Vino In My Dino

  • Ch Ch Ch Changes

    April 26, 2022 09:45

    Ch Ch Ch Changes

    David Bowie was one of my favorite artists back in the day and Changes was one of my favorite songs. The world has indeed changed since we mostly hibernated during the first year of the pandemic and slowly came out of our shell in the last year. Lots of changes in the world around us-and in my world we are still working out the details of those changes in our tasting room and in events we participate in for different wine trade groups. Change is always an interesting concept-some people run toward it and others run away.

    A wine friend and I were talking the other day about the changes we have seen in our beloved wine country not just during the pandemic but afterwards. Expectations, meeting guidelines or maintaining them, reservations versus walk in, group events by reservation, and the list goes on and on. There are many differences when you compare the before and after of March 2020 and I believe most people who visit wine country, especially those who had been here in the 'before time', are a bit confused since we didn't just 'go back to normal'.

    I like to think of this time as a challenge. Yes things have changed but consider this-did some things change for the better? I think it did. We added seating for the first time ever in our tasting room and this allows everyone to take their time as they taste the wines and savor the moment or the view. We took a look at our wine list and created flights to help guide you through the many choices. We also narrowed the list a bit, putting more focus and attention on our estate wines which in turn helps us to tell our story. 

    I'll finish with my favorite line: "Time may change me but I can't trace time." Yes indeed time does change us and, since we can't go back, let's live out our life with no regrets. Like us, wine endures the test of time and it enhances many of the best moments.

  • Thinking Green

    April 21, 2022 11:03

    Thinking Green

    I'm thinking green today with Down to Earth Month celebrated in Wine Country up and down the state. Don't forget Earth Day this week-on the 22nd-and the theme is Invest in our Planet.  Thinking green as we go along (don't forget that other 'green' day 4/20) has me considering the many ways to invest in our home wherever we may live.

    Because we are certified sustainable we keep all of this in mind when it comes to the vineyards or winery. How we invest in the right equipment for farming or how we farm is as important as finding ways to save energy and water usage in the winery. In our own home I have found ways to re-use water and because we are going into another year of drought the city where I live is rolling out measures to save even more water than we did last year. I will have to come up with more creative ways to water our yard...

    And even while this bit of rain falling over the next few days doesn't get us out of the drought it does lengthen the time the hills remain green. The buzz-kill media is quick to remind me in headlines and on the news reports that we Californians aren't out of the drought, no kidding, but every little drop helps keep things green and growing.

    And of course you have heard my message before-conserve, conserve water, conserve resources. Water is such a precious commodity here in the state and to all of us in agriculture, drought notwithstanding, and preserving this resource in any way we can is the key to our future. I am speaking to my fellow residents here but it doesn't hurt to spread the good word about conservation measures as I know neighbors to the north in Oregon, especially in the high desert areas, and neighbors to the east in Nevada seem to be in the same boat--forgive the pun as are many people across the globe.

    Keeping it green has never been easier as we have so many choices before us. Investing in the planet we love is also supporting local agriculture, preventing pollution, supporting watershed health and being a good steward of the land, of your neighborhood or your yurt. Support a local farmer at the farmers market, join forces and clean up your street, drink some wine along with your sustainably sourced meal, compost yard and food waste or plant a garden or tree.

  • Down to Sonoma County Wine Month

    March 29, 2022 15:23

    Down to Sonoma County Wine Month

    Spring is a great time to focus on the earth and the future bounty of a harvest what with the vineyards  beginning the growing season with budbreak just two weeks ago. This month also happens to be Down to Earth Month, established several years ago by Wine Institute’s California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance program, to celebrate sustainability in both vineyards and wineries. A few years later Sonoma County Vintners established Sonoma County Wine Month to celebrate the wines from our region. Put the two together and you have a celebration of all that is good about wine and winegrowing.

    Down to Earth Month in California celebrates sustainability among the many vineyards and wineries taking a page from Earth Day which is April 22. There are many chances to visit the wineries and vineyards to see the growing season in action, to learn about sustainability and to revel in the beauty of the land we call home.

