Vino In My Dino
January 22, 2021 14:32
"Are those vines dead?" This question came up while I was pouring our Zinfandel at a wintertime Wine Road event (remember those pre-pandemic gatherings?). The backdrop was our Home Ranch and the Mother Clone vines rolled up the hillside behind me. I love these kinds of questions and answered with, “Yes they do look dead and you can’t see it but there is life inside. The vines are resting and preparing for the next harvest.” We went on to talk about pruning, the seasons of growth in the future and of course the wine in the glass, the delicious end product of farming grapes.
Some of those vines have seen it all—there are three generations of Zinfandel on the Home Ranch-the oldest which are 100+ years old, the second generation is reaching 40 years old and the upstart is just about 6 years old. Vines are pretty amazing when you think about it-and outside of diseases can live for a very long time. They have been through several droughts and overly abundant years. And yet they continue to grow and produce fruit and become gnarled and weathered in the process. So what you see on the outside may look ‘dead’ but over the lifetime of a vine there have been so many vintages telling the story of this place.
Regeneration is a good word for 2021. As I sit here the vaccine is being distributed throughout the nation (my mom and dad have their appointment!) albeit slowly and as the year turns we’ll see a whole new world in front of us, one that will be filled with family visits, travel, hugs, and more. As I have written before we have seen many turns of the year here in Dry Creek Valley (our 94th !). It is good to look forward because we all have been through so much.
We are farmers as I have said many times before. We watch the weather, replant, rejuvenate the soil and prepare for the growing season, all with the eye toward another year of grapes (or wheat, or corn, or any other crop for all the other farmers out there). We’ll continue tending the vineyards and making wine as long as we can and sharing the fruits of our labor with you. Regeneration is in our genes and in the soil itself. Vines are a wonderful metaphor for this.
Or consider a winter garden. It looks dead too but just below the surface there is life waiting for the turn of the sun and the growing season to begin again. I wrote this poem earlier this week. We were driving home from a walk around a regional park last Sunday and the title came to me as the late afternoon sun shone on the garden we passed.
The Beauty of a Wintering Garden
The sinking sun set afire the last red leaves of the raspberry vines.
The faded sunflower stalks slump like weary soldiers after battle.
Detritus abounds and I fancy insects scuttling and worms tilling the soil.
The beauty of a wintering garden is in the fading, the dying, and the end of its time.
Then! I imagine the garden in summer, gloriously rich in the fruits of a hard winter.
And hope is restored.
January 22, 2021 14:21
This month is when the vineyards get their annual 'haircut'-which is a phrase I learned from Richard Thomas, the man I took viticulture classes from 35 years ago. I was learning about the grape side of the business and it was a hands-on experience. We pruned vines on the Shone Farm ranch-I am not sure the vines have recovered from my amateur pruning skills. These photos are all taken in our Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard on the Home Ranch. Please note these were taken a few years ago, pre-pandemic. It shows how pruning is done both up close and as the crew makes their way up one of the blocks. It also shows how this is a true skill, honed by many hours of vineyard work.
Up Close & Personal
As you can see the shears are cutting away the old growth but not all of it. There is enough left for two buds which will remain dormant until the spring and budbreak. These are the foundation of the next vintage’s crop. You'll also note the former pruning scars on the arm of the vine-these were made years ago and helped to form the vine itself, aiming the arms outward so that as they bear the new crop it will be in the best placement for ripening. Quite a skill to prune with the future in mind.
Side by Side
Don’t you love it when you see the before and after photos of someone’s haircut? I do-it helps to see what was done to make it so different. Here the canes have all been cut away and as mentioned before the 2 or 3 inches left contain the next year’s vintage now waiting for the start of the growing season. For now the vines are content soaking up the nutrients for the next year’s harvest.
There are 115 acres of vine to prune over four pieces of property: the Home Ranch, East Side Vineyards, Wisdom Vineyard and Bushnell Vineyard. It takes time because when it rains the crew waits until the soil is less muddy and pruning it by hand is another reason to take it vine by vine. The canes you see being pruned are left between the rows and a chopper will come along and return them to the soil.
