Vino In My Dino
October 24, 2020 08:44
This series began when I wanted to share what is going on each month at the winery or in the vineyard during the pandemic. I call them postcards or snapshots of life in and around our little corner of Dry Creek Valley. I have mentioned before that I send my grandsons postcards from the road—wherever I may be I am on the lookout for a postcard that captures the place I have traveled to so I can share the experience with them. These do the same thing—bringing a bit of Pedroncelli to you!
These ‘postcards’, 36 years old, come from longtime friends and former wine retailers Bob & Carol Luskin. They have been visiting wine country for many years-earlier to taste and seek wines out for their shop and later to revisit and enjoy some of their favorite places. Earlier this year, pre-COVID, we got together for dinner at Catellis and had a great time talking about their vintage stories! Recently Carol sent me photos from one of their fall trips and it happened to be in the Fall of 1984—how fitting for this post! Ready for some ‘vintage’ photos? You'll note some photos mirror what we see today. Some things remain the same-pandemic or not.
Showing the mature colors of fall, after the harvest is over, gives wine country its own fall color magic. Much like the vineyards this month there are colors of deep red, yellow, orange and browns tinging the leaves all over the estate blocks. This leaf, glowing red in the fall sunshine, actually is showing signs of a virus which appears once the vines are well on their way to harvest. Without the virus the vineyards would be a bit drab don't you think?
Second Crop Zinfandel
Zinfandel pushes what we call a ‘second crop’. It sets the main bunches of fruit on the inside of the head pruned vine and then pushes out another set of fruit later—which in turn ripens at a later time as well. These little bunches of fall goodness are highly prized in certain years when the production is low in the Zin vineyards. We have picked it when needed or home winemakers also make good use of the extra crop. Either way it’s good not to waste the fruit—what would my grandfather and uncle say!
Framed by Canes: Western Dry Creek Valley
Vine with a view. This was taken on our East Side Vineyards, a mile west of the winery, and is looking toward the western hills of Dry Creek Valley. Just starting to go into fall with big fluffy clouds over the valley—I can almost feel the cant of the sun, as it gets farther away and moves to winter—the warmth slowly leaving and giving way to the next season.
Bonded Winery 113
The façade of the oldest part of the winery as seen in 1984. The original building was established in the early 1900s and then added on over the years as our family expanded the production of wine. It has changed ‘looks’ over the years. In the 1970s and 1980s it was this striking red-stained siding. The hillside behind the cellar would soon be the home to our newest and last building. We started construction on our Barrel Room and Tasting Room in 1986. The 'new' building is now 33 years old!
Vintage Footnote from Bruce Cass' Wine Lab: 1984
In case you want an overview of what the vintage was like here are the notes from Bruce Cass, wine educator: “Coming from a hot growing season with an early vintage and little or no rain during harvest. '84 was warm throughout, a normal sized crop, and no rain until late October. The vintage produced fleshy, fragrant wines which dazzled consumers and show judges with their opulence and maturity when first released. After five years they began to show the diminishing effects of such an ebullient youth. Cabernets from these years make a fascinating study. Those from Napa Valley are starting to tire. Those from cooler areas like the Santa Rosa plain in Sonoma County and the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County are among the best vintages those locations have produced.”
September 29, 2020 11:36
Our grape harvest is over and many gardens around the nation are finishing up their summer crops. This time of year I am reminded of the many summers spent during my childhood while growing up in the middle of the winery, vineyards and enjoying the abundance from a large garden.
When my grandparents purchased the property in 1927 it came with space to farm-and it is what sustained the young and growing family for many years. When I was growing the garden area was surrounded by buildings and eventually became the place where our bottling warehouse is today. In it’s heyday it featured several fruit trees, including citrus, pear, apple, peach, prune, apricot, cherry, olive along with hazelnut and walnut trees. When we moved there my parents kept up the garden which, in the summertime, was planted to many annuals with beans, zucchini, tomatoes and more. Preserving these fruits and vegetables was a focus in our family and every year we helped process the produce into jams, quarts of pears and peaches, applesauce, pints of zucchini pickles and more. We had a basement with many shelves lined with enough home canned treats to last to the next summer. I remember as well the privilege of going down to the dark basement and picking out a jar of applesauce or apricot jam!
