• COVID Operations, Part 3

    February 1, 2021 14:54

    COVID Operations, Part 3

    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!” 

  • Note from Home: Talkin Bout (Re)generation

    January 22, 2021 14:32

    Note from Home: Talkin Bout (Re)generation

    "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.

  • Note from Home: A Clean Slate

    January 5, 2021 09:42

    Note from Home: A Clean Slate

    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.

  • Note from Home: Pandemic Countdown

    January 5, 2021 09:33

    Note from Home: Pandemic Countdown
    When 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.

  • Follow the Vineyard: Into the Fall

    November 2, 2020 11:08

    Follow the Vineyard: Into the Fall

    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.

  • Note from Home: Settling into the Season

    November 2, 2020 11:01

    Note from Home: Settling into the Season

    As I write this note the time change comes tonight for many of us here in the United States. With it comes a slight disturbance in our daily patterns-it will be lighter in the morning and darker as 5pm approaches. It is my favorite time of year-not the time change but the turning of the season as fall approaches winter. No doubt we have had a few changes to our daily patterns in the last 8 months.

    This time was also known as the travel season for me. Hopping on a plane and working in my markets about every other week has been postponed for the time being. Believe me I don’t miss the early morning rush to get to the airport and of course the stress that goes along with travel-getting there on time, meeting new people (I’m an introvert remember?) and logging time in a car with someone I hadn’t met before and engaging with them about wine. I actually do miss that last part.

    Other changes include not going to my office where I had been for 35 years (outside of the travel of course). Here I am writing this note from my home in Healdsburg. I am well aware of the changes and sacrifices made by our staff and you at home. Some of you are first responders and have worked tirelessly to stem this tide. Others of us are trying to educate their kids. Even more are just getting things done in spite of the changes.

    When I think back to the years before airplanes, before the internet, before the ‘pacing in front of the microwave’ waiting the 30 seconds it takes to heat up my coffee I am reminded of simpler times. The holiday decorations didn’t become available in October. We took time to enjoy the season, settling into the rhythms of the days leading up to the year’s end. The rat race all but did away with the enjoyment of a single day and what it could bring. Taking time now will help us all appreciate the quiet moments.

    We are finding ways to reach you-this note from home and your notes back to me from your home, phone calls and virtual tastings. The holidays will be different this year but this is something we already know and have been practicing for eight months. We may zoom across the table this year, or have mini family gatherings compared to other years. But central to it all, and perhaps even more special this year, will be the connections we make around a table or device and a good bottle of wine. (Ours we hope!)

    Tonight I’ll get to see what my grandsons have dressed up in for Halloween. We’ll see it from photos or videos our kids send to us. The season is changing. With this change we all make way in our lives for doing things differently and settle into the coming days and weeks with the assurance that the next season upon us will be filled with gratitude for the big and small things in our lives.

  • Note from Home: The Resilience of a Vintage

    October 24, 2020 09:11

    Note from Home: The Resilience of a Vintage

    The other night Ed and I had dinner with my parents, Jim & Phyllis, and my dad had picked a library wine to have with the roasted chicken we brought for dinner. Our 2010 Mother Clone Zinfandel. I’ve written about vintage stories before-reminiscing about what happened in our lives in a particular year on the bottle. This night we talked about the harvest year and what challenges it brought. In order to become a vintage story you begin with the harvest. Do you remember what type of harvest 2010 was? We discussed that over dinner while enjoying the 10 year old Zinfandel.

    The 2010 harvest was a tough one especially for Zinfandel-a long cool growing season had us all wondering if the fruit was going to ripen before the rain came. So we did what many grape growers in the area did to help ripen the fruit-we pulled leaves to expose as much fruit as possible in order to open up the vine to the sun. Then we were hit with a massive heat wave over one weekend with temperatures rising to 115 degrees. And there was even more going on with grape prices plummeting making the situation worse. 

    Reminds me a bit of this year-not that the heat wave went this high or rain came. It was more the loss of the fruit in the 2010 harvest-45% of the crop-and for the first time we paid the vineyard crew by the hour (not by the bucket as per usual) to bring in the crop. We are facing a similar situation this year with the overall loss of production at about 30%. And we continue the waiting game on test results for the quality of the grapes we did harvest.