Vines for Days
The view from above shows a large section of our Home Ranch with the Sangiovese to the west, Cabernet Sauvignon to the south and Zinfandel as far as the eye can see. Each and every vine will be pruned by the time Spring rolls around.
Just for Fun: Jasper in the Snow
I love this shot of Jasper looking out over the expanse. While it isn’t our vineyard, nor is it anywhere near Dry Creek Valley, the majesty of the pines, beauty of the snow and the peaceful time of day this was taken all come together as I look through Jasper’s hopeful eyes-maybe a squirrel, maybe a friend or maybe just a nice walk together up the hill.
January 5, 2021 09:42
Normally the first Saturday of the month is a compilation of December notes and blog posts. But these aren’t ‘normal’ times we are living in during these pandemic days. For now as the old year ended and the new one begins I am taking the time to reflect on the clean slate of 2021 and what it means to me.
When my grandparents bought this property in 1927 it was a clean slate for them-they had not made wine nor owned a vineyard before this time. I have to imagine there were challenges (the length of Prohibition for one, the Great Depression beginning two years later for another). Later, it was a new start each time they added a piece of property to expand the vineyards as the winery grew. As a new piece was added it was a time to assess and plant, to learn which variety was meant to be in each place and the beginnings of our estate vineyards were born.
Wine is the same way-each vintage is a clean slate. We begin each year with what the growing season and harvest brings to the cellar. Winemaker Montse and her team takes note on each lot and then guides the wine through the fermentations and on into the bottle or barrel as the case may be. When we pull a bottle from the cellar or from the UPS box it is a clean slate experience-opening up the wine and sniffing the first aromas coming out of the glass. The first sip, with promise of more to come, informs us of the culmination of the vintage, a picture now complete.
In the same light I see 2021 as a clean slate. Not only a chance to begin again, to shake off the experience of 2020, it is a way forward to chart new paths. Will I travel? Unlikely. While I will miss seeing people and working with them in person, I’ll find a way of touching base virtually. We will work on new ways of keeping in touch with the markets I would normally travel to so that I maintain our relationships.
There were a few clean slate moments in the Pedroncelli family and staff this year. Three marriages took place: Sarah & Juka, Mitch & Amanda and Gina & Terry! In the midst of trying times, they found a way to begin new lives together and I know they are not the only ones. The big celebrations will come later. For now, they’ll make their way into 2021 together. Best wishes to all!
Much like an artist placing the first brush of color on a canvas, or a musician beginning with the first note of a song or, like me, typing the first word on a blank page we have much to look forward to as we create our 2021 stories and experiences. Here is to a clean slate as we reach beyond the stay-at-home, masked, and sanitized version of the world we live in now. I wish you all a Happier New Year.
January 5, 2021 09:33When the Pandemic began mid-March, and the shelter in place orders were sent out to all of us, I began a weekly series of Notes from Home. Originally A Note from Home was a quarterly newsletter to our wine club members. I morphed the concept into what is now ten months of almost weekly notes. 2020 had many 'interesting' topics from COVID Operations to Shared Experiences. Coming up with something to write about was no problem.
As I began each note I used a writing trick a long-ago friend of mine shared with me. Her aunt wrote a weekly column for a local town paper and when writing a new story, she wrote ‘Dear Vivian’ at the top in order to be inspired but this line didn’t appear in print. Vivian was her much loved mother and inspiration. So I used the same format for my Notes-I think of one of you who have written back to me with your stories—Dear Phyllis (Mom), Dear John & Sheryl, Dear Jeff, Dear Kathy, Dear Rita and John, Dear Dean, Dear E, and so many more!
I think part of what gave me so much pleasure from writing these was the fact that it became an anchor for me each week. A much-needed regular part of my life and one where I could connect with you because, as I said last week, it is the shared experience which is key to our current situation.
As the new year approaches in a few short days (and happier days ahead is my new motto) it seems we all begin to make lists. Either a look back at the year “The Top 20 of 2020”or looking forward by making resolutions for 2021. I am including 10 of my favorite notes from the last 10 months as a recap of this pandemic 2020 Countdown:
March: The first and fittingly titled: How Are You Doing?
