June 2, 2021 10:48
Recalling the early days of the pandemic which included working remotely, cleaning products and toilet paper in short supply and the virtual world replacing many activities like business meetings and socializing. I took part in a few Zoom cocktail sessions which were fun. About a month into the stay at home orders I wondered if anyone would like to join me in a virtual coffee get-together. I love a good cup of coffee and I enjoy the conversations I have had over said cup of coffee.
I floated the idea via Facebook and several people nibbled at the concept so I put down the first date for what would become known as my COVID Coffee Chat-April 21st, 2020. Not everyone who was interested ended up joining. The blessing in disguise came in the form of six women who answered the call and the friendships made during this time. We have been meeting every week for about 50 sessions (we skipped a day once in a while).
A screen shot of our group, that's me on the top left. Our group in order after me:
Allison Levine, owner of Please the Palate and a freelance wine writer and podcaster, Southern CA
Betsy Nachbauer, owner of ACORN Winery, Healdsburg CA
E Slater, owner of InShort Direct Marketing and co-founder of Wine industry Network, Oregon
Cindy Lowe Rynning, owner of Grape Experiences and a wine writer, Illinois
Dr. Elizabeth Smith PhD, TravelWineChick and freelance wine and food writer, Napa CA.
While wine is the obvious thread we all have in common I’ll point to wine education as the deeper link. We all one way or another write or talk about wine and educate through our various roles. Food is another affinity especially when one of us mentions chocolate.
The span of subjects over 50 plus meetings was focused on COVID guidelines, vaccination news, which tier we were in Red? Orange?. Next up could be the politics of the moment, the shared name of three of our members (Elizabeth), how tall we are, hair styles of the past, or our background stories. The conversations always included advice, listening, swearing, lots of laughter, tears, shared frustrations, celebrations, opinions, commiseration. Pretty much what we would do if we met in person.
I will tell you we experienced many milestones in this time together. Some life changing, some happy, some sad. Examples of the arc were always reflected in the latest turn of the pandemic. Two of us had tasting rooms that open/closed/opened again and then were put under strict and limiting guidelines. Some of us were very careful because of compromised health and followed the hard and fast rules to protect others as well as ourselves. E had just moved to a new state-a couple of weeks before the pandemic began-and because of the situation she and her husband have made exactly one friend who had moved just before them into the same building. Allison took us with her (via her phone) when she received her first and second vaccinations. Birthday milestones were cheered on-one each turned 50, 60 and 70 but I’m not telling who.
Other exciting changes or additions in the last year included: Allison and Cindy began Crush on This a weekly video series focused on different wine subjects. E wrote a book which gathered her knowledge from teaching classes about selling wine in the tasting room and is soon to be published. Because of the pandemic Elizabeth changed her career course and became a freelance author of numerous articles on food and wine as well as started her own pet sitting service, named after her beloved cat Einstein who passed in October. Betsy worked hard to change and stay afloat amidst the challenges of operating during the pandemic and with much success.
Just as in real life, loss was a theme throughout the year with family members and cherished pets passing. The most memorable was when one of our group received a phone call during our chat and heard the news her mother had passed. I can’t tell you how painful it was but it was a moment witnessed by the five others, sharing in her grief and touching each of us deeply.
This month Allison brought a group of media friends (she would want me to include that all of us were vaccinated) and had dinner at Pedroncelli. Betsy and her husband Bill were co-hosts. All brought together by the COVID Coffee Chat experience.
Connection. This is how it all started. During the pandemic we craved what we were missing and found ways to reach out and bond. We will continue with our chats and one day we will gather together around a table at a café. Over the last year there was a lot of hope for things to change, for the guidelines to lift, for travel to begin again. The blessing in disguise was the gift of time and getting to know someone on a deeper level. How about you, do you have a similar pandemic experience you’d like to share? I would love to hear from you!
April 12, 2021 10:08
Do you feel like you have been hibernating during the pandemic? I do. Spring is here and bringing warm days ahead. I am itching to break out of my shell and go on more hikes, maybe some biking and some downtime outdoors as we approach summer.