    What sustainability means along with our own certification journey. The California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance was formed to help grape growers and wineries practice sustainable winegrowing by following these tenets: good for the environment, good for the community and good for grapes and wine. To start the certification process at Pedroncelli, fourth generation member Mitch Blakeley was tasked with answering a few hundred questions ranging from energy efficiency to packaging, vineyard practices and water use among others. Once finished we were audited and, since everything was in good order, we were certified in 2017 in the vineyard, just in time for our 90th anniversary. Our winery followed the next year. One of the reasons I like the sustainability program is it encourages doing better as we go forward. Each year we pick a project and work at getting better or smarter in both the vineyard and winery. The auditor then reviews the progress and recertifies us.

    The big picture: There are 5,900 growers who farm 620,000 acres of winegrapes in 46 of California's 58 counties. Did you know vineyards cover less than one percent of the state's terrain? There are 4,200 wineries that produce over 81 percent of all U.S. wine. Here in Sonoma County there are over 400 wineries farming 60 varieties with 62,000 acres of grapes farmed by 1800 growers. That makes 6% of all land in the county covered by winegrapes which leaves lots of room for our coast, redwoods and cities & towns. Sonoma County Wine Month is the perfect time to celebrate the rich heritage of wine here so why not get Down to Earth and enjoy visiting us in person or virtually-it’s your choice and we look forward to seeing you soon.

  • Time for Spring Cleaning

    March 28, 2022 09:42

    Time for Spring Cleaning

    Budbreak, the beginning of another growing season in the vineyard and of a new vintage, has begun in many of our vineyard blocks. The 40+ year old vines in the Mother Clone across the road from my office are just about there-their younger sibling blocks are off and running but the older vines are taking their time. Isn't that just the way it is when you compare an 8 year old child with a 40-something adult?

    As spring continues, the vines begin their journey from buds to shoots to bloom and crop set and before we know it harvest will be here. Today I am doing a little spring cleaning and tying up loose ends. But first I wonder how are you doing? I asked this 2 years ago when we were enduring the first part of the COVID shutdown. Back then we were under the impression we’d get through two weeks of staying home but the virus surprised us all with continuing for months and upended our lives, our businesses or work life, upended travel and vacation time. The prognosis of finally ridding ourselves of the virus is good although it lingers and morphs into a variant every few weeks. The state of California and the county of Sonoma have lifted most of the restrictions that were holding us back. So here we are onto the next phase of freedom.

    With the promise of less restriction and spring cleaning in mind I’d like to revisit the poll I took in December and share with you some of the ideas that sparked your interest in answer to my questions.

    1-I would consider attending one or more of four seasonal events (lunch or seminar or dinner) to coincide with each wine club shipment: February/May/September/November. This garnered interest to those who live nearby-it is tough for our wine club members who live a state or more away. February was still under pandemic restrictions and our plan is to offer more in the coming months. Stay tuned.

    2-I’d like to attend one big dinner and that’s it. I had a lot of support for this one and I have good news! We are planning to host our Sip & Savor dinner later in the summer and, drum roll please, the date will be August 6-which puts us ahead of harvest and a lovely time of year to gather.

    3-I’d like to attend sessions (virtually or in person) to learn more about wine. While there wasn't a lot of interest in this type of event it could be a sign of the times perhaps? Are you interested in learning more about any particular process in the vineyard or cellar? Let me know-I plan to ask some of my co-workers to lend their expertise to these notes in the near future. Who would you like to hear from?

    4-I’d like to attend a Cheese & Wine Pairing (virtually). Who doesn't love wine paired with cheese? This one was very popular so I have arranged a session with cheese maven Janet Fletcher from my favorite newsletter Planet Cheese. Put June 2nd on your calendar and we will send out information later next month. She will curate the cheese selections and she will be pairing them with our May Wine Club Selections.

    5-What would you like to experience? The suggestion box is open. One of them was mini sample bottles-we just aren’t geared up for this like other wineries-but I’m still researching options!

    Finally I'd like to update you on our Schotzki wine project. This is to honor the memory of my brother-in-law Jon Brown and all of the proceeds will go toward Multiple Myeloma Research. The label has gone through the approval process and is now on its' way to being printed. We should have everything in order by June and will keep you all posted. 

