Dry Creek Valley

  • The People Tell the Story

    December 20, 2019 16:41

    The People Tell the Story

    A few of my earlier posts focused on how some part of our grapes or wine tells the story. As we wrap up the year and look forward to 2020 I’ll focus on a few of The People Who Tell The Story.

    Our story always begins with my grandparents Giovanni & Julia, who founded the winery in 1927. It came with a shuttered winery, a farm and a home. They brought with them their three young children Margaret, Marianne and John and put down roots in what would become known as the Dry Creek Valley American Viticultural Area. My dad Jim was born 5 years later and completed the family. They all worked together to grow and sell the grapes during Prohibition and once it was over they began to make wine. Their story is very similar to many immigrants of the time. They worked hard especially as the Great Depression started just two years after they bought the property. The farm sustained them. My grandmother made cheese, butter, canned vegetables and created a dynasty of wonderful dishes. My grandfather and uncle hunted or managed the animals on the farm to feed the family. Everyone chipped in even if they didn’t want to like my dad milking the cow every day before school. He finally convinced his parents, once he was 18, that he didn’t need milk anymore. They made it through the lean times by working the land themselves. Stories like John waiting by the Model A full of grapes while his father went into town to find help; Marianne and Margaret both working in the vineyard or plowing with the horse, Jim chipping off tartrates from the redwood tanks in order to support the munitions during the war and Margaret becoming a grape grower with husband Al Pedroni. These are just a few from the family lore which shaped the future of the family business.

    Hard work paid off of course and the story continued. Surviving the 1930s and 1940s, where there were some bleak years, only made them stronger and more resilient. Word grew about the wines being made and soon Giovanni was purchasing more land to expand the business. He created many choices by introducing a varietal Zinfandel in 1948 and soon a Rosé along with Riesling and Pinot Noir. He was most comfortable out in the vineyard working among his beloved vines. My grandmother was known for her hospitality but she also was the bookkeeper for many years. They retired in 1963 and sons John and Jim took the reins. Their story is next, the second generation.

    Giovanni & Julia with Margaret

    Margaret, John and Marianne circa 1927

    Young Jim and his trusty companion

    Father and son in the cellar

    A marvelous alfresco family dinner circa 1950s

  • Come Home to Sonoma County

    December 20, 2019 16:38

    Come Home to Sonoma County

    There was a full court press of articles immediately following the Kincade Fire that took place over a week in late October 2019. Sonoma County did not in fact burn down again. Even now we hear of people wondering what really happened to Wine Country. There are many organizations getting behind the #GatherInSonoma and #SipSonoma in order to get the word out that the area is generally unfazed. Won’t you Come Home to Sonoma County with me?

    I was born and raised in Sonoma County. College took me out of the county for a time but soon I was back, the siren call was strong especially since I lived in the East Bay right near the BART tracks. I began working in the tasting room on weekends and a few months later made the move back when my father Jim offered a full time job. That was 35 years ago this year. Coming home to the county after the time away gave me a new appreciation for all the area has to offer. Once I began networking with other winery people I began to explore the county in new ways. When I think about it there is so much to do! The Russian River makes the wide swath from the north end to the west into the Pacific Ocean-where there are many great beaches offering their own views. How about Lake Sonoma which, besides the water, offers great trails to hike. We have our own museums, ice arena, redwoods, county parks, wonderful restaurants and of course tasting rooms all along the way.

    We carry a book in the tasting room called The Down Low: Things to do in Sonoma County (A local’s guide to the Provence of the U.S.). The author, Barbara Barielle, is an entrepreneur: a travel writer, publicist, actress, producer and more. Her book includes all the best about Sonoma County because it is so much more than wine country. It is her home (and mine!) and her enthusiasm about each place beckons us all to explore this great county.

    The Kincade Fire, while large, singed the corners of Alexander and Knights Valley and a tiny bit of the Russian River Valley to the east and didn’t touch the other 15 appellations. Sometimes it is hard to remember it is much larger and that only 6% of the county is planted to grapes. Think about the other 94%! Other organizations like the Wine Road and the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley along with the Sonoma County Tourism group have pulled together two programs: #GatherInSonoma and #SipSonoma. You don't even have to be here to be a part of #SipSonoma-pick up a bottle of your favorite juice and take a photo & post. Come home to Sonoma County-I'd love to share all of it with you. And don't forget the hashtags!

