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!
October 24, 2020 08:44
This series began when I wanted to share what is going on each month at the winery or in the vineyard during the pandemic. I call them postcards or snapshots of life in and around our little corner of Dry Creek Valley. I have mentioned before that I send my grandsons postcards from the road—wherever I may be I am on the lookout for a postcard that captures the place I have traveled to so I can share the experience with them. These do the same thing—bringing a bit of Pedroncelli to you!
These ‘postcards’, 36 years old, come from longtime friends and former wine retailers Bob & Carol Luskin. They have been visiting wine country for many years-earlier to taste and seek wines out for their shop and later to revisit and enjoy some of their favorite places. Earlier this year, pre-COVID, we got together for dinner at Catellis and had a great time talking about their vintage stories! Recently Carol sent me photos from one of their fall trips and it happened to be in the Fall of 1984—how fitting for this post! Ready for some ‘vintage’ photos? You'll note some photos mirror what we see today. Some things remain the same-pandemic or not.
Showing the mature colors of fall, after the harvest is over, gives wine country its own fall color magic. Much like the vineyards this month there are colors of deep red, yellow, orange and browns tinging the leaves all over the estate blocks. This leaf, glowing red in the fall sunshine, actually is showing signs of a virus which appears once the vines are well on their way to harvest. Without the virus the vineyards would be a bit drab don't you think?
Second Crop Zinfandel
Zinfandel pushes what we call a ‘second crop’. It sets the main bunches of fruit on the inside of the head pruned vine and then pushes out another set of fruit later—which in turn ripens at a later time as well. These little bunches of fall goodness are highly prized in certain years when the production is low in the Zin vineyards. We have picked it when needed or home winemakers also make good use of the extra crop. Either way it’s good not to waste the fruit—what would my grandfather and uncle say!
Framed by Canes: Western Dry Creek Valley
Vine with a view. This was taken on our East Side Vineyards, a mile west of the winery, and is looking toward the western hills of Dry Creek Valley. Just starting to go into fall with big fluffy clouds over the valley—I can almost feel the cant of the sun, as it gets farther away and moves to winter—the warmth slowly leaving and giving way to the next season.
Bonded Winery 113
The façade of the oldest part of the winery as seen in 1984. The original building was established in the early 1900s and then added on over the years as our family expanded the production of wine. It has changed ‘looks’ over the years. In the 1970s and 1980s it was this striking red-stained siding. The hillside behind the cellar would soon be the home to our newest and last building. We started construction on our Barrel Room and Tasting Room in 1986. The 'new' building is now 33 years old!
Vintage Footnote from Bruce Cass' Wine Lab: 1984
In case you want an overview of what the vintage was like here are the notes from Bruce Cass, wine educator: “Coming from a hot growing season with an early vintage and little or no rain during harvest. '84 was warm throughout, a normal sized crop, and no rain until late October. The vintage produced fleshy, fragrant wines which dazzled consumers and show judges with their opulence and maturity when first released. After five years they began to show the diminishing effects of such an ebullient youth. Cabernets from these years make a fascinating study. Those from Napa Valley are starting to tire. Those from cooler areas like the Santa Rosa plain in Sonoma County and the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County are among the best vintages those locations have produced.”
September 29, 2020 11:36
Our grape harvest is over and many gardens around the nation are finishing up their summer crops. This time of year I am reminded of the many summers spent during my childhood while growing up in the middle of the winery, vineyards and enjoying the abundance from a large garden.
When my grandparents purchased the property in 1927 it came with space to farm-and it is what sustained the young and growing family for many years. When I was growing the garden area was surrounded by buildings and eventually became the place where our bottling warehouse is today. In it’s heyday it featured several fruit trees, including citrus, pear, apple, peach, prune, apricot, cherry, olive along with hazelnut and walnut trees. When we moved there my parents kept up the garden which, in the summertime, was planted to many annuals with beans, zucchini, tomatoes and more. Preserving these fruits and vegetables was a focus in our family and every year we helped process the produce into jams, quarts of pears and peaches, applesauce, pints of zucchini pickles and more. We had a basement with many shelves lined with enough home canned treats to last to the next summer. I remember as well the privilege of going down to the dark basement and picking out a jar of applesauce or apricot jam!