Having a garden in those years was important. It engaged you with the earth. It fed your family. It was sustainable. Another way of using all the abundance from this garden was to have alfresco gatherings that my grandparents hosted over their early years-up until the 1960s when they retired. Of course vino was always part of the experience and these meals wouldn’t be the same without Giovanni’s favorite bottle of red wine in the mix. Wine was a natural part of dinnertime at my childhood home and continues today to be part of our meals today. I have been regaled with many stories of those lunches and dinners-people came from all over the Bay Area-friends or family-to join in this wonderful Sunday ritual and the food prepared by my grandmother made it all the more delicious.
I do have a COVID confession: I didn’t get the garden bug. We grow a few herbs at home (just started this during the pandemic) and when we are finished with the house project in a year or two we have a dream of putting in a nice garden-Ed also grew up with a similar experience in his family. In the meantime, we’ll depend on the farmer’s market and friends dropping off their garden extras! Here are some great recipes with the idea of using up the last of the season’s produce!
Creamy Corn Soup with Red Pepper Sauce
Mathilde’s Tomato Tart
Zucchini Pickles (Bread & Butter style)
September 28, 2020 16:17
Fall is my favorite time of year and the Mother Clone Zin vines are done with harvest and beginning to show their fall colors of red, yellow and orange. Six months into the pandemic and I thought I’d include an update on what we have been doing during COVID operations around the winery and vineyards. The seemingly mission impossible became possible because we found ways of running the family business in these times.
Harvest Ops: We are wrapping up Vintage 2020 as you read this note, the grapes are in and the fermentations will take a week or so to finish. The county and state guidelines slowed the vineyard crew down mostly at the beginning of the day-everything needed to be in order to keep everyone safe. The whole process took more time but the grapes were picked and the season came to an end on September 24 with the harvesting of our Cabernet Sauvignon. Everyone is clamoring to get answers about smoke damage. The truth is we have to wait for results from the very-overwhelmed labs. You can rest assured that we are doing everything we can to bring you the great wines you've come to expect from us.
Tasting Room Ops: Pandemic guidelines mean reservations for wine tasting are in order to keep our guests and staff safe. We reimagined how you would experience tasting in this new environment so we developed tasting flights and reserved seating along with a nominal tasting fee. Each flight captures a portion of our story and you have many to choose from including ‘choose your own’ flight. Plan ahead and let us know you are coming by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. One of our friendly associates will get back to you with the details. Take a look and plan your next trip-we’ll reserve your spot and share our wines and stories.
Club Ops & Curbside Pick-up: Colin and crew kept up to date with you and shipped out our wines to all corners of the U.S. by offering themed specials of our favorites. We packed the wine club shipment in house again and in order to use less paper we included the vignettes and the recipes in the links below. Are you a will-call kind of club member? We have your September selection ready for pick up anytime during tasting room hours (10am to 4:30pm). We have continued with curb side-pick up throughout the pandemic and many people found pre-ordering wine for a touchless experience was very convenient—drive up, pick up and drive away. All you have to do is call the tasting room 707-857-3531 ext 1 or go online and place your order.
Virtually Yours: We Zoomed, we’ve FB’d, IG’d and IG’d Live all as a way of keeping in touch with you! I just appeared on a global Zoom with our retail partner in the UK—along with winery owners in Italy and South Africa. We talked and shared what is going on in our part of the globe and it was enlightening as we all share the same pandemic experience. We love to have conversations with our friends (that’s you Jack & Jo, Denny & Patsy, Becky & Cal among others) and we’d love to ‘see’ you. Connect with us at email@example.com and let us know a good time to meet.
September 28, 2020 16:14
Christine Elizabeth Pedroncelli March 7, 1928 to September 15, 2020
My Aunt Christine passed away earlier this month from age related causes. Christine became a part of our family’s story when she married John Pedroncelli in 1966. She was predeceased by John and left behind children Connie, Richard and Maureen along with seven grandchildren. She was a gracious woman who loved to learn, to ask questions and find answers.
