Dry Creek Valley
September 30, 2019 15:52
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.
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.
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.
Finally, our Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard in all her glory-fall and harvest reflected in the leaves.
September 30, 2019 15:49
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.
August 27, 2019 13:43
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.
August 27, 2019 13:35
Our first Zinfandel harvest was in 1927 shortly after my grandfather purchased the property. 92 years later we are still harvesting Zinfandel-the rest is our story.
During those early days, when Prohibition was still in place, the grapes were sold to head of households who had obtained their government permit to make 200 gallons of wine. From Repeal onward Zinfandel has been a central grape on our estate and in our line of wines. There are many high points and challenges in the last 92 years for this varietal when the grapes were selling for low prices, the yields weren’t as high as we wanted or the weather didn’t cooperate. Then there are glorious, highly lauded harvests, every farmer's dream, where the weather and growing season came together beautifully and produced a bounty of fruit perfectly ripened.
There are three generations of Zinfandel on our Home Ranch: the original dating to the early 1900s with very few vines left but most of them over 100 years old; the second generation, nearing 40 years old, was patterned after the original vineyard using budwood from the old vines as well as neighbor's vines and finally the newest which was planted with the Rockpile Clone, a hearty hillside choice with distinctive bunches and DNA to bring out the best in this grape. Known as our Mother Clone vineyard it is mostly head pruned (goblet trained or bush vine to the Aussies) along with some experimental blocks that are trellised.
As we get ready for vintage 2019 I am looking out over the Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard. She has a lot of stories to tell! My grandfather's days of bringing in the boxes of grapes aided by the whole family including young sons John and Jim entailed great effort; son John's first crush as winemaker was in 1948 and he along with 2 other men processed 800 tons-as he said in his Oral History it was 'a heckuva crush'; Jim recalls very cold and rainy harvests especially in 1964 when it rained and made it difficult to ripen and pick-one of the latest harvests on record that year at the end of October; the drought of the mid-1970's which produced fabulous vintages but lower production; the 1980s at first brought above average rain and abundant harvests to a drought at the other end and 1985 stood out as the best of the decade for Zinfandel; on to the 1990s with the '97 vintage considered the 'vintage of the century' because everything aligned from production to perfect weather but there were other standouts like 1995 for Zinfandel-considered one of the best due to great growing conditions again; in the next decade we saw one of the earliest harvests on record (2004) and one of the best of the decade-2005 (there seems to be a theme of years ending in '5') with remarkable quantity and quality; the last 9 years have brought a long period of drought which in turn gave great concentration to our Zinfandels as well as a couple of heat spikes that virtually fried the vineyard after a long cool summer (2010) as well as high temperatures over the 2017 Labor Day Weekend prompting the vineyard and cellar crew to pick the Mother Clone vineyard as soon as possible.
Today I can see the vineyard is in the final week or two of ripening. I can tell by the way the canes are beginning to droop and the bunches are turning deep purple. This is turning out to be a good production year for our Zinfandel with a late start to the growing season and a normal picking time expected in a couple of weeks. My judgement on the vintage is reserved until after fermentation is over. I'll look forward to this vintage like my father and my grandfather before me-with a farmer's eye and an appreciative palate.
August 27, 2019 13:10
And it begins-the most exciting time of year for us as farmers. The grapes are ripe and they are ready for their moment in the tank. Time to shine as everything, from the crushpad to the presses to the fermenting tanks, is ready to process the grapes.
Our estate grown Sauvignon Blanc is always the first in to the winery each harvest. This year September 4 began vintage 2019 for us. With the late bud break through a fairly uneventful growing season this is right on track for a normal start date. In fact, I had to go back 14 years ago to the 2005 harvest to find a comparable start date of September! All the vintages from 2006 to 2018 began in August due to either warm weather or the drought years.
What's next? It will be soon be followed by Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer (for friends.white) and Pinot Noir and 11 other varietals we harvest.
Thoughts on the growing season: it was mostly an even one with a few heat spikes towards the end of August. The marine fog intrusion made it bearable for the vines by cooling things off once the sun set and kept a cool blanket of fog until around 9 in the morning aiding in the all important development of sugars, acid and phenols. The word is we have an above average crop in almost all of our varietals. We'll have a final wrap up when the last grape is picked to give a more indepth look at vintage 2019.
I'll let the photos below tell the story. It begins in the vineyard with the crew-thanks to their hard work. They began at 6:30am and the first two gondolas were brought in by 10am. The sample is taken from the gondola by vineyard foreman Manuel Diaz for analysis. Winemaker Montse Reece tests for sugar, acid and pH and she told me she is very happy with the results of this first load of Sauvignon Blanc. Next on to the crushpad where Cellarmaster Polo Cano prepares to transfer the grapes to the crusher. The fruit is destemmed and sent to the press where the skins and seeds are removed. We'll follow the juice as it ferments in the cellar over the next couple of weeks. Vineyard Manger Lance Blakeley, Polo Cano, Mitch Blakeley and Manuel Diaz discuss the next grape loads for the day. The stems, in the last photo, will be taken out to dry and will be spread along the vineyard avenues later on this year.
