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.
November 15, 2021 08:29
We are looking forward to celebrating National Zinfandel Day on November 17. I put together a retrospective on this flagship grape and the lineage it has at Pedroncelli and in Dry Creek Valley. Our family’s legacy has been intertwined with this variety for 94 years.
The first family who owned the property, the Canatas, were the first to plant Zinfandel here. They built a small winery and made the wine for their store in North Beach, San Francisco. They operated from about 1906 to 1919 when Prohibition put a halt to all winemaking and began a 14 year moratorium on commercial winemaking. There was hope however for this family-they were able to sell grapes to head of households who obtained a federal permit and could make up to 200 gallons of wine (that’s about 84 cases). Needless to say there was a high demand in the early years of the dry time but soon the bottom dropped out of the grape market.
My grandparents bought the distressed property from the family in 1927 by putting together a Veteran’s loan and cash for a total of $11,000. The 90 acres of land had a thriving 25 acres of Zinfandel and a home for Giovanni, Julie and their children. They continued to farm the grapes and sell them to home winemakers. I imagine my grandfather, who was not a winemaker at the time of the purchase, had the next 7 years to learn and hone his craft.
Enter Repeal and the beginning of Zinfandel as our focus wine, since it was the main variety planted at the time. Blends were the common way to make wine It remained so until the 1940s when expansion of vineyard began and we branched out. In 1948 we first used Zinfandel on the label instead of Claret. By the 1950s we were making a Rose out of Zinfandel (and continue to make it after more than 65 vintages).
The ensuing years brought many changes to the market but we continued with our focus on this flagship wine. The Renaissance of wine in Sonoma County began in the 1970s and the grape of choice for Dry Creek Valley became Zinfandel with Cabernet close on its heels. Today half of all Zinfandel planted in Sonoma County is in Dry Creek Valley-2500 acres.
Replanting of our Mother vineyard on the Home Ranch began in 1980 and took about 5 years. The blocks were cloned back into place with St. George rootstock, same vine spacing, head-pruned (or goblet shape) using budwood from our own and also sourced from neighbors.
The 1990s brought a change in how we shaped our portfolio and we went from a main Zinfandel bottling to introducing our Mother Clone and Pedroni-Bushnell Vineyard selections. This highlighted specific vineyards and styles. Our Mother Clone Zin carries the long tradition of blending Petite Sirah to bring structure and depth-going back decades as our house style. Our Pedroni-Bushnell honored three generations of family ownership beginning with my grandfather who owned the property and then sold it to his daughter Margaret and son-in-law Al Pedroni. Daughter Carol Bushnell and husband Jim took the reins in 1992. Today we simplified the name to Bushnell and it is a specially selected block that brings true spice and berry to your glass.
Steady as she goes defined the first 15 years of the 21st century. In 2016 winemaker Montse Reece assessed the excellent fruit from the Faloni Ranch, a 3 generation grape growing family, and wanted to make another single vineyard. Named Courage, as in it takes a lot of courage to not only farm Zinfandel but to make it as well. At about this time a portion of the Home Ranch was replanted with the Rockpile Clone which has a history of doing well on hillsides. We dedicated the vineyard at our 90th Anniversary Celebration in 2017. For now the fruit is part of the Mother Clone blend. We'll see where the future takes us as we refine and perhaps redefine Zinfandel.
This lineage which has wound its’ way throughout the history of Pedroncelli is one we can be proud of and share with our friends. On National Zinfandel Day raise a toast and, as I said in the subject line, every day should be a celebration of America’s grape.
March 30, 2021 16:22
This is the first of a monthly blog post on wines from our cellar here at the winery. Ed, Colin and I have been taking apart stacks of wines in our warehouse and inventorying them. We of course need to taste them to make sure they are doing fine, drink now or forget about it.
It began last month with Open That Bottle Night but as we delved into the cases of wine stacked in and around the warehouse we realized doing some tasting notes on these gems would be a good thing to have here on Vino in my Dino.
This was a nice surprise. The very mellow wine with touches of red brick around the edges of the glass. Softened by age this Merlot still has the stuffing to age another year or two. The beauty of this gem is it is ready to drink now should you have some in your cellar-a few more years will be okay as well.
2002 Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon
From the Morris Fay vineyard this is a wine that has aged quite well. Notes of tobacco, leather and a nice fruit core of cherry on the aromatics as well as flavor. A long finish is framed by softening, but not too soft, tannins signaling this wine will age well for a few more years.
