December 1, 2020 11:23
My monthly chat with Mitch Blakeley on following the vines' progress and includes notes about the vineyard as it moves into winter dormancy and what we do in the transitional time between seasons.
Our Mother Clone vines are in their final fall color glory as I write this. In fact they are being pruned because the cold weather hit just a couple of weeks ago signaling to the vine it was time for the long winter’s nap.
There are still a few things to do in and around the vineyard as well as in the cellar. Mitch Blakeley, Vineyard Assistant, and I caught up the other day.
We had a big project along the creek, where we have the 50 acres of Bordeaux varieties planted. With some heavy rains a couple of years ago it brought down large trees and bushes which began to divert the water into the banks along the vineyard avenue causing heavy erosion. There is also an issue with debris down a little further doing the same thing with so much brush and it was changing the direction of the creek. The vineyard crew spent a good part of October and November cleaning it up, quite a large project. But it is good to have it done so the water no longer eats away at the bank.
In the vineyard we started a little earlier than we wanted to prune. What happened is the freeze came and no wind. This began the shut off in the vine signaling dormancy and the leaves and canopy were just hanging there. With the leaves blocking the end of the cane it takes longer to prune because you want to trim at the right cut-the place where the next year’s crop begins. This is where the two buds at the base of the year old cane are located. We started in the Zinfandel; by end of week they’ll be close to halfway through half of the acreage. A good start to the 100 acres that needs to be pruned. The Right Cut.
Overall the next couple of months are pretty quiet. Some of the vineyard crew works in the cellar too-special labeling projects and club shipments. Others work on equipment to get it ready for chopping-and keep other tractors etc in working condition.
In getting ready for spring we typically begin to seed a cover crop (bell beans) now but we have found foreign grasses and weeds in our vineyard and are trying to eradicate them so we will be skipping this year in order to gain some control of the weeds mixed into the cover crop. I’ll be taking a webinar on soil amendments to see if there are other ways of bringing nutrition to the vineyard and other insights to spring time applications. We are also in contact with the irrigation company to set up tools to monitor vines using moisture and these tools will help us know when best to irrigate and how much in order to made sure we aren’t over watering or over using such a precious resource.
After we talked I thought about his comment that things are pretty quiet around here. Once I wrote up the notes it sounds like there is a lot more going on than Mitch let on-but that is pretty much the way we operate around here.
December 1, 2020 11:11
Port and the holidays go hand in hand and so does winter-the cold weather just calls for a little extra something at the end of the evening. Our Four Grapes Port is a traditional style dessert wine. I'll pair up what I think are some great recipes with this dessert wine-savory or sweet you'll find something to pair up this winter.
December 1, 2020 11:08
The other day I was helping out with the curbside pick-up of our November Wine Club Selections. Club members pulled up to the cellar door and drove away with their orders. It was one of those truly beautiful fall days here in Dry Creek Valley. Blue skies, warm sun and the autumn color in the Mother Clone vineyard just across the way made the afternoon so perfect. It made me think back to how many friends have stopped by to pick up wine over the decades from my grandfather then my father. I was struck by the thought that we all share a love of wine and, like the vines in front of me, are in turn connected to each other, even generationally.
I have written about grapevines and their physiology before. Lance, my brother-in-law and the vineyard manager, has compared vines to people when he talks about how they respond to heat-they wilt like we do, they seek to protect the crop by slightly moving to shade the fruit like an umbrella. I have heard how some vines have roots that measure 40 feet because they are looking for water to survive. They like to branch out too-sometimes almost too much as the canopy above becomes jungle-like before the vineyard crew works at managing the growth. The vines even need a drink of water after they are done with harvest. Sounds to me like there are some similarities!
Last weekend it was nice to see old friends and new. The experience reminded me of those Mother Clone vines-how their roots go deep to establish a well-connected network. That system supports and sustains the vines throughout the growing season and over the years. A natural benefit of making wine for 90 years and sharing with everyone, from neighbors to across the nation and globally, creates the bond between us and you. Our wine club is another way we stay in touch and is how we remain connected. At the tasting room there is the exchange of conversation, the fun of finding something you like, and sharing with friends and family. Once home we are connected whether by phone or through these emails or virtual events.
While the vineyards are immune to COVID they do progress through the fall and into the winter by being connected to the seasons, to the climate and the soil in which they are planted. These are vital to the life of the vineyard. Connection is what we look for as the nights get longer and winter looms. Something about the chill in the air makes us seek out those warm places-usually a pub, a restaurant or coffee house. Right now we are finding out how cozy our kitchen table, living room or dining room is as we find those places are right in our own homes.