Having a garden in those years was important. It engaged you with the earth. It fed your family. It was sustainable. Another way of using all the abundance from this garden was to have alfresco gatherings that my grandparents hosted over their early years-up until the 1960s when they retired. Of course vino was always part of the experience and these meals wouldn’t be the same without Giovanni’s favorite bottle of red wine in the mix. Wine was a natural part of dinnertime at my childhood home and continues today to be part of our meals today. I have been regaled with many stories of those lunches and dinners-people came from all over the Bay Area-friends or family-to join in this wonderful Sunday ritual and the food prepared by my grandmother made it all the more delicious.
I do have a COVID confession: I didn’t get the garden bug. We grow a few herbs at home (just started this during the pandemic) and when we are finished with the house project in a year or two we have a dream of putting in a nice garden-Ed also grew up with a similar experience in his family. In the meantime, we’ll depend on the farmer’s market and friends dropping off their garden extras! Here are some great recipes with the idea of using up the last of the season’s produce!
Creamy Corn Soup with Red Pepper Sauce
Mathilde’s Tomato Tart
Zucchini Pickles (Bread & Butter style)
September 28, 2020 16:17
Fall is my favorite time of year and the Mother Clone Zin vines are done with harvest and beginning to show their fall colors of red, yellow and orange. Six months into the pandemic and I thought I’d include an update on what we have been doing during COVID operations around the winery and vineyards. The seemingly mission impossible became possible because we found ways of running the family business in these times.
Harvest Ops: We are wrapping up Vintage 2020 as you read this note, the grapes are in and the fermentations will take a week or so to finish. The county and state guidelines slowed the vineyard crew down mostly at the beginning of the day-everything needed to be in order to keep everyone safe. The whole process took more time but the grapes were picked and the season came to an end on September 24 with the harvesting of our Cabernet Sauvignon. Everyone is clamoring to get answers about smoke damage. The truth is we have to wait for results from the very-overwhelmed labs. You can rest assured that we are doing everything we can to bring you the great wines you've come to expect from us.
Tasting Room Ops: Pandemic guidelines mean reservations for wine tasting are in order to keep our guests and staff safe. We reimagined how you would experience tasting in this new environment so we developed tasting flights and reserved seating along with a nominal tasting fee. Each flight captures a portion of our story and you have many to choose from including ‘choose your own’ flight. Plan ahead and let us know you are coming by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. One of our friendly associates will get back to you with the details. Take a look and plan your next trip-we’ll reserve your spot and share our wines and stories.
Club Ops & Curbside Pick-up: Colin and crew kept up to date with you and shipped out our wines to all corners of the U.S. by offering themed specials of our favorites. We packed the wine club shipment in house again and in order to use less paper we included the vignettes and the recipes in the links below. Are you a will-call kind of club member? We have your September selection ready for pick up anytime during tasting room hours (10am to 4:30pm). We have continued with curb side-pick up throughout the pandemic and many people found pre-ordering wine for a touchless experience was very convenient—drive up, pick up and drive away. All you have to do is call the tasting room 707-857-3531 ext 1 or go online and place your order.
Virtually Yours: We Zoomed, we’ve FB’d, IG’d and IG’d Live all as a way of keeping in touch with you! I just appeared on a global Zoom with our retail partner in the UK—along with winery owners in Italy and South Africa. We talked and shared what is going on in our part of the globe and it was enlightening as we all share the same pandemic experience. We love to have conversations with our friends (that’s you Jack & Jo, Denny & Patsy, Becky & Cal among others) and we’d love to ‘see’ you. Connect with us at email@example.com and let us know a good time to meet.
September 28, 2020 16:14
Christine Elizabeth Pedroncelli March 7, 1928 to September 15, 2020
My Aunt Christine passed away earlier this month from age related causes. Christine became a part of our family’s story when she married John Pedroncelli in 1966. She was predeceased by John and left behind children Connie, Richard and Maureen along with seven grandchildren. She was a gracious woman who loved to learn, to ask questions and find answers.
