August 24, 2018 10:59
The way grapes are picked has changed over the years going from hand harvesting for centuries to machine harvesting which began more than 30 years ago in the vineyard. The decreasing labor force, and increasing costs have been an issue for grape growers for more than a decade.
Fortunately, machine harvesting has advanced at a similar pace. Increased harvesting quality and cost reductions make this a real and worthy option. Considering the improved quality of mechanical harvesting, and the shrinking labor force machine harvesting brings three things to the crushpad: picking the grapes at night allows the cellar to process cooler (temperature) fruit which maintains quality; technology has come a long way bringing with it more precise results in the field (cleaner pick without leaves/sticks and more careful passes through the rows without taking out a vine arm) and finally harvesting a vineyard is accomplished much faster than a team of people hand harvesting-by 50%.
When our vineyard manager Lance replanted a block of Cabernet Sauvignon he trained it so that in a few years it could be machine harvested. The results, two years ago, were positive all the way around from the standpoint that it picked the block in half the time and winemaker Montse was happy with the quality of the fruit that came in from the night harvest. Along with the Cabernet block we are adding one section of our Sauvignon Blanc vineyard to be harvested by machine this vintage. Our Merlot will soon be picked this way as well because the vineyard crew has begun cane pruning the blocks in preparation for a machine to roll through in the coming harvests.
Machines, however, only do well on flat pieces of land. Our hillside Mother Clone Zinfandel will always need to be hand-picked hence much of the Home Ranch (about 90%) will need a labor force to help pick. We have a strong sense of tradition. Knowing that we'll be hand-harvesting the home ranch into the foreseeable future is okay with us. There is something wonderful about handling each bunch, even if it is a nod to the traditions of the past.
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.
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 27, 2018 16:38
Family businesses are different than others because most of our co-workers are spouses, siblings or cousins. You know, when we were growing up here at the winery, women outnumbered my Dad 5 to 1. With four daughters and my Mom he survived but as my sister Lisa put it “his lifetime achievement award was well deserved-he survived four teenage girls”. He was raised in part by his sisters Margaret and Marianne who were 10 and 9 years older than he was so he had a good start in the girl department.
Women over the years have played an important part in this family business of ours. My grandmother Julia helped everywhere from the vineyard to administration to maintaining the family home and the countless dinners they hosted. Don’t forget my aunts who not only took care of my dad but they also worked with their parents to run the vineyard and farm. Later on Margaret and my uncle Al grew Zinfandel and Petite Sirah for the winery. My mother Phyllis and aunt Christine, from the second generation, also had roles in the running of the business from market visits to weighing in grape trucks, bookkeeping to hospitality.
Because of the hard work and dedication of the first two generations the third and fourth generation became owners. Those generations are predominately women (see note above about me and my three sisters and includes cousins too).
I was asked a great question at the #winestudio discussion earlier this month when the tweet up was the subject of women owned wineries. How did I find my voice and my calling amidst a family business? When I was attending college my parents encouraged me to do what I wanted to do-to pursue my dream. I majored in English with a Writing Emphasis and thought I’d go into the publishing world. A weekend side job of helping my sister in the tasting room had me commuting between El Cerrito in the East Bay to Geyserville-where I realized how much I missed Sonoma County. A few months later my dad and I had a chat in the case goods warehouse and he asked me if I’d be interested in working for the winery. I had had enough of the city life (cue Green Acres music) and came back home armed only with an English degree and willingness to learn.
Part of the blessing of a family business is when we are hired we are encouraged to take a part of the business that speaks to us-sisters Cathy and Lisa work with administration-they are numbers ladies. I found my voice by writing for the winery-newsletters, background stories, fact sheets, press kits and a blog. Good thing I majored in English w/writing emphasis. I was also afforded the freedom to find my passion about wine not only by writing about it but also traveling around the U.S. markets. When I was growing up in the heart of the winery operations I took for granted what takes place in the vineyard and the cellar. I don’t anymore—I have learned much about the process and if it is possible I have become even more of a wine fan than ever before because there is a world of wines to discover.
Amy Bess Cook has started a WoW: Women Owned Wineries website highlighting Sonoma County WoW. Check it out here.
A toast with a splash of Zinfandel in my Dino-the first wine I ever tried.
