April 19, 2018 15:52
I know I have a pretty good life here in Dry Creek Valley. Either I’m looking at or walking through our Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard, visiting my markets where I present our wines to accounts (always with Zin in the bag) or attending events featuring more Zin. It is a good to be in the Zin business these days.
Recently I was a guest at an event called Sonoma Summit sponsored by the Sonoma County Vintners, hosted by Sbragia Winery (thanks Ed and Adam-the view was fabulous) and the guests were 30 sommeliers from across the U.S. I was there, along with 11 other Zinfandel producing wineries, to talk about our own individual Zealous for Zinfandel stories. I was the only one who wasn’t a winemaker by the way-so I didn’t get into the weeds trying to talk about pH or brix. The organizers paired up four wines at a time from different appellations within Sonoma County. Some vintages varied between 2015 and 2016. Each speaker told their stories of farming zinfandel, waxed eloquent about the process, gave inside stories on what Zinfandel means to them. Then we tasted through the flights with the stories fresh in our minds.
I found the Zins all shared some wonderful DNA characteristics-whether grown in Sonoma Valley or Rockpile, Dry Creek Valley (represented with 4 offerings) or Russian River Valley. The ‘Z’NA I write of was the defining spice-berry dynamic of the Zinfandel grape that wove itself throughout the 12 wines. It was pointed out a couple of times how difficult a grape it is to ripen hence to bring out the dynamic between fruit and spice, soil and hillside. At Pedroncelli we call it personality. Our Mother Clone Zinfandel has quite a personality. It’s spice-forward rather than fruit-forward and showed quite an affinity to pairing up with the Hoisin-braised Pork Belly, the featured dish of the Dry Creek Valley flight.
All in all it showed we were all fans of this grape with roots in Dry Creek Valley going back to the 1850s when it was first planted. Half of all Zinfandel grown in Sonoma County is right here in our little valley-a mighty showing from the smallest of the four major appellations! And the opportunity to compare with 5 other sub-appellations was priceless. The next time you try a Zinfandel do some detective work: where it came from, what shows up in the aromas and flavors, and realize how different this grape is from other red wines out there.
February 28, 2018 14:15
Drought. The word is bandied about these days as we look to the last significant month in our rain cycle. March is usually the final frontier when it comes to the rain season. If we haven’t had enough (and we haven’t) then this is the last stand to make up for the small amount we have received so far. In fact the warm weather (in the 70s) we had in February almost made our vines think it was spring.
We’ve had between 12 and 13 inches of rain this season. Average rainfall is around 30 inches. That’s why the dreaded D-word ‘drought’ is now being used. While considered moderate we’ll need a few more inches to even get close to normal.
From the California Department of Water Resources comes this when defining drought for our state, “California is no stranger to drought; it is a recurring feature of our climate. We recently experienced the 5-year event of 2012-2016, and other notable historical droughts included 2007-09, 1987-92, 1976-77, and off-and-on dry conditions spanning more than a decade in the 1920s and 1930s. Paleoclimate records going back more than 1,000 years show many more significant dry periods. The dry conditions of the 1920s-30s, however, were on a par with the largest 10-year droughts in the much longer paleoclimate record.”
The great amount of rain we received in 2017, while a distant memory, is something that isn’t repeated too often. The good news is it filled up reservoirs and even recharged groundwater storage in some places which is an important if unseen effect-without underground water the wells so many of us rely on for farming would affect our ability to deliver water when most needed.
It remains to be seen what March will bring. We all hope for more rain to give the vines and other agricultural crops the water they need.
February 27, 2018 15:30
Barrel time in wine country is important enough to have its’ own celebration in the form of two Barrel Tasting weekends in March. 41 years ago the Barrel Tasting, originally sponsored by the then Russian River Wine Road (now simply Wine Road) a group of wineries located near the Russian River, began as a way for people to discover northern Sonoma County. 41 years ago there were less wineries hence wines to try-it was at the beginning of the wine renaissance here. Today you have the joy of discovering new and old friends in the mix with over 100 wineries thieving samples out of the barrel for you. The event takes place between Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys.
Back in those early years there were less than 30 wineries participating. I have been here for 33 years and have worked a majority of those weekends. We went from trying to keep up with cleaning glasses to having folks ‘BYOG’ followed quickly by the first branding efforts with an official logo glass for $5. Numbers of wineries now range over 120 participating! Futures were added later on and not much has changed except the number people attending going from 100 to 25,000 at the peak in 2008. These days we see less people than at the peak-much less-which in turn gives us more time for visitors to taste and ask questions. Winemakers and cellar crews stand at the ready to talk about the wine and process of barrel aging. Join us this year as we feature the Past, Present and Future of our Alto Vineyards Sangiovese-a library release, our current 2015 vintage and the 2016 still in barrel. A splash of Sangiovese in my Dino with a toast to 40 more years of barrel tasting.
**You still have time if you want to attend, tickets are sold at the door.
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!
June 28, 2017 16:40
What happens in the vineyard when summer hasn’t even begun and we have one of the hottest days on record? On Sunday June 18th the temperature hit 110 degrees in our little corner of Dry Creek Valley. The days that followed were not much better and the mercury wavered between the mid 90s to over 100 degrees again on Thursday. This pre-summer heat wave definitely had my attention.
I was curious-what does happen to the vines as it gets unseasonably hot? It isn’t the first time the month of June has seen this heat and it does some good to know the following week we had our fog back in the evenings with pleasant temps in the low 80s. I asked our Vineyard Manager Lance Blakeley to explain a few things to me. How does he prepare? What happens to the fruit? Was it a good time to have a heat wave?
First of all he was ready for the heat-farmers are always weather watchers and he and the crew prepared the vineyard for what was coming by drip irrigating the ranches, which totals 105 acres. This in and of itself helped the vines to survive the brutal heat which hit on the 18th. The fruit was protected by the canopy of canes and leaves. There was little to no scorching of the green berries. If there was a good time to have a heat wave this was it-if it had occurred during bloom time we would have a more drastic story to tell.
I learned something too. The leaves actually move to cover either the stem or the fruit, whichever is in danger of scorching. One way to test if the vine is keeping cool is to feel the leaves-if they are cool then they are safe. If they are warm to the touch then they need some help as they’ll begin to wilt and become overwhelmed by the heat. Kind of like people-we wilt when it becomes too hot and just want a cool drink of water. The good news is, with temperatures rising in the first week of July, the vineyards are acclimated to the heat by this first wave. Here's to the vines and the hard working crew who takes care of them with a splash of Rosé of Zinfandel in my Dino!
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