    The thing about wine from a vintage like 2010? It survived. I call it resilience. The bouquet belied the heat-I do remember when it was released the wine was quite concentrated and, in fact, we added a bit more Petite Sirah in order to help balance out the fruit and lend structure. Muted ripe berry and spice were in the forefront of this nicely aged Zin and more fruit with a nice kick of acidity and soft tannins on the palate.

    As you know I love words and I enjoy looking up their meaning. The word resilience means ‘the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness’ and ‘the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity’. The 2010 Mother Clone Zinfandel? Well, in my opinion, this wine stood the test of time and overcame the difficulties of the harvest. Its’ shape is that of the vintage and became a wine worth enjoying a decade later.

    Resilience, along with the synonyms of flexibility and pliability, means so much right now as we progress through the challenges of the pandemic and the harvest we were handed. I can’t wait to try our 2020 Mother Clone Zinfandel in ten years and have the wine tell the story of this vintage.

    And just like the vines, we make headway through the pandemic and other challenges with resiliency. I’d like to imagine us all meeting in ten years and reflecting on our story. How it has shaped us, with some of the sharp edges softened, our character developed, coming together to marvel at our maturity.

    Blessed are the flexible for they won’t be bent out of shape.

  • Note from Home: Savoring the Memories

    October 24, 2020 09:01

    Note from Home: Savoring the Memories

    Time for a COVID check in with everyone. How are you doing as we enter the 8th month of the pandemic with masks, distancing and all?  I continue to hear from several of you every week and I thank you for taking the time to respond, it helps me know you are doing okay and finding ways to make this work for you. I’m savoring a memory on this second Saturday of October as I am reminded of our annual Club Ped dinner, Sip & Savor.

    Table setting sip and savorThe wine reception and dinner has taken place at this time in October over the last few years-sometimes harvest is over and at other times the winemaking team is still taking in grapes or working on fermentations-and then attending our gathering. Today we would typically would be hurrying around making last minute adjustments to the table decorations and making sure the wines were chilled and ready so we could welcome our friends. Wondering where your invitation went? Well you guessed it, we are not able to hold the dinner this year due to those darn COVID guidelines.

    barrel room sip and savor​Ahh memories! Do you have one from our dinners? We began hosting them shortly after the beginning of our wine club which goes back 25 years ago. Over 20 years of dinners! All of them are memorable in many ways because of who was there, which caterer helped us or even when we catered it ourselves (Ed should remember pulling off the first dinner for 100 with just friends as volunteers!). We have had over 2000 guests join us over that time!

    We even hosted some hotly contested Bocce Ball games on the court before dinner. A glass of wine in one hand and tossing the palina in the other! Is your name on the winner's plaque? 

    For now, how do we deal with our events being postponed or cancelled in order to remain safe in our bubbles? One way is by savoring those memories and, at the same time, looking forward to gathering again once the pandemic has ended. In the meantime we can gather virtually of course. I am putting together an online event called Zoom Into Sip & Savor. It will have a Happy Hour vibe and will focus on six wines as well as a Little Italy Box of artisan cheese and more from Vella Cheese Factory. We’ll all gather virtually at the appointed hour to celebrate with our family & staff as hosts for you and your friends. November 7-mark your calendars and we look forward to 'seeing' you there!

  • Postcards from Home: 1984

    October 24, 2020 08:44

    Postcards from Home: 1984

    This series began when I wanted to share what is going on each month at the winery or in the vineyard during the pandemic. I call them postcards or snapshots of life in and around our little corner of Dry Creek Valley. I have mentioned before that I send my grandsons postcards from the road—wherever I may be I am on the lookout for a postcard that captures the place I have traveled to so I can share the experience with them. These do the same thing—bringing a bit of Pedroncelli to you!

    These ‘postcards’, 36 years old, come from longtime friends and former wine retailers Bob & Carol Luskin. They have been visiting wine country for many years-earlier to taste and seek wines out for their shop and later to revisit and enjoy some of their favorite places. Earlier this year, pre-COVID, we got together for dinner at Catellis and had a great time talking about their vintage stories! Recently Carol sent me photos from one of their fall trips and it happened to be in the Fall of 1984—how fitting for this post! Ready for some ‘vintage’ photos? You'll note some photos mirror what we see today. Some things remain the same-pandemic or not.