Notes, in her own words, from a page she gave me for just this time included: Bachelor of Arts from UC Berkeley, a taxpayer in Sonoma County since 1963, active parenting for 28 years (which included volunteering many hours from elementary through high school), her community and civic activities spanned service on the Sonoma County Grand Jury, participating in the committee to build Geyserville Educational Park, Chairman of the Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital Board of Trustees, Member and past president (and the first woman president) on the Santa Rosa Junior College Board of Trustees. If you drive by the SRJC campus you’ll see the Pedroncelli Center which is a sign of her graciousness and interest in the betterment of all people-education was very important to her and she gave many hours of her time making sure the opportunities were there.
During this pandemic I find hope in the ways Christine approached life. We need more graciousness in our lives now. Seeing a clip of Justice Ginsburg telling of her mother’s encouragement to "be a lady-polite and independent" reminded me of my Aunt Christine. She was so gracious, but a very powerful force for good in Sonoma County. Christine’s legacy, one that will be remembered by family and friends, is framed by that gracious manner in all things.
Conversations with Christine took on a wide range of subjects because she was an avid reader and inquisitive. When you talked to Christine you HAD a conversation-no frivolous ‘hi how are you’ and moving on. Curiosity-always learning, asking questions, seeking answers and advocating. Eager to learn, she asked after family, kids, grandchildren (whom she called ‘the youngsters’) and usually continued a conversation begun months ago or just last week.
The phrase ‘the world was her oyster’ must have been coined for Christine. As world travelers she and John visited far flung places like China, Argentina and Italy (of course) and they met many people throughout their travels. In fact not too long ago I sat at a table with the Stambaughs at our Sip & Savor dinner and they shared how they had met Christine & John and, in due time, became fans of the winery and wines. She was an enthusiastic advocate for the winery-she partnered with John over the years and was always an asset when she attended an event or poured wine for a guest. And she was always on the lookout for Pedroncelli wines wherever their travels took them and she sent me notes about where they found them.
She had a very keen eye for detail. One day, after some spring cleaning at Christine’s house, a file showed up at my office along with some articles and other archival items. It included extensive notes she took while planning the winery’s 60th Anniversary in 1987. All the logistics and choices laid out in an orderly fashion, detailed from the flowers to the food. I remember the event going very smoothly and now realize it was in part because of her knack for planning and hospitality. She and John would host a pre-harvest party for family and staff celebrating the harvest to come. It brought everyone together as we all looked forward to what the new vintage would bring.
My heart goes out to her children and grandchildren. We are living in a time when so many don’t get to gather to say goodbye to someone we love but I’m thankful she was surrounded by her family at Ridge Ranch. As we move along in 2020 let us be reminded of the good things in life-to be gracious in all you do, with all you meet, wherever life takes you. Thank you Christine.
September 28, 2020 16:06
Vintage 2020 was one of the fastest harvests in our 93 years at Pedroncelli. It began on August 24 with Sauvignon Blanc and ended with our Cabernet Sauvignon on September 23. And this vintage year began with the pandemic and ended amidst it with all the accompanying safety guidelines in placed. A fire to the west of us complicated things with a brief evacuation followed by smoke high above the valley from the large Walbridge fire. Add a couple of high heat weeks and the grapes ripened along quickly. Reminiscent of the 2017 vintage which was equally as fast.
We follow the vineyard with Mitch Blakeley, fourth generation family member, who works with his dad Lance and is our Vineyard Manager and a key part of the winemaking team which also included Montse Reece and Polo Cano. He gave me an update on the grapes, the vineyards and the vintage:
"Just as we are picking the last load of Cabernet Sauvignon we are also back out in the vineyard preparing for winter by planting cover crop and fertilizing the vines. We are heading into a heat wave next week and we are buttoning things up so the vines can get some much needed rest.
The harvest overall was very quick and busy in that we picked every day between August 24 and September 23 except for two of the days. We don’t pick on Sundays as well and this gives everyone a break to get ready for another busy week-rest, make plans, gear up.
