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.
May 24, 2019 15:53
There are many articles about pairing wine with barbecue. You know the stuff: smoky, layers of flavor from the many spices used or the sauce is a bit sweet to offset the heat. And there’s something about Zinfandel being the ‘all-American’ grape that makes it a great choice.
When I am putting together a menu I always keep wine in mind. What am I fixing and which of them will go best? There are a few things to consider as I choose which meat, which sides, which wine-or is it which wine, which meat? The other things I take into consideration are fat and heat. Now I think I am complicating things. It should be very easy. Chicken or the egg-which comes first? Let’s go with the wine.
Zinfandel in this case. The berry-spice quality of this varietal makes it a easy when it comes to pairing with the flavors of barbecue. It has some softness from the berry fruit, lighter tannins (as compared to Cabernet Sauvignon or Petite Sirah) and the zing from the spice partners nicely with the world of barbecue flavors. Balance is important too because when there is balance between the fruit, acidity and tannin there is a more perfect pairing between Zin and barbecue fare.
Other things I consider are the protein: pork or beef. These are my favorites to pair with Zin especially pork. And then there is the level of spice and fat—which cut to use and making sure it is fattier like ribs, pork shoulder or brisket. Fat is the bridge between wine and food and in order to make the pairing sing you need to have enough fat. It acts as the buffer and allows you to truly enjoy the pairing. Fourth is bringing the heat or not. I like a little spice but not chipotle/cayenne/ghost pepper hot. I go for layers using different mild to medium chili powders and backing them up with dried herbs to match like oregano. Again balance is what I am seeking for an enjoyable and tasty meal. Sweetness is your fifth consideration but not necessarily the deciding factor. Sometimes there is too much sweet for me and it interferes with the wine and food.
I said easy so here it is in a nutshell. The berry-spice quality of Zinfandel makes it the best choice when it comes to pairing with pork (pulled or ribs) and beef (brisket or steak). I use mostly dry rubs instead of sauce because there is less sweetness to interrupt the great combination of flavors. I like the idea of balance from the wine to the ingredients in a dish. So there you go-Zinfandel, the go-to, All-American choice for this summer’s BBQs.
April 21, 2019 12:16
The reference in the title is for a license plate frame we had created in the 1980s when we made three styles of Zinfandel-Red, White and Rosé. Zinfandel is part of our history as a brand and as grape growers. The name 'zinfandel' itself has quite a complicated past-not always called Zinfandel but the good news is the name prevailed!
Zinfandel has been grown on the hillsides surrounding the winery since the early 1900s and, what became known as our Mother Clone vineyard, covers 32 acres and has three generations planted on the Home Ranch. We have diversified our Zin-folio to include three red Zinfandels, one Rosé and two blends. Zin-Zin-Zin takes a look back and forward with this versatile varietal.
From the beginning there was red Zinfandel. It was the first varietal planted on our property and is what sustained my grandparents and their family through the end of Prohibition. It made a style of wine that was drinkable soon after it was made-which is why it was so popular with heads-of-households who would purchase our Zinfandel and make their own 200 gallons of wine during the ‘dry years’. It was also the predominant grape in the blends my grandfather made as he began the family business after Repeal.
By 1948 we introduced a Zinfandel at the same time as we put our first label on bottles of our wine. It was made by son John in his first year as winemaker. As time went by we increased our line of wines giving our customers a wider selection to choose from. The next wine in the Zinfandel legacy was a Rosé introduced in the mid-1950s when John wanted a lighter styled wine. These Zinfandels would become the backbone of our winery in the ensuing years even as we added Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and others to the list.
As we entered the 1980s the wine world was finding out about a lighter styled rosé called White Zinfandel which was becoming very popular. We made our first one in 1985 and continued for 15 years making a sweeter lighter version of this popular wine side by side with our traditional styled Zinfandel Rosé. The latter began to make a comeback in the early 2000s as more people desired a more complex rosé and we began increasing our production proving the original style was more popular.
