January 24, 2019 10:14
Winter brings our activities inside so the cellar crew is hard at work transferring last year’s vintage, 2017, out of barrel and bringing in the 2018 vintage to rest for a year or more. We also have our site set on Barrel Tasting which is an annual educational event held the first two weekends of March. Join me for a bit of barrel background.
We’ll start with ullage (hint-it’s not a town in Sweden) and it is what happens to wine as it spends time in a bottle or a year in the barrel. Ullage describes the loss of wine due to evaporation while the wine ages. When someone asks me about their 1974 Cabernet and they want to know if it is sound one of the first questions I ask is to describe the fill line on the bottle. The high or low level of the wine in the neck of the bottle tells me if there has been loss over time and possibly determines spoilage because too much air has oxidized the contents. It is the same in a barrel except instead of an ounce of wine lost it is closer to about a gallon every 3 months. The cellar crew helps to prevent oxidation by taking down each and every barrel and topping it off every couple of months. However even at this cost (in wine) the act of barrel aging does concentrate by the slow vaporizing of water and alcohol. Why do you think a barrel room smells so good? It’s all about wine vapor. Oak (and cork) is permeable and ultimately, even though a little air is a good thing, the benefits of concentration and slow development outweigh the loss of product.
The act of ‘thieving’ wine is part of the educational process. Usually the winemaker will taste the young wine while it is heading into the barrel and then, using a wine thief, will check on the progress a few more times during the year as it matures. The wine thief itself, pictured below in a painting by Richard Sheppard, is nothing more than a glass tube for siphoning out a small sample of the wine. During the aging process, as the water and alcohol dissipate, the wine softens little by little, concentrates a bit more. It will take on aspects of the oak as well as loosen up its' grip. If you are trying a wine from the recent harvest be prepared-the tannins are pretty harsh but the silver lining is you get a glimpse of things to come—the fruit components, the acidity, the body—and some of the characteristics will dominate the others. It boils down to a matter of time. Winemakers are a patient lot. Time in the barrel equals a nicely aged wine making it more ready to drink upon release.
Insider tip: You don’t have to become a winemaker to thief wine around these parts (Northern Sonoma County) because we have an event that celebrates Barrel Tasting via the the Wine Road. 40 years ago a few wineries banded together, Pedroncelli included, to market wines made from the Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys, to locals and visitors alike. Today guests buy tickets, roam the wine roads, taste young red and white wines and learn more about the process of aging. We usually pair the barrel sample with the current release for comparison’s sake. Sometimes we throw in a library vintage of the same varietal-all in the name of educating one’s palate. Enjoy an insider’s look at wine making by attending and tasting for yourself—the first two weekends of March. It is the focus of aging wine that brings great development and style. Time in the barrel is as important to wine as is the source of grapes.
January 24, 2019 10:06
I am taking you to the original founding property for our tour of Dry Creek Valley neighborhoods in part 3. When Giovanni and Julia purchased the property in 1927 it came with 25 acres of vineyard first planted in 1927. This little corner of Dry Creek Valley-actually in the north east quadrant just a mile from Highway 101 and a few miles from the town of Geyserville which we call our home town. We are the only winery on Canyon Road but there are other vineyards planted along the 3 mile stretch and there’s a cemetery too.
Each one of these hills surrounding the winery is really its’ own microclimate or site. Many of these blocks have been planted to two or more varietals over the 9 decades we have been farming them. What once was Pinot Noir is now Zinfandel; what once was Sauvignon Vert gave way to Cabernet Sauvignon then Petite Sirah and now Cabernet Sauvignon again. The life cycle of a vineyard is generally 20-25 years before a farmer decides to start the replanting process. With the exception of our Zinfandel vines many of the vineyard blocks on the home ranch are fairly young having just been replanted a few years ago.
The beauty of this property is the rolling hillsides that were made for growing great Zinfandel-33 acres of it in fact. Ranging in age from well over 100 years to just 5 years old and an acre just cleared to make way for the next planting our gnarled head pruned vines stand the test of time. The beauty of Dry Creek Valley as an appellation is that more than one type of grape can grow here. We have Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and four Portuguese varietals (Tinta Madeira, Tinta Cao, Touriga Nacional and Souzao) growing along with the Zinfandel and totaling 50 acres. Other grapes have had their time here but site specificity (what varietal does well on a particular hillside) is what gives way to the great results from planting the best suited variety.