As one of my favorite starship captains says-it’s time to engage! There are many ways to engage in the world whether socially distant or not. Sinking your hands into fresh earth to plant something, take a hike and commune with nature, become innovative and wake up to a new routine, or break out and reinvent yourself. Having fun is important too-it helps us to engage with each other on another level. For instance, playing Scrabble with Carol, my sister-in-law, became a highly competitive and fun time as the more we played the more we learned about each other. Who knew Xis is an official Scrabble word?
Beginning last summer one of our neighborhood cul de sacs held a weekly yet socially distant gathering around their court-they brought out chairs, tables, food and wine. They took a break in winter but last Saturday, as I walked down the street, I saw they were back together-still distanced. A book came to mind as I passed them: Yard Wine: It’s a Neighborly Thing "Bringing America’s Neighborhoods Together One Porch at a Time."
It was originally published in 2011 and is pairs nicely with the theme of my note. I think it is a charming book and idea worthy of a rebirth as we move out of our pandemic guidelines and into more contact with our neighbors and friends. And it includes wine!
An excerpt from their book: “Do you long for neighborhoods of the past? When neighbors knew each other’s names, visited on front porches, and enjoyed one another’s’ company? Now is the perfect time to return to these “good old days” that provided great personal fulfillment, greater conversation, and lifelong, face-to-face friendships. In Yard Wine: It’s a Neighborly Thing authors Cathy Larson and Nancy Roddy show you how to create your own Yard Wine neighborhood, use the power of Yard Wine and find the secret to happiness and a rejuvenated spirit in your own front yard — starting tonight! All you need is an open heart … and an open bottle of wine. Cheers!”
The authors share stories of relationships born from time spent outside the house, connecting with their neighborhood in a spontaneous way. It is the simple concept of sitting outside (perhaps outside of your comfort zone too) and making your front yard your front room. When we first discovered this concept Ed and I followed their example-we sat on our front lawn, chatted, sipped wine and greeted passersby. It wasn't as widely accepted back then so I think we need to get our Yard Wine flag and fly it, set up lawn chairs and greet and talk to our neighbors walking by our home. Just in the course of pandemic we have new neighbors, times have changed and it's time to reconnect or make new connections. And of course invite them to sip some wine with us. Now where are my Go-Vinos?
Wine is engaging. Wine is fun. I can't think of anything more inviting than pouring a glass of wine and sitting down after a long day to relax and connect-how about you? Send me your photos from your front porch, lawn, deck or stoop and I'll share them. Sip, visit and engage!
Note: the book is no longer for sale but it can be found on Kindle, via Amazon.
March 30, 2021 16:10
March brings us rain, spring, setting our clocks forward and, at Pedroncelli, the cellar crew is busy getting wines ready for their final stop before coming to you—the bottling line. We usually begin bottling the white wines from the previous harvest in February followed by the red wines from the previous harvest as they finish aging—some see 12 months while others a little longer. The bottling schedule lasts for about six months—just in time to get ready for harvest and all that brings.
From winemaker Montse Reece is a snapshot of preparation to bottle. “One week before bottling we rack the wine off (with either bentonite for white wines and gelatin for reds) and filter the wine. All wines, except the Port, get cross-flow filtered. After filtration I adjust the sulfur levels for bottling and check the specific gravity that I use to check the fill levels during bottling. We order nitrogen to purge the empty glass bottles before they get filled with wine.
Bottling day starts with the sterilization of the line (pipes/filler bowl/filters). During bottling we check fill levels and adjust, if necessary, the oxygen levels in nitrogen purged bottles and in wine to be sure we are under 1 ppm (part per million) O2, vacuum pressure on the corks, torque pressure in the screw caps and filters pressure. Then the wine is packaged and stored until release.”
Montse mentions nitrogen to purge the bottles and here they are in line to begin the filling process.
The Line Up
Once filled and sealed with a screw cap or cork, they make their way to the labeling section.
In the early days there was the label and then there was glue, slicked onto the label as it was placed on the bottle. If these were on white wines they’d eventually slide off after being on ice for an hour or two. Today self-adhesive labels are the way to go and do their part to stick when submerged in that tub of ice at your next picnic.