  • The Top Nine of 2019

    December 20, 2019 16:31

    The Top Nine of 2019

    As we begin the New Year reflecting on what took place last year is a good place to start. The Top Nine of 2019 covers many accomplishments and challenges, which is how a year typically goes. Just like life!

    9 We celebrated 92 years in July-marking the anniversary of the day my grandfather Giovanni Pedroncelli signed the papers for this special place in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.

    8 The Smithsonian connection. Over 10 years ago we had one of our photos in an exhibit at the Museo Italiano in San Francisco. That connection led the curators at the American History Museum to seek us out so they could include that photo in their Food Transforming America exhibit-still going strong after 10 years. In fact they just refreshed the exhibit and included items the family had loaned to the museum-captured in the title photo of this post. Visit Food Transforming America when you are in Washington DC-wine is indeed a part of the transformation.

    7 Our Mission-we crafted our thoughts into a statement capturing the past, present and future: We are a Sonoma County farming family, founded in 1927, sharing our legacy through sustainably-produced exceptional wines.

    6 My parents Jim & Phyllis celebrated 60 years together last February-you wouldn’t know it by looking at them but they are over 60 years old. While my dad grew up here and has worked in the winery from the ground up (literally) my mom married into the family in 1959. She was in integral part of the business as my dad and his brother bought the winery from their parents in 1963. Mom helped out in the office and during harvest as well as kept tabs on me and my sisters-station wagons, after school activities, weekend outings and more kept us all in line. Cheers to many more as 60 years is quite an accomplishment!

    5 The 2019 harvest was the fifth for Montse Reece as winemaker-she was first hired in 2007 as assistant winemaker and worked with John Pedroncelli. She became winemaker in early 2015. Did you know that only 11% of the winemakers in California are women? Cheers to many more vintages and women joining the ranks!

    4 Four generations of one family calling this corner of Dry Creek Valley our home. We continue to strive for excellence with fourth generation member Mitch Blakeley heading up our Sustainability program, leading the way for future generations to call this home as well.

    3 The king of red wine grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, has quite the presence on our estate vineyards at one third of the acreage planted. I consider it our ‘2nd’ flagship grape as we were the first to plant and maintain it in Dry Creek Valley. The varietal is now the top planted red wine grape in the valley-coincidence? I think not.

    2 We are celebrating the 2nd year of our Gratitude Vine displayed in our Tasting Room. So many people have added their thanks for a wide variety of subjects-family, friends, pets and kids and good health. A toast to another year of gratitude for all of our friends both new and old.

    1 Zinfandel is always number one with us. It is an iconic grape here in Dry Creek Valley and our flagship. We received some nice accolades for all three of our red Zins as well as our Rosé on our recent releases. We are dedicated to this iconic grape and wine-cheers to 2020!

  • Repealed!

    December 3, 2019 16:11

    Repealed!

    December 5 marks the anniversary of the end of a long dry time in America. Each year, especially in wine country, we celebrate the end of Prohibition by raising a glass or two on the anniversary of Repeal of the 18th Ammendment-December 5, 1933. Prohibition itself played an important role in how we got into winegrowing. In fact, if Prohibition hadn’t happened I’m not sure we’d be in the wine business today.

    The tale has been lost to history as to why my grandparents bought 90 acres in 1927. I think it is because my grandfather, who arrived to the U.S. from Italy as a teenager, wanted a piece of land he could call his own after working on other farms. The property included 25 acres of vineyard, a home and a shuttered winery. It was sold by the Canata family who could no longer shoulder the debt of owning the land-and there may have been more to the story there as well, also lost to history. Even though Prohibition began in 1919 if you still owned vineyard you could sell grapes to home winemakers if they were a ‘head of household’ and obtained the permit from the federal government. Each household could make 200 gallons of wine per year.