Notes, in her own words, from a page she gave me for just this time included: Bachelor of Arts from UC Berkeley, a taxpayer in Sonoma County since 1963, active parenting for 28 years (which included volunteering many hours from elementary through high school), her community and civic activities spanned service on the Sonoma County Grand Jury, participating in the committee to build Geyserville Educational Park, Chairman of the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees, Member and past president (and the first woman president) on the Santa Rosa Junior College Board of Trustees. If you drive by the SRJC campus you’ll see the Pedroncelli Center which is a sign of her graciousness and interest in the betterment of all people-education was very important to her and she gave many hours of her time making sure the opportunities were there.
During this pandemic I find hope in the ways Christine approached life. We need more graciousness in our lives now. Seeing a clip of Justice Ginsburg telling of her mother’s encouragement to "be a lady-polite and independent" reminded me of my Aunt Christine. She was so gracious, but a very powerful force for good in Sonoma County. Christine’s legacy, one that will be remembered by family and friends, is framed by that gracious manner in all things.
Conversations with Christine took on a wide range of subjects because she was an avid reader and inquisitive. When you talked to Christine you HAD a conversation-no frivolous ‘hi how are you’ and moving on. Curiosity-always learning, asking questions, seeking answers and advocating. Eager to learn, she asked after family, kids, grandchildren (whom she called ‘the youngsters’) and usually continued a conversation begun months ago or just last week.
The phrase ‘the world was her oyster’ must have been coined for Christine. As world travelers she and John visited far flung places like China, Argentina and Italy (of course) and they met many people throughout their travels. In fact not too long ago I sat at a table with the Stambaughs at our Sip & Savor dinner and they shared how they had met Christine & John and, in due time, became fans of the winery and wines. She was an enthusiastic advocate for the winery-she partnered with John over the years and was always an asset when she attended an event or poured wine for a guest. And she was always on the lookout for Pedroncelli wines wherever their travels took them and she sent me notes about where they found them.
She had a very keen eye for detail. One day, after some spring cleaning at Christine’s house, a file showed up at my office along with some articles and other archival items. It included extensive notes she took while planning the winery’s 60th Anniversary in 1987. All the logistics and choices laid out in an orderly fashion, detailed from the flowers to the food. I remember the event going very smoothly and now realize it was in part because of her knack for planning and hospitality. She and John would host a pre-harvest party for family and staff celebrating the harvest to come. It brought everyone together as we all looked forward to what the new vintage would bring.
My heart goes out to her children and grandchildren. We are living in a time when so many don’t get to gather to say goodbye to someone we love but I’m thankful she was surrounded by her family at Ridge Ranch. As we move along in 2020 let us be reminded of the good things in life-to be gracious in all you do, with all you meet, wherever life takes you. Thank you Christine.
September 28, 2020 16:06
Vintage 2020 was one of the fastest harvests in our 93 years at Pedroncelli. It began on August 24 with Sauvignon Blanc and ended with our Cabernet Sauvignon on September 23. And this vintage year began with the pandemic and ended amidst it with all the accompanying safety guidelines in placed. A fire to the west of us complicated things with a brief evacuation followed by smoke high above the valley from the large Walbridge fire. Add a couple of high heat weeks and the grapes ripened along quickly. Reminiscent of the 2017 vintage which was equally as fast.
We follow the vineyard with Mitch Blakeley, fourth generation family member, who works with his dad Lance and is our Vineyard Manager and a key part of the winemaking team which also included Montse Reece and Polo Cano. He gave me an update on the grapes, the vineyards and the vintage:
"Just as we are picking the last load of Cabernet Sauvignon we are also back out in the vineyard preparing for winter by planting cover crop and fertilizing the vines. We are heading into a heat wave next week and we are buttoning things up so the vines can get some much needed rest.
The harvest overall was very quick and busy in that we picked every day between August 24 and September 23 except for two of the days. We don’t pick on Sundays as well and this gives everyone a break to get ready for another busy week-rest, make plans, gear up.
