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  • Zin is It!

    January 24, 2019 10:21

    Zin is It!

    January brings ZAP’s (Zinfandel Advocate & Producers) Zinfandel Experience known as ZinEx to San Francisco. We participate in a few of the events and here is a wrap up of those as well as other articles and observations. Especially since I have declared 2019 The Year of Zin it is fitting for today's post.

    The first of the events held by ZAP was specifically for Sommeliers-no winery folks allowed. Doug Frost, Master of Wine & Master Sommelier along with Lauren Mowery, a Master of Wine Candidate and prolific wine writer had previously chosen 6 Zinfandels to present to the Somms and our 2016 Bushnell Vineyard Zinfandel represented Dry Creek Valley (our buttons were bursting!). It tickled me Zin when I heard it had been chosen as the favorite!

    A Media Lunch followed and was held at One Market where chef Mark Dommen prepared small dishes to match eight Zinfandels in a speed tasting/pairing format with 8 different media invited to visit with each winery representative every 15 minutes. Nothing like diving into an ocean of Zin with delicious plates of well-thought out food. I brought along our newest Zin, Courage, to share. As we took our turns at each table for two the discussion buzzed around Zinfandel and its’ charms. Ranging from why Zinfandel at all, where is its' place in the world, how to better position Zinfandel in front of customers to the origins of Zinfandel for Pedroncelli. All of the brief and intense conversations made me wishing I had more time. When I came to Doug Frost’s table we chatted about the Somm Zin Session and about how Pedroncelli’s style has outlasted many of the fads and came out a winner. Doug also knows my dad Jim from his time when he sold wine for our wholesaler in Missouri many years ago. He fondly remembered our wines, our house style and most of all my dad’s outstanding character as one of the best and focused wine salesmen around-it was nice to hear so many kudos for his hard work. Jim Gordon of Wine Enthusiast wrote an article soon after (found here) as did Jeff Kralik (aka The Drunken Cyclist) found here as well.

    Once finished at lunch I joined Ed at the Media & Trade tasting where we met folks from around the globe-from the Czech Republic to Santa Rosa CA and every spot in between. Zin really is it for us this year and my goal is to entice you each month as I bring a new Zinfandel experience to you.

  • Barrel Background

    January 24, 2019 10:14

    Barrel Background

    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.

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  • DCV Neighborhoods, Part 3

    January 24, 2019 10:06

    DCV Neighborhoods, Part 3

    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.

  • Highlights from 2018: 10 of My Favorite Things

    December 21, 2018 10:03

    Highlights from 2018: 10 of My Favorite Things

    Lists, they are a ‘thing’ at years’ end and the New Year. Some people check it twice, some make resolutions. I’ve put together a few of my favorite blog posts, views and news from 2018.

    10- Harvest 2018 was a good, juicy and large one! As the red wines from this vintage are tucked away in the barrel room and the white wines begin their march to the bottling line we have high hopes for such a great vintage coming to you soon.

    9-90 Points and more! As I was reviewing our reviews, ha ha, I found that three times in the last year three of our wines were featured in the three different issues of the Wine Spectator-unprecedented! And more points were awarded to our Zinfandels than ever before. We were thrilled and gratified with these and for our other wines doing so well. A huge note of thanks to our hardworking cellar and vineyard crews!

    8-Milestones: reaching for 100 by taking each day at a time. We head into 2019 with our 92nd anniversary ahead. Four generations have farmed, made wine, and thrived on this little corner of Dry Creek Valley and each day is a step toward reaching our 100th anniversary-one day, one season, one year at a time.

    7-"Sell more wine." When Ed first came to work he tacked up a paper on the corkboard above his desk-13 years later it still resonates each time I visit his office.

    6-Montse Reece crushes her 12th vintage at Pedroncelli. She began as assistant winemaker in 2007 working with John Pedroncelli. She became winemaker, only the third in our 90 year history, and continues to strive for our house style while imprinting her own sensibility on each of our wines.

    5 is the number of Taste Ups we did with our wine and travel bloggers across the U.S. Some great mentions and articles were written about our wines and way of life.

    4-Word from the road-postcards to my grandsons. Ed recently visited Joe and family and his wife Ashley brought out the basket with all the postcards I had sent Jordan and Weston over the last couple of years. It is my way of staying in touch when I am out of the area. They are always on my mind!

    3-Scents & Memories: wine intertwined with me from childhood. I admit this blog post was a fun one because each morning, Monday through Friday, I get out of my car and inhale the most wonderful scents each season brings.