Of course, there are many ways we can stay connected. The usual suspects include the phone calls, emails, letters, virtual visits. As the days continue to get shorter and the holidays approach we look to these relationships-those branches reaching out to connect with our past, present and future. Music, wine, politics, food, outdoor activities, quilting, play groups for kids or dogs. As long as we keep our eyes open and see those around us-distanced or not-we are rooted, like the vines, and connected.
December 1, 2020 10:58
I was talking to some folks this week about my grandparents and what they would think about the pandemic. I imagined them saying ‘we made it through some great challenges in the early days, we think you can outlast the current crisis.’ They took the long view knowing they staked everything to make the move and created a legacy.
I often wonder what went through their minds when they bought the property in 1927. First, and most importantly, it became a home to raise the family and to support them. Prohibition had already gone on for 8 years, surely it will end soon (not for another six years). The economy would hold up wouldn’t it? Nope the Great Depression began 2 years later. Many obstacles met this young family and they adapted to their conditions: expanded the farm to provide food (my grandmother made her own cheese for instance and preserved foods to get through the winter); my grandfather developed a network of buyers (head of households who could apply for a permit) for the grapes in order to keep the vineyard going, they worked as a family in the vineyard and later the cellar, and they tightened their belts to get by once the hard times hit.
Feel a little familiar? Taking the long view is something we do naturally here at Pedroncelli. Taking the long view from the beginning helped my grandparents get through the tough times including the challenges along with the ups and downs of the economy with a recession thrown into the mix every few years (there have been 12 since 1945).
And now we have a pandemic. I guess one needs to come around once a century to keep us on our toes. So how do we take the long view of something predicted to go on for another six months or so?
I read a great quote in the paper the other day, “My kind of mantra going into the holiday season is that when it comes to COVID, it’s not what you do, but how you do it,” says Iahn Gonsenhauser, an internist and the chief quality and patient safety officer at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. This is good advice for the holidays and beyond.
It’s not what you do but how you do it. Keep this in mind as the state and nation urge us to keep within our bubbles, to wear our masks, to keep our distance physically. The other side of this is finding ways to celebrate the big and small occasions, how to connect if we are far from someone we love, how to make each day count instead of counting how many days the pandemic has gone on or how long we have to go.
Living this life of wine, blessed with two generations behind me and 2 generations ahead of me, frames my outlook on life. While what my grandparents did to get through the difficult times wasn’t glamorous or fun they made it through. It is how they did it-with hope for the future and looking to better days ahead. For me those better days include family meals, going to a favorite restaurant, travel, wine club gatherings, tasting events, hugging, hanging out and seeing all of you-with a glass of wine in my hand of course!
November 26, 2020 10:16
Reflection on the year, as it winds down to less than six weeks before we celebrate a new one, seems to begin with the Thanksgiving holiday. I think we can all agree it has been an unusual year with the pandemic, the challenges met and answered in homeschooling, the workplace, the harvest and beyond.
I like the word reflection. It is a rich and deep word with 9 meanings according to Google and Merriam Webster. Reflections in a mirror show us who we are, as is. Inner reflection guides us and requires us to take time to think things through. Reflection of light, maybe through the autumn leaves or straight on sunlight, means there is a source and a receiver. Reflecting on this year has me thankful for so much.
I am thankful for our safety, both family and staff, from the virus as well as from the fires.
I am thankful for the heroic first responders including those working in the medical field, fire and police departments. All are brave and deserve our thanks for doing their utmost to protect us.
I am thankful to have welcomed a new grandson this year and to watch him grow by leaps and bounds as well as spend time with our other two virtually and in person.
I am thankful for my husband’s sense of humor because frankly I need it most of the time. Most of the time.
I am thankful for the ability to connect electronically with people I’d have missed seeing this year due to travel restrictions.
I am thankful for all of you who have responded to the many notes from home I have sent over the last few months. I am determined to see this pandemic out with a note to you each week.
How do you make giving thanks tangible or visible? How do we reflect thanks? Lizzy, from our tasting room, had a great idea for a Gratitude Vine where guests could fill out a tag and add it to the branches. We have hundreds of them over time.
Even though you can’t come and fill out your own tag here you can create your own ‘vine’ at home. Branch out and send a simple ‘thank you for being a friend’ note (both Ed and I have been the recipient of notes from our friend Barb-over the last 25 years!). Give thanks around the table or virtually. Donate your time or money and the ripple effect benefits both you and the recipient. There are so many ways to show thankfulness. The best part is it keeps on giving, uplifting others by reaching out and in turn you are uplifted too. In times like these it is thankfulness that helps us through each day.
Thank you for reading and I wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.
