February 14, 2022 11:27
By now you should be familiar with my MO if you have been reading my posts for a while. I love history, I enjoy digging through old documents and files, and find nothing is more fun than diving into the California Department of Water Resources and educating myself about this all important component of farming. In January Karl Storchmann, for the American Association of Wine Economists, posted this and caught my eye-the 1971 Grape Acreage for California. Pure gold for this grape and history loving gal.
Let's take a look at what was happening in 1971. Dirty Harry and Billy Jack were dominating the cinema, Elon Musk and Snoop Dog were born, the first Starbucks coffee shop opened in Seattle as did Disney World in Orlando. Gas was 36 cents a gallon and Rod Stewart was singing Maggie May on the radio. In Sonoma County the grape and wine business was just beginning to enjoy a renaissance after being shut down by Prohibition. It took 40 years to recover and open up to a new generation of vineyards and wineries. By the way I was 11 years old and living in our home in the midst of the winery operations, playing in the very vineyards that are tallied in this report.
Back to the state report. It is an annual one and I still reference it each time I do a talk on Zinfandel or need some information on how many acres of Cabernet are in production. As you can see by this 50 year old report Zinfandel was the second most planted wine grape at the time second only to Carignane (!). And one of the reasons there are old vine Zinfandel blocks around the state.
The history of grapes grown on our property goes back to the early 1900s when the original family planted Zinfandel and a variety of other grapes like Carignane and Petite Sirah and lesser known field blend varieties. The original 25 acres expanded to 100 acres today and grew exponentially with the market. We have had quite a mix of grapes over the years reflecting market preference or winemaker choice. Pinot Noir in the 1950s followed by Cabernet Sauvignon in 1965, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Napa Gamay, Sauvignon Vert and French Colombard followed. Then Chardonnay, Merlot & Sauvignon Blanc in the 1980s; Petite Sirah, Syrah and Portuguese varieties in the 1990s; Petit Verdot and Malbec in the 2000s. They had their place in the market but things change just like the 1971 chart. What was once 19,470 acres of Zinfandel is now 40,061 and 3898 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon exploded to 94,854. Carignane, the leader back then, at 25,795 is now 2289. The one-two punch of the top two grapes planted today are Cabernet Sauvignon as noted above and Chardonnay (from 1630 to 92,311!).
Our flagship grape is steeped in this rich history not only in California but right here in Dry Creek Valley (which is home to half of all the Zinfandel planted in Sonoma County). The history in acreage throughout the state denotes what was popular at this snapshot in time. Over the last 5 decades some grapes survived (Zinfandel), some grew by leaps and bounds (King Cab) and others have faded away. We also learned which grape suits our vineyard microclimates and subsequently discovered Pinot Noir and Chardonnay do much better a few miles south of us. This glimpse of history is important because, like hit songs and blockbuster movies from 50 years ago, even wine grapes continue to stand the test of time.
January 31, 2022 08:49
A little play on words as the month ends. Dry January is the term applied to an abstention from alcohol shortly after the holidays and is a movement that has gained some traction in recent years. However these words mean something different to me as we enter February with a half inch of rain under our belts. As a reminder we already received 20 inches in the last three months of 2021-a boon to all of us here in drought stricken California. This is more than we received in total rainfall for the 2020-2021 season.
Historically this month sees more rain than a half inch. However the season of winter just began and we have a couple of months to go before the vines begin their growing season. The rush to judgement of this rain year (headlines and Henny Penny the sky is falling) makes me nervous so I enjoy digging into my files for little tidbits of weather history. I found this one from my blog post in January 2016. We had just over 6 inches of rain that month-it took another three years before we had a similar rainfall amount and, in the years leading up to this month in 2016, the total was more than measured in the previous 6 (!) Januarys.
It is a delicate balance indeed when we, as farmers, depend on the weather to bring the right amount of rain at the right time. This doesn’t always happen and there are many examples over the 95 years we have farmed our vineyards when we didn’t have enough, had too much or it rained at an inopportune time i.e. during harvest. In our area of Dry Creek Valley we depend on wells to deliver water to our vineyards during the growing season and they depend on 35 inches of average rainfall which fill the underground caches as well as keeps the soil quenched.