    As the pandemic continued for longer than we all thought I remember there was much talk about a grand celebration we'd all have, a party to beat all parties which rolled all the missed occasions into one. While I am not sure this will come about I look forward to seeing you either here at the winery or possibly at one of our events. I do know this. We have been here 95 years and counting and will continue to share our wines and our passion with you.

  • Of Wine and Women

    March 21, 2022 14:33

    Of Wine and Women

    Life sometimes passes me by too quickly and I miss some of the milestones as they happen (there's a lot going on at the winery and at home these days!). For one I missed sending out a note from home last week. And this week marks the second year of the pandemic and a milestone for me: I have written these notes (nearly) every week since it began! I realized International Women'sMary Ann Graf Day sailed by on March 8th and only remembered this when I saw a post about MaryAnn Graf (pictured on the right) on the Women Winemakers of California & Beyond FB page. It also occured to me, as I saw other posts about Women's History Month, I almost missed celebrating this as well. 

    I encouraged everyone to celebrate each day as National Zinfandel day back in November, and, in turn, every day should be a celebration of women's achievements including women winemakers and the innovations made by the ground breaking women of the 60s and 70s. While there were women winemakers preceding this time these decades birthed a wine renaissance in California that brought along an entire 'class of the 70's' set of wine women. And those trailblazers have made the way for many more-now comprising 14% of all winemakers in California (nearly 600 out of 4200 wineries have women winemakers!). 

    Professors Lucia and Jack Gilbert at Santa Clara University have worked diligently to highlight these achievements and I highly recommend visiting their website, specifically the facts and figures, along with the articles and research they have compiled over the years. 

    Montse Lab WineglassOur own winemaker, Montse Reece, has been making wine here for 15 years but began a few years before when she came to the U.S. to work at Gloria Ferrer Winery. She started in 2007 as an assistant winemaker to John Pedroncelli and transitioned to winemaker in 2015. (Here is Montse's story from a post last August.)

    During Women's History Month we celebrate the many contributions to history, science, cultureSally Ride 2 and society. Sally Ride, the first woman in space, has a newly minted coin commemorating her own great accomplishments. Reread an Emily Dickinson novel or poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, with a glass of wine of course. Listen to something by Aretha Franklin or watch Meryl Steep portray Maggie Thatcher in The Iron Lady. 

    Of course another way I mark this occasion is noting Pedroncelli as a women-owned winery. It just so happens there are four daughters in my familyJim and Daugthers(my sisters and me) along with cousins,  also shareholders, with 71% of the ownership. We couldn't have done it without the hard work of grandmothers, mothers, and aunts who all worked hard in varying roles throughout the history of the winery and family. Trailblazers indeed.

  • Open That Bottle Night 2022

    February 28, 2022 10:25

    Open That Bottle Night 2022

    If it is the last Saturday of February you all know what I am going to write about-OTBN! Like me you may have circled February 26 on your calendar-or at least made an appointment on your phone. From the handy Days of the Year description: “Reveling in the idea that great wine is just meant to be shared, Open That Bottle Night is all about creating memories and telling stories of those special shared moments. This is the perfect time to remove that cork and get down to the business of enjoying life.”

    Created 22 years ago by two Wall Street Journal columnists, Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, ‘Open That Bottle Night’ (OTBN) is an annual occasion that aims to motivate people to reconnect with each other over a special bottle. In my opinion it is a celebration of what’s in your cellar/closet/wine rack or fridge. A day set aside to open a bottle of wine that was saved for a special occasion or one that has special meaning from a trip abroad or to Wine Country.

    Here are a few things to think about while deciding which wine to open:
    Where did the wine come from, what vacation story is behind it or was it a special gift? What vintage story do you have to tell such as where were you in 1974 or what were you doing in 1996? Have I waited too long? Is the timing right? You’ll have to use your own judgement as you dust off the bottle or pull it from the wine fridge. Enjoy the next couple of stories which were sent my way in the last few weeks.

    From Leigh G, Portland OR-
    I bought the 1996 Pedroni-Bushnell Zinfandel from you in your new tasting room approximately 4 ½ years ago during the Passport to Dry Creek Valley event.  I’ve kept the wine in my 2nd wine cooler, which runs a little colder at approximately 50 degrees. I decided to bring it to share with seven friends for an annual dinner. 

