August 27, 2019 13:35
Our first Zinfandel harvest was in 1927 shortly after my grandfather purchased the property. 92 years later we are still harvesting Zinfandel-the rest is our story.
During those early days, when Prohibition was still in place, the grapes were sold to head of households who had obtained their government permit to make 200 gallons of wine. From Repeal onward Zinfandel has been a central grape on our estate and in our line of wines. There are many high points and challenges in the last 92 years for this varietal when the grapes were selling for low prices, the yields weren’t as high as we wanted or the weather didn’t cooperate. Then there are glorious, highly lauded harvests, every farmer's dream, where the weather and growing season came together beautifully and produced a bounty of fruit perfectly ripened.
There are three generations of Zinfandel on our Home Ranch: the original dating to the early 1900s with very few vines left but most of them over 100 years old; the second generation, nearing 40 years old, was patterned after the original vineyard using budwood from the old vines as well as neighbor's vines and finally the newest which was planted with the Rockpile Clone, a hearty hillside choice with distinctive bunches and DNA to bring out the best in this grape. Known as our Mother Clone vineyard it is mostly head pruned (goblet trained or bush vine to the Aussies) along with some experimental blocks that are trellised.
As we get ready for vintage 2019 I am looking out over the Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard. She has a lot of stories to tell! My grandfather's days of bringing in the boxes of grapes aided by the whole family including young sons John and Jim entailed great effort; son John's first crush as winemaker was in 1948 and he along with 2 other men processed 800 tons-as he said in his Oral History it was 'a heckuva crush'; Jim recalls very cold and rainy harvests especially in 1964 when it rained and made it difficult to ripen and pick-one of the latest harvests on record that year at the end of October; the drought of the mid-1970's which produced fabulous vintages but lower production; the 1980s at first brought above average rain and abundant harvests to a drought at the other end and 1985 stood out as the best of the decade for Zinfandel; on to the 1990s with the '97 vintage considered the 'vintage of the century' because everything aligned from production to perfect weather but there were other standouts like 1995 for Zinfandel-considered one of the best due to great growing conditions again; in the next decade we saw one of the earliest harvests on record (2004) and one of the best of the decade-2005 (there seems to be a theme of years ending in '5') with remarkable quantity and quality; the last 9 years have brought a long period of drought which in turn gave great concentration to our Zinfandels as well as a couple of heat spikes that virtually fried the vineyard after a long cool summer (2010) as well as high temperatures over the 2017 Labor Day Weekend prompting the vineyard and cellar crew to pick the Mother Clone vineyard as soon as possible.
Today I can see the vineyard is in the final week or two of ripening. I can tell by the way the canes are beginning to droop and the bunches are turning deep purple. This is turning out to be a good production year for our Zinfandel with a late start to the growing season and a normal picking time expected in a couple of weeks. My judgement on the vintage is reserved until after fermentation is over. I'll look forward to this vintage like my father and my grandfather before me-with a farmer's eye and an appreciative palate.
August 27, 2019 13:10
And it begins-the most exciting time of year for us as farmers. The grapes are ripe and they are ready for their moment in the tank. Time to shine as everything, from the crushpad to the presses to the fermenting tanks, is ready to process the grapes.
Our estate grown Sauvignon Blanc is always the first in to the winery each harvest. This year September 4 began vintage 2019 for us. With the late bud break through a fairly uneventful growing season this is right on track for a normal start date. In fact, I had to go back 14 years ago to the 2005 harvest to find a comparable start date of September! All the vintages from 2006 to 2018 began in August due to either warm weather or the drought years.
What's next? It will be soon be followed by Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer (for friends.white) and Pinot Noir and 11 other varietals we harvest.
Thoughts on the growing season: it was mostly an even one with a few heat spikes towards the end of August. The marine fog intrusion made it bearable for the vines by cooling things off once the sun set and kept a cool blanket of fog until around 9 in the morning aiding in the all important development of sugars, acid and phenols. The word is we have an above average crop in almost all of our varietals. We'll have a final wrap up when the last grape is picked to give a more indepth look at vintage 2019.