I find this year similar to 2017 in that we had high heat over Labor Day weekend then and this year as well. The crop is also lighter and similar to three years ago. I learned more this year than I knew when I worked the 2017 harvest, that’s for sure. To give an example at how quickly the fruit ripened I’ll use our Zinfandel as an example. At the beginning of Labor Day weekend the fruit samples came back at 24 brix-we watched the brix (sugar) rise a degree per day and by Monday we had 27 degrees Brix-and we picked it as fast as we could to preserve the style we like in our Zins.
Aside from all the challenges we were on par for a great vintage. We’ll now play the patience game and wait for the overworked labs to get us results to see if there is any smoke damage in the new wines.
A couple of other notes; we machine harvest about 15% of our vineyard: Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon blocks that are cane pruned and able to withstand the machine taking fruit off. You need to have some age on the wood so it doesn’t break off and damage the vine. Another anomaly this year was the amount of labor we had-his dad Lance noted it was like 30 years ago when labor was plentiful. The reason this year is because other wineries delayed picking or cancelled picking of vineyards and we had people eager to work."
Thanks Mitch for the update as we follow the vineyard through 2020.
September 15, 2020 10:59
As the saying goes-when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Years from now we’ll be telling our grandchildren or our friends at the old timers’ home about the wild times we lived through during the pandemic. It isn’t over yet, but it seems I’ve lived a lifetime in just 6 months. And how will vintage 2020 be remembered?
When the Shelter in Place orders were set in mid-March I was under the impression that these guidelines for COVID19 would end in a couple of months. Ha. 6 months later and we are still wearing our masks and waiting. Then came the heat wave followed by a fire, a brief evacuation at the winery and things became even more challenging.
As you know, nature and the vineyards don’t wait for something like a worldwide virus. The road toward harvest, having begun in March along with the pandemic, ends here-the final moment of glory for a vine. The fruit is ready and the grape-filled gondolas are delivered to the crushpad to finish the journey. We have had a few wrinkles along the way what with the heat over Labor Day weekend which echoed the vintages in 2017 and 2010. Just a year ago we were picking the first fruit off our Sauvignon Blanc vineyard following a cooler growing season. Shortly before the first grapes were picked a fire broke out a few miles west of us causing a brief evacuation and the ensuing smoke (which remained high over the valley). The proof of vintage 2020 will come when we finish fermentations and check our wines for any trace of a problem. It is a wait and see kind of year.
Each of these, even as a single event, would be noteworthy. How do I make lemonade out of this? Preferentially I’d make limoncello, but I’ll stick with the former for now. We continue to live our lives all the while trying to make sure our children are educated, we carry on with work either on the job as essential or remotely, making the best of the circumstances.
Some parts of our Tasting Room are on hold and we wait for new guidelines allowing indoor winetasting as summer turns to fall along with cooler weather. Meanwhile, we are looking at ways of bringing the tasting room to you. And while we are unable to sell wine to most restaurants there have been inroads made selling wine online. Duly noted: Those of us who work from home apparently like to order wine more frequently than ever before (see Wark's Fermentation column: COVID-Driven Online Wine Sales).
Change has been the common denominator of 2020. Flexibility, looking forward, patience. These are the positive things we can hold onto. Wear the mask and smile with your eyes. Keep your distance but keep your humanity. Adapt and create something new. Amid all the emails about the fire, the virus and county updates come your messages checking in, updating me, sharing your story or sending notes about an older vintage you tried and just had to share because it was so good. All proving we are in this together.
When we tell our vintage story of 2020, and how we made lemonade out of the lemons we were handed, I believe we will see how resilient we are and were. The stories will be both tart and sweet and, just like lemonade, will blend the two. As to the question of how the vintage will be remembered: for the challenges met and answered.
September 2, 2020 16:18
Our Sauvignon Blanc harvest kicked things off for us on August 24-seen above are the grapes as they arrived at the crushpad. Vintage 2020 begins!
This post is a bit of a mix between talking to Mitch about following the vineyards on their road to harvest along with an update on our first week of harvest all the while with the Walbridge fire as background. The vineyards are ripe and ready to pick, the harvest waits for no one.
