July 27, 2020 09:22
93 years ago (July 22, 1927) my grandfather signed the papers on the purchase of a home, vineyard and shuttered winery near the town of Geyserville in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County. I often wonder what the day was like-did it hold trepidation for him and his young family? Were there hopes that Prohibition would end soon and they could make a living selling wine? Or would they move on to something else? The legacy they created that day spans four generations and 9 decades here in Dry Creek Valley!
My grandparents, both immigrants from northern Italy, came to the United States separately in the early 1900s. My grandfather arrived along with his sister Caterina (she later died in the 1918 Influenza Pandemic) and found work around the Placerville and later Redding area. My grandmother came with her mother and sister to meet my great-grandfather who had found a place in Redding CA.
My grandparents met, as the story goes, when my grandfather was selling vegetables to local businesses and met my grandmother when he called on their hotel-just about 10 years after they had arrived in the United States.
They married, settled in Dunsmuir, and a few years later they pulled up roots and moved to Geyserville leaving behind family and friends. Giovanni & Julia arrived at the new property with three children between the ages of 7 and 2 years old along with all of their worldly possessions. In light of history it was a challenging period with Prohibition in full swing and the Great Depression following just two years later.
During this COVID time of sheltering in place I have to imagine it was almost the same feeling as we have now: being cut off from family and friends, striking out into new territory, not knowing what will happen in the next weeks and months. There weren’t many neighbors to begin with, the town of Geyserville was three miles away and they didn’t have friends nearby.
The beauty of this story comes with the knowledge of the hard work it took to overcome the odds and to wait patiently for the times to change. It was another 6 years of Prohibition before it was Repealed and almost 10 years for the Depression to end. All the while supporting a young family which welcomed one more child in 1932, my dad Jim.
They started by first selling the grapes to head of households in the area and launched a new family business of making wine in 1934. The ensuing years saw many changes in the way the family worked the land and made wine. I stand in awe of what they were able to achieve from there. I must remember what it took to get through those times because, like all of us, I need the reminder of better days to come.
If you would like to take a trip down memory lane click here for our history gallery.
July 24, 2020 15:50
Another month into vintage 2020 and the next stage of the grape development is here: veraison. From here on out we can predict harvest dates by when the fruit begins the transition from hard green pea sized berries to a lighter softer green in the white varieties and shades of purple in the reds. I caught up with Mitch Blakely, fourth generation family member, as he was heading home for the day.
“We are watching the vines as the crop on each turns color-all but 11 acres of what we farm are red wine varieties and Merlot seems to be out ahead of the pack at 50% of the fruit turning color. Zinfandel isn’t too far behind at about 35%. Other varietals like Sauvignon Blanc, Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon range from 5-15%. What that tells us is we’re looking at an average to slightly later harvest with mid-September for white grapes and lighter red wine grapes followed by Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah the first couple of weeks of October. This timing is typical of the past harvests from normal growing seasons. And of course this will change if the weather spikes higher as we get nearer to picking.”
“It’s been hot at the beginning of July so one of the other jobs I had was trying to find blocks needing water. The vines were getting slightly stressed, slowly development down because of heat although some of the days topped out at 100 degrees but tapered off as the late afternoon fog began to come in. While fairly early on in the season it is better to have the higher heat at this time. Varietals susceptible to damage during heat are Zinfandel, Merlot and Sangiovese on hillside or limited soils where they have a tough time bouncing back. Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, on the other hand, can handle it. It was unseasonably cool at the last half of July which helped the vines out a lot."
He continued, "The crop size is fairly consistent, not as big of a year as last year. Not as many clusters and counts are down-which is a good thing because it is easier on the vines. We'll see COVID harvest protocols slow down harvesting with smaller crews and split crews for picking in order to keep our vineyard crew safe. Hoping for a nice even harvest with lots of time in between. Other projects include working on the vine blocks under the Scott Henry system where they are separating out the canes and pinching them down so the arms aren't snapped off during machine harvesting (Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc). There are 20-25 acres of the split system so it takes a while-7 acres done so far and there is time to get this done. Pulling leaves and dropping fruit (also known as green harvest) also has taken place in order to allow ripening of the clusters as well as lightening the load on the vine."