    Now let’s think about this for a moment: this totals 84 cases or about 4 gallons per week. 20 bottles a week, or just shy of 3 bottles per day. Big families? Tradition? Thirsty? Many of these home winemakers had wine in their DNA-or at least were accustomed to enjoying wine with their meals every day. These were families from the old country with traditions which included wine on the table. Thanks to these home winemakers who bought grapes they also kept some vineyards growing through this period—and helped wineries reboot once Repeal rolled around. Statistically, the story is a sad one for Dry Creek Valley. Before 1919 there were 17 wineries making just over 1 million gallons of wine. Business was booming and then the hammer came down. Many of the vineyards were taken out and planted to prunes and other orchard crops. While there was still a market for wine grapes the bottom fell out by 1925 or so and part of the reason for the sale of the property. Gratefully December 5, 1933 ended this nationwide dry spell and we were poised at the right time to enter the winemaking business. Only 2 other wineries survived the next decade and it wasn’t until the 1970s when our county and valley saw a resurgence of wineries. Raise your glass, enjoy a bit of history and be thankful we are a nation that believes we should have wine on our tables.

    For those who love details I found this blog post from the Consitution Center and National Archives is a blog post on the 21st Ammendment and 5 things you may not have known!

  • Food Transforming America: Wine Did Too

    December 3, 2019 16:08

    Food Transforming America: Wine Did Too

    An invitation was sent out inviting donors to the Food Transforming America exhibit at the National Museum of American History which was refreshed this year after being on display for 6 years. I had received word that several of the artifacts my family loaned to the museum were now on display in the wine portion of the exhibit. Ed and I accepted and were wowed by the magnitude of having family heirlooms included.

    A little background: early in 2013 we were approached by the National Museum of American History because they were working on an exhibit Food Transforming America. The museum found me because they had received a photo of my family at an alfresco gathering in the 1950s and they wanted to include it in the exhibit which also featured a wine focus. The museum sent two curators to wine country to touch base with the wineries who would be part of the exhibit. As I showed them around Paula Johnson, Curator in the Division of Work and Labor, along with Project Manager Nanci Edwards, saw other items of interest and they asked if the family would loan the museum several of our artifacts to be used for future exhibits. We agreed and crated up and sent our precious bits of history to Washington DC.

    Fast forward to August 2019 and I received the invitation to attend the refresh of Food Transforming America from Paula. It was such a popular exhibit that they expanded and included more items. And this time some of our artifacts were included! I didn’t know what was chosen until we arrived at the museum shortly before the reception for the donors. What a surprise to see our winery sign, the stencil and my grandmother’s polenta pot along with an enlarged photo of my family’s alfresco dinner. The fact that wine is included in this exhibit to a large extent cements its place as an important part of how food (and wine) transforms our daily meals and special occasions.

    When Paula Johnson visited our winery in 2013, she noticed the winery sign which had hung on our cellar door from the 1930’s through the 1970’s. This is the item that really lit up her face. She turned to me and asked, “Would you rather have hundreds of people see this or thousands?” So instead of hanging in our barrel room it now hangs in the Smithsonian's American History Museum and what Paula said has come true.

    This photo shows the artifacts we donated: enter image description here

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  • A Note From Home: Harvest 2019 & The Kincade Fire

    December 3, 2019 15:25

    A Note From Home: Harvest 2019 & The Kincade Fire

    This note wouldn’t be complete without a look at how Vintage 2019 turned out for us. As the harvest came to a close it was one of those textbook-perfect seasons from the abundant winter rains through the mild and even pace of the harvest. It will, however, be eclipsed by the Kincade Fire. I spoke to our winemaker Montse about her take on the harvest. She reminded me we had a good amount of rain and a good spring start in the vineyard. In fact the late rains in May encouraged a good sized production for our grapes. This was followed by a mild summer without any heat waves to challenge us. The result? Maturation of the grapes was nice, slow and evenhanded. There wasn’t the usual rush to ‘get the grapes to the crushpad’ and September and October rolled along like clockwork with each varietal. The production from the vineyard was just slightly smaller than last year and you’ll see some nice varietal expression coming out of the cellar.