August brought some challenges for sure. The dog days of summer heat ripened vineyards a bit faster than previously estimated. The early varieties like our Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley were ready to pick, moved along after a relatively cool and uneventful July. The first day of harvest brought fruit in on time for a normal beginning of the vintage. To give you a reference point, the average first day of harvest over the last 10 years fell between the third and fourth week of August. I managed to catch up with Mitch, as I mentioned, to check in on August 21st, right before the big day. He was taking bunch samples of the Bushnell Vineyard Zinfandel for our Rosé. It was a beautiful warm day in Dry Creek Valley while I talked to Mitch, he in the vineyard and me from a smokey parking lot in Soledad California-where I stopped to take notes along my way home from taking care of my grandson Galen.
Mitch shared the following: "The vineyards are holding up just fine through the heat. The vines didn't shut down because the vineyard crew made sure the vineyards were given a drink of water now and then through controlled drip irrigation. There was some evidence of shriveling in the Zinfandel bunches but overall not too much was lost. We'll move from picking Sauvignon Blanc early in the week to the Rosé and Pinot Noir. We'll finish the week by beginning to pick our Zinfandel and Merlot blocks. All the work we have been doing through the summer like dropping fruit where needed, getting water to where it was needed, readying equipment and doing the final bottling in order to make room in the cellar for the new vintage all came together right on time."
He continued, addressing the smoke from the Walbridge fire. Editor's note: This fire began on August 17 due west of the winery and vineyards by several miles. As of September 1st it was under 74% containment and no longer was a threat to Dry Creek Valley. Mitch talked about the change in the weather with the arrival of the cooling marine layer which helped the fire fighters to contain the fire as well as bringing development to the grapes-acids and sugars balance out much better with warm days and cool nights. The smoke itself was to the west actually blowing south into the Bay Area and remained west and high above the valley floor. We'll see how things go as the vineyards are tested and we take things on a case by case basis. One other challenge to this year's harvest is COVID-and we have instituted and followed the guidelines set forth by the state and county when it comes to the safety of our vineyard crew. While it will slow things down we'll still get the grapes to the crushpad."
There you have it, Vintage 2020 has begun. The excitement of our 93rd vintage has been tempered somewhat but we are hopeful as we look forward to the last load of grapes to come in and call it a year-what a year it has been.
August 31, 2020 16:19
The recipe for the Moroccan Chicken with Roasted Lemons and Green Olives seen above was another effort to flavor up the bird.
In the early years of our marriage, which came with a ready made family including two step-children, I became the cook. Ed and I worked full time and I needed to come up with recipes that were quick and on the table early enough to get everyone fed and into bed so they were ready for school the next day. Chicken typically played top billing in the weekly menus.
First let me back up for a moment. These #pairitwithped posts are written with my son Joe in mind. He came up with the title that I now use each month when I share stories about food, wine and experiences. He is also the one who came up with "Chicken...again?" when he was a boy about his sons' age. While it was a joke in our house in those early days that we indeed ate too much chicken-boneless skinless chicken breasts to be exact, the refrain became common. I bought them by the score at Costco and, while we didn’t exactly have it EVERY night for dinner it was on the table frequently. And Joe would ask “Chicken….again?”
In those early days I learned the finer points of flavoring up this bland protein mostly with garlic and onion. Chicken itself is a great vehicle for many different types of flavors from Chile Lime to Garam Masala to Five Spice. Marinating in white wine, garlic and rosemary is still Ed’s favorite way to fix it these days as well as his more recent Chile Lime concoction. I’ll have to admit we buy whole chickens or chicken thighs these days-our tastes have changed. Could it really have been too many boneless skinless chicken breasts? We prefer the flavor of the whole bird, skin and bones add flavor and keeps the chicken moist. On hectic evenings or boat nights I am known to pick up an already roasted chicken at the store-time saving and so convenient! But there is nothing like time on our hands these days during the pandemic to sharpen our culinary skills. Spatchcock anyone? Here are some of my favorite dishes including my notes on each recipe.