Over the decades we have shifted from dry farming to overhead irrigation to a drip system which delivers a regulated flow of water when needed. The great part of drip irrigation is it allows control-the vineyard manager decides how to efficiently deliver the right amount to keep fruit quality at optimum levels during the summer season. Too much water is just as bad as too little. The help we get from the rain season is saturation of the ground and getting the dormant vines to soak up the nutrients they need for the next year's grapes. Cycles and different outcomes are a way of life and water continues to be a precious resource.
In a dry January we look toward the coming weeks to bring us rain. Mother Nature can be fickle as can the high pressure system in our Central Valley which pushes storms north of us. We are in a La Niña cycle and predictions call for a below average amount of rain. May the odds be in our favor for more, please and thank you.
January 17, 2022 09:46Last year I had Marcus Cano, son of our cellarmaster Polo, film winemaker Montse Reece and fourth generation member Mitch Blakeley-in the cellar and the vineyard respectively through four seasons. Marcus followed Montse into the Barrel Room and her lab.
As you will see there is a lot going on in the cellar at this time of year. She guides you through two of her tasks: blending our Mother Clone Zinfandel and barrel aging. Before you dig into the videos though here is Montse’s background-she just celebrated her 15th harvest with us. We have had 3 lead winemakers in our 95 years! My grandfather, my uncle John with 65 vintages and now Montse.
She is a native of Spain and earned her degree in enology from the University of Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain. She then worked for wineries in the Penedés and Montblanc regions during this time. Once finished with college she came to California and joined the harvest crew at Gloria Ferrer Champagne Caves in Sonoma in 1998. After that she was hooked and held positions at both Ferrari-Carano and Rodney Strong Vineyards. She joined the winemaking team at Pedroncelli Winery in 2007 as assistant winemaker to John Pedroncelli, Winemaker Emeritus.
“I consider it an honor to have had the privilege of working with John Pedroncelli for as long as I did,” says Montse. “His passion and love for the vineyards and wines of Pedroncelli will continue to be present in the style and spirit of this winery for generations to come.” Montse was named Winemaker in 2015 and she focuses on the details and unique qualities of each vineyard block. She maintains the continuity of the Pedroncelli style and works together with Vineyard Manager Lance Blakeley and Cellar Master Polo Cano who make up the winemaking team.
January 10, 2022 09:32
It is New Year’s Eve, 2021. Ed and I are working in the tasting room because something told me to open it up even if it might be a slow day. Geographically we are off the beaten track—the only winery on Canyon Road between Dry Creek Road and Highway 101. When people make their way to the winery that means something to us. I figured if traffic was light I could work in my office and help out when it was busy. The first two visitors of the day were not on the reservation list. In this case, the stories came to me rather than the other way around.
Since we were tag teaming I was in my office when the first car arrived. I can see the parking lot from my desk and watch as one fellow gets out and the rest wait in the car. A few minutes later he comes running out with a case of wine and holding high a bottle of our Rosé, hooting as he ran. It turns out he had tasted our Chardonnay in Vero Beach Florida. He and his friends were on their way to a tasting appointment when they drove by and saw the Pedroncelli sign. He convinced his friends to stop. He came in to inquire about the Chardonnay. He then had Ed pick out some other wines for him and, as I witnessed, celebrated as he sprinted to the car. I knew we had a happy wine lover as a result. Turns out, Ed had given him the bottle of Rosé to thank the waiting friends.
Curious to find out more about this fellow I walked over to the tasting room. As Ed was relaying what happened, a car pulled up near the door and two women entered. One of them, Anna Regina, started talking right away about a Mr. Pedroncelli who used to call on her parent’s store in Santa Rosa and sell them our wine by the gallon in the 1950s. The store was named Ricca's Corner (formerly located on Irwin Lane and Occidental Road for my Sonoma County friends.) I told her I was sure the man was my grandfather. There was more to her story. He gifted her twenty dollars upon hearing she was getting married. She was so thankful for the generous gift. (Today it would equal $230.)
She continued her story and recalled my grandfather brought in his son who was going into the service. I figured this had to be my dad Jim. I knew he was in his office so I called him over. They chatted for a few minutes and he remembered the store. It turns out he later on delivered wine to the Ricca's Corner when he returned from service in the Army, taking over the duties from his dad. It was a wonderful experience to meet Anna who knew my grandfather and remembered his kind gift. How did they happen upon the winery? She and her daughter were out on a drive, saw the sign and turned into the parking lot. A story that came to me, bigger than life and fun to hear.