During the 1990s winemaker John Pedroncelli chose some outstanding vineyards which deserved recognition on our labels. Our Mother Clone and Bushnell Vineyard Zins were created. The Mother Clone maintained the style we were always known for which was a classic Dry Creek Valley combination of fruit and spice. The Bushnell Vineyard, with a family connection, was set aside as a Single Vineyard choice focusing on a block among the 15 acre vineyard. This block showed more spice followed by deep fruit aromatics and flavor. In 2016 we added a second single vineyard wine-Courage from the Faloni Vineyard. Our winemaker Montse noticed this vineyard block had a different aspect to it and shows a pretty floral-berry aroma and flavor. We welcomed the new addition to our expanding line of wines.
Finally our Zinfandel makes appearances as a supporting player in our friends.red and Sonoma Classico-both blends with other varietals combining for the best of their characteristics. You could say we are going back to our roots when we offer these blends-just like my grandfather did when he first started blending the wines in his cellar all those years ago.
November 19, 2018 14:34
Lizzy Boardman, one of our friendly Tasting Room Staffers, is the idea lady behind our seasonal ‘look’ whether it is summer or fall, winter or spring. When she was thinking about decorating last winter in preparation for Winter Wineland this avid Pinterest fan found an idea of a grapevine trunk holding notes of thanks. She named it Gratitude Vine.
The vine itself is the trunk from the Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard just across the way. The project, begun in January, has garnered 100s of thankful tags and it is fitting as we celebrate the holidays, and recently Thanksgiving, we give thanks for many things. From friends to wine, family to joy, hope and peace—all of which are hanging on our Gratitude Vine.
We are filled with gratitude for our 91 years on this beautiful ranch producing fine wines for your enjoyment. We are also grateful to our friends who have supported and savored our wines through the years and toast those new friends to come.
Stop by our tasting room and add your own to the vine-it is getting a bit crowded but we believe there is always room for more. Via this blog post I invite you to share what or who it is you are thankful for this year and we'll add it to the vine for you. I personally am thankful to the first responders in the latest fires around California-without them more would have been lost.
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!
Photo credit: Dianna Murphy Photography
November 18, 2016 15:13
Make hay while the sun shines is the theme while we are between rain storms here in Dry Creek Valley. It has been mostly dry since we had 7 inches fall at the end of October so the vineyard crew is kept busy as the vines enter dormancy and they can prune or pre-prune different blocks in the vineyard.
November is typically the start for pruning the vineyard since vines begin their march to dormancy soon after harvest. It began in one of the small northern blocks of the Mother Clone vineyard. Since it was dormant they pruned all the way to the first two buds-next year’s crop. You will note there is a white substance where the cane was cut back. A paste is applied that seals water out of it in the event of rain and helps the vine fight off diseases like Eutypa, also known as ‘dead arm’ disease.
Some of the blocks are pre-pruned. As you can see about a foot of this year’s cane is left. Like the paste applied on the fully pruned vine, this also protects the vine from disease. The vineyard crew will go back in March and prune back to the two buds for the future crop set.
A splash of Mother Clone Zinfandel in my Dino as we toast the fall and sleeping vines.
November 9, 2016 16:12
Yesterday I was asked to represent my home valley to a group of sommeliers here for Sonoma Summit, sponsored by our trade organization Sonoma County Vintners. I compiled my talk using points supplied by the Winegrowers of Dry Creek Valley. The subject was ‘what makes Dry Creek Valley singular when it comes to Zinfandel’ and I made it my own. Here are my thoughts.
It all began in the mid-1800s when those who settled here began planting vineyard and making wine. They shared budwood and the fruit of their labor with each other. Why Zin? It became a popular grape because it was easy to drink early on-simple as that. Not much aging necessary. And so the market for it grew.
By the 1880s it was a thriving business but winegrowing came in two waves-pre-and post-Prohibition. It was a long hiccup in our history here with wineries making 1.9 million gallons of wine in 1919, the year the 18th amendment was voted in. We are particularly thankful to all the head of households who bought grapes and made wine during that dry time, saving Zinfandel blocks from being torn out to make way for other crops. These are now known as old vine Zinfandel. In my family’s case we bought mid-Prohibition with Zinfandel vineyard having been planted here since the early 1900s. We sold to home winemakers as well.
Let’s take a step back and look at my home valley's statistics: 16 miles long, 2 miles wide, 7500 acres of grapes planted to 39 varietals. 2400 of them are Zinfandel-making Dry Creek Valley home to half of the Zinfandel planted in Sonoma County. Did you know that the largest concentration of old vine Zin is here as well? Now you do.