    Fall Colors

    Showing the mature colors of fall, after the harvest is over, gives wine country its own fall color magic. Much like the vineyards this month there are colors of deep red, yellow, orange and browns tinging the leaves all over the estate blocks. This leaf, glowing red in the fall sunshine, actually is showing signs of a virus which appears once the vines are well on their way to harvest. Without the virus the vineyards would be a bit drab don't you think?
    Fall Leaf

    Second Crop Zinfandel

    Zinfandel pushes what we call a ‘second crop’. It sets the main bunches of fruit on the inside of the head pruned vine and then pushes out another set of fruit later—which in turn ripens at a later time as well. These little bunches of fall goodness are highly prized in certain years when the production is low in the Zin vineyards. We have picked it when needed or home winemakers also make good use of the extra crop. Either way it’s good not to waste the fruit—what would my grandfather and uncle say!
    Second Crop Zinfandel

    Framed by Canes: Western Dry Creek Valley

    Vine with a view. This was taken on our East Side Vineyards, a mile west of the winery, and is looking toward the western hills of Dry Creek Valley. Just starting to go into fall with big fluffy clouds over the valley—I can almost feel the cant of the sun, as it gets farther away and moves to winter—the warmth slowly leaving and giving way to the next season.
    East Side Vineyards shot


    Bonded Winery 113

    The façade of the oldest part of the winery as seen in 1984. The original building was established in the early 1900s and then added on over the years as our family expanded the production of wine. It has changed ‘looks’ over the years. In the 1970s and 1980s it was this striking red-stained siding. The hillside behind the cellar would soon be the home to our newest and last building. We started construction on our Barrel Room and Tasting Room in 1986. The 'new' building is now 33 years old!

    Vintage Footnote from Bruce Cass' Wine Lab: 1984

    In case you want an overview of what the vintage was like here are the notes from Bruce Cass, wine educator: “Coming from a hot growing season with an early vintage and little or no rain during harvest. '84 was warm throughout, a normal sized crop, and no rain until late October. The vintage produced fleshy, fragrant wines which dazzled consumers and show judges with their opulence and maturity when first released. After five years they began to show the diminishing effects of such an ebullient youth. Cabernets from these years make a fascinating study. Those from Napa Valley are starting to tire. Those from cooler areas like the Santa Rosa plain in Sonoma County and the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County are among the best vintages those locations have produced.”

  • #PairItWithPed: Garden Memories

    September 29, 2020 11:36

    #PairItWithPed: Garden Memories

    Our grape harvest is over and many gardens around the nation are finishing up their summer crops. This time of year I am reminded of the many summers spent during my childhood while growing up in the middle of the winery, vineyards and enjoying the abundance from a large garden.

    When my grandparents purchased the property in 1927 it came with space to farm-and it is what sustained the young and growing family for many years. When I was growing the garden area was surrounded by buildings and eventually became the place where our bottling warehouse is today. In it’s heyday it featured several fruit trees, including citrus, pear, apple, peach, prune, apricot, cherry, olive along with hazelnut and walnut trees. When we moved there my parents kept up the garden which, in the summertime, was planted to many annuals with beans, zucchini, tomatoes and more. Preserving these fruits and vegetables was a focus in our family and every year we helped process the produce into jams, quarts of pears and peaches, applesauce, pints of zucchini pickles and more. We had a basement with many shelves lined with enough home canned treats to last to the next summer. I remember as well the privilege of going down to the dark basement and picking out a jar of applesauce or apricot jam!

    Alfresco family gatheringHaving a garden in those years was important. It engaged you with the earth. It fed your family. It was sustainable. Another way of using all the abundance from this garden was to have alfresco gatherings that my grandparents hosted over their early years-up until the 1960s when they retired. Of course vino was always part of the experience and these meals wouldn’t be the same without Giovanni’s favorite bottle of red wine in the mix. Wine was a natural part of dinnertime at my childhood home and continues today to be part of our meals today. I have been regaled with many stories of those lunches and dinners-people came from all over the Bay Area-friends or family-to join in this wonderful Sunday ritual and the food prepared by my grandmother made it all the more delicious.

    I do have a COVID confession: I didn’t get the garden bug. We grow a few herbs at home (just started this during the pandemic) and when we are finished with the house project in a year or two we have a dream of putting in a nice garden-Ed also grew up with a similar experience in his family. In the meantime, we’ll depend on the farmer’s market and friends dropping off their garden extras! Here are some great recipes with the idea of using up the last of the season’s produce!

    Creamy Corn Soup with Red Pepper Sauce

    Mathilde’s Tomato Tart

    Zucchini Pickles (Bread & Butter style)