You have shared your stories with me over the years and during the pandemic. When I think of all those memories and bottles of wine that have been shared and enjoyed by thousands of people it makes my heart glad. As I consider the new year I wonder what 2022 will bring. The pandemic is still with us nearly 2 years down the road. Trying to plan travel or market visits seems a bit surreal right now. We have some industry events planned but are waiting to hear while the variant seems to make decisions for us. Balancing this all out here are some things which are certain: we’ll celebrate our 95th year in July, the vineyards will continue their march toward harvest and our cellar door remains open. I look forward to more stories coming to me this year.
December 27, 2021 12:41
This is such a wonderful time of the year for baking-at least for me so this note is dedicated to sweet things. I am carrying on a tradition that began with my mom’s mother Virginia Larsen. She was the baker in the family and lived with us during my growing up years. She is the source of my joy of baking and I think of her when I am in my groove. She baked everything from Irish Soda Bread (her maiden name was O’Neill) to the best apple pie around using Gravensteins, a local heirloom apple and her chocolate chip cookies were legendary. My sisters and I still reminisce about the ‘doughboys’ she made from the leftover pie crust-oh the memory of waiting for them to come out of the oven with cinnamon sugar and butter tucked into the layers.
As tradition has it I bake an assortment of holiday cookies. My preference is for standard cookies rather than decorated with icing and sprinkles. And just like every year I baked a Panettone for my dad’s gift along with many family favorites including Chocolate Mint Truffle Cookies, Orange Almond Biscotti, Cape Cod Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip, Snickerdoodles, and Molasses Crinkles. A batch of Rocky Road rounded things out. Ed and I worked together on some of these. Mostly he gave great moral support and was the CCT (Chief Cookie Tester). The other night when we were boxing up the goodies and I was finishing the name tags (cue crumbs flying) I noticed he was taking it all in and smiling. I asked him why and he said he just really loves this part of the holidays. I do too.
There are memories tied to each of the recipes below—I am sure you have your own memories and stories about baked goodies. I always love to hear your stories and love it even more if you share your recipes with me.
My great aunt Rena, my grandmother’s sister, would give us a big box of cookies every Christmas. We looked forward to opening it up and grabbing our favorites. One of them was these Lemon Lassies, lemon and coconut wrapped in soft dough kind of like a fig newton but better. Pair with our Chardonnay.
Holiday Fruit Bread-yep this is a cross between a sweet bread like panettone and fruitcake flavors. This is from my aunt Marianne’s collection of recipes. I remember opening her freezer in July and fruitcake was there, all year round evidently. Pair with our Sonoma Classico.
This recipe for Port Fruit Bars came highly recommended to me by my aunt Christine. Her daughter Connie had developed the recipe to go with our Port. A perfect pairing in my opinion.
Years ago my dear aunt Marianne gave me this recipe for Orange Almond Biscotti and encouraged me to bake and enter them in a local Biscotti Bake Off. I won first place for the non-traditional category. I have been baking these for over 30 years. Ed won’t let a year go by without these. Pair with Mother Clone Zinfandel.
I ran across this recipe for Cranberry Upside Down Cake a few years ago and baked it for a dinner with friends during the holidays. It is a beautiful presentation and oh so delicious! Pair with our Port.
You know I couldn’t end with just desserts. How about a couple of wine based drinks! Our Rosé is perfect with a few dashes of orange bitters in the CranRosé and of course who doesn’t love Mulled Wine-the aromatics fill the house with holiday cheer!
May you all enjoy the sweet things in life with family and friends, near and far.
December 20, 2021 09:27
This time of year reminds me of when I was young and my parents would say ‘settle down’. My sisters and I were usually wound up because school was almost out, Christmas vacation would begin soon, and we couldn’t wait to open our gifts. I imagine my parents weren’t exactly looking forward to having us home for two weeks but they did survive. I have a feeling wine helped. Today I am in a settle down frame of mind as I wind up the year and look forward to a new one.