April: Learning Curves
May: COVID Operations
June: How You Doin'?
July: Celebrating Our Legacy
August: The Waiting is the Hardest Part
September: When Life Gives You Lemons
October: Resilience of a Vintage
November: Taking the Long View
December: Shared Experiences
I look forward to the time we will sit down in person, share a glass of wine and tell our stories of the pandemic and how we made our way through this challenging time.
December 24, 2020 13:01
Time for a check in and to see how you are doing as we have come along together on this pandemic journey over the last 40 weeks. How are you doing as the days get shorter and we look to the New Year to bring us all some relief? I do know many of us are facing this pandemic with weary souls. A lockdown…again? Stricter guidelines…again? Seems like we’ll be wearing our masks for an eternity.
I was talking with a friend the other day, COVID-style via Zoom. We were shooting the breeze about the changes in the holiday season this year because, you know, COVID. I realized this is a rare time for our nation, state, town and neighborhoods-we are all sharing in similar experiences during this pandemic: staying at home, gathering together less and much smaller groups, and stemming the tide of the virus by following guidelines. We make changes in how we go about our lives and this month how we celebrate the holidays. At the very least we are required to wear masks and keep our distance out in public. Many more of us stay within our bubbles, work remotely or, if you are an essential worker, strive to remain safe. When I began to think about the virus, invisible except by the numbers, it struck me that this is one of those times where we are sharing an experience. We are in the same boat, some in deeper, more challenging water than others however.
As defined by my favorite resource Google: A shared experience is exactly what it sounds like: seeing, hearing, or doing the same thing as someone else. Although it's a simple concept, shared experiences have a deep impact on human socialization because they enhance each person's individual experience. A shared experience is any experience that causes individuals to identify with each other. Examples like these: Language, Nature, Art, Holidays, Meals, Rites of Passage, Hardship, Humor, Cultural Traditions. This pandemic is an experience we all share and really are in it together. We follow the rules not only for our own protection but the care and concern of those who are in need of protection.
This image was sent to me by Colin our Wine Club Manager who has two young children at home-Milo and Lucie. Outside of my grandsons he has the cutest kids around. Sometimes he takes Milo to work with him to pack up wine and the like because he is one of our staff members working remotely and 7 year old Milo is distance learning at home. While waiting for dad to finish Milo drew this picture of our iconic sign outside of our tasting room. It is a great rendition and he has talent! (You may not know this connection but his great-grandfather Elmo Barbieri worked in our tasting room years ago.) Father and son will remember this time-a memory they wouldn’t have if Milo attended school. A silver lining memory for the future.
The silver linings aren’t always easy to see while we are in the midst of things like the holidays and this pandemic. During these times it is worth taking a step back and seeing the world through the future, to a time when we look back and realize we made a way to reach out or not be discouraged, or when we look back at this time we spent working remotely, or pulling our hair out at trying to help children distance learn this shared experience will be what we remember. A milestone, a standing stone, a marker: remember the time we…
December 1, 2020 11:23
My monthly chat with Mitch Blakeley on following the vines' progress and includes notes about the vineyard as it moves into winter dormancy and what we do in the transitional time between seasons.
Our Mother Clone vines are in their final fall color glory as I write this. In fact they are being pruned because the cold weather hit just a couple of weeks ago signaling to the vine it was time for the long winter’s nap.
There are still a few things to do in and around the vineyard as well as in the cellar. Mitch Blakeley, Vineyard Assistant, and I caught up the other day.
We had a big project along the creek, where we have the 50 acres of Bordeaux varieties planted. With some heavy rains a couple of years ago it brought down large trees and bushes which began to divert the water into the banks along the vineyard avenue causing heavy erosion. There is also an issue with debris down a little further doing the same thing with so much brush and it was changing the direction of the creek. The vineyard crew spent a good part of October and November cleaning it up, quite a large project. But it is good to have it done so the water no longer eats away at the bank.