So what gives Zinfandel grown in Dry Creek Valley ‘that certain something’ or je ne se quoi? What makes this a premium region to grow Zinfandel? We have the perfect climate of hot days ripening the fruit and cool nights (natural air conditioning) letting the grapes develop complexity with a generous amount of hang time which factors in the development of flavor, acidity and sugar. Often times a challenge to grow, we have found out over the years it is the climate, soil and geography that gets the best out of Zin.
DCV has its distinct vineyard neighborhoods-the eastern bench home, the mineral rich valley floor western highlands with its red soils home and the northern heights where the cool Pacific breeze develops great wines. Combine the diversity of these neighborhoods, intensity of flavors gained through vineyard site, wisdom and winemaking, and you will find a grape that we feel can be the most expressive of their home and their own personalities. You’ll find the characteristics shine in the wine-reflecting the vineyard’s personality like no other grape. Case in point: Pedroncelli makes spice bombs not fruit bombs.
All of this combined with 150 years of growing Zin with 2400 acres is your ticket to the true personality of this great grape. I think it is time for a splash of Mother Clone Zinfandel in my Dino!
Our Mother Clone old vine block circa early 1900s-just a handful of these left and they keep producing delicious fruit.
August 31, 2016 12:17
Our 89th harvest began two weeks ago. Today the vineyard crew picked several blocks on the home ranch. For us harvest doesn't really begin until our Mother Clone Zinfandel is brought in to the winery. Our flagship varietal, planted here in the early 1900s, is our iconic wine, the star of each vintage. Sourced from what is now second generation vineyard, the vines are nearly 40 years old and planted on the hillsides around the winery. A toast in my Dino with a splash of Zinfandel!
Here is a glimpse into the action. You get the idea going from vine to vine how intensive it is to pick grapes. Each bucket is run back to the gondola waiting at the end of the row.
First stop for the gondola is at the weigh station and for a sugar sample. Manuel Diaz, vineyard foreman, takes the sample to winemaker Montse for testing.
A cup of beautiful Zinfandel juice, ready for analysis.
The results are in! Manuel guessed 25 degrees Brix-the sugar level of the sample and he was right.
A short trip from the scale to the crushpad, 2016 Mother Clone is destemmed and sent to fermentation tank. This is when I wish we had smell-o-vision, the ripe fruit is so tantalizing.
The beginning of fermentation. We'll follow tank #102 as it begins its' wine journey.
June 30, 2016 13:26
Bud break is a distant memory, bloom in May was without any problems and now the vineyard crew is catching up on shoot thinning and drip irrigation as summer begins. The push is on as canes grow longer and bunches of grapes get bigger and fill out. Their next stop is veraison, when the berries begin to soften and color up. This is expected to begin in earnest by the first week of July, right on schedule.
“More than we expected” is the general feeling about crop set for this vintage as I visited with vineyard manager Lance Blakeley. With plenty of rain and a slight recovery from the drought period we have an average crop on the vine. There won’t be much thinning of bunches on estate vineyards-just a bit in our Sangiovese, for instance, where bunches are touching. If not addressed now it will lead to bunch rot as the season progresses.
Mother Clone Zinfandel, planted on the home ranch since the early 1900s and now is mostly a second generation vineyard, is showing average crop size which, for this hillside vineyard, is 3-4 tons per acre. Lance Blakeley, vineyard manager, noted the bunches are quite elongated on many of the head pruned vines, something you don't always see on our vines.
Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, planted a mile west of the winery since the 1990s, has set up what is considered an average crop with an expected 5-6 ton per acre. Why the difference in tonnage? Our Cabernet vineyard is planted on a different style of trellising than the head pruned Zinfandel and develops the arms of the vine straight out with more spurs for production. A toast to the season with either our Mother Clone Zinfandel or Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon in my Dino. It seems it's a toss up between the two.
Mother Clone Zinfandel with the iconic 'wing' on the right.
Mother Clone Zinfandel with elongated bunches we're seeing this season.
Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon crop set 2016. Note the berries have more room than the Zinfandel which is tightly packed.
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