we were getting out of the car my dad remarked on the history my family has with this place.

    Some of you may recognize the ‘St. Peter’s Church’ as a single vineyard designation on a few winery labels as it is a very special vineyard in many winemaker’s and wine lover’s eyes (the late Kent Rosenblum among them). It is a vineyard with a long pedigree and has been planted to Zinfandel for nearly 160 years.

    The connection? My grandfather Giovanni used to help farm it in the late 1940s to mid 1950s. A bachelor named Andrea Ghiotti owned the property that included this vineyard. He also owned a winery not too far down the road from this site-that was housed below his home. My grandfather even bought his grapes during this time and added them to our own Zinfandel blend. When he passed away my grandfather was instrumental in having the land donated to the Catholic church and, in turn, it became the new home of St. Peter’s Church along with the vineyard. It took a few more years before it became known as "St. Peter's Church Vineyard' and I was happy to find out how my family was connected.

    The roots do run deep in Wine Country and this is one of the countless examples from our storied 90+ years in this great place.

  • Zinfandel Harvests Past & Present

    August 27, 2019 13:35

    Zinfandel Harvests Past & Present

    Our first Zinfandel harvest was in 1927 shortly after my grandfather purchased the property. 92 years later we are still harvesting Zinfandel-the rest is our story.

    During those early days, when Prohibition was still in place, the grapes were sold to head of households who had obtained their government permit to make 200 gallons of wine. From Repeal onward Zinfandel has been a central grape on our estate and in our line of wines. There are many high points and challenges in the last 92 years for this varietal when the grapes were selling for low prices, the yields weren’t as high as we wanted or the weather didn’t cooperate. Then there are glorious, highly lauded harvests, every farmer's dream, where the weather and growing season came together beautifully and produced a bounty of fruit perfectly ripened.

    There are three generations of Zinfandel on our Home Ranch: the original dating to the early 1900s with very few vines left but most of them over 100 years old; the second generation, nearing 40 years old, was patterned after the original vineyard using budwood from the old vines as well as neighbor's vines and finally the newest which was planted with the Rockpile Clone, a hearty hillside choice with distinctive bunches and DNA to bring out the best in this grape. Known as our Mother Clone vineyard it is mostly head pruned (goblet trained or bush vine to the Aussies) along with some experimental blocks that are trellised.

    As we get ready for vintage 2019 I am looking out over the Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard. She has a lot of stories to tell! My grandfather's days of bringing in the boxes of grapes aided by the whole family including young sons John and Jim entailed great effort; son John's first crush as winemaker was in 1948 and he along with 2 other men processed 800 tons-as he said in his Oral History it was 'a heckuva crush'; Jim recalls very cold and rainy harvests especially in 1964 when it rained and made it difficult to ripen and pick-one of the latest harvests on record that year at the end of October; the drought of the mid-1970's which produced fabulous vintages but lower production; the 1980s at first brought above average rain and abundant harvests to a drought at the other end and 1985 stood out as the best of the decade for Zinfandel; on to the 1990s with the '97 vintage considered the 'vintage of the century' because everything aligned from production to perfect weather but there were other standouts like 1995 for Zinfandel-considered one of the best due to great growing conditions again; in the next decade we saw one of the earliest harvests on record (2004) and one of the best of the decade-2005 (there seems to be a theme of years ending in '5') with remarkable quantity and quality; the last 9 years have brought a long period of drought which in turn gave great concentration to our Zinfandels as well as a couple of heat spikes that virtually fried the vineyard after a long cool summer (2010) as well as high temperatures over the 2017 Labor Day Weekend prompting the vineyard and cellar crew to pick the Mother Clone vineyard as soon as possible.

    Today I can see the vineyard is in the final week or two of ripening. I can tell by the way the canes are beginning to droop and the bunches are turning deep purple. This is turning out to be a good production year for our Zinfandel with a late start to the growing season and a normal picking time expected in a couple of weeks. My judgement on the vintage is reserved until after fermentation is over. I'll look forward to this vintage like my father and my grandfather before me-with a farmer's eye and an appreciative palate.

  • Finding Zinfandel's Place

    July 26, 2019 16:39

    Finding Zinfandel's Place

    Just where does Zinfandel (the grape and varietal) fit into place in today’s world of wine? How much Zinfandel is made these days? Finding Zinfandel’s Place is about going back to the roots of grape growing in the area and discovering why was it such a popular grape. I'll also try to figure out what made it the preferred wine to make in those days and why is it still planted widely throughout Dry Creek Valley and other areas?

    Let’s start with production. There are roughly 44,000 acres of Zinfandel planted in California. Sonoma County is second on the list of most widely planted counties with just over 5000 acres. You’ve heard it before and I’ll repeat-Dry Creek Valley has half of the Zinfandel planted in this county-the smallest of the four major appellations by the way and quite a concentration of one varietal.

    At Pedroncelli it is the number one grape on our estate with 33 acres on the hillsides where it has been planted since the early 1900s. About one fifth of our case production is Zinfandel, about 12,000 cases, split between our Rosé, Mother Clone, Bushnell Vineyard and Courage. It is our flagship wine, and the flagship of this appellation. The numbers above, while reflecting only California grown Zin, don’t include other areas where the grape does well. Among them the Yakima Valley in Washington, Barossa and Hunter Valleys as well as Margaret River in Australia, and South Africa.

    Records from the Gold Rush days show that Zinfandel was planted by the mid-1800s. In Dry Creek Valley the grape took root and was a favorite of home winemakers and budding wineries. Even during Prohibition it remained popular and is the reason why we have vineyard to this day. The wine made during those days was approachable and easy to enjoy early on-not much, if any, aging and a quick turn-around for consumption put the wine on the table in a few months.

    The quality of Zin grown today in Dry Creek Valley is stellar and stands on its own with the one-two punch of berry-pepper and the rounded, mild tannins. The combination makes for a food friendly wine. This is where Zinfandel finds its’ place-balanced between the ripe fruit and pepper spice quality. Picking the fruit at a time when the acidity gives the wine structure. Aging for a year in barrel to add smoky notes. Its’ place is there at the table with a story to tell, one that captures your imagination and creates a legacy of enjoyment.

    Today Zinfandel has its’ place on wine lists and in wine lover’s minds. It even has its’ own fan club-just ask ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) one of the most focused and longest running varietal trade groups. They have dedicated a celebration of California’s grape for over 30 years. You'll find Zins' place there among the many fans tasting and comparing the styles from all over California and beyond.

  • The Original

    June 25, 2019 15:04

    The Original

    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.

  • Is Zinfandel ‘the wine’ for Barbecue?

    May 24, 2019 15:53

    Is Zinfandel ‘the wine’ for Barbecue?

    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.

  • Consider the Crop Report

    April 21, 2019 12:21

    Consider the Crop Report

    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.

  • Zin-Zin-Zin

    April 21, 2019 12:16

    Zin-Zin-Zin

    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.

  • 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.