    We had the luxury of having a sommelier open the wine.  A little problem with the cork, but he was a professional and proceeded to decant the wine.  The wine had a beautiful dark brown red color, which is typical of an aged wine prime for drinking.  Good legs on the glass and a pleasant nose of fruit.  The wine opened with rounded plum and berry tones, then a punch of soft tobacco on the mid pallet with very soft tannins. It finished with warm baking spices (clove, nutmeg, cinnamon) on the back end. We all so enjoyed the wine!

    And from Dan N, Port Townsend WA, I received a bottle of our well-aged 1974 Cabernet Sauvignon in January and knew I wanted to save it for this year’s OTBN. Here are excerpts from his letter:

    “I was going through my wine storage, an unheated underground room, when I uncovered this bottle of your 1974 Cabernet Sauvignon. This bottle was purchased by me at your winery sometime in the late 1970s when I made an annual summer drive from my home outside San Diego to my ancestral home in Washington State.

    I did a search and ran across your Vino in My Dino comments on February 17, 2015. Your article was prompted by someone who had just opened and tasted the 1974 Cabernet. It noted a drop off in fruitiness and VIMD suggested that the vintage may not last much longer.

    Two years ago, I received radiation for cancer and the therapy resulted in significant impairment of my taste. I no longer drink wine for pleasure. Although I will share a bottle with guests, I’m always uncertain as to whether my sensation is an accurate reflection of the wine’s characteristics.

    Therefore, I’m sending this bottle to you. First and foremost is to give you a chance to review it for yourself. Second is the hope that you can give me your reaction to the wine in what is probably it’s closing years. (I’m 88 and well past my ‘pull date’ but, somehow, I surprise myself and others as I manage my orchard and extensive yard as well as a very successful HOA). An email report would be appreciated.

    I still drive to San Diego, usually on 101 to Richmond then to I-5. As soon as the pandemic permits, I will be on the road again and will stop to pick up some of your wines for my friends. In Vino Veritas."

    We celebrated OTBN a little early because I wanted to invite staff to join me when we opened the 1974 Cabernet. At 3pm on Friday Jim carefully maneuvered the cork out of the bottle with an AhSo opener (two pronged to ease an older more delicate cork out of the neck). I had set it upright for a few weeks to stabilize after its’ journey from Dan’s cellar to ours. My dad Jim contributed another gem from our cellar here at the winery, the 2001 Four Grapes Vintage Port. We tasted together and here are the results.

    1974 Cabernet w glass 21974 Cabernet Sauvignon: Pale brick in color with notes of dried berries and cedar on the nose. The flavor was lifted by the acidity and tannin still present and the finish was long. Flavors carried through with notes of berry and a hint of warm spice. Drink it if you have it in your cellar.

    2001 Four Grapes Vintage Port: Tawny in color, clear, toffee, caramel and toasted nut flavors, rich in taste and a keeper for a few more years.

    Thank you Leigh and Dan for sharing your thoughts and your wine. It always amazes me how wine comes alive even after years in the cellar.

  • Barrels Inside & Out

    February 22, 2022 09:42

    Barrels Inside & Out

    Have you ever wondered what barrel tasting really means? Are you curious about why wine is aged in barrels at all-what is the point? What happens during the aging process and what exactly is ‘angels’ share’? Today’s note includes answers from winemaker Montse Reece and cellarmaster Polo Cano.

    First we’ll start with a little Barrel 101. How big are those barrels? We use 59 gallon size barrels which holds enough wine for about 24 cases, give or take a bottle or two. Why do we barrel age wine at all? Think about it in this way. If you have a raw piece of wood that needs the edge taken off and you’d like to use it as a frame, you’d take it to the shop and start sanding and shaping it. The same thing happens in barrel-the wine is raw and rough when it is transferred and over time helps to smooth out those rough edges.

    There are more benefits to aging including aeration, concentration and oak notes like toasting-something the cooper (barrel maker) does to increase the flavor components in the barrel. The process gives the wine, over time, more complexity as it takes on some aspects of the wood itself. Aeration slowly incorporates air thereby smoothing the tannins; concentration-with evaporation of water and even alcohol you get concentrated flavors and in fact we lose about a gallon or two to this process.