    Fast on the heels of the final day of harvest we did experience a challenge. The Kincade Fire broke out to the east of the winery on October 24 early in the morning. Whispers of evacuation and power outages began and soon Geyserville, the nearest town to the fire, was evacuated and the lights went out for what would be nearly 10 days. It was a bit eerie to watch the progress of the fire and a bit of relief as it made its’ way south but this was toward Healdsburg, Windsor and northern Santa Rosa and these areas were also evacuated with me included as well as sister Lisa and many other staff members. The main fire fight was over the weekend and containment was a challenge with hurricane-force winds coming down over the mountains. Out of an abundance of caution the power was not turned back on until late on October 31 at the winery. We all made our way back to our homes and office, tasting room and vineyards by November 4.

    We have a lot to be thankful for these days. Our 92nd harvest, the safety of family, staff, homes and the winery during the Kincade Fire as well as the first responders who valiantly fought the fire and saved lives and livelihood. As we sit around the table sharing stories and wine-be thankful we are safe, warm, fed and fortunate to live in this great country. Cheers.

  • Word from the Road (1)

    September 30, 2019 15:53

    Word from the Road (1)

    Not only is it a busy season at the winery, the season known as SOND (September-December) is equally as hectic for the sales team as it takes us deep into the marketing season where quite a bit of my time as well as Ed’s is focused on spreading the good word about Pedroncelli from state to state, city to city. Market work began for me in August and will continue through November this year, the same for Ed. Mitch, who usually works the market as well, was busy with the harvest up to his elbows in grapes. He’ll be back on the road next year.

    The highlights: Ed worked trade shows in Southern California hitting San Diego and Los Angeles. He is currently in Arizona and will make a foray to the Inland Empire and Missouri (three markets in one month!).

    Here are my trip notes so far: Portland and Eugene were my targets on this trip to Oregon. We have very good support in the independent stores like New Seasons and Market of Choice as well as quite a few independent retailers like Elephant Deli (a wonderland of specialty products) & Barber World Foods in Portland as well as Capella Market and The Broadway in Eugene. This was a one day trip into Connecticut and we covered a lot of territory and made memorable stops in and around Glastonbury, Middletown and West Hartford including Toast Wines by Taste, The Best Wine Shop in Town (really-that’s the name) and M & M Wines.

    Two days spent working around the western part of Massachusetts from Hopkinton to Worcester, Franklin to Wellesley. Medfield Wines, Juniper (fabulous restaurant) Marty’s (say hey to Rachel & Darryl) as well as Pour Richards and Rye and Thyme (another great restaurant). I did end my stop here at a sales meeting for our Wholesaler Classic Wine Imports and one last stop at Wine Empire in Ashland on my way out of town.

    After a brief tour of Portland Maine I began my second week with a trip to South Carolina. Greenville first for a great event at Northampton Wine & Dine with a fun group of friends where we have been doing business for too many years to count. On to Columbia with the owner of our Wholesaler Tyler Miles of Milestone Beverage. Greens (a small independent chain), Bottles, Southern Spirits and The Grapevine were all places that carry and love our wines.

    I’ll be visiting Seattle, New Jersey and Philadelphia over the next few weeks-my work on the road isn’t done just yet and I’ll chronicle more at the end of November. For now I'll end with a shot of the friendly folks at Northampton, looking forward to more of this on the road.

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  • The Colors of Zin

    September 30, 2019 15:52

    The Colors of Zin

    The true colors of Fall through the prism of Zinfandel can mean the changing shades of the leaves from green to orange, yellow & red in the Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard or the brilliant magenta hue of the fermenting Rosé. It is as much a part of life in Dry Creek Valley as it is when visiting the northeast and seeing the seasonal change in the trees during the fall. There’s a difference in the color palate of the hills too-the slant of the sun, the distance of sun from the earth and the late hanging fog all make for a myriad of colors and patterns and is why fall is my favorite of the seasons!