November 2, 2020 14:40
I still remember the first time I attempted making sautéed mushrooms for dinner when I was around 18. It was the rare chance that my mom was out of town and it was just my dad and I kicking around for dinner. The recipe? I 'didn't need one' and boy was that a mistake. I wanted to try mushrooms in a red wine sauce. It was an unmitigated disaster-it was just mushrooms in red wine-no butter, shallot, garlic, salt or pepper. Yuck. My dad also scratched one of my mom's frying pans making his steak. Needless to say we didn't eat the mushrooms.
Well I am here to tell you if I stopped then I wouldn’t have developed a love for these bites of tastiness. Over the course of many meals either homemade or enjoyed at friends’ homes and restaurants the mushroom (or should I say funghi?) is one of the foods I think matches well with wines. Sometimes it’s the sauce, the protein or the combination of herbs and spices. In my opinion it is the most versatile of all the vegetables and there are unlimited options for pairing up with the right wine.
There is another way to test out the funghi factor. I learned this from the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) program. One of the tests is designed to help find out how foods interact with wine and they chose the mushroom as the trial pairing. Pour a sample of wine-white or red-and eat a bite of raw mushroom and assess. Then put another mushroom in the microwave for a few seconds to ‘cook’ it or roast a mushroom and then take a bite with the same wine. And there you have it, a way to find out how food and wine, in raw and cooked form, work together.
The cooler weather (between yesterday and today we went from 86 degrees to 61 degrees) makes me think of all the dishes I can make with the wonderful mushroom-either as the star or as a supporting player. This is the best time of year according to my sensibilities! I love the weather change, the meals that come with the cooler season including slow cookers, braising, stews and soups. In my humble opinion I truly believe mushrooms were made to go with wine!
For ease of finding all the recipes I talk about here I have put them into one easy to find folder entitled Mushrooms on our website.
Salads & Sides:
I developed the Portobello and Parmigiana Salad for a wine dinner I hosted a while ago. I was trying to find a way to bridge the salad dressing with the wine (Pinot Noir) and I came up with adding some of the ‘jus’ from the roasted Portobello. -the great thing about the dressing is I included a small amount of the mushroom ‘jus’ to the dressing-bridging the salad with the wine for a flawless pairing.
This warm and lemony spinach salad takes the chill off of a cold evening. If you want to add some flavor I’d substitute bacon fat for the sauté of the mushrooms and garlic. Paired up with a nice glass of Chardonnay. Spinach Salad with Mushrooms, Croutons and Warm Lemon dressing.
Local chef Michele Anna Jordan always puts together great wine-friendly recipes. This one uses root vegetables as a base for the mushrooms. Roasted lamb or beef would make a great side to this side: Sautéed Mushrooms Over Parsnip, Celery Root, & Potato Purée
Would you like to wow your guests over the holidays? Try this bowl of deliciousness featuring mushrooms and tangy goat cheese. Our Rosé would go nicely especially with some turkey on the plate. Focaccia Bread Pudding with Mushrooms & Goat Cheese
Stews & Soups:
I have been making this Wild Mushroom Soup ever since I found it in a newsletter by Julee Rosso (of Silver Palate fame). I was lucky enough to subscribe over a couple of years and many of her recipes are in my rotation. This one however gets the most play especially now during the holidays. Serve it as an appetizer, pour it in demitasse cups for a buffet or serve up a bowl during the week-made ahead it just gets better. Pinot Noir is my choice as a pairing.
Ed and I came up with this recipe in our early years of marriage-a take on Beef Bourguignon-Beef Mother Clone starring our flagship Zin and we gilded the lily with dried porcini. Long cooking tenderizes the beef and the flavors meld perfectly. I recommend pairing with any of our Zinfandels!
Portobellos are very versatile as you can roast and slice like a steak or make this Quinoa Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms-don’t skip the prosciutto which adds a nice salty kick. Pair up with our Merlot for a tasty combination.
Ribeye Steak with Black Trumpet Mushrooms and Blue Cheese, from local chef Michele Anna Jordan, has a secret ingredient-Porcini Powder. Along with the black trumpet mushrooms (if you don’t have any of these you can substitute shitake or morel) you have an amazing steak dish with depth of flavor. Pair with any of our Cabernet Sauvignons-you won’t be disappointed!
Slow cookers are the greatest kitchen help during the fall and winter-I always love walking in the door and taking in the wonderful aromas of a long cooked meal. The Slow Cooker Beef with Pasta & Porcini is one of those fragrant and virtually easy dishes to make with deep flavors to boot. Pair up with our Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.
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.
November 2, 2020 11:01
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.
October 24, 2020 09:11
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.
October 24, 2020 09:01
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.
The 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.
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!
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