February 25, 2021 10:56
There are milestones in our lives that warrant opening a bottle of wine. Many are celebrations and others are mid-week dinners waiting to have them enhanced by a special bottle of wine. The wine could be a long-aged friend or a new addition-maybe one picked up on your last visit to wine country or recommended by your favorite retail store. This weekend my parents are celebrating their 62nd anniversary! We’ll be enjoying the occasion over the weekend and opening a bottle or two. While we don’t have a 1959 vintage of anything there will be some others that bring back memories.
They saved a bottle of sparkling wine from their wedding day and over the years it moved with them from house to house, refrigerator to refrigerator. I am fairly certain the wine is no longer drinkable but the bottle has always held the memory of their special day.
Sometimes we wait too long and find a bottle that should have been enjoyed earlier from our stash. Much like my mom and dad’s bottle of bubbly. In order to change that there is an annual celebration ‘just because’. Open That Bottle Night (OBTN) is the last Saturday of February so this is a heads up in order to prepare. This tradition was started by Dorothy (Dottie) J. Gaiter and John Brecher who conceived and wrote The Wall Street Journal's wine column, "Tastings," from 1998 to 2010. Dorothy and John have been tasting and studying wine since 1973. Dottie has had a distinguished career in journalism as a reporter, editor, columnist and editorial writer at The Miami Herald, The New York Times, and at The Journal. John was Page One Editor of The Journal, City Editor of The Miami Herald and a senior editor at Bloomberg News. They are well-known from their books and many television appearances, and as the creators of the annual, international "OTBN" celebration of wine and friendship. The first bottle they shared was André Cold Duck.
According to Dottie, “John and I invented OTBN to provide an impetus for people to enjoy a wine they had been keeping for a special occasion that never arrived. Weddings, births, anniversaries, all manner of special milestones had come but those corks remained intact. We knew this happened because readers told us about bottles like that and we have many ourselves.”
“While we urge people to open them as often as possible, and we try to do that because no one is promised tomorrow, there are still some bottles that we just haven’t brought ourselves to open. Some are rather young, but special to us, still. The point is to open these gems with someone you care about and celebrate the memories that are in that bottle. Make them the occasion. Recognizing that sometimes it takes a village to do something difficult, we set a date, the last Saturday in February, for this global celebration of friendship, love and wine.”
My Note from Home in May, What’s Your Vintage Story, reminds us to consider the vintage on the bottle. As you take a look at the wines you have saved for a rainy (snowy or sunny) day, take a moment to recollect what happened in that particular year when you Open That Bottle Night next week. And like Dottie & John asked me, I would love to hear of your plans or what you thought of the wine you opened! When I sought permission to share the OTBN information and recent articles Dottie said, “Open That Bottle Night is always special but this year's, we hope, will be celebrated with deeper feelings of gratitude, love, and reflection.” I have my eye on a 2009 Mother Clone Zinfandel-how about you?
February 16, 2021 14:37
In this post we take a closer look at the barrel room and what goes on during the year. If you have visited our tasting room you would see we have a window looking into the process-at different times of the year the view is of the cellar crew taking down each and every barrel about every three months-whether it is to empty them out of the previous vintage, top them off or fill them up with the latest harvest.
Barrels at Rest
Quietly aging away, these barrels are at rest. Incremental changes happen over the cellar year. There is quite a bit of work that goes into ensuring each barrel is checked several times throughout the aging process. We have up to 2000 barrels at any given time during the year either being filled or being emptied of their contents.
There are some fancy words in the world of wine, some of them borrowed from the French winemaking tradition: Bâtonnage, Ullage, Sur Lie. In this photo of cellarmaster Polo Cano and his crew you’ll see them in action as I describe some of these terms:
We use the word ullage to describe the loss of wine due to evaporation while the wine ages in barrel or bottle. In a bottle you can see the fill line (or ullage) and if there has been too much loss over time then the wine may have had too much oxygen and, in some cases the wine might be bad. The same happens in the barrel but to a larger degree-larger container more loss, meaning a gallon or three over the year. This is often referred to as the angel’s share-the portion evaporating away while slowly oxygenating the wine. This concentration of barrel contents brings a slow softening of the raw red wine. In the case of barrels they are topped up 3 times in the course of their year in barrel and this maintains quality with no spoilage.