    I asked two questions: Why is it important to top barrels and why is it important to take time to taste from the barrel?

    From Polo:
    "Topping to replace the lost wine through evaporation (every three months is the ideal timing). It gives us a chance to smell every barrel and to see how it is aging and to see how the new oak is integrating with the wine (to catch and separate odd smelling barrels if any). To adjust the free Sulphur in the wine so it stays protected."

    From Montse:
    "Barrels aren't completely airtight, so after a while the evaporation creates a headspace, also known as ullage. The concentration of free SO2 declines faster in barrel than in a tank due to oxygen exposure and should be checked every 1 to 3 months depending on the circumstances. It’s important to keep the barrels full to avoid oxidization and bacterial spoilage that can ruin the wine. (Editor's note: And this is what free sulphur does-it acts to prevent spoilage which would in turn develop undesired aromas-it is a very fine balance to maintain!).

    Before we start topping it’s important to smell and taste if necessary from every barrel to detect off aromas that can be a clue for spoilage or oxidization. If confirmed, the barrel is isolated from the rest and treated accordingly.

    You look for pretty much the same when you taste young or longer aged wines in barrels: hints for spoilage or oxidization. On the positive side, I look for fruitiness and acid integration in young wines and oak integration, aging evolution of the varietal flavors on the older wines."

    What is the angel’s share? The portion that is lost over the year (or more) the wines age-evaporated away poetically into the heavens.

    Polo wraps up this note perfectly. “It is kind of a time to wake your baby up, see that it is ok, feed it, play with it and put back to sleep.”

  • Acres of History

    February 14, 2022 11:27

    Acres of History

    By now you should be familiar with my MO if you have been reading my posts for a while. I love history, I enjoy digging through old documents and files, and find nothing is more fun than diving into the California Department of Water Resources and educating myself about this all important component of farming. In January Karl Storchmann, for the American Association of Wine Economists, posted this and caught my eye-the 1971 Grape Acreage for California. Pure gold for this grape and history loving gal.

    1971 Grape Acreage in California

    Let's take a look at what was happening in 1971. Dirty Harry and Billy Jack were dominating the cinema, Elon Musk and Snoop Dog were born, the first Starbucks coffee shop opened in Seattle as did Disney World in Orlando. Gas was 36 cents a gallon and Rod Stewart was singing Maggie May on the radio.  In Sonoma County the grape and wine business was just beginning to enjoy a renaissance after being shut down by Prohibition. It took 40 years to recover and open up to a new generation of vineyards and wineries. By the way I was 11 years old and living in our home in the midst of the winery operations, playing in the very vineyards that are tallied in this report.

    Back to the state report. It is an annual one and I still reference it each time I do a talk on Zinfandel or need some information on how many acres of Cabernet are in production. As you can see by this 50 year old report Zinfandel was the second most planted wine grape at the time second only to Carignane (!). And one of the reasons there are old vine Zinfandel blocks around the state.

    The history of grapes grown on our property goes back to the early 1900s when the original family planted Zinfandel and a variety of other grapes like Carignane and Petite Sirah and lesser known field blend varieties. The original 25 acres expanded to 100 acres today and grew exponentially with the market. We have had quite a mix of grapes over the years reflecting market preference or winemaker choice. Pinot Noir in the 1950s followed by Cabernet Sauvignon in 1965, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Napa Gamay, Sauvignon Vert and French Colombard followed. Then Chardonnay, Merlot & Sauvignon Blanc in the 1980s; Petite Sirah, Syrah and Portuguese varieties in the 1990s; Petit Verdot and Malbec in the 2000s. They had their place in the market but things change just like the 1971 chart. What was once 19,470 acres of Zinfandel is now 40,061 and 3898 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon exploded to 94,854. Carignane, the leader back then, at 25,795 is now 2289. The one-two punch of the top two grapes planted today are Cabernet Sauvignon as noted above and Chardonnay (from 1630 to 92,311!).