In the vineyard we started a little earlier than we wanted to prune. What happened is the freeze came and no wind. This began the shut off in the vine signaling dormancy and the leaves and canopy were just hanging there. With the leaves blocking the end of the cane it takes longer to prune because you want to trim at the right cut-the place where the next year’s crop begins. This is where the two buds at the base of the year old cane are located. We started in the Zinfandel; by end of week they’ll be close to halfway through half of the acreage. A good start to the 100 acres that needs to be pruned. The Right Cut.
Overall the next couple of months are pretty quiet. Some of the vineyard crew works in the cellar too-special labeling projects and club shipments. Others work on equipment to get it ready for chopping-and keep other tractors etc in working condition.
In getting ready for spring we typically begin to seed a cover crop (bell beans) now but we have found foreign grasses and weeds in our vineyard and are trying to eradicate them so we will be skipping this year in order to gain some control of the weeds mixed into the cover crop. I’ll be taking a webinar on soil amendments to see if there are other ways of bringing nutrition to the vineyard and other insights to spring time applications. We are also in contact with the irrigation company to set up tools to monitor vines using moisture and these tools will help us know when best to irrigate and how much in order to made sure we aren’t over watering or over using such a precious resource.
After we talked I thought about his comment that things are pretty quiet around here. Once I wrote up the notes it sounds like there is a lot more going on than Mitch let on-but that is pretty much the way we operate around here.
December 1, 2020 11:11
Port and the holidays go hand in hand and so does winter-the cold weather just calls for a little extra something at the end of the evening. Our Four Grapes Vintage Port is a traditional style dessert wine. I'll pair up what I think are some great recipes with this dessert wine-savory or sweet you'll find something to pair up this winter.
First up some background on why we make a traditional style of Port. To be clear this isn’t a late harvest wine-it is made from four Portuguese varieties we have planted on the Home Ranch: Tinta Madeira, Tinta Cao, Souzao and Touriga Nacional. It isn’t the last fruit in during harvest, rather it is picked when ready. Once the fermenting has begun the process is stopped by adding neutral spirits (unaged Brandy) in order to have some residual sugar. Typically there is 19% alcohol and 9% residual sugar.
Why did we choose to make this wine? Our neighbors Raymond Burr and Robert Benevides were the first to plant these varieties in Dry Creek Valley. They did this for two reasons: Robert is of Portuguese heritage and Raymond wanted a wine he loved to be served to his many guests to their ranch. We made the first vintage in 1990. Coming from a half acre there was too much for their guests so we bottled it under Burr-Benevides Vineyard and it became very popular in our tasting room as guests discovered its unique qualities. Winemaker John Pedroncelli traveled to Portugal and the Douro Valley to learn more about this dessert wine and how he should go about making it here in California. The rest is history, well almost.
The vineyard first planted by Burr-Benvevides became a victim of virus and only a few years later needed to be pulled up. Our sales were doing so well John decided to make way for the four grapes to be planted on the Home Ranch. These vines are now 25 years old and well established. The combination makes a delicious fortified wine-one that ages for 3 or more years in neutral barrels which adds the necessary complexity and layers of flavor. Today there are only a handful of acres of these varieties in California but did you know American vintners have been making port-style fortified wines for almost two centuries. Prior to Prohibition, port wines accounted for about 20 percent of all domestic wine production. At the turn of the 20th century port was California’s best-selling sweet wine. In the years prior to Prohibition, California wineries made about 5 million gallons of port annually. Even during Prohibition, port accounted for about 20% of all legally produced California wine.
To experience this tasty wine I have a few recommendations. I am one of those Cheese Course enthusiasts where the cheeses complement the wine-using blue mostly but I would suggest an aged Gouda as well. A simple brownie sundae especially with a dark chocolate sauce would do nicely. Reduced and poured over vanilla ice cream is a winner too. Simply in a glass shared with friends and family is another way to end a meal and a memorable evening. And if you have the patience this wine develops well with time in the cellar.
A few highlights from the collection on our website-happy baking and cooking with this versatile wine!
My favorite 3 ingredient recipe comes from an event a Dry Creek Kitchen several years ago. I named it Portspresso as it is a 50/50 blend of both espresso and our Port with a dollop of chocolate whipped cream! Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen has carried our Four Grapes Vintage Port since the day they opened!