Bâtonnage is the stirring of the barrel. Each time the barrels are taken down for topping the barrels are stirred with a long baton, incorporating the lees and enriching the wine. Sur Lie means the wine in the barrel is aged with the ‘lees’ or dregs, if you will. It is made up of the dead yeast cells and perhaps bits of skin and seeds-small bits. When a wine is aged ‘sur lie’ it is all the better for it, adding flavor components, texture and bouquet. As the wine makes it way to bottling the lees are left behind, having done their job.
In the photo below you’ll see a barrel being emptied of the lees.
The act of ‘thieving’ wine and tasting young wine is an educational process. Using a wine thief, checking on the progress a few times during the year as it matures gives the winemaker a window into how the wine is progressing-does it need more time? Less? The wine thief itself, pictured above, is nothing more than a glass tube for syphoning out a small sample of the wine. 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 and winemakers are a patient lot. This equals a nicely aged wine ready to be bottled with many of the rough edges seasoned by time and the barrel itself.
February 1, 2021 14:54
Part three, Open/Close/Open/Close/Open, or here we go again. Earlier this week the State and County allowed us to reopen outdoor tasting. It reminds me of movie sequels: the third iteration is almost always filled with over the top shenanigans or huge groans--Little Fockers, Highlander III or Daddy Day Camp anyone? I can guarantee we won’t be having any of those shenanigans and will keep the groans to a minimum. We’ll offer great wine selections served on our deck surrounded by Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard vistas.
Along with the re-opening of our Tasting Room there is more good news this week here in Sonoma County. Rain and lots of it thanks to an atmospheric river which is drenching the entire state and states around us. They are counting several feet of snow in the mountains and flash flood warnings are being sent to us in the lowlands. The irony of the reopening to only outside tasting now? It happened right in the middle of our first major rainstorm. We’ll take it! And the hills are wearing their winter green giving visitors gorgeous views.
We take on challenges like this all the time. As I have said before we are all in this together and I know how this has turned our lives upside down. The good news is we have come out of the latest stretch of sheltering in place and businesses are being able to function again. The opening of operations is slow-pretty sure slow and steady will win the virus race. We'll look to future months (summer? fall?) as we hope for indoor tasting to open up. Large gatherings are still a big no but even the Wine Road, our trade group, is planning some of their signature events for later in the year, pandemic proofed of course.
I for one am looking forward to dining outside at our great local restaurants. I am aware that other states, with lighter guidelines, have already been doing this but here in California we are in for a treat after waiting and wondering when we can go out again-and so many of our local restaurants have invested in outdoor seating. You can bet many of us will be making our reservations and bundling up if it's cold. Like our winemaker Montse Reece said the other day “I can’t wait to go out to eat and have the food fixed and served at the restaurant itself-no more take out!”
February 1, 2021 14:36
Just like vineyards there are seasons in the cellar too. Barrels are the focus of wintertime. Harvest begins the cycle each year and a couple of months later the process begins. Barrels are emptied of the previous vintage and makes room for the new one, typically called barreling down. Let’s take a look at what aging does to wine.
Why do we barrel age wine at all? Think about it in this way. If you have a raw piece of wood that needs the edge taken off and you’d like to use it as a frame, you’d start sanding and shaping it. The same thing happens in barrel-the wine is raw and rough when it is transferred. Aging for an average of one year helps to smooth out those rough edges and provides the framing of flavor and body.
This is a part of a wine’s journey where it seems like there isn’t anything going on but you and I know there is. Oxygenation is the process and takes time to slowly change the wine from its’ youthful and raw exuberance to a more refined and drinkable one. The barrel itself isn’t airtight and allows a very small amount of oxygen in to soften the wine. And it exhales too-sometimes referred to as the ‘angel’s share’ and why the cellar and barrel room smell so wonderful, the bouquet of wine in its’ many states. Another benefit is concentration. With evaporation of water and even alcohol you get concentrated flavors, enhancing the fruit profile of the wine.