I'll let the photos below tell the story. It begins in the vineyard with the crew-thanks to their hard work. They began at 6:30am and the first two gondolas were brought in by 10am. The sample is taken from the gondola by vineyard foreman Manuel Diaz for analysis. Winemaker Montse Reece tests for sugar, acid and pH and she told me she is very happy with the results of this first load of Sauvignon Blanc. Next on to the crushpad where Cellarmaster Polo Cano prepares to transfer the grapes to the crusher. The fruit is destemmed and sent to the press where the skins and seeds are removed. We'll follow the juice as it ferments in the cellar over the next couple of weeks. Vineyard Manger Lance Blakeley, Polo Cano, Mitch Blakeley and Manuel Diaz discuss the next grape loads for the day. The stems, in the last photo, will be taken out to dry and will be spread along the vineyard avenues later on this year.
July 26, 2019 16:58
One of the things you do when you enter into another stage of winery growth is to write a mission statement. Trying to encapsulate 90+ years into one sentence is a challenge. We recently completed our first ever statement and it took collaboration of three generations to come up with one that rang the right bell. With our Mission in Mind, I’ll take it apart phrase by phrase and sometimes word for word to show what it means to us.
Pedroncelli Mission Statement: We are a Sonoma County farming family, founded in 1927, sharing our legacy through sustainably produced exceptional wines.
Sonoma County is the starting place for us. Dry Creek Valley as an appellation came along years later but the roots were set into the county’s soil when my grandparents arrived. Farming is what we do and have always done. Over the years we have made some changes and have had the future generations in mind while we are making the choices we do now when considering the varietal to plant or how to get the best out of a particular vine trellising system.
Family is who we are for four generations and counting. Not many family businesses make it past the second generation and our goal is to maintain going forward as fully family operational.
Founded in 1927 and is the year Giovanni Pedroncelli brought his wife Julia and young family to Geyserville, to a shuttered winery and 25 acres of vineyard, to a home that would sustain them through Prohibition, the Great Depression and start from scratch once Repeal rolled around.
Sharing our legacy with generations both past and future. A legacy doesn’t end with one generation-it is overarching and looks forward as well.
Sustainably produced and certified. Doing what we have done for more than 90 years.
Exceptional wines are what we strive for with each and every vintage. Our 92nd harvest is just around the corner. Working with our winemaker Montse Reece, Cellarmaster Polo Cano and Vineyard Manager Lance Blakeley each contributing their exceptional talents will bring to your glass our our very best.
June 25, 2019 14:56
Happy anniversary to our family business. This date marks our 92nd year. Here are some highlights over those years with some fun and serious moments. They all add up to four generations over farming over 9 decades in our corner of Dry Creek Valley.
On July 22 let’s all raise a glass to our 92nd year here in Dry Creek Valley. What does it take to span 9 decades of farming and winemaking? Beginning with grandparents Giovanni and Julia and including fourth generation member Mitch Blakeley in the fold how did we do it?
First generation founded the place in 1927 in the middle of Prohibition and 2 years before the Great Depression-quite a challenge. Selling grapes from 1927 through 1933 put food on the table and supported a young family including my dad Jim, youngest of four along with his older brother John and sisters Margaret and Marianne. There are tales of working together, getting lost among the vines, learning the ropes both in the vineyard and in the cellar-it was all hands on deck. Jim driving to town at the age of 12 without a license, John fishing with his brother Jim and big brother wouldn’t let him get the big fish, Jim convincing his parents he didn’t need milk anymore so he didn’t have to milk the cow.
The brothers, as the second generation, split the business between them. John took on the vineyard and winemaking duties while Jim became the face of the winery in sales and marketing. They grew the business beyond selling to friends and neighbors and bought more land, planted vineyards, bought grapes from neighbors and eventually developed a worldwide network to distribute the fruits of our labors. All the while maintaining a business relationship for more than 60 years. One that rode the waves of change without rocking the familial boat.