2001 Block 007 Cabernet Sauvignon
This is the first year we made a small lot wine from this block. And I am here to tell you this has aged beautifully. Notes of dried herbs linger on the nose along with touches of plum and black pepper spice.
2016 Signature Selection Chardonnay
Not much color change-a deepening gold perhaps from the pale yellow of first release. Still lively with mellowed aromatics of melon and apple. Acidity is still bright, the flavors are rich and the finish is heightened by the perfect balance of fruit and acidity.
January 27, 2021 07:49
My monthly catch up with Mitch Blakeley, 4th generation family and Vineyard Assistant (as well as our Sustainability Certification Manager).
We started off with rain as the subject-or lack thereof so far this month (as of 1/22/21 and we only have receive 6 inches of rain for the last three months). I had been reading the headlines and seeing more concern about a drought year ahead. The weather watchers had already declared this a La Nina year (meaning we shouldn’t expect a huge amount of rain). The headlines were declaring higher than normal temperatures at the beginning of the week-it was 80 degrees here over Monday and Tuesday. And I almost always say we need to wait before we say the sky is falling and have two more months of winter. So I was curious about what Mitch would say about all of this.
I’ll note here that one thing left out of the headlines last year was there was very little rainfall (about 20 inches which is 60% of normal rainfall) and during the pandemic we didn’t have time to pay close attention to what is now considered a drought year. The good news is the previous two years over-delivered and left plenty of water underground. Our harvest was not affected by low water. Like Mitch said, “You can get by with reserves from the previous year’s bounty.”
Moving on to the work being done in the vineyard he reported they are making some changes in pruning times in hopes that by pruning earlier we have an earlier budbreak which will lead to an earlier harvest. It has become obvious we have to think about fires in years to come and mitigate any possible smoke damage. Pruning earlier isn’t driven by the drought. He said earlier budbreak is a gamble when you have to consider the possibility of an early spring frost. The Home Ranch is more protected from frost damage when compared to East Side and Wisdom vineyards. The most we have lost is 15% of the crop down on the valley floor. In mitigating the loss you can choose to train suckers and make up for some of the loss. When you weigh the consequences between earlier harvest (frost threat) or later harvest (possible smoke damage) you can see we need to weigh the odds. You try to base your judgement on a whole year of weather and other circumstances.
Mitch continued: Right now we are in a situation where the weather is great and gives opportunity to get ahead of the game. Only thing that changed with hot and dry spell; 6 inches will germinate the grasses; no false budbreak; not too much has been affected. Still deep in winter. We’ll see the effects of lack of water in June/July. Perhaps we’ll have a larger spring rain; then the water table is re-established; irrigate more or less based on the amount of rainfall.
One thing we are seeing is saving us time: having to heal up as many wounds-no water transfer and the vines aren’t full of water-Eutypa spores-cuts are dry and they don’t have to come back and paint them over (think surgical glue); so the vineyard crew doesn’t have to go back over an entire vineyard vine by vine. The good weather has also allowed the crew to clean up brush as we go and chopping.
Update: This conversation took place on January 22-and a week later we are blessed with 2 inches of rain overnight with more promised as the current weather systems takes California by storm-literally from one end of the state to the other!
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.
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 26, 2020 13:42
Following the vineyard was supposed to be a monthly event series that we had planned out for the tasting room. We envisioned guests coming to the winery each month to follow our Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard from budbreak through harvest and beyond. Well COVID19 put a stop to that as the first Saturday (Bud Break) was set for March 21st. Here we are in June with the vineyard well on it’s way to vintage 2020 having been on a growing spurt ever since. Nature hasn’t recognized our sheltering in place and the growth of summer will soon be harvested in the fall.
I checked in with Mitch Blakeley, fourth generation family member, who works alongside his father Lance Blakeley and is our Vineyard & Operations Manager. I was curious how things were going and he filled me in with the latest.
The bloom phase was over by the first week of June and the crop set began. It has been busy as the vineyard crew works to finish the last of the suckering before the shoots become too hardened and difficult to remove easily. A vine likes to grow and sometimes overdoes it. Suckering or taking off the shoots and extra growth allows the vine to focus its’ energy on the crop at hand rather than all the extra foliage and fruit-think of it as managing expectations.