Fast food--at home? Sure you can do it—I love to find recipes that don’t take forever to fix—a meal in 30 minutes is my favorite type during the week. And a glass of wine is the perfect match. Here is one of my mom’s recipes—delicious with our Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.
Growing up "Dry Creek" means we knew what it was to be the "Buckle on the Prune Belt". Prunes were the major part of ag in Sonoma County, and none more than here in Dry Creek Valley. Yes, that wonderful, rich sweet flavor of a dried plum with chiles and chicken-you'll be so happy you made this and paired it with our Zinfandel or Merlot.
30 years ago the organization known as ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) was born because California's grape was unique and unknown to many outside of the state. Margaret Smith was the first executive director and she collaborated with Jan Nix to publish one of my favorite recipe collections: Zinfandel Cookbook: Food to go with California’s Heritage Wine. This recipe is a take on Coq au Vin-get it? Easy to fix, flavorful and a wine friendly combination. Pair it with any of our Zinfandels of course!
Featuring those boneless skinless beauties this is a marinade packed with flavor in seven ingredients. Over the years we have developed many marinades yet they remain in our heads rather than on paper. This one is typical by using a combination of herbs and spices to flavor up the chicken. The fun of finding the right combination has tripled during COVID-cooking at home definitely challenges us to go beyond the usual suspects. Pair with our Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.
There is a moral to the story or perhaps I'd call it karma. Joe mostly cooks chicken these days and his son Jordan ONLY eats chicken… And for more ideas on what to do with chicken visit my Recipe site here.
August 31, 2020 16:14
Roseanne Roseannadanna was one of my favorite Gilda Radner characters from Saturday Night Live. I thought this quote fits these times. Wearing masks and keeping 6 feet apart while picking grapes during the threat of evacuation-'it’s always something'.
The good news is our first week is complete, the 93rd vintage for us. The evacuation orders were lifted and our hardworking crew was able to bring in our Sauvignon Blanc fruit and start Vintage 2020. The weather cooperated by bringing cooling fog and relief to our little corner of the world-helping everyone from the vineyard crew picking grapes to the first responders working to contain the Walbridge Fire that is several miles to the west.
Thank you to everyone who reached out to us knowing the fire was nearby. Your notes and phone calls mean so much. While it is west of us the authorities were cautious in calling for an evacuation which was then downgraded to a warning and lifted on Tuesday when the weather cooled down. Because of the break in the heat the dedicated first responders were able to begin containment. It is times like these that I am thankful for all the information received from our neighbors, from Supervisor James Gore (who is our man on the ground every time we have an emergency) as well as our community at large in northern Sonoma County.
The word of the day is perspective. Seeing things through the last few decades brings things into focus. I thought I would put together some notes and comments about past vintages with the memorable, the nail-biters and the calm, cool and collected harvest years.
Pick dates: The earliest we ever picked grapes was in 2014 on August 12 following a drought year as well as a warm growing season-we finished the earliest ever that year as well and were done by the third week of September. Early harvests were also experienced in 1981,1988, and 1996. Latest pick dates are part of the history as well with 1999 and 1975 standing out among them because of the cool harvest weather.
Speaking of rain: Precipitation came into the picture in 1989-while this wasn’t the first time during harvest it was memorable because of the hype around it-there were less wineries and wine press in the 1960s and 1970s and rain almost always made an appearance before the last grapes were in to the crushpad. This vintage it came during mid-September and we were experiencing one of the larger crops growers had seen lately. Many believed it ruined the vintage. We made our first and only late harvest Johannisberg Riesling from our estate vineyard-making lemonade from lemons! Another memorable year was 2010 which had early October rain that halted harvest until the vineyard dried out-with Cabernet Sauvignon still waiting to be harvested. It was called ‘a European’ vintage because it gave red wines cool climate characteristics.
Heat: 2010 had the honor of being a double whammy vintage. A heat spike at the end of August caught us unaware and we lost 40% of our Zinfandel. The year had already been a cool and slow growing season and we, like many of the other growers in the valley, had pulled leaves in order to help ripen the grapes as much as possible. I remember this was also the first time we paid the vineyard crew by the hour rather than by the bucket-they had to pick around the bunches that had turned to raisins. Heat spikes in 2017 came along and moved things at a rapid pace as well as 2004 as mentioned above.