Ed developed this Pork Tenderloin with Port Sauce recipe many years ago and it stands the test of time.
These Mini Chocolate Cupcakes Cousin Maureen Davison made were based on a recipe I found on the internet using Cabernet-I asked her to incorporate the Port and she created these tasty little treats.
Brownies! With port-soaked dried cherries and a ganache that gilds the lily. This recipe was shared with me by Joanne Young of Robert Young Estate and she used our port in it. It has been a star dessert over the years. Port Soaked Dried Cherry Brownies with Port Chocolate Ganache
As an appetizer these French Onion Bites with Port-Onion Jam developed by Tasting Room Manager Gary will be the perfect starter (and the bonus is if there is enough leftover ‘jam’ you can use it in many ways including as its own side dish).
There are so many recipes to enjoy either with our Four Grapes Port or including it in a dish. Enjoy pairing your favorite dessert or dish and let me know your perfect Port pairing. Send me the recipe (email@example.com)there is always room for more on our page.
Our Portuguese blocks in the fall.
December 1, 2020 11:08
The other day I was helping out with the curbside pick-up of our November Wine Club Selections. Club members pulled up to the cellar door and drove away with their orders. It was one of those truly beautiful fall days here in Dry Creek Valley. Blue skies, warm sun and the autumn color in the Mother Clone vineyard just across the way made the afternoon so perfect. It made me think back to how many friends have stopped by to pick up wine over the decades from my grandfather then my father. I was struck by the thought that we all share a love of wine and, like the vines in front of me, are in turn connected to each other, even generationally.
I have written about grapevines and their physiology before. Lance, my brother-in-law and the vineyard manager, has compared vines to people when he talks about how they respond to heat-they wilt like we do, they seek to protect the crop by slightly moving to shade the fruit like an umbrella. I have heard how some vines have roots that measure 40 feet because they are looking for water to survive. They like to branch out too-sometimes almost too much as the canopy above becomes jungle-like before the vineyard crew works at managing the growth. The vines even need a drink of water after they are done with harvest. Sounds to me like there are some similarities!
Last weekend it was nice to see old friends and new. The experience reminded me of those Mother Clone vines-how their roots go deep to establish a well-connected network. That system supports and sustains the vines throughout the growing season and over the years. A natural benefit of making wine for 90 years and sharing with everyone, from neighbors to across the nation and globally, creates the bond between us and you. Our wine club is another way we stay in touch and is how we remain connected. At the tasting room there is the exchange of conversation, the fun of finding something you like, and sharing with friends and family. Once home we are connected whether by phone or through these emails or virtual events.
While the vineyards are immune to COVID they do progress through the fall and into the winter by being connected to the seasons, to the climate and the soil in which they are planted. These are vital to the life of the vineyard. Connection is what we look for as the nights get longer and winter looms. Something about the chill in the air makes us seek out those warm places-usually a pub, a restaurant or coffee house. Right now we are finding out how cozy our kitchen table, living room or dining room is as we find those places are right in our own homes.
Of course, there are many ways we can stay connected. The usual suspects include the phone calls, emails, letters, virtual visits. As the days continue to get shorter and the holidays approach we look to these relationships-those branches reaching out to connect with our past, present and future. Music, wine, politics, food, outdoor activities, quilting, play groups for kids or dogs. As long as we keep our eyes open and see those around us-distanced or not-we are rooted, like the vines, and connected.
December 1, 2020 10:58
I was talking to some folks this week about my grandparents and what they would think about the pandemic. I imagined them saying ‘we made it through some great challenges in the early days, we think you can outlast the current crisis.’ They took the long view knowing they staked everything to make the move and created a legacy.
I often wonder what went through their minds when they bought the property in 1927. First, and most importantly, it became a home to raise the family and to support them. Prohibition had already gone on for 8 years, surely it will end soon (not for another six years). The economy would hold up wouldn’t it? Nope the Great Depression began 2 years later. Many obstacles met this young family and they adapted to their conditions: expanded the farm to provide food (my grandmother made her own cheese for instance and preserved foods to get through the winter); my grandfather developed a network of buyers (head of households who could apply for a permit) for the grapes in order to keep the vineyard going, they worked as a family in the vineyard and later the cellar, and they tightened their belts to get by once the hard times hit.