Each barrel is taken down three times during the course of aging to replace the wine lost to oxygenation thereby preventing any possible spoilage-this is called topping the barrels. The photo I included above features this process and our Cellarmaster Polo Cano knows each barrel and wine like the back of his hand. The time spent in oak not only slowly ages the wine it also steeps in the oak, which imparts the element of toast, vanilla and nut aromas often detected in the bouquet of barrel aged wines. This adds another level of complexity and plays an important role in quality, aroma and taste of the finished wine. Our winemaking style calls for 25 to 30% new oak blended with seasoned barrels. This helps us keep a balance between the fruit and the oak components for a ‘just right’ taste in your glass. The give and take during the aging process from the first moment in barrel to the last as the wine is prepared for bottling provides a canvas for the variety. Some of our wines are aged less than a year (Pinot Noir and Sonoma Classico) and others like our Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon spend nearly two years. It is determining what is best for the grape that makes these wines so well crafted.
February 1, 2021 14:29
My sister Joanna has been a vegetarian for many years. I love the challenge of coming up with dishes she likes when we gather together for meals. Many of the recipes I have collected are either vegetarian or sometimes can easily be made vegetarian. The good news is these all go well with wine-who said being vegetarian is boring!
The funny thing is she doesn’t like mushrooms and eggplant-which are usually the foundation of many vegetarian dishes. Having a family member who prefers this world of food definitely expanded my recipe horizons. When you consider the term vegetarian you could go down one of two roads: One can be uninspired and dull or the other full of creativity and layers of flavors.
For me, one of the first ‘a ha’ moments in wine and food pairing happened when I made carrots with dill-butter sauce for dinner and paired it with our Sauvignon Blanc. This was more than 30 years ago and I still remember the moment when the wine and food synergy really came together-the herbaceous part of the Sauvignon Blanc matching so well with the earthy carrots and dill. Wine knows no boundaries when it comes to matching with vegetables-even artichoke and asparagus can be tamed with butter or olive oil and spices.
Meatless meals have become very popular in the last few years and we aim for one a week. One of our favorite weeknight meals is a pizza made with lots of vegetables-in fact Ed prefers this to other offerings with sausage or pepperoni. There really isn't a 'recipe'. We pick up an already made pizza dough (Costeaux is our favorite-a bakery here in Healdsburg) but there are many alternatives in stores. The sauce is simply tomato sauce with fried shallot or onion and herbs like oregano and basil. You can give it a spoonful of pesto if you have some on hand and make sure to cook it down (15 minutes or so) with a splash of red wine. Prepare the dough, spread the sauce and add sundried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, mushrooms and Kalamata olives along with parmegiano and mozzarella. Bake in a 400 degree oven on a pizza stone or baking sheet. Pairing with our Mother Clone Zin or Sonoma Classico is perfect.
While there is such a diverse vegetable world out there-including winter squash, root veggies, and tomatoes it takes a recipe to pull things together to match them with wine. Long cooked stews, borrowing from world cuisines, using starches like potatoes or pasta bring the flavors together for hearty meals. Eggs in frittatas are wonderful ways to add lots of veggies and flavor. How about grilled cheese 'frichi' with tomato soup.
I linked a few recipes above and there are many more of my favorites under the new addition to my recipe website with the inspired title of Vegetarian. Dive into the world of veggies and don’t forget the vino!
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!
January 22, 2021 14:32
"Are those vines dead?" This question came up while I was pouring our Zinfandel at a wintertime Wine Road event (remember those pre-pandemic gatherings?). The backdrop was our Home Ranch and the Mother Clone vines rolled up the hillside behind me. I love these kinds of questions and answered with, “Yes they do look dead and you can’t see it but there is life inside. The vines are resting and preparing for the next harvest.” We went on to talk about pruning, the seasons of growth in the future and of course the wine in the glass, the delicious end product of farming grapes.
Some of those vines have seen it all—there are three generations of Zinfandel on the Home Ranch-the oldest which are 100+ years old, the second generation is reaching 40 years old and the upstart is just about 6 years old. Vines are pretty amazing when you think about it-and outside of diseases can live for a very long time. They have been through several droughts and overly abundant years. And yet they continue to grow and produce fruit and become gnarled and weathered in the process. So what you see on the outside may look ‘dead’ but over the lifetime of a vine there have been so many vintages telling the story of this place.