I find this year similar to 2017 in that we had high heat over Labor Day weekend then and this year as well. The crop is also lighter and similar to three years ago. I learned more this year than I knew when I worked the 2017 harvest, that’s for sure. To give an example at how quickly the fruit ripened I’ll use our Zinfandel as an example. At the beginning of Labor Day weekend the fruit samples came back at 24 brix-we watched the brix (sugar) rise a degree per day and by Monday we had 27 degrees Brix-and we picked it as fast as we could to preserve the style we like in our Zins.
Aside from all the challenges we were on par for a great vintage. We’ll now play the patience game and wait for the overworked labs to get us results to see if there is any smoke damage in the new wines.
A couple of other notes; we machine harvest about 15% of our vineyard: Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon blocks that are cane pruned and able to withstand the machine taking fruit off. You need to have some age on the wood so it doesn’t break off and damage the vine. Another anomaly this year was the amount of labor we had-his dad Lance noted it was like 30 years ago when labor was plentiful. The reason this year is because other wineries delayed picking or cancelled picking of vineyards and we had people eager to work."
Thanks Mitch for the update as we follow the vineyard through 2020.
September 15, 2020 10:59
As the saying goes-when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Years from now we’ll be telling our grandchildren or our friends at the old timers’ home about the wild times we lived through during the pandemic. It isn’t over yet, but it seems I’ve lived a lifetime in just 6 months. And how will vintage 2020 be remembered?
When the Shelter in Place orders were set in mid-March I was under the impression that these guidelines for COVID19 would end in a couple of months. Ha. 6 months later and we are still wearing our masks and waiting. Then came the heat wave followed by a fire, a brief evacuation at the winery and things became even more challenging.
As you know, nature and the vineyards don’t wait for something like a worldwide virus. The road toward harvest, having begun in March along with the pandemic, ends here-the final moment of glory for a vine. The fruit is ready and the grape-filled gondolas are delivered to the crushpad to finish the journey. We have had a few wrinkles along the way what with the heat over Labor Day weekend which echoed the vintages in 2017 and 2010. Just a year ago we were picking the first fruit off our Sauvignon Blanc vineyard following a cooler growing season. Shortly before the first grapes were picked a fire broke out a few miles west of us causing a brief evacuation and the ensuing smoke (which remained high over the valley). The proof of vintage 2020 will come when we finish fermentations and check our wines for any trace of a problem. It is a wait and see kind of year.
Each of these, even as a single event, would be noteworthy. How do I make lemonade out of this? Preferentially I’d make limoncello, but I’ll stick with the former for now. We continue to live our lives all the while trying to make sure our children are educated, we carry on with work either on the job as essential or remotely, making the best of the circumstances.
Some parts of our Tasting Room are on hold and we wait for new guidelines allowing indoor winetasting as summer turns to fall along with cooler weather. Meanwhile, we are looking at ways of bringing the tasting room to you. And while we are unable to sell wine to most restaurants there have been inroads made selling wine online. Duly noted: Those of us who work from home apparently like to order wine more frequently than ever before (see Wark's Fermentation column: COVID-Driven Online Wine Sales).
Change has been the common denominator of 2020. Flexibility, looking forward, patience. These are the positive things we can hold onto. Wear the mask and smile with your eyes. Keep your distance but keep your humanity. Adapt and create something new. Amid all the emails about the fire, the virus and county updates come your messages checking in, updating me, sharing your story or sending notes about an older vintage you tried and just had to share because it was so good. All proving we are in this together.
When we tell our vintage story of 2020, and how we made lemonade out of the lemons we were handed, I believe we will see how resilient we are and were. The stories will be both tart and sweet and, just like lemonade, will blend the two. As to the question of how the vintage will be remembered: for the challenges met and answered.
- Four Grapes Port
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Bushnell Vineyard
- note from home
- Vintage 2020
- Dry Creek Valley
- Lake Sonoma
- Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
- cooking with wine
- Mother Clone
- Follow the Vineyard
- Crop set
- Heat wave
- Wine Flights
- Walbridge Fire
- Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon
- Wine & Food
- Courage Zinfandel
- Holding steady
- Tasting Room
- Block 007 Cabernet Sauvignon
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Sonoma County