Waiting for Winter
Around the vineyards winter is settling even before it starts officially on Tuesday-it was a frosty 38 degrees here at the winery as I write this-cold for a California girl. Good news is the fruit flies are gone-they don’t survive the cold. Better news is we had what they call an atmospheric river through and we received a few more inches of rain to add to the previous storm totals. Yay Mother Nature! The vines, during their winter wait, are soaking it in and getting ready for 2022.
The Pandemic & Events
Still here and while we thankfully aren’t on lockdown we are cautiously optimistic. 2022 is looming, winter is beginning and it looks like travel may be in our future. Look at the Events section on our website to see where we’ll be or what we'll be featuring. Drinkwell Zinfandel: Phoenix is first up.
Events at the Tasting Room! Yes we are. COVID Willing.
We are participating in Winter Wineland and Barrel Tasting-both industry wide and hybrid events compared to how we have done them in the past but I think you’ll all enjoy the new and COVID improved format. Check it out here.
Speaking of events we’d like to hear from you. We are considering a few things for 2022 so here is an informal poll:
1-I would consider attending one or more of four seasonal events (lunch or seminar or dinner) to coincide with each wine club shipment: February/May/September/November.
2-I’d like to attend one big dinner and that’s it.
3-I’d like to attend sessions (virtually or in person) to learn more about wine.
4-I’d like to attend a Cheese & Wine Pairing (virtually) with cheese maven Janet Fletcher from my favorite newsletter Planet Cheese. Cheese selections curated by Janet and shipped separately.
5-Finally, what would you like to experience? The suggestion box is open. email@example.com
For those who did not know my brother-in-law Jon Brown I’ll recap: he was a wonderful part of our team and began as Tasting Room Manager and transitioned to Wine Club Manager. He and my sister Joanna moved to Grass Valley and they were on their way to enjoying life when he was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma. He passed away earlier this year. We are honoring his memory with a release of our 2019 Zinfandel with a very special label-featuring 'Melting Realities' one of his art canvases he created on his Instagram account @schotzki. His alter ego was Schotzki and you’ll find many other creative posts there. We will release this wine early next year but I wanted you to get a glimpse now. All proceeds will go to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation.
Before I settle into my easy chair with a glass of wine in hand I’d like to say thanks for reading this year. May your days be merry & bright.
December 15, 2021 11:05
Wrapping up another year, whether it is presents, loose ends or otherwise, we are heading for a new year and all that it will bring. I thought I’d make some room for the responses I have received over the last few months. Many of you write back after one of the notes have hit home. I want to take this time to thank you all for your thoughtful comments, stories and memories I have the honor of reading each week. It really jumpstarts my week to open my inbox and dive in-usually there is a bunch of SPAM or orders to read through. So I go for the gold—your messages. You all make my Mondays!
From Dry Creek Valley is Home Base:
From John T.:
"First of all, I really enjoy your newsletters. So full of family and friendship. Such a welcome from all of the negative news now-a-days!
I first visited your winery in 2005. I remarried in 1999 to a wonderful gal whose best friends would visit the California wine country every couple of years. Their names are Becky and John. Interesting enough, my wife’s name is Becky and you guessed it, my name is John. This combination made for plenty of interesting conversations and experiences. So, in 2005, they convinced us to travel with them to the west coast for about 2 weeks. OMG, half way through the trip I realized I already purchased my anticipated wine allowance. But that didn’t stop my buying. At Pedroncelli, I focused on your 2000 Morris Fay Cab. Sauv. and some 2001 vintage port. Yum.
Well every other year, we returned to California via grand trips via Yosemite, Death Valley, Las Vegas, the Grand Canyon, Lake Tahoe, and numerous other stops. We did return to Pedroncelli in 2017, whereby I acquired a case of mixed wines. Yum again!
We did visit in October 2019 to celebrate our daughter’s first anniversary, as well as our twentieth. 2021 as you well know has been a mess and has kept us once again from traveling out west. I hope that 2022 or at least 2023 will prevail with our returning to wine country, and we may be able to influence some of our adult kids to tag along.
Long story short, we will return to California. Take care, best wishes to both you and your business, and keep writing those great newsletters. Oh, by the way, your recipes are quite delightful as well."
Another response from Jim G.:
"I was in the Naval Reserve in the early 60's and served my 2 week summer camp at Skaggs Island. On weekends everyone else went to S.F. I went to the wine country. My vague memory, as I'm now 82, was discovering Pedroncelli then, meeting John and Jim and falling in love w/ the Zin.
After my return from 2 years’ service and back in L.A. I took a part time job at a liquor store in Toluca Lake, Pop 'n Cork. I raved about your wines and they took on your wines and I believe sold quite a bit. I know I did, the Zin and an inexpensive blend, whose name I can't recall. (Editor's note: our Sonoma Red). About the same time I'd met my now wife of 52 years who seldom drank wine...and white at that... tasted Zinfandel and said she liked it. I immediately said to myself, "This is a keeper!" We took a trip to Sonoma in the late 70's and visited the winery again meeting John and Jim.
We left CA in 1974 and unfortunately in VA, NY State & Minneapolis did not have retail access to your wines. We're now retired in Geezerville, AZ and again enjoying your wines.
Thanks for the memories in your newsletters as I sorta feel a part of the family after so many years.
P.S I forgot to add that we escaped COVID confinement here in Phoenix and drove to Sonoma County for a 6 day vacation about a month ago visiting friends and memories. Our recent visit, maybe a month ago, included a re-visit to Pedroncelli, near closing time, to be greeted by a lovely lady who said she'd try to get us in and hosted us elegantly. We of course bought a few. I've carried a fond memory and a big support for 60 years now."
From Are You in The 95%?:
A refresher-I created an informal survey, see below, on the subject of how quickly we consume wine once purchased. This one by far had the most responses!
When I buy wine I:
a-drink it within 0-48 hours
b-wait a bit-I am saving it for a dinner party next week
c-put it away for a time-out of sight, out of mind etc
d-I collect so I save every bottle I get and cellar for 10 or more years
e-all of the above
(Overwhelmingly ‘e’ was the choice but I received some thoughtful answers too. It isn’t always one or the other but a combination.)
From Mark M and Sue M: "For what its worth, we open most red wines and leave them uncorked for 24 hours before drinking. We tried an experiment that you might try, too. Years ago we took two bottles of 2014(?) Mother Clone, opened one on Monday and let it sit open. On Tuesday, we opened the other bottle, and then tasted the two wines side-by-side, blind. The wine that had been open 24 hours was clearly fruitier and "rounder". Chemically, I think tannins react with oxygen more quickly than other components in red wine react with oxygen, so the 24 hours allows oxygen to reduce the tannins without significantly degrading the other components."
From John T.: "One thing that we love about your winery is that you have the range of price points, and we’ve found that the quality is commensurate with the price. We tend to save the Courage and Wisdom for special occasions and drink the lower priced wines soon after we get them. Also, we have several bottles of Wisdom that we are keeping over 10 years to see how much aging helps them. We’ve had some amazing Cabs that were 10-20 years old. We frequently give your wines as gifts and the recipients are usually complimentary (and impressed!) and often ask where they can get more."
And finally,from Jack J.:
Rosé for everyday
Mother Clone for burgers and pork chops
Bushnell Zin for steak and prime rib.
Courage Zin to impress friends.
Every Day Should Be National Zinfandel Day
From Tom & Mary M: "What an interesting perspective you wrote yesterday, on the history of Pedroncelli Zinfandel making. I love articles like that, especially when they highlight generations of family. I can’t imagine how beautiful and rural Dry Creek Valley was when your grandfather bought the land.
I love the history of how and when you made each of the different types of Zinfandel. So interesting! I can’t imagine the talent it takes wine-makers to blend different grapes and then refine the taste in each. It’s a fascinating art!"
I have been called over to or stopped in the tasting room by some of you telling me you read my notes and make the recipes I include. I appreciate the feedback and it always makes my day!