    Our flagship grape is steeped in this rich history not only in California but right here in Dry Creek Valley (which is home to half of all the Zinfandel planted in Sonoma County). The history in acreage throughout the state denotes what was popular at this snapshot in time. Over the last 5 decades some grapes survived (Zinfandel), some grew by leaps and bounds (King Cab) and others have faded away. We also learned which grape suits our vineyard microclimates and subsequently discovered Pinot Noir and Chardonnay do much better a few miles south of us. This glimpse of history is important because, like hit songs and blockbuster movies from 50 years ago, even wine grapes continue to stand the test of time.

  • Dry January

    January 31, 2022 08:49

    Dry January

    A little play on words as the month ends. Dry January is the term applied to an abstention from alcohol shortly after the holidays and is a movement that has gained some traction in recent years. However these words mean something different to me as we enter February with a half inch of rain under our belts. As a reminder we already received 20 inches in the last three months of 2021-a boon to all of us here in drought stricken California. This is more than we received in total rainfall for the 2020-2021 season.

    Historically this month sees more rain than a half inch. However the season of winter just began and we have a couple of months to go before the vines begin their growing season. The rush to judgement of this rain year (headlines and Henny Penny the sky is falling) makes me nervous so I enjoy digging into my files for little tidbits of weather history. I found this one from my blog post in January 2016. We had just over 6 inches of rain that month-it took another three years before we had a similar rainfall amount and, in the years leading up to this month in 2016, the total was more than measured in the previous 6 (!) Januarys. 

    It is a delicate balance indeed when we, as farmers, depend on the weather to bring the right amount of rain at the right time. This doesn’t always happen and there are many examples over the 95 years we have farmed our vineyards when we didn’t have enough, had too much or it rained at an inopportune time i.e. during harvest. In our area of Dry Creek Valley we depend on wells to deliver water to our vineyards during the growing season and they depend on 35 inches of average rainfall which fill the underground caches as well as keeps the soil quenched.

    Over the decades we have shifted from dry farming to overhead irrigation to a drip system which delivers a regulated flow of water when needed. The great part of drip irrigation is it allows control-the vineyard manager decides how to efficiently deliver the right amount to keep fruit quality at optimum levels during the summer season. Too much water is just as bad as too little. The help we get from the rain season is saturation of the ground and getting the dormant vines to soak up the nutrients they need for the next year's grapes. Cycles and different outcomes are a way of life and water continues to be a precious resource.

    In a dry January we look toward the coming weeks to bring us  rain. Mother Nature can be fickle as can the high pressure system in our Central Valley which pushes storms north of us. We are in a La Niña cycle and predictions call for a below average amount of rain. May the odds be in our favor for more, please and thank you.

  • Seasons in the Cellar: Winter

    January 17, 2022 09:46

    Seasons in the Cellar: Winter
    Last year I had Marcus Cano, son of our cellarmaster Polo, film winemaker Montse Reece and fourth generation member Mitch Blakeley-in the cellar and the vineyard respectively through four seasons. Marcus followed Montse into the Barrel Room and her lab.

    As you will see there is a lot going on in the cellar at this time of year. She guides you through two of her tasks: blending our Mother Clone Zinfandel and barrel aging. Before you dig into the videos though here is Montse’s background-she just celebrated her 15th harvest with us. We have had 3 lead winemakers in our 95 years! My grandfather, my uncle John with 65 vintages and now Montse.

    She is a native of Spain and earned her degree in enology from the University of Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain. She then worked for wineries in the Penedés and Montblanc regions during this time. Once finished with college she came to California and joined the harvest crew at Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves in Sonoma in 1998. After that she was hooked and held positions at both Ferrari-Carano and Rodney Strong Vineyards. She joined the winemaking team at Pedroncelli Winery in 2007 as assistant winemaker to John Pedroncelli, Winemaker Emeritus.

    “I consider it an honor to have had the privilege of working with John Pedroncelli for as long as I did,” says Montse. “His passion and love for the vineyards and wines of Pedroncelli will continue to be present in the style and spirit of this winery for generations to come.” Montse was named Winemaker in 2015 and she focuses on the details and unique qualities of each vineyard block. She maintains the continuity of the Pedroncelli style and works together with Vineyard Manager Lance Blakeley and Cellar Master Polo Cano who make up the winemaking team.