Feel a little familiar? Taking the long view is something we do naturally here at Pedroncelli. Taking the long view from the beginning helped my grandparents get through the tough times including the challenges along with the ups and downs of the economy with a recession thrown into the mix every few years (there have been 12 since 1945).
And now we have a pandemic. I guess one needs to come around once a century to keep us on our toes. So how do we take the long view of something predicted to go on for another six months or so?
I read a great quote in the paper the other day, “My kind of mantra going into the holiday season is that when it comes to COVID, it’s not what you do, but how you do it,” says Iahn Gonsenhauser, an internist and the chief quality and patient safety officer at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. This is good advice for the holidays and beyond.
It’s not what you do but how you do it. Keep this in mind as the state and nation urge us to keep within our bubbles, to wear our masks, to keep our distance physically. The other side of this is finding ways to celebrate the big and small occasions, how to connect if we are far from someone we love, how to make each day count instead of counting how many days the pandemic has gone on or how long we have to go.
Living this life of wine, blessed with two generations behind me and 2 generations ahead of me, frames my outlook on life. While what my grandparents did to get through the difficult times wasn’t glamorous or fun they made it through. It is how they did it-with hope for the future and looking to better days ahead. For me those better days include family meals, going to a favorite restaurant, travel, wine club gatherings, tasting events, hugging, hanging out and seeing all of you-with a glass of wine in my hand of course!
November 26, 2020 10:16
Reflection on the year, as it winds down to less than six weeks before we celebrate a new one, seems to begin with the Thanksgiving holiday. I think we can all agree it has been an unusual year with the pandemic, the challenges met and answered in homeschooling, the workplace, the harvest and beyond.
I like the word reflection. It is a rich and deep word with 9 meanings according to Google and Merriam Webster. Reflections in a mirror show us who we are, as is. Inner reflection guides us and requires us to take time to think things through. Reflection of light, maybe through the autumn leaves or straight on sunlight, means there is a source and a receiver. Reflecting on this year has me thankful for so much.
I am thankful for our safety, both family and staff, from the virus as well as from the fires.
I am thankful for the heroic first responders including those working in the medical field, fire and police departments. All are brave and deserve our thanks for doing their utmost to protect us.
I am thankful to have welcomed a new grandson this year and to watch him grow by leaps and bounds as well as spend time with our other two virtually and in person.
I am thankful for my husband’s sense of humor because frankly I need it most of the time. Most of the time.
I am thankful for the ability to connect electronically with people I’d have missed seeing this year due to travel restrictions.
I am thankful for all of you who have responded to the many notes from home I have sent over the last few months. I am determined to see this pandemic out with a note to you each week.
How do you make giving thanks tangible or visible? How do we reflect thanks? Lizzy, from our tasting room, had a great idea for a Gratitude Vine where guests could fill out a tag and add it to the branches. We have hundreds of them over time.
Even though you can’t come and fill out your own tag here you can create your own ‘vine’ at home. Branch out and send a simple ‘thank you for being a friend’ note (both Ed and I have been the recipient of notes from our friend Barb-over the last 25 years!). Give thanks around the table or virtually. Donate your time or money and the ripple effect benefits both you and the recipient. There are so many ways to show thankfulness. The best part is it keeps on giving, uplifting others by reaching out and in turn you are uplifted too. In times like these it is thankfulness that helps us through each day.
Thank you for reading and I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.
- Follow the Vineyard
- Note from Home
- Postcards from Home
- Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon
- Mother Clone
- Holding steady
- Wine & Food
- Wine Flights
- Tasting Room
- Block 007 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Heat wave
- note from home
- Dry Creek Valley
- Four Grapes Port
- Bushnell Vineyard
- Vintage 2020
- Walbridge Fire
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Follow the Vineyard
- Sonoma County
- Crop set
- Courage Zinfandel
- Lake Sonoma
- cooking with wine
- Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon