December 3, 2019 16:11
December 5 marks the anniversary of the end of a long dry time in America. Each year, especially in wine country, we celebrate the end of Prohibition by raising a glass or two on the anniversary of Repeal of the 18th Ammendment-December 5, 1933. Prohibition itself played an important role in how we got into winegrowing. In fact, if Prohibition hadn’t happened I’m not sure we’d be in the wine business today.
The tale has been lost to history as to why my grandparents bought 90 acres in 1927. I think it is because my grandfather, who arrived to the U.S. from Italy as a teenager, wanted a piece of land he could call his own after working on other farms. The property included 25 acres of vineyard, a home and a shuttered winery. It was sold by the Canata family who could no longer shoulder the debt of owning the land-and there may have been more to the story there as well, also lost to history. Even though Prohibition began in 1919 if you still owned vineyard you could sell grapes to home winemakers if they were a ‘head of household’ and obtained the permit from the federal government. Each household could make 200 gallons of wine per year.
Now let’s think about this for a moment: this totals 84 cases or about 4 gallons per week. 20 bottles a week, or just shy of 3 bottles per day. Big families? Tradition? Thirsty? Many of these home winemakers had wine in their DNA-or at least were accustomed to enjoying wine with their meals every day. These were families from the old country with traditions which included wine on the table. Thanks to these home winemakers who bought grapes they also kept some vineyards growing through this period—and helped wineries reboot once Repeal rolled around. Statistically, the story is a sad one for Dry Creek Valley. Before 1919 there were 17 wineries making just over 1 million gallons of wine. Business was booming and then the hammer came down. Many of the vineyards were taken out and planted to prunes and other orchard crops. While there was still a market for wine grapes the bottom fell out by 1925 or so and part of the reason for the sale of the property. Gratefully December 5, 1933 ended this nationwide dry spell and we were poised at the right time to enter the winemaking business. Only 2 other wineries survived the next decade and it wasn’t until the 1970s when our county and valley saw a resurgence of wineries. Raise your glass, enjoy a bit of history and be thankful we are a nation that believes we should have wine on our tables.
For those who love details I found this blog post from the Consitution Center and National Archives is a blog post on the 21st Ammendment and 5 things you may not have known!
December 3, 2019 16:08
An invitation was sent out inviting donors to the Food Transforming America exhibit at the National Museum of American History which was refreshed this year after being on display for 6 years. I had received word that several of the artifacts my family loaned to the museum were now on display in the wine portion of the exhibit. Ed and I accepted and were wowed by the magnitude of having family heirlooms included.
A little background: early in 2013 we were approached by the National Museum of American History because they were working on an exhibit Food Transforming America. The museum found me because they had received a photo of my family at an alfresco gathering in the 1950s and they wanted to include it in the exhibit which also featured a wine focus. The museum sent two curators to wine country to touch base with the wineries who would be part of the exhibit. As I showed them around Paula Johnson, Curator in the Division of Work and Labor, along with Project Manager Nanci Edwards, saw other items of interest and they asked if the family would loan the museum several of our artifacts to be used for future exhibits. We agreed and crated up and sent our precious bits of history to Washington DC.
Fast forward to August 2019 and I received the invitation to attend the refresh of Food Transforming America from Paula. It was such a popular exhibit that they expanded and included more items. And this time some of our artifacts were included! I didn’t know what was chosen until we arrived at the museum shortly before the reception for the donors. What a surprise to see our winery sign, the stencil and my grandmother’s polenta pot along with an enlarged photo of my family’s alfresco dinner. The fact that wine is included in this exhibit to a large extent cements its place as an important part of how food (and wine) transforms our daily meals and special occasions.
When Paula Johnson visited our winery in 2013, she noticed the winery sign which had hung on our cellar door from the 1930’s through the 1970’s. This is the item that really lit up her face. She turned to me and asked, “Would you rather have hundreds of people see this or thousands?” So instead of hanging in our barrel room it now hangs in the Smithsonian's American History Museum and what Paula said has come true.
This photo shows the artifacts we donated:
September 30, 2019 15:53
Not only is it a busy season at the winery, the season known as SOND (September-December) is equally as hectic for the sales team as it takes us deep into the marketing season where quite a bit of my time as well as Ed’s is focused on spreading the good word about Pedroncelli from state to state, city to city. Market work began for me in August and will continue through November this year, the same for Ed. Mitch, who usually works the market as well, was busy with the harvest up to his elbows in grapes. He’ll be back on the road next year.
The highlights: Ed worked trade shows in Southern California hitting San Diego and Los Angeles. He is currently in Arizona and will make a foray to the Inland Empire and Missouri (three markets in one month!).
Here are my trip notes so far: Portland and Eugene were my targets on this trip to Oregon. We have very good support in the independent stores like New Seasons and Market of Choice as well as quite a few independent retailers like Elephant Deli (a wonderland of specialty products) & Barber World Foods in Portland as well as Capella Market and The Broadway in Eugene. This was a one day trip into Connecticut and we covered a lot of territory and made memorable stops in and around Glastonbury, Middletown and West Hartford including Toast Wines by Taste, The Best Wine Shop in Town (really-that’s the name) and M & M Wines.
Two days spent working around the western part of Massachusetts from Hopkinton to Worcester, Franklin to Wellesley. Medfield Wines, Juniper (fabulous restaurant) Marty’s (say hey to Rachel & Darryl) as well as Pour Richards and Rye and Thyme (another great restaurant). I did end my stop here at a sales meeting for our Wholesaler Classic Wine Imports and one last stop at Wine Empire in Ashland on my way out of town.