It is the vintages without any problems that almost go unnoticed. These are the textbook perfect growing seasons followed by a harvest with no rain, heat spikes or other challenges like drought. Nothing to write about, kind of boring. 2018 & 2019 are among those going down as the easiest of vintages. Both years developed nicely and words like ‘even handed’ ‘steady’ and ‘uneventful’ were bandied about. Montse declared 2018 her favorite of the 11 vintages she had seen at the winery. 1978, 1985, 2007 all created great wines without many challenges.
We are farmers after all, as I mentioned in a prior post, and harvest tells the tale of the season. Our wines tell the story of the vintage-some are eloquent, some are quiet, some are brassy, and some are just right.
Credit where credit is due:
The vintage information is all with help from man named Bruce Cass, who passed away in 2016 but ran the Wine Lab and taught wine classes at Stanford among other roles. The information I collected in 2012 from his now defunct website with information on California vintages from 1970 to 2011 is a treasure trove of facts and great opinions on the vintages from a man who shared his vast knowledge.
August 31, 2020 16:08
This is our 93rd harvest at Pedroncelli Winery. The last five months are marked with head-shaking challenges including COVID, sheltering in place, and now fires. We have seen a lot in these last nine decades. No one, including my 88-year-old father Jim, has seen anything like this. The kicker? The vines are doing their thing just like any other vintage and surviving the slings and arrows of Mother Nature. We are farmers after all, and harvest isn’t going to wait.
The vineyards marched toward the day of harvest from the very start of this pandemic. Some of those slings and arrows in the past included rain or heat, too much fruit ready to be picked and not enough space, an early harvest or one that seemed to stretch on forever. We came out of July ready to harvest after Labor Day weekend-marking this as a cooler growing season. The change came when the weather warmed up and sped ripening. Regarding vineyards and warm weather, I learned some great information from our vineyard manager Lance Blakeley a couple of years ago. “Vines are like people” he said, “and they actually shield the fruit by slightly moving the leaves into a protective position, providing much needed shade from the sweltering heat.” Kind of like using an umbrella to shade us on the beach-we’ll survive with some shade and relief from the sun.
So the results are in--we are picking on Monday August 24! Things are moving ahead quickly as the development in the vineyard leaves no doubt the grapes are ready to pick. Samples have been taken, analysis performed and the first grapes to pick are, drumroll please, our Sauvignon Blanc. Looking at past harvest dates this is right on par with the two previous years, not too early and not too late. We had large production in the 2018/2019 vintages, so this year is looking a little lighter in comparison but overall, about average. Of course, there are other extenuating circumstances: the virus, labor shortage, the COVID rules of keeping everyone safe and healthy which will also take away some of the time spent picking grapes so progress will be a bit slower. Harvest will go on however even under these adjustments.
Then there are the fires. Thunder and lightning came to our area (which reminded people of the weather you usually see in other parts of the U.S). Started by lightning strikes earlier this week the fires are active all over northern California as far south as Monterey County to northern Sonoma County. The Wallbridge/Skaggs Fire is about 4 miles away from the winery behind the ridge line above the valley floor. Dry Creek Valley covers a huge area with just a part of it planted to 9000 acres of vineyards. The bulk of the land to the west is forested and largely uninhabited. Through the powerful images seen on television, in newspapers and social media many of you have seen the results of the fires here in the state and valley. Like the other fire years of 2017 and 2019 we are not in the midst of them but are associated with them and so far are safe. We are keeping all of our neighbors, friends, family and staff in mind hoping all remain out of harm's way as well.
We are farmers and join the legions of other farmers across this land as we watch and wait for the weather, the challenges, the preparation and finally the harvest. Like the generations before, we must have patience, fortitude and hope. I have no doubt whatsoever that the harvest of 2020 will go down in history as one of the most challenging and exceptional vintage stories ever.
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