    2-Gratitude Vine: Our guests have had a wonderful time adding to the old vine trunk displayed in our tasting room. We'll take down the 2018 tags and our visitors will add to the 2019 version.

    1-Zin is the word. I am declaring 2019 the year of the Zin. Our style reflects the best of this grape in a trio of vineyards: Mother Clone, Bushnell and Courage/Faloni Vineyard. We have broken our own records with the quality and excitement around this true California grape. See #9 for more proof!

    From my family to yours we wish you all the best in 2019-I know I'm excited to see what's around the corner!

  • DCV Neighborhoods

    December 21, 2018 09:58

    DCV Neighborhoods

    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.

  • Aged Wines: Old and Not So Old

    December 21, 2018 09:51

    Aged Wines: Old and Not So Old

    50 years is a long time to store wine-and we have a few bottles tucked away in our cellar from our earliest vintage dated wines which began in 1965. Even 15 years is considered a long time since most people who buy wine consume it within a few weeks of purchase. We have the convenience, longevity and a warehouse where we can take a save a few cases from each vintage and store them away for education and enjoyment years later.

    Wine blogger Gabe Sasso visited the Dry Creek Valley in December. His focus this trip was on Petite Sirah. He wanted to know more about Pedroncelli’s long relationship with this singular grape. We pulled together some information and Ed put together a vertical of the wines ranging from the first year made (1997) to a barrel sample of the 2017. Not every year but a nice range with an average of 15 years old. We used Petite Sirah previous to 1997 as a blending grape with Zinfandel and other wines.

    During our pre-meeting chat I mentioned if we really wanted to throw in a ringer we should include one of our pre-1975 Pinot Noirs. Wine Geek Fact: the ruling came down from the government that the varietal shown on the label should be 75% of what is in the bottle. Before this the varietal on the label could be made up of other grapes and in larger percentages. In the instance of the 1969 Pinot Noir we poured it was about 50-50 Pinot Noir and Petite Sirah.

    We had been growing Pinot Noir on the home ranch but it wasn’t the right spot. Just as we were pulling up Pinot Noir and replanting with Zinfandel a fellow named Frank Johnson was pulling out orchards and planting Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the very south area of what is now defined as Dry Creek Valley (DCV was named an American Viticultural Area in 1983) but from his vineyard you are a rock’s throw to the Russian River Valley. We began buying fruit from him in the early 1980s. Today we still bring in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from this vineyard.

    Petite Sirah has been woven into our story since the early days. Most vineyards were field blends and along with the varietals of the day like Zinfandel they also included Carignane, Alicante Bouschet and even Golden Chasselas and Riesling. All of these were picked and fermented together. It wasn’t until later on, well after Prohibition, that the varietal itself was on the label. This hearty grape is known for giving what I call backbone to the wine-and depth of color too.

    A few years ago wine writer Dan Berger advocated that this grape would make wines which age longer than Cabernet Sauvignon! I agree it is one for the cellar. So we found ourselves tasting 50 to 15 year old Petite Sirah with life still in them-fruit, acid, structure and the tannins just beginning to soften in the youngsters. A wonderful opportunity to revisit these old and not-so-old vintages. Cheers with a splash of Petite Sirah in my Dino!

  • December 5: The 85th Anniversary of Repeal!

    November 19, 2018 15:10

    December 5: The 85th Anniversary of Repeal!

    Just as the holidays go into full swing there is a day we should all take a moment to celebrate. December 5 is the day, 85 years ago, when the 21st Amendment ended what the 18th Amendment began: Prohibition. This is a very important day to all of us in the Pedroncelli family for obvious reasons.

    Without this act we would be farming prunes or walnuts. There would be no “Pedroncelli Winery” or Pedroncelli wines to drink. A bleak thought!

    My grandparents, Giovanni & Julia, bought the property mid-Prohibition and probably thought the dry time in America would end much sooner than it did. A couple of things happened however. Let’s go back to the fact that my grandparents, even though they came from Italy, had never owned vineyard let alone make wine. The good news is they learned from the ground up-by tending the vineyard they bought, selling the grapes to heads of households who were permitted to make 200 gallons of wine (84 cases!) during this dry period and finally learning to make wine alongside all these ‘vinpatriots’.

    Without the fortitude to stay the course the third and fourth generations would not be here continuing the heritage begun 91 years ago and we wouldn’t have the legacy of wines worth celebrating the day 85 years ago when the 19th amendment was repealed. Much like Open That Bottle Night (last Saturday of February) this is a day those of us in the wine biz enjoy the most. So let's celebrate with a glass of Zinfandel!