The Finished Product
Our family of wines waiting for you to try one—we make many choices so there is something for every palate and taste.
March 30, 2021 16:06
Tuesday, March 16, marked the one year anniversary of the pandemic for us. We closed our Tasting Room, battened down the hatches, followed the news very closely and here we are a year later. We started off not knowing how all of this would go, how many weeks we'd have to wait. And I think many of us thought it would all be over soon and never considered a full year of opening, closing and opening back up again in our tasting room as well as restaurants, hair salons and hotels and beyond. Who could have predicted all of this?
In a recent zoom session one of my friends, who lives in California, rattled off the colors of our COVID tiers in a sing-song voice and it stuck with me, hence the title. The colors Purple, Red, Orange, and Yellow are assigned to the tiers by the state of California with differing levels of COVID statistics. Purple is the most impacted and of course yellow signals better days ahead. The tiers determine how we operate as a tasting room and how restaurants and retail can operate as well-masks and physical distancing are still part of this time. I hear a Green tier is being develped as the final color for giving us all a go ahead-I for one am looking forward to that.
On Sunday as we spring forward the county will go from the Purple to the Red tier. At this time there is no difference in how we operate-still outside tasting by reservation. Moving into the Orange tier means we'll have inside tasting again. Our state and county officials continue to work toward reopening the schools and other businesses so hard hit by the shutdown and the colors will shift slowly from Red, to Orange then Yellow.
All along the cellar and vineyard staff kept going because agricultural work is considered essential. They worked together to keep safe and are now on their first and second vaccinations thanks to county trade groups like the Sonoma County Winegrape Commission being at the forefront of providing the vaccination information. In fact I just heard the town of Geyserville has the most vaccinations per person than anywhere else in our county.
COVID operations continue and include maintaining and keeping areas of use clean, very clean. Sanitizer now complements the soap dispenser and there is a bottle in every possible spot to keep on sanitizing. Gary has become an expert with these guidelines and the tasting room crew continue to welcome guests and keep them comfortable as they take in the refreshing outdoors and taste through a flight of wine.
What did we learn from this time?
Did you know that the common cold and flu has been cut back by some 85% because of the masks, sanitizing and social distancing? That speaks volumes.
People like to order Pedroncelli wine! We have seen surges at different times over the year but overall we are seeing a large number of orders even today via online and phone-this avenue of ordering has become the norm.
You really want to come back to visit. Our virtual events were popular but don’t replace the ‘real’ thing of being in each other’s presence. There is nothing like sitting down to an experience here at the winery and tasting wine at the source.
I learned I could visit with different accounts in my markets through Zoom and it was just as fun talking to folks and tasting through the wines with me in Healdsburg and them in their stores or restaurants. I learned how things are going in each of their cities or towns across the country.
What did you learn? My inbox is open, as always, to hear from you firstname.lastname@example.org By this time next year I'll look forward to seeing many of you in person.
March 1, 2021 15:51
This year Open That Bottle Night, founded by Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, is February 27, always the last Saturday of the month. In celebration I’ll be opening up a bottle or two (for sure the 2009 Mother Clone Zinfandel) along with a couple of other surprises-from a trip Ed and I took 30 years ago.
As I wrote about in my last note from home the wine to open on this special night doesn’t have to be aged-it could be a recent vintage or one with a story behind it. Either way looking through your stash is a great way to keep up on what you may have tucked away for a special occasion and now can enjoy along with thousands of other folks around the world.
Over the years here at my desk I have received many emails asking if one of our wines is still drinkable. These cellar treasures have come from intentional or accidental cellars: the back of the closet, given as a gift or found in their parents’ or grandparent’s cellar. The first question I get: Is it okay to drink this wine?
If the writer didn’t include a photo with the message I ask some follow up questions before answering: what does the bottle look like? Is the fill level low or high; check for leaks-if the capsule/cork has evidence of leakage it might have spoiled. Do they know how the wine was stored overall? An even cool cellar temperature of 55-60 degrees tends to be the best for long term cellaring. And of course if the wine is a gift this would be difficult to determine.