    Here the deep purple color in the bunches is the harbinger of great flavor in the glass. As the juice and skins ferment together the resulting aspects of berry and spice come from this maceration and temperature controlled fermentation. Keeping things cool slows down the action of converting the natural sugar in the juice to alcohol. enter image description here

    The 'cap' consists of the skins rising to the top of the tank. Pumpovers ensure the juice is poured over the cap and in doing so absorbs more color and flavor.

    enter image description here

    The color of our Rosé of Zinfandel is another story entirely. Winemaker Montse Reece always takes a picture of it fermenting because it is so beautiful to her. For our style of Rosé the grapes are picked earlier than for red Zinfandel, not as ripe and allows more acidity which leads to a crisper fresher style. The juice tells the story, this is going to be a good year for this wine.

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    Finally, our Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard in all her glory-fall and harvest reflected in the leaves.

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  • Harvest 2019-To be continued...

    September 30, 2019 15:49

    Harvest 2019-To be continued...

    We usually are wrapping things up as September comes to an end-but not this year. We didn’t pick our first grapes until September 4th and will be harvesting grapes until the 2nd week of October. Here are a few observations from the busy days of September-and a final wrap up of numbers for you coming your way soon.

    If there is one word we can use for Vintage 2019 it is ‘steady’ and was coined by Mitch Blakeley, fourth generation family member, when he described this year’s harvest at a recent staff meeting. His role is to assist in the vineyard with his father (and our vineyard manager) Lance as well as in the cellar as needed. As a family business you need to be light on your toes and fast on your feet in order to respond to the many responsibilities that comes when the grapes are ripe.

    The harvest really began months ago when our dormant vineyards were seeded with the heavy rainfall received in the winter which delayed the start of growth in the vineyard by a couple of weeks. While the steady and above-average rainfall (20 inches or more above the normal 40” average) was welcome and extended into May, the moderate growing season that followed was equally as important and the two factors are the reason for the full production the vines are producing in 2019. No heatwaves, no big cooling off, we had an evenhanded, nice and ‘steady’, growth and development in the vineyards.

    Since the first day of picking grapes, which was also delayed by a couple of weeks (see the pattern?)- this sense of steadiness grew over the month. Each varietal like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay or PInot Noir had its moment and was picked at the right time. We didn't pick our last Zinfandel block until the end of September which was a sign of the season and continued the pattern. Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah and our Portugeuse varietals are still hanging because of the cool temps at the end of the month. Mid-month there was higher heat which tilted some of our days over 100 degrees but just a few days-and all this did was speed things up a tad.

    It isn't over until the last grape is picked, the last tank is fermented and the wines slowly make their way to bottle (Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé) or to barrel (Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon). I'll have more of the story behind the 2019 harvest next month.

  • Dinner in a Very Special Vineyard

    August 27, 2019 13:43

    Dinner in a Very Special Vineyard

    There is dinner in a vineyard and then there is Dinner in a Very Special Vineyard where you come to find out how a special connection from years ago links my grandfather with a vineyard and a church in Cloverdale, the next town north of Geyserville.

    Ed and I were invited to attend a Dinner in the Vineyard by my parents Phyllis & Jim in support of the Italian Catholic Federation at St. Peters Church. We picked up my parents and made our way to the event and as we were getting out of the car my dad remarked on the history my family has with this place.

    Some of you may recognize the ‘St. Peter’s Church’ as a single vineyard designation on a few winery labels as it is a very special vineyard in many winemaker’s and wine lover’s eyes (the late Kent Rosenblum among them). It is a vineyard with a long pedigree and has been planted to Zinfandel for nearly 160 years.

    The connection? My grandfather Giovanni used to help farm it in the late 1940s to mid 1950s. A bachelor named Andrea Ghiotti owned the property that included this vineyard. He also owned a winery not too far down the road from this site-that was housed below his home. My grandfather even bought his grapes during this time and added them to our own Zinfandel blend. When he passed away my grandfather was instrumental in having the land donated to the Catholic church and, in turn, it became the new home of St. Peter’s Church along with the vineyard. It took a few more years before it became known as "St. Peter's Church Vineyard' and I was happy to find out how my family was connected.

    The roots do run deep in Wine Country and this is one of the countless examples from our storied 90+ years in this great place.