July 26, 2019 17:06
The subject of sustainability and how it sells wine is a fascinating one these days. We’ve been certified by a third party auditor. We’ve made changes over the years and plan on making more changes over the next decades to maintain our status. What sells us on the concept? More importantly what sells you, the reader, on the concept? Sold on Sustainability sheds light on the ‘sale’ability of the very thing that keeps the grape and wine business going.
What sold the sustainability concept for me was the focus on the future. The emphasis is placed on what we can do better in order to leave the earth and environment in good condition for future generations. This includes the vineyard, winery and human resources. We are audited annually via a third party California Sustainable W A representative. Before they arrive Mitch Blakeley, fourth generation family member tasked with the project, submits paperwork that includes changes and upgrades to the previous year’s work.
When we talk about sustainability in the market place whether it is to our tasting room visitors or a wine shop buyer it is about what we have achieved and how we will go forward to continue the process begun 90 years ago. We continue being good stewards of the land, to treat the wines and people with respect and with an eye on how it will impact the environment and the world in the years ahead. This is sustainability to us.
How does this sell the concept? If our friends know we are invested in the future in such a way that each year will bring mindful choices about our land, our wines and our way of life then we have all that we need to live the legacy of our founders and the next generations. We are indeed sold on sustainability.
July 26, 2019 16:58
One of the things you do when you enter into another stage of winery growth is to write a mission statement. Trying to encapsulate 90+ years into one sentence is a challenge. We recently completed our first ever statement and it took collaboration of three generations to come up with one that rang the right bell. With our Mission in Mind, I’ll take it apart phrase by phrase and sometimes word for word to show what it means to us.
Pedroncelli Mission Statement: We are a Sonoma County farming family, founded in 1927, sharing our legacy through sustainably produced exceptional wines.
Sonoma County is the starting place for us. Dry Creek Valley as an appellation came along years later but the roots were set into the county’s soil when my grandparents arrived. Farming is what we do and have always done. Over the years we have made some changes and have had the future generations in mind while we are making the choices we do now when considering the varietal to plant or how to get the best out of a particular vine trellising system.
Family is who we are for four generations and counting. Not many family businesses make it past the second generation and our goal is to maintain going forward as fully family operational.
Founded in 1927 and is the year Giovanni Pedroncelli brought his wife Julia and young family to Geyserville, to a shuttered winery and 25 acres of vineyard, to a home that would sustain them through Prohibition, the Great Depression and start from scratch once Repeal rolled around.
Sharing our legacy with generations both past and future. A legacy doesn’t end with one generation-it is overarching and looks forward as well.
Sustainably produced and certified. Doing what we have done for more than 90 years.
Exceptional wines are what we strive for with each and every vintage. Our 92nd harvest is just around the corner. Working with our winemaker Montse Reece, Cellarmaster Polo Cano and Vineyard Manager Lance Blakeley each contributing their exceptional talents will bring to your glass our our very best.
July 26, 2019 16:39
Just where does Zinfandel (the grape and varietal) fit into place in today’s world of wine? How much Zinfandel is made these days? Finding Zinfandel’s Place is about going back to the roots of grape growing in the area and discovering why was it such a popular grape. I'll also try to figure out what made it the preferred wine to make in those days and why is it still planted widely throughout Dry Creek Valley and other areas?
Let’s start with production. There are roughly 44,000 acres of Zinfandel planted in California. Sonoma County is second on the list of most widely planted counties with just over 5000 acres. You’ve heard it before and I’ll repeat-Dry Creek Valley has half of the Zinfandel planted in this county-the smallest of the four major appellations by the way and quite a concentration of one varietal.
At Pedroncelli it is the number one grape on our estate with 33 acres on the hillsides where it has been planted since the early 1900s. About one fifth of our case production is Zinfandel, about 12,000 cases, split between our Rosé, Mother Clone, Bushnell Vineyard and Courage. It is our flagship wine, and the flagship of this appellation. The numbers above, while reflecting only California grown Zin, don’t include other areas where the grape does well. Among them the Yakima Valley in Washington, Barossa and Hunter Valleys as well as Margaret River in Australia, and South Africa.
Records from the Gold Rush days show that Zinfandel was planted by the mid-1800s. In Dry Creek Valley the grape took root and was a favorite of home winemakers and budding wineries. Even during Prohibition it remained popular and is the reason why we have vineyard to this day. The wine made during those days was approachable and easy to enjoy early on-not much, if any, aging and a quick turn-around for consumption put the wine on the table in a few months.
The quality of Zin grown today in Dry Creek Valley is stellar and stands on its own with the one-two punch of berry-pepper and the rounded, mild tannins. The combination makes for a food friendly wine. This is where Zinfandel finds its’ place-balanced between the ripe fruit and pepper spice quality. Picking the fruit at a time when the acidity gives the wine structure. Aging for a year in barrel to add smoky notes. Its’ place is there at the table with a story to tell, one that captures your imagination and creates a legacy of enjoyment.