On the other hand I have received notes from many people who have opened that bottle and want to share their findings. The oldest vintage was from Mike K who opened a bottle of our 1968 Cabernet a couple of years ago. Overall the experience, as told by the messages, was good as our wines had held. Our longevity, having vintage dated our wines from 1965, allows quite a few of these stories to make their way to me.
So what is the difference between a current release wine and an aged one? You might notice the first difference is the color between the two. A young wine is almost jewel like in appearance and the aged one starts to get reddish brown around the edges. The aromas between the two include ripe berry and toasted oak in one and dried fruit with cedar and tobacco notes. Flavor is deeper in the new wine and more delicate in the aged version. It sometimes boils down to preference in flavor and I frankly prefer a younger wine but tasting a wine that is 30 or 40 years old is both an education and experience for the palate.
Here are some of the notes sent to me over the years and a couple of blog posts and a video from Gabe Sasso covering even more:
Your cab (1982 Reserve) was terrific, fresh, no brown rim around the glass and tasty. In a blind tasting no one would have guessed it was 38 years old. Jud R.
This evening we enjoyed pan-seared lamb stew meat, oven-roasted potatoes and carrots, and Pedroncelli Zinfandel Mother Clone 2011. The wine was quintessential Dry Creek Valley claret. Flawless. Sublime. Heavenly. Bob B.
Vintage Report: 1968 Cabernet Sauvignon
Aging Wine: The Good, The Ugly, The Bad
Gabe Sasso on 3 Vintages of Mother Clone Zin
These messages from the bottle tell some of us we need to dig deep and find those treasures to enjoy them before it is too late. And keep in mind, when the 2020 wines are released it would be a good thing to buy them from this memorable pandemic vintage. When the time comes you’ll open, share and remember your vintage story.
Our trip to Paso Robles in 1990 was filled with visits to the wineries along Hwy 46-and Estrella River was one of them. Their Muscat Canelli held very nicely with honeyed notes and caramel popcorn flavors. It was the first road trip we took after we were married.
February 1, 2021 14:54
Part three, Open/Close/Open/Close/Open, or here we go again. Earlier this week the State and County allowed us to reopen outdoor tasting. It reminds me of movie sequels: the third iteration is almost always filled with over the top shenanigans or huge groans--Little Fockers, Highlander III or Daddy Day Camp anyone? I can guarantee we won’t be having any of those shenanigans and will keep the groans to a minimum. We’ll offer great wine selections served on our deck surrounded by Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard vistas.
Along with the re-opening of our Tasting Room there is more good news this week here in Sonoma County. Rain and lots of it thanks to an atmospheric river which is drenching the entire state and states around us. They are counting several feet of snow in the mountains and flash flood warnings are being sent to us in the lowlands. The irony of the reopening to only outside tasting now? It happened right in the middle of our first major rainstorm. We’ll take it! And the hills are wearing their winter green giving visitors gorgeous views.
We take on challenges like this all the time. As I have said before we are all in this together and I know how this has turned our lives upside down. The good news is we have come out of the latest stretch of sheltering in place and businesses are being able to function again. The opening of operations is slow-pretty sure slow and steady will win the virus race. We'll look to future months (summer? fall?) as we hope for indoor tasting to open up. Large gatherings are still a big no but even the Wine Road, our trade group, is planning some of their signature events for later in the year, pandemic proofed of course.
I for one am looking forward to dining outside at our great local restaurants. I am aware that other states, with lighter guidelines, have already been doing this but here in California we are in for a treat after waiting and wondering when we can go out again-and so many of our local restaurants have invested in outdoor seating. You can bet many of us will be making our reservations and bundling up if it's cold. Like our winemaker Montse Reece said the other day “I can’t wait to go out to eat and have the food fixed and served at the restaurant itself-no more take out!”
January 22, 2021 14:32
"Are those vines dead?" This question came up while I was pouring our Zinfandel at a wintertime Wine Road event (remember those pre-pandemic gatherings?). The backdrop was our Home Ranch and the Mother Clone vines rolled up the hillside behind me. I love these kinds of questions and answered with, “Yes they do look dead and you can’t see it but there is life inside. The vines are resting and preparing for the next harvest.” We went on to talk about pruning, the seasons of growth in the future and of course the wine in the glass, the delicious end product of farming grapes.