December 3, 2021 16:24
Each year we celebrate the anniversary the 21st Amendment—Repeal of the 18th amendment or the very long dry time known as Prohibition (1919-1933). Since my grandparents bought a distressed property mid-Prohibition (and probably hoped the end would come sooner than it did) this act began my families' legacy of making wine for nine decades and counting. Cheers to the 88th anniversary by toasting with Mother Clone Zinfandel which would be appropriate. For more on the history and how this period changed the way we drink, this TIME article with Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition is a good read. https://time.com/5469508/prohibition-repeal-anniversary-history/
November 27, 2021 13:27
The vineyard crew took advantage of the good weather to begin pruning the Mother Clone Vineyard this month. This is all part of the cycle a vine goes through and is the official entry into dormancy. We have had cool crisp fall mornings and the time is right to begin the process of pruning the 115 acres of vineyard by spring. Rainfall will delay some of those days and weeks so getting a head start is important.
Ever since I was young I have watched these vines with each season bringing something different-the new leaves of spring, the canopy of summer and harvest in the fall. Now winter is coming and they will take their dormancy seriously, stocking up on water and nutrients to get ready for another vintage. These head-pruned Zinfandel blocks have been through this for four decades. You can see it on their wizened arms.
When you look at a pruned vine you see the story it has to tell.From the placement of the arms to the whorls, knots and holes which are the scars of past pruning. These remind me of the rings of a tree in a way—they don’t tell the age of the vine but they certainly are the badges of age. Pruning shapes the vine in order to get the best direction for future shoots (which become canes and the canopy) so arm placement is key. The pruner comes through and clips away the old wood, the long canes that bore last year’s crop, and leaves two ‘buds’ on each arm-the 2022 vintage-in-waiting.
A few years ago we hosted a media group and Sara Lehman, SommInTheCity, was visiting the dormant vineyard. She remarked that each vine seemed to have its’ own personality. (The one to the left seems to have a lot of personality.) They are as individual as our own fingerprints, each one pruned to open up and help ripen the future fruit. Vines are like people as I have written before. They wilt a little under the heat of summer or grow in leaps and bounds in the youth of spring. And seeing is believing. This one has seen nearly 40 years and has survived. They are a lot like you and me. We are tough, flexible when needed and produce good fruit year after year.
November 22, 2021 15:07
It will come as no surprise to you that fall is my favorite season. I revel in the changes all around me. The colors in our Mother Clone vineyard outside my office window are muted by the clouds, which are due to bring rain soon. It seems to be the right time to reflect on the year so far, with just six weeks until the New Year, and it’s as good a time as any for wine.
This week National Zinfandel Day has come and gone, Nouveau Beaujolais had its’ day and Cabernet Franc will soon be celebrated in December. Did you know there are 15 National Wine Days throughout the year and another 35 International Days set aside for everything from Chardonnay to Xinomavro? Sometimes I feel like the kid in the proverbial candy store. There are so many wines out there to try and we have 18 of our own currently released as of this note. A wine for every table and palate.
Thinking of all the ways wine is part of this time of year includes gifting for the holidays (I’d like Santa to add a bottle of wine to my stocking), featuring a favorite wine or two on the table, and don't forget the midweek meal choice amidst the busyness of wrapping up gifts or the year. This brings holiday menus to mind. The age old question of which wines goes with the bird or roast beast comes around again. Long ago when I worked in the Tasting Room, learning the ropes, I would tout our Rosé as the Thanksgiving wine: it goes with everything from the turkey to the cranberry sauce, maybe even pumpkin pie-give it a try.
And if you go ask Google you’ll find wine and food pairing lists for the holidays nearly as long as the circumference of the earth. What do we do? I’ll make it easy for you. Go with the wine you love best-why not have your favorite wine on the table? I would only make a few adjustments to the food. Watch the salt (not just because Ed and I are doing a lot of that lately) but because, like anything else, too much will throw the pairing out of balance. Other things like fat, usually a wine’s best pairing friend, will ease the concerns whether a wine is right or not. Enter gravy, buttered rolls, roasted veggies.
This time of year I think less complication is better. Dig into your cellar/coat closet/wine rack and pull out a wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion. Bubbly always has a spot somewhere on the table at our house and of course dessert and Port go hand in hand (now pumpkin pie is a great pairing with Port!). No matter what, I believe we all will make the right choice.
Reflecting on the past months I, for one, am glad harvest came through without a hitch, and although we are experiencing supply issues we are working on solutions. The virus continues as well as the ebb and flow of pandemic rules. In the middle of it all sometimes a pause in our daily routine to enjoy time with friends or family feels good, especially when there is a glass of something tasty to go along with the conversation.
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