Today Zinfandel has its’ place on wine lists and in wine lover’s minds. It even has its’ own fan club-just ask ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) one of the most focused and longest running varietal trade groups. They have dedicated a celebration of California’s grape for over 30 years. You'll find Zins' place there among the many fans tasting and comparing the styles from all over California and beyond.
June 25, 2019 15:04
The 7th post on Zinfandel this year and the focus is on the origins of this unique grape. Where did it come from, where is it planted and how many countries produce a Zinfandel these days. We'll dive into the background as we know it.
I am highlighting our flagship grape each month and I have been thinking through the origins of Zinfandel’s arrival to the U.S. It originated in Europe, was brought over sometime in the early 1800s in the form of cuttings and a century and a half later became known as ‘America’s grape’. Very similar to the way my grandparents made their way to the New World. There was opportunity to begin a new life here and to put down roots in a new place. For many of those early arrivers they brought something from the home country to make them feel at home in the new one. Wine was a tradition for many who came to America during that time and it follows the grapes from Europe were an important step in maintaining that connection in America.
From those early days of planting the grape, Zinfandel had many spellings and names. In some cases it may have been a misspelling similar to when an immigrant checked into Ellis Island and received a different spelling of their surname. Or simply someone couldn’t read the handwriting. Who knows? What did happen is over the first few decades the name went back and forth, at times similar to the varietal we know today (Zeinfindall) and other examples (Black St. Peter’s or Zirfantler anyone?) went out on a limb. Glad they finally settled on its’ current name of Zinfandel.
Today there are 42,000 acres of Zin planted in California alone! A little over 5000 acres are planted in Sonoma County and half of that amount is right here in Dry Creek Valley, the smallest of the four major appellations. It was first planted here in the mid-1850’s alongside other varietals like the Mission grape that made a wine that was easy to drink soon after fermentation. Other countries around the world, specifically Croatia where the lineage of the grape has been traced to recently-a great article here outlining the story-grow it and are at about 5 outside of the United States.
For your enjoyment here is a history taken from our Zin Kit produced in the 1990s and includes a 70 year timeline:
1832—First record of Zinfandel being grown in the US by William Prince on Long Island, New York. He identifies it as a Hungarian variety.
1834—First reported exhibit of Zinfandel by Samuel J. Perkins of Boston.
1839—Zinfandal vine wins its first award as part of the Otis Johnson collection on the East Coast.
1848—John Fisk Allen of Salem, Massachusetts, publishes description of locally grown Zinfandal that closely matches what is now called Zinfandel.
1852—The year Agoston Haraszthy imported Zin into California, according to his son, Arpad, writing in the 1880’s. Haraszthy is sometimes known as the “father of Sonoma County winegrowing”.
1857—Captain Frederick W. Macondray and J.W. Osborne exhibit Zinfandal at Mechanic’s Fair in San Francisco.
1858—Commissioner of Patents lists Zinfandal as part of its collection.
1858—A.P. Smith of Sacramento exhibits Zeinfindall at State Fair.
1859—Antoine Delmas wins first prize for his wine, believed to be Zinfandel, at the State Fair.
1860—William Boggs plants Zinfandel in the propagation garden of the Sonoma Horticultural Society. Leads to extensive Zin plantings in the county.
1860—General Vallejo’s winemaker, Dr. Victor Flaure, advises Sonoma growers to plant all the Zinfandel they can.
1864-1869—Dry Creek Valley attracts the first growers who planted Zinfandel and Mission grapes to support or start their own wineries.
1868—First North Coast award (a silver medal) for a Zinfandel given to Sonoma pioneer wine man Jacob R. Snyder at the Mechanics Institute Fair.
1872—The first winery in Dry Creek Valley was built by George Bloch. A vineyard boom soon followed bringing 15 growers to the valley by 1877.
1878—Zinfandel is the most widely planted varietal during California’s first wine boom.
1883—Dry Creek grape growers increased to 54 by this time and Zinfandel was the top planted varietal with a total of 395 acres.
June 25, 2019 15:00
July always marks a turning point during growing season in our vineyard. From March to June the vines start with budbreak, flower and set the crop all the while growing by leaps and bounds. Shoots measuring 6 inches in April are now 2 feet in length by the end of June. The turning point in the growth of grape bunches is when we begin to see the first shades of purple in our red wine grapes or the pale yellow-green as the white wine grapes soften and devleop-and that is called veraison.
We are about two weeks behind since bud break was late and there is no ‘catching up’ in the vineyard. As a result, veraison will be a bit later this month and I’ve heard grape growers around here predicting a ‘normal’ harvest start date-which means at this point the end of August. Rule of thumb among the vineyard growers is six weeks to harvest from the time veraison begins. We'll see the white wine grapes like our Sauvignon Blanc come in first followed by red wine grapes like Pinot Noir and Zinfandel, the early reds, coming in a week or two later. This, of course, is dependent on the weather we receive in the next two months, once again deferring to Mother Nature and what she has in store for us.
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