Thanks Mitch for the time and information-cheers to Vintage 2020 as it comes more into focus with each month. Follow our vineyard next month when we are in striking distance of harvest.
June 29, 2020 11:27
Where were you in 1985? This year marks my 35th at Pedroncelli Winery so June is a special month for me as it is the anniversary of the start of my career in the family business. 35 years ago…more than half my life and the other half was spent growing up here. I did move away to attend college in Marin County (go Penguins) but always came home to visit with family and it is how my path back home began.
Post college, as I drove back and forth from the East Bay to Geyserville, I was missing Sonoma County quite a bit (by the way the place I lived in was right next to the Del Norte BART station and the track ran above the fence). After the invitation from my father Jim (actually a meeting in the case goods warehouse), I agreed to make the move back home and work for the family. Once home, I supplemented my liberal arts education with classes at the Santa Rosa Junior College where I learned from the greats-Richard Thomas (vineyard) and Bill Traverso (wine marketing) among others.
As I eased into the business of wine I began in the Tasting Room working with cousin Richard. I eventually made my way into the office and began doing administrative work. Writing fact sheets and then the newsletter was a natural extension of my education as an English major. 2020 also marks the 30th anniversary of writing newsletters in various formats over the years. 10 years ago I switched from printing the newsletter to the electronic version. My blog posts on Vino in my Dino began 6 years ago. Those projects represent thousands of words about the winery, our history and family as well as musings and opinions over the years.
In light of this year and all the COVID 19 sheltering in place, wearing of masks, and physically distancing ourselves helps me put some of these things in perspective: my grandparents started from scratch in 1927. Two years later the Great Depression began. They made it through and I have realized by talking to my late uncle John and dad Jim and hearing their stories of the early years made me realize it wasn’t a ‘fun’ time. I imagine it must have been hard for my grandparents to make a living and to feed the family. But because of the land they bought, they were able to have a farm, to sell grapes to support the family and learn a new way of life that would span 9 decades and four generations.
In the time I have worked for the family business I have seen huge swings and changes in how wine is sold and talked about. The internet, of course, is the biggest change in how we communicate our story and messages-website, social media channels, email and newsletters. Marketing wine nationally and globally are now par for the course. My newsletters have always communicated what was going on and where we were headed.
Reflections on my first newsletter-dated Spring 1990, Vol.1 No.1 (by clicking here you'll go to our gallery for the rest.)
The format here is the typical four-page newsletter with the information in order of importance-front page with news, the middle pages featuring varietals and new releases and the back panel reserved for the shorter messages of signing up to receive the newsletter and information on upcoming events-in this case it was for the Passport to Dry Creek Valley which many of you are familiar with as the trademark event of our area.
As I read through it some things remain the same because of who we are-can’t change the beginnings or the middle. The history of the first and second generations are in place. You’ll see we made 12 wines at the time including Chenin Blanc, Gamay Beaujolais and Riesling. Today there are other varietals planted in their place (Syrah instead of Gamay, Cabernet Sauvignon instead of Riesling). Wisdom comes with farming a variety and finding out another one does even better in its’ place or is an answer to what our friends like to drink. Palates were evolving from lighter sweeter wines to more complex wines. We were also known as a ‘best value’ winery. This stand the test of time-this week Dan Berger wrote about our wines and included here his thoughts on the value our wines represent.
