• 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.

  • 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.

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    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.

  • Zinfandel Harvests Past & Present

    August 27, 2019 13:35

    Zinfandel Harvests Past & Present

    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.

  • This is it-Vintage 2019

    August 27, 2019 13:10

    This is it-Vintage 2019

    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.

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  • Checked off the Bucket List: 90th Anniversary 2017 Harvest Completed

    September 28, 2017 07:07

    Harvest for us started on August 25 with Pinot Noir from one of our growers. Estate harvesting began on August 28 for our Sauvignon Blanc. The last grapes in were Cabernet Sauvignon from the Three Vineyards block on September 28. Just over 5 weeks and we crammed quite a few grapes into tanks during that time. I asked Montse Reece to sum up this year-her 11th harvest at Pedroncelli, in three words. "Heatwave, concentration, and good." She continued, “The rain during the growing season helped restore nutrients in the vines, so I am seeing intense colors and aromatics across all varieties. The heatwave on the Labor Day weekend only affected our zinfandels, lowering yields but concentrating the already high phenols (color+aromas). Overall a good harvest season.” We have seen many harvests here at Pedroncelli. Our goal is to showcase the best of the vintage. This year had its challenges and we met them as they came along. It’s what farmers do. Now onto the next stage of the wine's journey as they ferment and settle in the cellar. The vines will rest now and enter their dormant phase readying themselves for what the next growing season will bring. I'll celebrate with a splash of Mother Clone Zinfandel in my Dino!

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  • The 2017 Harvest Weather Report

    September 28, 2017 07:01

    The last five weeks have been filled with exciting weather patterns from the 112 degree heat wave over Labor Day Weekend to the cooler weeks following with a few heat spikes. Natural for September-we’ve seen it all before. As farmers we all need to be prepared for weather challenges. Usually it is rain that we worry about but the heat spike that came just 7 days after the first grapes were harvested at Pedroncelli was reminiscent of a nearly identical one in 2010. We lost nearly half of our Zinfandel that year because the heat spike came at the end of a very cool summer. This year we had a hot July followed by a temperate August. Then September roared in with heat blazing. The vines and grapes felt the heat and we employed drip irrigation to give the vines much needed hydration. Many vineyards including ours did suffer from loss of juice due to dehydration especially in the Zinfandel vineyards. The crew picked the Mother Clone Zinfandel as fast as they could and dealt with shorter days due to the excessive heat. While it wasn’t as intense as the 2010 heat wave it had its’ effect. Loss of juice translates to a higher concentration of flavor in the wine-and Zinfandel was most affected because it was closest to being ready. While it is a bit early to tell, Lance Blakeley, Vineyard Manager, estimates a 25% loss for our Zinfandel production. Many other red varietals weren’t as affected because they still had some ripening to do. This one is in the books at the end of September. I am looking forward to trying this Zinfandel in a few years to see the effects of this harvest year. Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Harvest 2016 Begins

    August 17, 2016 12:39

    We began our 89th harvest with Sauvignon Blanc from our East Side Vineyards located a mile west of the winery. We started harvest on the same date one year ago!

    Here are some snapshots from the big event:

    Winemaker Montse testing for Brix at the harvest lab. Measured 23.5-nice and ripe.

    Montse in lab

    Next stop is the crush pad for destemming.

    Sauvignon Blanc crush pad

    From the destemmer into the press-the rice hulls you see are part of the process to make sure we get all the juice from the skins (and the hulls are inert and add no flavor to the wine).

    Sauvignon Blanc press

    The 2016 vintage of our Sauvignon Blanc has been pressed, the juice flowing into the sump and on its' way to the fermentation tank. Let the vintage begin!

    Sauvignon Blanc sump flow

  • Harvest Memories

    August 2, 2016 12:59

    Growing up in the middle of the vineyards and winery has imprinted many sights, sounds, and smells over the years. The earliest memory of harvest I have is the smell of fermenting wine. It is hard to miss when you live right next to the cellar and the pungent aromas have been woven into my life for over 50 years. My family moved to our home at the winery in 1965 after my grandparents had built their retirement home just a hop and a few skips from the winery-in the middle of our Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard in fact.

    Our estate vineyard is all hand-picked so there is usually a small army of 15-25 grape pickers going through as quickly as possible and the speed at which they would move from vine to vine made the whole vineyard come alive. When I was younger I tried my hand at ‘harvest’ by going out and picking second crop Zinfandel with my sisters-we used wheelbarrows and buckets to bring in the bunches and proudly stopped at the weigh station to find out how many pounds we had picked-I think is was around 15 pounds-if that. We were so happy to be a part of what my dad and uncle did.

    I also remember just after I first began working for the family business, in the tasting room, wanting to learn more about the winemaking process. So during the 1987 harvest I weighed and tested grapes as they arrived at the weigh station. I would listen and watch for gondolas of grapes from my office and meet the tractors to begin the process. I learned quite a bit by being at the start of grape crush, from weighing the grapes (which is serious business because the government watches this closely) to testing juice samples from the particular load of grapes checking for sugar with a refractometer as well as total acidity and pH, two other indicators of quality of a load of grapes.

    More recollections to come as we make our way towards the 2016 harvest. A toast to memories with a bit of Zinfandel in my Dino!

    The sampling process from last year-the bucket with the crushed Sauvignon Blanc and the juice sample representing the load of grapes-ready to be tested.

    2015 Sauvignon Blanc crushed

    2015 Sauvignon Blanc juice

  • Harvest leftovers

    October 9, 2015 13:52

    More harvest know-how continues in my posts this month along with other vineyard and cellar matters. Today I am talking about the ‘leftovers’ of harvest: stems, pomace and lees.

    Stems are the first to go once grapes have arrived at the crush pad. The destemming happens before the grapes are transferred to fermentation tanks. The stems at Pedroncelli are used as erosion control along the vineyard avenues.

    Pomace is the name for the skins and seeds left from either white wine production when they are removed by pressing the berries before fermentation or red wine production when they are fermented with the juice to extract flavor and color. Once through the press the pomace is transferred to an area on our vineyard where it will be tarped for one year and then used to add nutrients to the vineyard.


    Lees are what is left from fermentation in both white and red wine production. The dregs of the tanks or barrels are filtered out so your glass of wine isn’t cloudy or gunky. These cakes of dead yeast cells are composted. Sometimes we don’t filter the lees right away when, for instance, a small lot of our F. Johnson Vineyard Chardonnay is barrel fermented and the lees are kept in barrel for seven months of aging and the lees are stirred to give the wine more complexity.

    (I found this photo of a barrel section with lees at the bottom before filtering.)

    Sediment at Bottom of Wine

    A splash of F. Johnson Vineyard Chardonnay in my Dino to celebrate harvest leftovers.