Soils here are pretty rocky-much of it river rock from long ago when the land shifted up and down with the earthquake faults and bodies of water carving their way through the land. Hillside land tends toward a scarcity of topsoil too so the vines are challenged to grow in what many consider poor conditions. Thanks to both the heartiness of the vine and newer technology like drip irrigation the vines establish themselves even in thin soil and the metered water supply gives the vine much needed and the right amount of water to thrive. On to the next neighborhood, one that has been in the family for over 60 years: The Bushnell Vineyard.
November 19, 2018 14:34
Lizzy Boardman, one of our friendly Tasting Room Staffers, is the idea lady behind our seasonal ‘look’ whether it is summer or fall, winter or spring. When she was thinking about decorating last winter in preparation for Winter Wineland this avid Pinterest fan found an idea of a grapevine trunk holding notes of thanks. She named it Gratitude Vine.
The vine itself is the trunk from the Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard just across the way. The project, begun in January, has garnered 100s of thankful tags and it is fitting as we celebrate the holidays, and recently Thanksgiving, we give thanks for many things. From friends to wine, family to joy, hope and peace—all of which are hanging on our Gratitude Vine.
We are filled with gratitude for our 91 years on this beautiful ranch producing fine wines for your enjoyment. We are also grateful to our friends who have supported and savored our wines through the years and toast those new friends to come.
Stop by our tasting room and add your own to the vine-it is getting a bit crowded but we believe there is always room for more. Via this blog post I invite you to share what or who it is you are thankful for this year and we'll add it to the vine for you. I personally am thankful to the first responders in the latest fires around California-without them more would have been lost.
October 29, 2018 13:44
ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) is an organization that has been promoting this uniquely Californian grape for over 30 years with special tastings and other nationwide events. Would you like to know more about our ZinStory?
My ZinStory began when I first sipped it from my Dino cup when I was four years old. It is the inspiration behind the name of this blog as you may have guessed by now.
Why don’t we start at the beginning of Zinfandel in Dry Creek Valley. The 1850’s saw many people moving into this area and they began to plant grapes along with other crops. They chose Zinfandel, among a few others, and the rest is ZinStory.
On the winery property it started in the early 1900s when the Canata family planted Zinfandel and made barrels of wine destined for sale in San Francisco. Giovanni and Julia Pedroncelli bought the vineyard, shuttered winery and home mid-Prohibition in 1927. They acquired a 25 acre vineyard which supported the young family by providing grapes for home winemakers where each head of household could make 200 gallons.
Zinfandel continues to be our most widely planted grape today with 33 acres of first, second and recently third generation vineyard on the original land my grandparents purchased 91 years ago. We continue our story with three Zinfandels: our Mother Clone located on the home ranch and spanning in age from 115 year old vines to 4 years old; our Bushnell Vineyard which is owned by third generation family member Carol Bushnell and her husband Jim. We have been getting fruit from this place since the 1940s; Courage is our newest member and comes from the multi-generation grape growing Faloni family. We believe it takes a lot of courage to be a farmer and grow Zinfandel!
Our winemaker Montse says Zinfandel tells the story of the vintage. Whatever has gone on during the growing season through to harvest is reflected in this grape and the wine it makes. Recent examples of this includes the incredible concentration in the drought influenced year of 2015. 5 years before this a heat wave struck in 2010 and we lost nearly half of our crop-also a concentrated vintage due to the very low yields. There are many other memorable examples of quality from vintages like 2012 (the year of plenty), 1997 (considered the vintage of the century), 1985 (focused & concentrated) and 1978 (Zinfandel was the winner after years of drought brought excellent quality). Just remember every bottle tells its’ own ZinStory.
Now, what is your ZinStory?