The next pages were a bit of a mish mash-I was learning the ropes obviously. Interestingly the new releases for that time of year include three wines we no longer produce-White Zinfandel, Dry Chenin Blanc and Gamay Beaujolais. I gave an update on the cellar as well as talked about how long we had grown and produced Cabernet Sauvignon-and how long to age it with the suggestion of buying a case of our 1981 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
What have I learned? To tell the story-even if it is from my perspective and to tell it in a way that reflects who I am and who we are. I enjoy being a storyteller what with our rich history, generations of farming wine grapes and making wine allows for many opportunities to see things from all angles. Those stories, like the newsletters, create a timeline of the Pedroncelli family and what we have accomplished over 9 decades-and 5 generations.
How about you? I bet a lot of things have changed in that time. 35 years ago Back to the Future was the number one movie, the KC Royals won the World Series (remember baseball?) and the 49ers won the Superbowl. Memories of Live Aid, The Cosby Show and, fittingly, Aretha Franklin’s voice was named a natural resource of Michigan. Tell me-did you have a bottle of our Gamay or Chenin Blanc back then? Did you buy a case of the 1981 Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon and do you have any in your cellar? Did you visit the tasting room when it was in the case goods warehouse (which is where I began)? Or earlier did you meet my grandfather who welcomed people in to taste in the 1950s/1960s? I look forward to hearing your stories as always and won’t be resting on my laurels as I have even more to write about in the coming years.
May 7, 2020 14:00
The word vintage can mean different things. To me in the wine world it denotes the year the wine was made or even a wine of high quality. To a car buff a vintage car is everything. Bell bottoms in your closet? You have vintage clothing. The word in most cases brings with it a nostalgia for things from the past or, in the case of harvest year, informs us of what took place in a particular season.
In previous blog posts I talk about how the vintage tells the story. 2015 was influenced by the drought with a smaller production and highly concentrated fruit. Or the name tells the story. Three Vineyards is a Bordeaux blend and is sourced from 5 estate blocks. Or the vineyard tells the story. Bushnell Vineyard has been part of the family since the 1940s and grapes have been sourced from here for 8 decades. Our wines are defined by these stories. Consider then how the vintage tells YOUR story.
A little background on where I am headed. I freely admit I am a boomer and I love Facebook-there I said it. I find all kinds of information there especially what my wine loving friends are drinking or talking about. The other day I ran across a post from Jon Peterson and I told him I was going to steal his idea. He gave me permission so here we go:
Jon is from the great state of Maryland and shared on his FB page recently about a tradition he and his wife began a while ago. Here is his original post: "Supporting a local Italian restaurant last night, Luisa's Cucina (whose owner is also a neighbor)with a young Barolo from our cellar. Elizabeth and I usually take a minute to talk about events that happened in the vintage year of wines we open. This time, 2015 was the year our daughter got her Bachelor's degree plus, she's a big fan of Nebbiolo!" This concept stopped me dead in my (scrolling) tracks. Up until this point I have always focused on what happened in the vintage-the weather, the production, the quality. I’ll never look at a vintage or a wine the same way again.
How about you? I'll invite you to tell YOUR vintage story: The wine on hand doesn’t need to be old-reflect on the vintage in front of you-2018? What was going on in your life that year? How about 2019? For us the marriage of our daughter brings great joy recalling the day. I have been hearing through the grapevine that a lot of people are ‘drinking their cellars’ because, well, COVID-19. That means there are quite a few stories you have to tell! Memories around a particular wine during this time of sheltering in place can be bittersweet-the bottle of wine purchased on your last trip to a winery, the wine served at your wedding 10 years ago or gifted from a good friend. If you have older wines on hand check those out as well-where were you in 2012, 2001 or 1998 and what was happening then?
Our own vintage stories, those stories that have been shared with me over the years, are what makes this age-old beverage called wine such a memory-maker. When you drink a beer or have a cocktail there isn’t much to the story other than what’s in the glass at the moment. Wine exists to make our day or commemorate an occasion. I look forward to holding a bottle of 2020 and reflecting on this year. I know I’ll remember this COVID virus, sheltering in place, the miles of walking around town and having a grandson born in the middle of it. How about your VINTAGE story? Share them with me by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to reading the stories unlocked by the vintage on your bottle of vino.
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