Third generation members and owners have worked alongside the second generation and are learning and growing in different ways than the first two. Along with my role as brand ambassador, my sisters Cathy and Lisa have their own along with my husband Ed (Sales & Marketing) and Lisa’s husband Lance (Operations and Vineyard Management). Our goals for going forward include remain relevant, keep our authentic voice, learn the way forward and keep our eye on changes in how wine is sold now (as compared to the first 8 decades). This keeps everyone on their toes.
Mitch Blakeley, fourth gen and a Millennial, has worked in the vineyard since he was in eighth grade. His Ag Business degree puts him in the position of working both in the vineyard and in the market. He works alongside his father Lance as well as soaks up the other side of the business by working with grandfather Jim and uncle Ed. He makes forays into the markets where he is most needed and has already made connections with the people he works with there.
It is hard to tell where the next generation will end up-right now there are four of them-my two grandsons and my sister Lisa’s two grandsons. They have each had their share of vineyard and winery visits. Who knows? Those grapes they’ve tasted at a young age may bear fruit one day-the seeds have been planted and the fifth generation may indeed continue the family business.
So how does this all get accomplished? I think we as a family learned it is one step at a time. Being conservative when needed and taking chances-where some ideas work and some fail. Resiliency is a word we talk about in wine country in the aftermath of the fires but I think it can be applied to my family and our business. Ed likes to put it this way “Blessed are the flexible for they won’t be bent out of shape.” Raise your glass to 92 years so far!
May 24, 2019 16:00
Here in Dry Creek Valley we have a north/south orientation with the valley being 16 miles long by 2 miles wide. The midpoint is at Lambert Bridge Road about 5 miles south of where Pedroncelli is located. Above this line the climate has always been a bit warmer-by a few degrees-in fact the fog rolls off of our property sometimes by 9am and it takes an hour or three later for the southern end.
Our visit to the south is the sixth and final installment about the Dry Creek Valley neighborhoods where our grapes are grown or sourced. In this visit to the southern reaches of Dry Creek Valley, about four miles south of Lambert Bridge Road, we have one very longtime grower for Pedroncelli: Frank Johnson. He purchased the land in 1971 which at the time was planted to orchards not vineyards. He started by removing the apple trees and replacing them with Chardonnay (where both our Signature Selection and the F. Johnson single vineyard are sourced), Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewurztraminer.
John Pedroncelli, winemaker at the time, was seeking to add to our production and sought out Frank in the 1980s to begin a winery-grower relationship that continues to this day. Pretty sure it was a handshake contract then. We have been buying Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for all those years and, when Jim Pedroncelli came up with the idea to add Gewurztraminer to our friends.white, we added a third varietal from their vineyard.
Frank bought his property long before appellations lines were drawn. In 1983, when the boundaries were set, they divided the F. Johnson Vineyard with the Chardonnay ending up on the Dry Creek side and Pinot Noir on the Russian River Valley side-and they are just a few feet apart. So we have cooler-climate-grown Chardonnay with Dry Creek Valley as the appellation and we, of course, source part of our Russian River Valley Pinot Noir from the other part of the vineyard with thanks to those who drew the lines 36 years ago.
Our Dry Creek Valley neighborhoods are all wrapped up. I always say every grape picked is within 12-14 miles of where the winery is located. We are regionally focused on local or estate vineyards when making our wine and the fruit comes from some of the best vineyards in the county.
May 24, 2019 15:53
There are many articles about pairing wine with barbecue. You know the stuff: smoky, layers of flavor from the many spices used or the sauce is a bit sweet to offset the heat. And there’s something about Zinfandel being the ‘all-American’ grape that makes it a great choice.