Regeneration is a good word for 2021. As I sit here the vaccine is being distributed throughout the nation (my mom and dad have their appointment!) albeit slowly and as the year turns we’ll see a whole new world in front of us, one that will be filled with family visits, travel, hugs, and more. As I have written before we have seen many turns of the year here in Dry Creek Valley (our 94th !). It is good to look forward because we all have been through so much.
We are farmers as I have said many times before. We watch the weather, replant, rejuvenate the soil and prepare for the growing season, all with the eye toward another year of grapes (or wheat, or corn, or any other crop for all the other farmers out there). We’ll continue tending the vineyards and making wine as long as we can and sharing the fruits of our labor with you. Regeneration is in our genes and in the soil itself. Vines are a wonderful metaphor for this.
Or consider a winter garden. It looks dead too but just below the surface there is life waiting for the turn of the sun and the growing season to begin again. I wrote this poem earlier this week. We were driving home from a walk around a regional park last Sunday and the title came to me as the late afternoon sun shone on the garden we passed.
The Beauty of a Wintering Garden
The sinking sun set afire the last red leaves of the raspberry vines.
The faded sunflower stalks slump like weary soldiers after battle.
Detritus abounds and I fancy insects scuttling and worms tilling the soil.
The beauty of a wintering garden is in the fading, the dying, and the end of its time.
Then! I imagine the garden in summer, gloriously rich in the fruits of a hard winter.
And hope is restored.
January 22, 2021 14:21
This month is when the vineyards get their annual 'haircut'-which is a phrase I learned from Richard Thomas, the man I took viticulture classes from 35 years ago. I was learning about the grape side of the business and it was a hands-on experience. We pruned vines on the Shone Farm ranch-I am not sure the vines have recovered from my amateur pruning skills. These photos are all taken in our Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard on the Home Ranch. Please note these were taken a few years ago, pre-pandemic. It shows how pruning is done both up close and as the crew makes their way up one of the blocks. It also shows how this is a true skill, honed by many hours of vineyard work.
Up Close & Personal
As you can see the shears are cutting away the old growth but not all of it. There is enough left for two buds which will remain dormant until the spring and budbreak. These are the foundation of the next vintage’s crop. You'll also note the former pruning scars on the arm of the vine-these were made years ago and helped to form the vine itself, aiming the arms outward so that as they bear the new crop it will be in the best placement for ripening. Quite a skill to prune with the future in mind.
Side by Side
Don’t you love it when you see the before and after photos of someone’s haircut? I do-it helps to see what was done to make it so different. Here the canes have all been cut away and as mentioned before the 2 or 3 inches left contain the next year’s vintage now waiting for the start of the growing season. For now the vines are content soaking up the nutrients for the next year’s harvest.
There are 115 acres of vine to prune over four pieces of property: the Home Ranch, East Side Vineyards, Wisdom Vineyard and Bushnell Vineyard. It takes time because when it rains the crew waits until the soil is less muddy and pruning it by hand is another reason to take it vine by vine. The canes you see being pruned are left between the rows and a chopper will come along and return them to the soil.
Vines for Days
The view from above shows a large section of our Home Ranch with the Sangiovese to the west, Cabernet Sauvignon to the south and Zinfandel as far as the eye can see. Each and every vine will be pruned by the time Spring rolls around.
Just for Fun: Jasper in the Snow
I love this shot of Jasper looking out over the expanse. While it isn’t our vineyard, nor is it anywhere near Dry Creek Valley, the majesty of the pines, beauty of the snow and the peaceful time of day this was taken all come together as I look through Jasper’s hopeful eyes-maybe a squirrel, maybe a friend or maybe just a nice walk together up the hill.
January 5, 2021 09:42
Normally the first Saturday of the month is a compilation of December notes and blog posts. But these aren’t ‘normal’ times we are living in during these pandemic days. For now as the old year ended and the new one begins I am taking the time to reflect on the clean slate of 2021 and what it means to me.