Some of those vines have seen it all—there are three generations of Zinfandel on the Home Ranch-the oldest which are 100+ years old, the second generation is reaching 40 years old and the upstart is just about 6 years old. Vines are pretty amazing when you think about it-and outside of diseases can live for a very long time. They have been through several droughts and overly abundant years. And yet they continue to grow and produce fruit and become gnarled and weathered in the process. So what you see on the outside may look ‘dead’ but over the lifetime of a vine there have been so many vintages telling the story of this place.
Regeneration is a good word for 2021. As I sit here the vaccine is being distributed throughout the nation (my mom and dad have their appointment!) albeit slowly and as the year turns we’ll see a whole new world in front of us, one that will be filled with family visits, travel, hugs, and more. As I have written before we have seen many turns of the year here in Dry Creek Valley (our 94th !). It is good to look forward because we all have been through so much.
We are farmers as I have said many times before. We watch the weather, replant, rejuvenate the soil and prepare for the growing season, all with the eye toward another year of grapes (or wheat, or corn, or any other crop for all the other farmers out there). We’ll continue tending the vineyards and making wine as long as we can and sharing the fruits of our labor with you. Regeneration is in our genes and in the soil itself. Vines are a wonderful metaphor for this.
Or consider a winter garden. It looks dead too but just below the surface there is life waiting for the turn of the sun and the growing season to begin again. I wrote this poem earlier this week. We were driving home from a walk around a regional park last Sunday and the title came to me as the late afternoon sun shone on the garden we passed.
The Beauty of a Wintering Garden
The sinking sun set afire the last red leaves of the raspberry vines.
The faded sunflower stalks slump like weary soldiers after battle.
Detritus abounds and I fancy insects scuttling and worms tilling the soil.
The beauty of a wintering garden is in the fading, the dying, and the end of its time.
Then! I imagine the garden in summer, gloriously rich in the fruits of a hard winter.
And hope is restored.
January 5, 2021 09:42
Normally the first Saturday of the month is a compilation of December notes and blog posts. But these aren’t ‘normal’ times we are living in during these pandemic days. For now as the old year ended and the new one begins I am taking the time to reflect on the clean slate of 2021 and what it means to me.
When my grandparents bought this property in 1927 it was a clean slate for them-they had not made wine nor owned a vineyard before this time. I have to imagine there were challenges (the length of Prohibition for one, the Great Depression beginning two years later for another). Later, it was a new start each time they added a piece of property to expand the vineyards as the winery grew. As a new piece was added it was a time to assess and plant, to learn which variety was meant to be in each place and the beginnings of our estate vineyards were born.
Wine is the same way-each vintage is a clean slate. We begin each year with what the growing season and harvest brings to the cellar. Winemaker Montse and her team takes note on each lot and then guides the wine through the fermentations and on into the bottle or barrel as the case may be. When we pull a bottle from the cellar or from the UPS box it is a clean slate experience-opening up the wine and sniffing the first aromas coming out of the glass. The first sip, with promise of more to come, informs us of the culmination of the vintage, a picture now complete.
In the same light I see 2021 as a clean slate. Not only a chance to begin again, to shake off the experience of 2020, it is a way forward to chart new paths. Will I travel? Unlikely. While I will miss seeing people and working with them in person, I’ll find a way of touching base virtually. We will work on new ways of keeping in touch with the markets I would normally travel to so that I maintain our relationships.
There were a few clean slate moments in the Pedroncelli family and staff this year. Three marriages took place: Sarah & Juka, Mitch & Amanda and Gina & Terry! In the midst of trying times, they found a way to begin new lives together and I know they are not the only ones. The big celebrations will come later. For now, they’ll make their way into 2021 together. Best wishes to all!
Much like an artist placing the first brush of color on a canvas, or a musician beginning with the first note of a song or, like me, typing the first word on a blank page we have much to look forward to as we create our 2021 stories and experiences. Here is to a clean slate as we reach beyond the stay-at-home, masked, and sanitized version of the world we live in now. I wish you all a Happier New Year.