When I am putting together a menu I always keep wine in mind. What am I fixing and which of them will go best? There are a few things to consider as I choose which meat, which sides, which wine-or is it which wine, which meat? The other things I take into consideration are fat and heat. Now I think I am complicating things. It should be very easy. Chicken or the egg-which comes first? Let’s go with the wine.
Zinfandel in this case. The berry-spice quality of this varietal makes it a easy when it comes to pairing with the flavors of barbecue. It has some softness from the berry fruit, lighter tannins (as compared to Cabernet Sauvignon or Petite Sirah) and the zing from the spice partners nicely with the world of barbecue flavors. Balance is important too because when there is balance between the fruit, acidity and tannin there is a more perfect pairing between Zin and barbecue fare.
Other things I consider are the protein: pork or beef. These are my favorites to pair with Zin especially pork. And then there is the level of spice and fat—which cut to use and making sure it is fattier like ribs, pork shoulder or brisket. Fat is the bridge between wine and food and in order to make the pairing sing you need to have enough fat. It acts as the buffer and allows you to truly enjoy the pairing. Fourth is bringing the heat or not. I like a little spice but not chipotle/cayenne/ghost pepper hot. I go for layers using different mild to medium chili powders and backing them up with dried herbs to match like oregano. Again balance is what I am seeking for an enjoyable and tasty meal. Sweetness is your fifth consideration but not necessarily the deciding factor. Sometimes there is too much sweet for me and it interferes with the wine and food.
I said easy so here it is in a nutshell. The berry-spice quality of Zinfandel makes it the best choice when it comes to pairing with pork (pulled or ribs) and beef (brisket or steak). I use mostly dry rubs instead of sauce because there is less sweetness to interrupt the great combination of flavors. I like the idea of balance from the wine to the ingredients in a dish. So there you go-Zinfandel, the go-to, All-American choice for this summer’s BBQs.
May 24, 2019 15:50
120 issues of my enewsletter have gone out to all of you, my friends, over the last 10 years-June marks the anniversary. Going even further back I have been writing the Pedroncelli newsletter for nearly 30 years beginning with the first issue in the spring of 1990. I’ll be taking a look at some of the articles over the next year as I walk down memory lane-pretty sure many things have changed in the last 10 years and especially in the last 30.
The first enewsletter was sent in June 2009. Before this I had been sending out a newsletter quarterly via snail mail-and it didn't always have the most up-to-date information because of the lag between writing it, getting it printed and sent out. Using the enews via email did two things: I could deliver more timely information in a monthly format and save a bunch of trees in the process. It added a bit more to my plate but it also engaged me with what was going on in the cellar and vineyard on a more regular basis.
My format in those days-and the format has morphed and changed over time-was to lead with The Latest which, in the inaugural issue, highlighted an exciting new venture for our wines. We had just released our first wines bottled in screw caps: 2008 Sauvignon Blanc, Signature Selection Chardonnay and Dry Rosé of Zinfandel. I followed with Revealed which featured a list of recent medal winning wines. Released, featured our new releases along with The Family that highlighted fourth generation member Rose Proctor who worked the summer in the Tasting Room following her graduation from college. The Archives is where I noted some of our history and we were about to celebrate our 82nd anniversary so I gave the background on the founders, my grandparents. The Menu featured grilled pork tenderloin paired with a corn salad.
In the 10 years of editing the enews I have changed the format a few times, most recently because I started this winery blog called Vino in My Dino. it became the repository for my newsletter stories. Winery blogs were not a 'thing' back then and it allows me to share online and store them for all to read. A big change from those printed newsletters of long ago. Think about how newspapers and magazines have changed and the way we depend on the internet for most if not all of our information.
Other changes between the first issue and now include four more of our wines are now under screw cap, we are still receiving medals for our wines but more accolades come in from third party wine bloggers these days. Rose is on her life path in North Carolina and we are getting ready to celebrate 92 years here in our little corner of Dry Creek Valley. And the menu always features wine friendly recipes just like the first edition. Things change, things stay the same and I'll keep my eye out for any avenues to help communicate our family and winery stories.