After a brief tour of Portland Maine I began my second week with a trip to South Carolina. Greenville first for a great event at Northampton Wine & Dine with a fun group of friends where we have been doing business for too many years to count. On to Columbia with the owner of our Wholesaler Tyler Miles of Milestone Beverage. Greens (a small independent chain), Bottles, Southern Spirits and The Grapevine were all places that carry and love our wines.
I’ll be visiting Seattle, New Jersey and Philadelphia over the next few weeks-my work on the road isn’t done just yet and I’ll chronicle more at the end of November. For now I'll end with a shot of the friendly folks at Northampton, looking forward to more of this on the road.
August 27, 2019 13:43
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.
August 27, 2019 13:35
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.
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.
July 26, 2019 16:58
One of the things you do when you enter into another stage of winery growth is to write a mission statement. Trying to encapsulate 90+ years into one sentence is a challenge. We recently completed our first ever statement and it took collaboration of three generations to come up with one that rang the right bell. With our Mission in Mind, I’ll take it apart phrase by phrase and sometimes word for word to show what it means to us.
Pedroncelli Mission Statement: We are a Sonoma County farming family, founded in 1927, sharing our legacy through sustainably produced exceptional wines.
Sonoma County is the starting place for us. Dry Creek Valley as an appellation came along years later but the roots were set into the county’s soil when my grandparents arrived. Farming is what we do and have always done. Over the years we have made some changes and have had the future generations in mind while we are making the choices we do now when considering the varietal to plant or how to get the best out of a particular vine trellising system.
Family is who we are for four generations and counting. Not many family businesses make it past the second generation and our goal is to maintain going forward as fully family operational.
Founded in 1927 and is the year Giovanni Pedroncelli brought his wife Julia and young family to Geyserville, to a shuttered winery and 25 acres of vineyard, to a home that would sustain them through Prohibition, the Great Depression and start from scratch once Repeal rolled around.
Sharing our legacy with generations both past and future. A legacy doesn’t end with one generation-it is overarching and looks forward as well.
Sustainably produced and certified. Doing what we have done for more than 90 years.
Exceptional wines are what we strive for with each and every vintage. Our 92nd harvest is just around the corner. Working with our winemaker Montse Reece, Cellarmaster Polo Cano and Vineyard Manager Lance Blakeley each contributing their exceptional talents will bring to your glass our our very best.
June 25, 2019 14:56
Happy anniversary to our family business. This date marks our 92nd year. Here are some highlights over those years with some fun and serious moments. They all add up to four generations over farming over 9 decades in our corner of Dry Creek Valley.
On July 22 let’s all raise a glass to our 92nd year here in Dry Creek Valley. What does it take to span 9 decades of farming and winemaking? Beginning with grandparents Giovanni and Julia and including fourth generation member Mitch Blakeley in the fold how did we do it?
First generation founded the place in 1927 in the middle of Prohibition and 2 years before the Great Depression-quite a challenge. Selling grapes from 1927 through 1933 put food on the table and supported a young family including my dad Jim, youngest of four along with his older brother John and sisters Margaret and Marianne. There are tales of working together, getting lost among the vines, learning the ropes both in the vineyard and in the cellar-it was all hands on deck. Jim driving to town at the age of 12 without a license, John fishing with his brother Jim and big brother wouldn’t let him get the big fish, Jim convincing his parents he didn’t need milk anymore so he didn’t have to milk the cow.
The brothers, as the second generation, split the business between them. John took on the vineyard and winemaking duties while Jim became the face of the winery in sales and marketing. They grew the business beyond selling to friends and neighbors and bought more land, planted vineyards, bought grapes from neighbors and eventually developed a worldwide network to distribute the fruits of our labors. All the while maintaining a business relationship for more than 60 years. One that rode the waves of change without rocking the familial boat.
Third generation members and owners have worked alongside the second generation and are learning and growing in different ways than the first two. Along with my role as brand ambassador, my sisters Cathy and Lisa have their own along with my husband Ed (Sales & Marketing) and Lisa’s husband Lance (Operations and Vineyard Management). Our goals for going forward include remain relevant, keep our authentic voice, learn the way forward and keep our eye on changes in how wine is sold now (as compared to the first 8 decades). This keeps everyone on their toes.
Mitch Blakeley, fourth gen and a Millennial, has worked in the vineyard since he was in eighth grade. His Ag Business degree puts him in the position of working both in the vineyard and in the market. He works alongside his father Lance as well as soaks up the other side of the business by working with grandfather Jim and uncle Ed. He makes forays into the markets where he is most needed and has already made connections with the people he works with there.
It is hard to tell where the next generation will end up-right now there are four of them-my two grandsons and my sister Lisa’s two grandsons. They have each had their share of vineyard and winery visits. Who knows? Those grapes they’ve tasted at a young age may bear fruit one day-the seeds have been planted and the fifth generation may indeed continue the family business.
So how does this all get accomplished? I think we as a family learned it is one step at a time. Being conservative when needed and taking chances-where some ideas work and some fail. Resiliency is a word we talk about in wine country in the aftermath of the fires but I think it can be applied to my family and our business. Ed likes to put it this way “Blessed are the flexible for they won’t be bent out of shape.” Raise your glass to 92 years so far!
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.
May 24, 2019 15:53
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.
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