January 5, 2021 09:33When the Pandemic began mid-March, and the shelter in place orders were sent out to all of us, I began a weekly series of Notes from Home. Originally A Note from Home was a quarterly newsletter to our wine club members. I morphed the concept into what is now ten months of almost weekly notes. 2020 had many 'interesting' topics from COVID Operations to Shared Experiences. Coming up with something to write about was no problem.
As I began each note I used a writing trick a long-ago friend of mine shared with me. Her aunt wrote a weekly column for a local town paper and when writing a new story, she wrote ‘Dear Vivian’ at the top in order to be inspired but this line didn’t appear in print. Vivian was her much loved mother and inspiration. So I used the same format for my Notes-I think of one of you who have written back to me with your stories—Dear Phyllis (Mom), Dear John & Sheryl, Dear Jeff, Dear Kathy, Dear Rita and John, Dear Dean, Dear E, and so many more!
I think part of what gave me so much pleasure from writing these was the fact that it became an anchor for me each week. A much-needed regular part of my life and one where I could connect with you because, as I said last week, it is the shared experience which is key to our current situation.
As the new year approaches in a few short days (and happier days ahead is my new motto) it seems we all begin to make lists. Either a look back at the year “The Top 20 of 2020”or looking forward by making resolutions for 2021. I am including 10 of my favorite notes from the last 10 months as a recap of this pandemic 2020 Countdown:
March: The first and fittingly titled: How Are You Doing?
April: Learning Curves
May: COVID Operations
June: How You Doin'?
July: Celebrating Our Legacy
August: The Waiting is the Hardest Part
September: When Life Gives You Lemons
October: Resilience of a Vintage
November: Taking the Long View
December: Shared Experiences
I look forward to the time we will sit down in person, share a glass of wine and tell our stories of the pandemic and how we made our way through this challenging time.
November 2, 2020 11:08
My monthly visit with Mitch Blakeley, fourth generation family member and vineyard assistant, was delayed because he and Lance, his father, took off for a vacation following harvest. Here is his report as Fall begins in the vineyards.
Clean up is the focus at this time of the year-routine for post-harvest. The vineyard crew’s focus is on bringing nutrition to the vines and one of those is in the form of pomace-the dried skins and seeds left from the pressing of the new wine. This adds nitrogen to the soil and gives the vine a little ‘pick me up’ after the long growing season. More nitrogen will be applied right before the rains. Mitch noted we’ll need a good solid rain for this-so we are waiting on the rain season to begin.
There is also some life in the canopy of the vines (leaves and canes are still green or turning color) so we’ll water them through the drip system. This is par for the course as this practice usually follows harvest. Wouldn’t you be thirsty after going through harvest? Usually the vineyard gets two irrigation cycles and this year a third because it is so dry. The next stage is putting the vines to bedthey need to go dormant before the next stage of vineyard work begins-pruning. When the ground temperature is too warm and the vine is pruned too early it might push out buds-way too soon for that so restructuring where their energy is put into is key. Irrigating softens the soil and helps the vines to go deeper and access nutrients. Roots go dormant when it gets colder and this is what we wait for-the temperatures to dip into the 30’s.
Other prep work includes spreading hay which mitigates erosion along the vineyard avenues. This year there is time for basic clean up: the creeks and drainage ditches for flood control. There are larger projects down on Dry Creek-wild grapevines need to be cleaned out as they catch debris and causes erosion as the water backs up. Since harvest finished in September and the rain is staying away for now it gives us more time to do this type of project. Ultimately the watersheds will flow cleaner.
Many thanks to Mitch for the update. It is a different kind of fall-I read a report which noted this is the first time since 1897 that no rain fell in the months of September and October. Mitch notes the pumpkins on his west-facing porch scorched this year. History has a way of repeating itself. If we don’t get the rains early, it will be a condensed winter. Because a lot of land has burned maybe the lack of rain will be good and save the hills from mudslides and deep erosion. As farmers we depend on the weather and look toward winter for rain and the continuation of the cycle.
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