Here is my first edition screen shot:
March 27, 2019 13:33
Many of us farmers are down to earth in fact rely on the very soil beneath our feet to develop the grapes and the quality in our wines. What does that mean in the context of sustainability? I checked in with 4th generation family member Mitch Blakeley who is in his second year as the ‘go to’ sustainability contact here at Pedroncelli HQ.
Why down to earth this month? April is designated Down to Earth month with the national observance of Earth Day taking place on April 22. Being farmers for over 9 decades puts us in touch with the earth on a daily basis. We are at the mercy of weather and happily have landed in a place where soils, climate and geography produce grapes and wine of highest quality. What is sustainability for us? It covers a lot of ground, pardon the pun.
We compost much of what is left after the grapes have been brought in at harvest: stems, pomace (the skins and seeds left from fermentation-some Italians in the area produce Grappa from this extending the life even further), vineyard prunings and other organic materials are cut up and spread in the vineyard.
More soil improvement comes from cover crops which feed the land, help control erosion and of course are a landing spot for the local insects which are also beneficial to our vineyard. In turn the cover crops are chopped and turned into the soil to replenish nitrogen and oxygen.
We limit tilling which can eat up natural resources and deplete the land on one third of our vineyard. Irrigation is now checked weekly and dictates just how much if any water is needed during the growing season-pretty sure we are good to go until well into the season this year with 60 inches so far and more coming down.
In the winery we are working on more and more ways to save including motion sensitive lighting in all production buildings. We also are mapping our usage in the areas of energy and fuel with an eye to even more savings. Sustainability isn’t just the big things it is the little ones like making sure we are working with our suppliers to lower our footprint in many ways from packaging to buying local.
There are the three 'E's of Sustainability: Environmentally sound, Economically feasible, and (Socially) Equitable. Each of these takes us back to our roots where we have been and still are good stewards of the land; being sustainable also means it is less expensive to farm which makes it easier on the pocketbook when you buy our wines; generations have called this little corner of Dry Creek Valley home-not only family but our employees as well. We are doing our part and continue to work up the sustainable ladder by raising the bar in many areas of the vineyard and winery-and of course making sure the next generations are in place to do the same.
January 24, 2019 10:14
Winter brings our activities inside so the cellar crew is hard at work transferring last year’s vintage, 2017, out of barrel and bringing in the 2018 vintage to rest for a year or more. We also have our site set on Barrel Tasting which is an annual educational event held the first two weekends of March. Join me for a bit of barrel background.
We’ll start with ullage (hint-it’s not a town in Sweden) and it is what happens to wine as it spends time in a bottle or a year in the barrel. Ullage describes the loss of wine due to evaporation while the wine ages. When someone asks me about their 1974 Cabernet and they want to know if it is sound one of the first questions I ask is to describe the fill line on the bottle. The high or low level of the wine in the neck of the bottle tells me if there has been loss over time and possibly determines spoilage because too much air has oxidized the contents. It is the same in a barrel except instead of an ounce of wine lost it is closer to about a gallon every 3 months. The cellar crew helps to prevent oxidation by taking down each and every barrel and topping it off every couple of months. However even at this cost (in wine) the act of barrel aging does concentrate by the slow vaporizing of water and alcohol. Why do you think a barrel room smells so good? It’s all about wine vapor. Oak (and cork) is permeable and ultimately, even though a little air is a good thing, the benefits of concentration and slow development outweigh the loss of product.
The act of ‘thieving’ wine is part of the educational process. Usually the winemaker will taste the young wine while it is heading into the barrel and then, using a wine thief, will check on the progress a few more times during the year as it matures. The wine thief itself, pictured below in a painting by Richard Sheppard, is nothing more than a glass tube for siphoning out a small sample of the wine. During the aging process, as the water and alcohol dissipate, the wine softens little by little, concentrates a bit more. It will take on aspects of the oak as well as loosen up its' grip. If you are trying a wine from the recent harvest be prepared-the tannins are pretty harsh but the silver lining is you get a glimpse of things to come—the fruit components, the acidity, the body—and some of the characteristics will dominate the others. It boils down to a matter of time. Winemakers are a patient lot. Time in the barrel equals a nicely aged wine making it more ready to drink upon release.
