• The Southern Reaches: Dry Creek Neighborhoods

    May 24, 2019 16:00

    The Southern Reaches: Dry Creek Neighborhoods

    Here in Dry Creek Valley we have a north/south orientation with the valley being 16 miles long by 2 miles wide. The midpoint is at Lambert Bridge Road about 5 miles south of where Pedroncelli is located. Above this line the climate has always been a bit warmer-by a few degrees-in fact the fog rolls off of our property sometimes by 9am and it takes an hour or three later for the southern end.

    Our visit to the south is the sixth and final installment about the Dry Creek Valley neighborhoods where our grapes are grown or sourced. In this visit to the southern reaches of Dry Creek Valley, about four miles south of Lambert Bridge Road, we have one very longtime grower for Pedroncelli: Frank Johnson. He purchased the land in 1971 which at the time was planted to orchards not vineyards. He started by removing the apple trees and replacing them with Chardonnay (where both our Signature Selection and the F. Johnson single vineyard are sourced), Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer.

    John Pedroncelli, winemaker at the time, was seeking to add to our production and sought out Frank in the 1980s to begin a winery-grower relationship that continues to this day. Pretty sure it was a handshake contract then. We have been buying Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for all those years and, when Jim Pedroncelli came up with the idea to add Gewurztraminer to our friends.white, we added a third varietal from their vineyard.

    Frank bought his property long before appellations lines were drawn. In 1983, when the boundaries were set, they divided the F. Johnson Vineyard with the Chardonnay ending up on the Dry Creek side and Pinot Noir on the Russian River Valley side-and they are just a few feet apart. So we have cooler-climate-grown Chardonnay with Dry Creek Valley as the appellation and we, of course, source part of our Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from the other part of the vineyard with thanks to those who drew the lines 36 years ago.

    Our Dry Creek Valley neighborhoods are all wrapped up. I always say every grape picked is within 12-14 miles of where the winery is located. We are regionally focused on local or estate vineyards when making our wine and the fruit comes from some of the best vineyards in the county.

  • In the Neighborhoods

    October 29, 2018 13:48

    In the Neighborhoods

    I often refer to our neighborhoods of grapes found right here in Dry Creek Valley-the smallest of the four major Sonoma County winegrape appellations-because there are diverse little micro-climates and steep hillsides producing some of the tastiest fruit around. And some of the grapes come from longtime neighbors going back 60 or more years!

    You can see by the Sonoma County appellation map with all of the 19 American Viticultural Areas (AVA) outlined that we are a county of neighboring appellations. And within each AVA are hills, benches and valley floors. In each of these there are thousands of acres of varieties and vineyards making up a total of 60,000 acres in Sonoma County (and there are 1 million acres in Sonoma County).

    With a little inspiration from the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley here is how we see the appellation in neighborhoods: As defined by soil and area the Dry Creek Valley is split into these areas: Western Benchlands, Eastern Hills (that’s us!) and Valley Floor. The appellation itself, 16 miles long and about 2 miles wide, is furthermore split almost in two by Lambert Bridge Road where south of the bridge is cooler than the vineyards to the north by several degrees at times. For instance our Chardonnay comes from south of the bridge on the valley floor. Our Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon from north by almost 5 miles where it is on the eastern hillsides.

    When you then drill down to estate vineyards and our growers you get 8 different locations in the valley. Each one is planted to one or more varietals. I’ll use our Wisdom vineyard as an example: it is located on West Dry Creek Road (Western Benchlands) and has been planted to Cabernet Sauvignon for more than 50 years. This neighborhood is known for producing excellent Cabernet as well as Zinfandel (the Courage/Faloni vineyard is just around the corner).

    I’ll introduce you to our other ‘neighborhoods’ in the coming weeks.

  • Wine WITH Food

    November 23, 2016 15:04

    Wine pairings have happened over the ages without much thought other than wine goes well with food whether it was a snack, lunch or dinner. It rounded things out, made life more enjoyable. Water will do the trick for sure but there is the synergy between wine and food or wine with food that prompts me to write about it today.

    I grew up in a family of six with at least one grandparent joining us for dinner each night. Wine was and is always a part of this meal for me. To be honest I don’t remember my parents making a big deal about it. There was food and there was wine. End of story. For my grandparents and my parents WINE was our way of life so why wouldn’t it be part of the meal? I consider myself one of the lucky ones-growing up among the vines, looking out at the same vineyard view from my office (formerly my bedroom), and having this life become my lifestyle.

    I still remember the first time it clicked, the pairing of our Sauvignon Blanc and carrots with dill and butter sauce. The interplay of those ingredients along with the herbaceousness of the wine sang on my tongue, elevated a weeknight meal, and became a remarkable memory for me. From these humble beginnings, from childhood to that memorable night, I began to collect wine friendly recipes. Between my newsletters and website there is a great mix of old and new cuisine, many of them collected from magazines, cookbooks and lately digital media. My favorite go-to for many of them come from Janet Fletcher of Planet Cheese and Michele Anna Jordan, columnist and chef for the Press Democrat as well as family recipes and my own creations.

    I share them with all of you in hopes you’ll find that moment when wine and food sing, a pairing that might include Chardonnay with Wild Mushroom Soup or our Mother Clone Zinfandel with Parmesan Polenta and Sausage Ragu like it did with friends this last Saturday. A toast to those meals and the holidays-making spirits bright with some Vino in my Dino.

    Dad, Mom, Ed and me in the Heritage Room, pre-holidays. Cheers!