October 29, 2018 13:39
We completed this year’s harvest on October 9th with a final load of estate Cabernet Sauvignon. Our vintage wrap up includes comments from winemaker Montse Reece and Vineyard Manager Lance Blakeley. Get the harvest scoop from the people who know.
I will begin by saying there is one word that describes this harvest perfectly: abundance. This coming from an abundance of fruit and an abundance of good weather to bring in the fruit-yes a little rain fell in September and timing was good-we only had a few of red wine varietals on the vine including our Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah still hanging and these grapes are built for this type of challenge! We began with Sauvignon Blanc on August 30 and finished on October 9 with Cabernet Sauvignon. It was quick and chaotic at times and when it cooled down mid-September the weather extended hang time nicely.
From Lance Blakeley comes his comments as the Vineyard Manager. In production all varietals were above average anywhere from 5% to 15% stemming from spring and summer growing conditions that led to a great crop set. Labor went fairly well as we teamed up with some other local growers to share some of their pickers. We machine harvested 15 acres and all went well in quality. The younger cabernet sauvignon blocks really stood out to me this year as did the merlot which got plenty of hang time and tasted outstanding. Our wine yields were good too as we had full bunches with very little, if any, shrivel or raisining.
From Montse Reece her comments as Winemaker. This harvest we had more consistent weather without extreme heat spikes like last year. That reflects on the quality of Zinfandel which was exceptional and also the wine yields that were up by 20% over all varietals with respect to last year’s. We did see some challenges especially accommodating the bigger crop across the board but do note the Zinfandel came in at normal tonnage as we had less in 2017. This harvest all grapes, but in particular Zinfandel, were back to a normal cycle of ripening with mild to hot days and cool nights, that translated into a slowing ripening and a better retaining of the acids and phenols. This year I see impressive balanced wines with moderate alcohols and beautiful integrated acids.
As with Zinfandel the good weather cycle this year elevated the acid, flavor and aromatic profile of the grapes. Cabernets had an extended hang time to reach their maturity and as a result we’ll see more concentrate flavors, colors and bright acidities. A vintage to look forward to.
And with these comments we close the book on Vintage 2018. I, for one, am looking forward to tasting the first wines released from this harvest early next year.
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 30, 2017 09:47
July 22 1927 is an important date at the winery. My grandfather signed the papers for the property that included 25 acres of grapes, a shuttered winery and a home mid-Prohibition 90 years ago this month. He left quite a legacy.
Other inventions and remarkable achievements of 1927 include Wonder Bread and Lender’s Bagels, the Oscars (!) founded by Louis B. Mayer, Babe Ruth hit his 60th homerun (he held the record for 30 years!) and Charles A. Lindbergh, at age 25, made the first transatlantic non-stop solo flight.
Actually my grandparents and the second generation of John and Jim left a legacy that continues today through the fourth generation, so far. I am certain when my grandfather signed the papers he had his young family of three on his mind (my dad Jim would be born 5 years later) and had hope this property would support them. Both vineyard and farm at this time, they raised everything needed from the animals to the crops which supported them. I remember in the 1960s, after we moved to the family home when my grandparents retired, venturing into the basement and seeing rows of mason jars full of the previous year’s harvest, venison sausages aging on hooks and the smell of vinegar being made in barrels around the corner.
Stories of my grandparents surviving Prohibition, the Great Depression which kicked in two years after the purchase and the start-up of a business new to them are fun to recall. The time my grandfather and uncle John delivered grapes to a place near Redding and the axle broke. My grandfather had to go to the nearest town to get help leaving 7 year old John in the truck with the grapes. Or when my grandparents returned home after a day of work in the vineyard only to discover they were missing 5 year old Jim. They found him under a vine with his dog, safe and sound. I have my own memories of roaming the cellar and the vineyards with my sisters making the whole place our playground. I have seen my own grandchildren and grandnephews running around the place and hope to see the sixth generation doing the same.
It’s all in a days’ work in our little corner of Dry Creek Valley. From those humble beginnings we, as a family, are tending the vineyards, producing great wines, hosting friends, making sure we continue the legacy born on July 22. A toast to those early days with a splash of Zinfandel in my Dino!
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