Insider tip: You don’t have to become a winemaker to thief wine around these parts (Northern Sonoma County) because we have an event that celebrates Barrel Tasting via the the Wine Road. 40 years ago a few wineries banded together, Pedroncelli included, to market wines made from the Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River Valleys, to locals and visitors alike. Today guests buy tickets, roam the wine roads, taste young red and white wines and learn more about the process of aging. We usually pair the barrel sample with the current release for comparison’s sake. Sometimes we throw in a library vintage of the same varietal-all in the name of educating one’s palate. Enjoy an insider’s look at wine making by attending and tasting for yourself—the first two weekends of March. It is the focus of aging wine that brings great development and style. Time in the barrel is as important to wine as is the source of grapes.
January 24, 2019 10:06
I am taking you to the original founding property for our tour of Dry Creek Valley neighborhoods in part 3. When Giovanni and Julia purchased the property in 1927 it came with 25 acres of vineyard first planted in 1927. This little corner of Dry Creek Valley-actually in the north east quadrant just a mile from Highway 101 and a few miles from the town of Geyserville which we call our home town. We are the only winery on Canyon Road but there are other vineyards planted along the 3 mile stretch and there’s a cemetery too.
Each one of these hills surrounding the winery is really its’ own microclimate or site. Many of these blocks have been planted to two or more varietals over the 9 decades we have been farming them. What once was Pinot Noir is now Zinfandel; what once was Sauvignon Vert gave way to Cabernet Sauvignon then Petite Sirah and now Cabernet Sauvignon again. The life cycle of a vineyard is generally 20-25 years before a farmer decides to start the replanting process. With the exception of our Zinfandel vines many of the vineyard blocks on the home ranch are fairly young having just been replanted a few years ago.
The beauty of this property is the rolling hillsides that were made for growing great Zinfandel-33 acres of it in fact. Ranging in age from well over 100 years to just 5 years old and an acre just cleared to make way for the next planting our gnarled head pruned vines stand the test of time. The beauty of Dry Creek Valley as an appellation is that more than one type of grape can grow here. We have Sangiovese, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and four Portuguese varietals (Tinta Madeira, Tinta Cao, Touriga Nacional and Souzao) growing along with the Zinfandel and totaling 50 acres. Other grapes have had their time here but site specificity (what varietal does well on a particular hillside) is what gives way to the great results from planting the best suited variety.
Soils here are pretty rocky-much of it river rock from long ago when the land shifted up and down with the earthquake faults and bodies of water carving their way through the land. Hillside land tends toward a scarcity of topsoil too so the vines are challenged to grow in what many consider poor conditions. Thanks to both the heartiness of the vine and newer technology like drip irrigation the vines establish themselves even in thin soil and the metered water supply gives the vine much needed and the right amount of water to thrive. On to the next neighborhood, one that has been in the family for over 60 years: The Bushnell Vineyard.
- Aged Wine
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Dry Creek Valley
- Food and Wine
- founding winery
- Harvest 2018
- Machine Harvesting
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Sonoma County
- Vintage Year
- Barrel aging
- Down To Earth Month
- Courage Zinfandel
- Heat wave
- harvest 2018
- Estate Vineyard
- Faloni Vineyard
- Sonoma County
- food and wine
- family business
- Growing Season
- Aged Wine
- Harvest 2019
- Barrel Tasting
- Crush Report
- Bushnell Vineyard
- 21st Amendment
- Home Ranch Vineyards
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Dry Creek Valley
- International Women's Wine Competition
- certified sustainable