Managing the vineyard also includes clean-up work, like weeding, disking, trimming and tucking, pinching down the canes to guard against sunburn. The new bunches forming, as seen above, are susceptible to burning if the leaves don’t cover them. Irrigation has begun due to the high heat experienced over the month and the vines are given just enough water to sustain them. Crop thinning is also taking place in some of the Zinfandel blocks-leaving a good sized crop that will also ripen more evenly with less fruit on the vines.
Mitch mentioned it was unusually hot this month with many days topping out at the mid-high 90s. I remember June as a cooler month and we have had the challenge of rain during bloom and crop set (2011) as well as what is known as June gloom (2005 for instance). I also wanted to see if we had experienced high heat and found a blog post from June 2017. Here is what we experienced then:
“What happens in the vineyard when summer hasn’t even begun and we have one of the hottest days on record? On Sunday June 18th the temperature hit 110 degrees in our little corner of Dry Creek Valley. The days that followed were not much better and the mercury wavered between the mid 90s to over 100 degrees again on Thursday.
It isn’t the first time the month of June has seen this heat and it does some good to know the following week we had our fog back in the evenings with pleasant temps in the low 80s. I asked our Vineyard Manager Lance Blakeley to explain a few things to me. How does he prepare? What happens to the fruit? Was it a good time to have a heat wave?
First of all he was ready for the heat-farmers are always weather watchers and he and the crew prepared the vineyard for what was coming by drip irrigating the ranches, which totals 105 acres. This in and of itself helped the vines to survive the brutal heat which hit on the 18th. The fruit was protected by the canopy of canes and leaves. There was little to no scorching of the green berries. If there was a good time to have a heat wave this was it-if it had occurred during bloom time we would have a more drastic story to tell.
I learned something too. The leaves actually move to cover either the stem or the fruit, whichever is in danger of scorching. One way to test if the vine is keeping cool is to feel the leaves-if they are cool then they are safe. If they are warm to the touch then they need some help as they’ll begin to wilt and become overwhelmed by the heat. Kind of like people-we wilt when it becomes too hot and just want a cool drink of water. The good news is the vineyards become acclimated to the heat by this first wave.”
Getting back to vintage 2020, as the clusters size up over the next couple of weeks, July will bring the next stage-veraision-for now we’ll see what the next month brings in the form of weather and toast the coming harvest with a splash of vino in my dino.
June 24, 2020 11:05
My notes from home over the last three months have included many topics during COVID19 and I’d like to revisit one of them and check back in with you-how are you? Or as Joey from the comedy series Friends said, How you doin’?
Day Ninety Whatever and 11 weeks into sheltering in place. Apologies for the reminder but we are all still here, summer is beckoning, things are opening up but the state and county here caution us all to remain vigilant. I don’t think it is the stay at home that gets me so much as it is being hyper-aware when I am out doing the necessary or usual things. I had an actual doctor’s appointment-not a virtual one. I was stopped at the door to have my temperature taken and asked a barrage of questions ending in did I know anyone who was ill with the coronavirus in my household. Personally, I’d lead with that question!
All things considered I am working through the stages of SIP: happy to work from home, overwhelmed by the tasks at hand, wondering why so and so has time on their hands to do puzzles, not know what day it actually is let alone the date, and finally forgetting to take my mask with me. I've learned to bring extras.
These days the eyes have it. Eye contact is key-has anyone realized how our eyes tell all when we have a mask on? While out the other day at the grocery store I was reminded of a memory from years ago by looking into the eyes of Jordan my checker (shout out to Big John’s Market and their checkers-all doing a wonderful job!). We took the kids to a Gold Rush place in Coloma CA and part of the experience was a stage coach ride. We were riding along when suddenly we were stopped and the door flew opened to reveal a bandit with a bandana mask, shades of SIP! My eyes locked with his-and I realized he wasn’t really into his role -perhaps an off day for this fellow. He continued with the “robbery” and we continued on our way saved by the sheriff, or the stage coach driver. The memory of how revealing his eyes were at that moment reminded me when I look at people today our eyes are the windows of our souls!
How are you doing? If I were to look into your eyes above your mask what would I see? I have heard from many of you and so far you are maintaining a healthy outlook on life at home/work at home/retirement at home/homeschooling at home and have made adjustments at this stage in the SIP game. While some of the states and counties are opening up earlier than California-lucky you-I am still waiting to throw open the doors of our tasting room and say directly to you, "how you doin'?"
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