    Wine Family Pre Holiday

    Photo credit: Dianna Murphy Photography

  • Harvest Know-how: From Grape Boxes to Gondolas

    August 28, 2015 14:39

    Picking grapes at their optimum ripeness level is very important to the vineyard manager as well as the winemaker. While we seek balance overall in the fruit we harvest, today’s post is about what those grapes are put in once cut from the vine.

    I remember in the 1960’s watching pick-up trucks bring the harvest to the winery weighed down with boxes of grapes. These grape boxes were used many years ago and they were wooden and very heavy-weighing in at over 50lbs once filled with grapes. Once at the crush pad they were dumped one by one into the crusher. Most of these are now gracing barns and storage as they are rarely if ever used by picking crews these days.

    Plastic buckets are used now and are smaller and easier to lift because, when filled with grapes, they weigh 25 pounds. And lighter tubs means faster work between the vine and gondola. Speed is an element greatly desired by those who are picking the grapes-more boxes/buckets/tubs means more money in the bank. Once the tubs of grapes are filled they are whisked to the gondola, waiting at the end of the vine row several feet away. Speed as a runner is also important to empty the grapes and get back to the business of picking.

    To give you an idea about a day in the life of the harvest here is the report from Wednesday’s crush: The following loads came in: Chardonnay from Frank Johnson Vineyards, Merlot from estate vineyards as well as the neighboring Long Vineyards. The total tonnage was roughly 75 tons, which is well above the usual amount for a regular harvest day, which is nearer to 40 tons. The Chardonnay was machine harvested but the rest was all handpicked. A toast with a splash of Chardonnay in my Dino to all the hands picking and making our wines!

    A wooden grape box that typically held 50 lbs of grapes.

    Wooden Grape Box

    The crew in 2006, photo courtesy of Cellar Master Hipolito Cano who journaled the harvest.

    Cellar Master Cano 2006

  • Winespeak: Color

    July 2, 2015 15:48

    Posts this month focus on what I call Winespeak which are terms that sometimes are obvious in meaning and others are not. Today’s word is color.

    In the beginning, as the berries develop, they are the same color: green. As they develop color, called veraison, the green pea colored berries turn either purple for red wine grapes or a golden or yellow color for white wine grapes. Color of wine is the first thing you notice when it is poured into your glass. When it is a white wine you have a color spectrum of light yellow to golden brown (this would be leaning toward an older wine). When it is a red you can go from light garnet to deep purple to brownish edged red (also an aged wine). It all depends on the varietal and aging-whether oak or time in the bottle.

    White wines often are pale yellow with a tinge of green, just a tinge. As some wines are aged you’ll have a deeper hue of dark gold. Do you know why the wine is so clear? Or have you ever had a cloudy glass of wine? Fining and filtering help clarify the wine so it is clear in your glass. Note: not every winemaker filters wine so educate yourself! The mainstream wines typically are filtered but ask your local winemaker about the process.

    Red wines run the gamut of light garnet (think Pinot Noir) to deep purple (Petite Sirah) and many shades in between. As they age, so does the color. Some of the wines from the 1970s I have tried are in the reddish-brown stage. A great way to really see the tones and color of wine is to hold a piece of white paper behind the glass and tilt it away to see the rim of the liquid. Here the background helps to define the color even more.

    Enjoy the wine color spectrum as you enjoy your glass of Chardonnay or Zinfandel over the weekend. A toast to red and white wine with a splash in my Dino!

    Glasses of red and white wine

  • Dear Dino: Salads

    March 17, 2015 16:33

    As the transition from winter to spring happens this week-and it has been spring-like here for awhile-we’ll talk about spring greens and pairing them with wine. Salads in general are a challenge to pair with wine. Truth be told they are a large part of my daily meals and are included for lunch and dinner. Let’s take a look at what is involved in order for there to be a bridge between the salad and the wine: the components, the dressing and the style of wine. I tend toward bitter greens but my workhorse salad base is Romaine. Meats like bacon is a favorite as is grilled chicken or beef. If I am in the mood for cheese I’ll add some cheddar or parmigiana. Other add-ins include the usual suspects but I do use green onion as it is the most mild in that family. Dressing is either vinaigrette or creamy depending on my mood.

    To match these combinations with a wine I consider the style-is it light and fruity or full and oaky; is it tannic or highly acidic? Look for lighter wines with salads-not necessarily sweet but fruity. Our Sauvignon Blanc and friends.white make great candidates for vinaigrette style dressings especially since the Gewurztraminer in the white blend makes for a spicy and floral base. Chardonnay is a nice companion to creamy dressings especially green goddess or even Ranch (homemade of course).Our Dry Rosé of Zinfandel is a great choice for salads with salty elements like cured meats, cheeses or nuts due to its crisp acidity. If you want to consider a red wine, I recommend Pinot Noir which is lighter in tannins. For a wine dinner I once paired our Pinot Noir with salad by roasting Portobello mushrooms with salt, pepper and olive oil. I used some of the pan juices from the mushrooms in the salad dressing-lowering the acidity and boosting the flavor. I also added shaved Parmigiana which contributed a richer element that matched well with the woodsy mushrooms. Your salad bowl is your palette, use your imagination with ingredients and the wine. Go green this spring!

    Dungeness Crab Salad is a favorite to pair with our F. Johnson Vineyard Chardonnay-thanks to Gary Gross for the photo.

    Dungeness Crab Salad