July 26, 2019 16:39
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.
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.
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.
March 26, 2019 14:13
The source of Zinfandel at Pedroncelli is mostly from the Home Ranch where 33 acres of it grows on the hillsides. We do have two other vineyards we harvest from: the Bushnell Vineyard and the Faloni Vineyard. All three areas are in different Dry Creek Valley areas or neighborhoods. Let's take a look at where they are and the difference a mile or two makes.
Mother Clone Hillside & Headpruned
The Home Ranch which is the first purchase by founders Giovanni & Julia consists of many gently rolling hillsides now planted to Zinfandel, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah and a touch of Cabernet Sauvignon. 33 of the 50 acres are blocks of Zinfandel from the oldest (over 100 years old) to the youngest (4 years old). What makes these hills so perfect for Zinfandel? The rocky soil, the rootstock which is St. George and vigorous since the soils are more challenging, the site specific plantings where each block gains the right amount of sun hence ripening. Our Mother Clone shows the spice-berry dynamic which is Dry Creek Zin 101-freshly ground black pepper combined with ripe blackberry fruit.
Bushnell Vineyard: Bench & Headpruned
Four miles south on Dry Creek Road is where the Bushnell Vineyard is located. A long time source of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah it was first owned by Giovanni Pedroncelli who sold it to his daughter Margaret and son in law Al Pedroni in the 1950s and they tended the vineyard until the 1990s when daughter Carol and her husband Jim Bushnell took over. The 14 acres are located on a bench above and on the east side of Dry Creek Road. We see singular Zinfandel from this property with jazzy spice and warm clove notes combined with the ripe berry core.
Faloni Vineyard aka Courage: Valley Floor & Trellis
Our newest addition is the Faloni Vineyard located 2 miles west of the Home Ranch on West Dry Creek Road-a stones’ throw from our Wisdom Vineyard. Dave and Dena Faloni are a three-generation grape growing family (hmmm familiar theme) and their vineyard is on the western part of the valley floor. While most Zinfandel in the valley is head-pruned Dave has trained his vines on a trellis. He knows every quirk of the soil and every vine on their 24 acres having farmed it all of his life. Our Courage Zinfandel exhibits floral notes combined with deep flavors of bramble spice and boysenberry jam.
September 23, 2015 14:15
The final day of grape harvest is here. What began in a flurry of days in August-the 17th to be exact-turned into a bit of a slow down as the weeks progressed. The last day is here for the grapes and the cellar crew isn't breathing a sigh of relief just yet-there is fermentation to go through as well as pressing off the wines from the tanks. More cellar talk to follow but I'll raise my Dino to all the hard work of the staff from winemaker to cellar master to vineyard foreman to vineyard manager and everyone in between. Saluté!
Bushnell Zinfandel, second crop, the last load of grapes for the season.
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