Note from Home
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 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 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.
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