  • Gratitude Vine

    November 19, 2018 14:34

    Gratitude Vine

    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.

    Gratitude Vine

  • Vintage Report: 1968 Cabernet Sauvignon

    November 16, 2018 15:29

    Vintage Report: 1968 Cabernet Sauvignon

    Notes from wine enthusiasts who cellar our wine and write to me with their tasting notes are always welcome in my inbox. I received one such message today and wanted to share Mike K.'s experience with our 50 year old Cabernet Sauvignon.

    Think about it. Vintage 1968. I was 8 years old. While I don't remember specifically watching these grapes come in I am sure I was around after school wandering by the tanks in the cellar. My uncle John was at his prime in his 20th year as winemaker. His brother Jim recalls the vintage being a relatively easy one (compared to others challenged by rain or heat). In fact the Wine Enthusiast Vintage Chart lists 'Great Older Vintages' and includes California Cabernet Sauvignon from the 1968 vintage.

    Mike K., the wine enthusiast who sent me his notes, had some questions before he opened the wine. He and I wrote back and forth as he checked the website for background information, let me know the fill level was good, I let him know who made the wine and to use an 'ah so' opener in case the 50 year old cork had disintegrated. The evening came when he opened the wine so without further ado here is the message along with two photos he sent, one with the cork since he and I had wondered about the quality.

    1968 Pedroncelli Cabernet Sauvignon Private Stock

    There is always a sense of trepidation and anticipation when you open an old bottle of wine. When it does not go well, there is a bit of a sense of loss and what could have been. But when it goes well, like it did with this bottle, it can be a great experience especially when shared with friends. We really enjoyed this bottle and was very appreciative of the effort that went into make this some 50 years ago.

    I've had Napa Cabs from '70, '74 and '78 recently so it is from this perspective that this note is being written. 50 years, this wine has traveled for quite some time. The wine on opening needed a bit of time to wake up but once it did, it was a wonderful wine. This must have been a great large scale wine when it was young but the stuffing has allowed it to aged to become a graceful and elegant wine. On the noses, typical tertiary notes of cedar, tobacco, forest, dried fruits, and tea. The wine is very balanced, the texture was still very smooth and quite lush. The acidity kept it amazingly fresh for such an old wine. Compared to others of this age from the 70's I think that it was this balance and this liveliness that was the hallmark of this wine. Wonderful, drank well over the three hours that it was opened. While the finish was a bit short, the persistence was very long and lingering. Stunning.

    Thanks Mike! You made our Friday. My cousin Richard, John's son, wrote this after receiving the above assessment: "A great vintage, a great wine and a great wine maker."

    1968 Cabernet Cork

    1968 Cabernet Sauvignon

  • In the Neighborhoods

    October 29, 2018 13:48

    In the Neighborhoods

    I often refer to our neighborhoods of grapes found right here in Dry Creek Valley-the smallest of the four major Sonoma County winegrape appellations-because there are diverse little micro-climates and steep hillsides producing some of the tastiest fruit around. And some of the grapes come from longtime neighbors going back 60 or more years!

    You can see by the Sonoma County appellation map with all of the 19 American Viticultural Areas (AVA) outlined that we are a county of neighboring appellations. And within each AVA are hills, benches and valley floors. In each of these there are thousands of acres of varieties and vineyards making up a total of 60,000 acres in Sonoma County (and there are 1 million acres in Sonoma County).

    With a little inspiration from the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley here is how we see the appellation in neighborhoods: As defined by soil and area the Dry Creek Valley is split into these areas: Western Benchlands, Eastern Hills (that’s us!) and Valley Floor. The appellation itself, 16 miles long and about 2 miles wide, is furthermore split almost in two by Lambert Bridge Road where south of the bridge is cooler than the vineyards to the north by several degrees at times. For instance our Chardonnay comes from south of the bridge on the valley floor. Our Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon from north by almost 5 miles where it is on the eastern hillsides.

    When you then drill down to estate vineyards and our growers you get 8 different locations in the valley. Each one is planted to one or more varietals. I’ll use our Wisdom vineyard as an example: it is located on West Dry Creek Road (Western Benchlands) and has been planted to Cabernet Sauvignon for more than 50 years. This neighborhood is known for producing excellent Cabernet as well as Zinfandel (the Courage/Faloni vineyard is just around the corner).

    I’ll introduce you to our other ‘neighborhoods’ in the coming weeks.