September 28, 2017 07:16
The theme of harvest this month includes the end of harvesting grapes but the cellar crew doesn’t consider harvest over until the last tank of wine has been fermented and pressed and sent to rest and await barreling in the winter. The process of fermentation, which transforms the sugar in the grapes to alcohol through a little chemical magic utilizing yeast, is the beginning of wine. The vineyards have done their work growing the grapes but once they are in the tank it is the winemaking crew that begins the transformation from a sticky mass of juice and berries to new wine.
We use temperature controlled stainless steel tanks to hold the must-which is a combination of the juice, skins and seeds transferred from the crush pad. If the grape is a white varietal like Sauvignon Blanc the must goes directly to press where the skins and seeds aren’t needed and then is transferred to tank for fermentation. Red wine grapes like Zinfandel go directly past the press and into the tanks. In the case of both white and red grapes the must rests for 24-48 hours to chill before yeast is introduced to begin the fermentation. This gives it time to cool down and the importance of this is to slow the process down to give time to the actual fermentation. Akin to a race horse, the juice is raring to get out of the gate and finish-which doesn’t allow for development of flavors. The winemaking team chooses the right yeast for the right grape in order to get the best out of the grape.
Another way to get the flavor developed is to pump over the cap. The skins and seeds naturally rise to the top of the tank so the juice is pumped up and over the cap-kind of like the immersion of a tea bag where you get more color and flavor when immersed. This occurs every day until fermented dry-every last ounce of sugar is converted to alcohol.
Some wines go through the secondary fermentation called malo-lactic fermentation. Quick definition: malic acid is similar to tart green apple, lactic acid is similar to butter. Sauvignon Blanc and our Rose do not go through this process but part of our barrel fermented Chardonnay does and all red wines do. The reason? This secondary process softens the wine and instead of rustic rough edges you'll have one with smoother mouthfeel (or palate appeal).
Now that we are finished with the fermentation the next stop is the press (for red wines) to remove the skins and seeds. The resulting mass is called pomace. It is taken up to the vineyard to 'season' for a year and then we add it back to the soil. Now we're done with harvest-in real time it will be mid-October before the final pressing. Until then I'll toast this harvest with a splash of Sauvignon Blanc!
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 22, 2017 10:28
Here in wine country if you aren’t careful you can get what we call a ‘house palate’ where the only wine you try is from one winery-usually the wines you represent. It is akin to staying with one food for the rest of your life like chicken or bread-a pretty boring existence.
In the last seven days my palate was challenged a few of times. I was fortunate enough to taste through 27 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandels at the Zinfandel Throwdown held at Dry Creek Vineyard. I was a judge at the International Women’s Wine Competition where I tasted through 113 wines on Tuesday for several panels of wine ranging from Flavored Sparkling Wines to Malbec, as well as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and 30 Cabernet Sauvignons under $20. On Wednesday the Sweepstakes round included 35 wines for consideration of the top prize.
My palate was challenged several times throughout the process. At the Zin, tasting which was done blind (meaning the bottles were covered by black bags), I found out later that I had picked our Bushnell Vineyard Zin out of 27 other choices. I preferred our house style to all the others! At the wine competition I conferred with the other two judges on my panel who were winemakers and much more experienced with different wine styles and flaws. I did identify two corked wines over the course of the day and asked for re-pours. My nose is very sensitive to corked wines while other flaws weren’t quite so apparent hence the discussion with the other two judges. While I didn't have to like them there were many wines I would never have tried if they had been revealed to me ahead of time including a blue sparkling wine which was completely dry. I liked it and appreciated the many other styles of wine represented in the 148 glasses I sniffed and sipped.
While you have been tasting wine your own 'house palate' developed and you have discovered wines you love or dislike. In large part the education comes from the practice of tasting, kind of like Olympic trials but more fun. There is a world of flavors and choices of styles whether you are new to wine in recent years or have ‘done this’ since you, ahem, turned legal age. I often advocate for trying anything put in front of you-even if you haven’t heard of the varietal before. The good thing is you can always dump it out. Wine tastings, tasting rooms, wine bars, in-store tastings are a few of the ways you can go about your wine education. Ask questions, be curious, seek out the unknown-it may become your favorite grape and turn your palate from one note to a symphony of choices! A toast from my Dino to your glass with a splash of Sauvignon Blanc, my favorite summer grape.
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