When my grandparents bought this property in 1927 it was a clean slate for them-they had not made wine nor owned a vineyard before this time. I have to imagine there were challenges (the length of Prohibition for one, the Great Depression beginning two years later for another). Later, it was a new start each time they added a piece of property to expand the vineyards as the winery grew. As a new piece was added it was a time to assess and plant, to learn which variety was meant to be in each place and the beginnings of our estate vineyards were born.
Wine is the same way-each vintage is a clean slate. We begin each year with what the growing season and harvest brings to the cellar. Winemaker Montse and her team takes note on each lot and then guides the wine through the fermentations and on into the bottle or barrel as the case may be. When we pull a bottle from the cellar or from the UPS box it is a clean slate experience-opening up the wine and sniffing the first aromas coming out of the glass. The first sip, with promise of more to come, informs us of the culmination of the vintage, a picture now complete.
In the same light I see 2021 as a clean slate. Not only a chance to begin again, to shake off the experience of 2020, it is a way forward to chart new paths. Will I travel? Unlikely. While I will miss seeing people and working with them in person, I’ll find a way of touching base virtually. We will work on new ways of keeping in touch with the markets I would normally travel to so that I maintain our relationships.
There were a few clean slate moments in the Pedroncelli family and staff this year. Three marriages took place: Sarah & Juka, Mitch & Amanda and Gina & Terry! In the midst of trying times, they found a way to begin new lives together and I know they are not the only ones. The big celebrations will come later. For now, they’ll make their way into 2021 together. Best wishes to all!
Much like an artist placing the first brush of color on a canvas, or a musician beginning with the first note of a song or, like me, typing the first word on a blank page we have much to look forward to as we create our 2021 stories and experiences. Here is to a clean slate as we reach beyond the stay-at-home, masked, and sanitized version of the world we live in now. I wish you all a Happier New Year.
January 5, 2021 09:33When the Pandemic began mid-March, and the shelter in place orders were sent out to all of us, I began a weekly series of Notes from Home. Originally A Note from Home was a quarterly newsletter to our wine club members. I morphed the concept into what is now ten months of almost weekly notes. 2020 had many 'interesting' topics from COVID Operations to Shared Experiences. Coming up with something to write about was no problem.
As I began each note I used a writing trick a long-ago friend of mine shared with me. Her aunt wrote a weekly column for a local town paper and when writing a new story, she wrote ‘Dear Vivian’ at the top in order to be inspired but this line didn’t appear in print. Vivian was her much loved mother and inspiration. So I used the same format for my Notes-I think of one of you who have written back to me with your stories—Dear Phyllis (Mom), Dear John & Sheryl, Dear Jeff, Dear Kathy, Dear Rita and John, Dear Dean, Dear E, and so many more!
I think part of what gave me so much pleasure from writing these was the fact that it became an anchor for me each week. A much-needed regular part of my life and one where I could connect with you because, as I said last week, it is the shared experience which is key to our current situation.
As the new year approaches in a few short days (and happier days ahead is my new motto) it seems we all begin to make lists. Either a look back at the year “The Top 20 of 2020”or looking forward by making resolutions for 2021. I am including 10 of my favorite notes from the last 10 months as a recap of this pandemic 2020 Countdown:
March: The first and fittingly titled: How Are You Doing?
April: Learning Curves
May: COVID Operations
June: How You Doin'?
July: Celebrating Our Legacy
August: The Waiting is the Hardest Part
September: When Life Gives You Lemons
October: Resilience of a Vintage
November: Taking the Long View
December: Shared Experiences
I look forward to the time we will sit down in person, share a glass of wine and tell our stories of the pandemic and how we made our way through this challenging time.
- Follow the Vineyard
- Note from Home
- Postcards from Home
- Tasting Room
- Crop set
- Four Grapes Port
- Heat wave
- Mother Clone
- Vintage 2020
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Dry Creek Valley
- Bushnell Vineyard
- cooking with wine
- Tasting Room
- Courage Zinfandel
- Wine & Food
- note from home
- American Oak
- Follow the Vineyard
- Cabernet Sauvignon
- Sonoma County
- Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon
- Lake Sonoma
- Walbridge Fire
- Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon
- Holding steady
- French Oak
- Wine Flights
- Block 007 Cabernet Sauvignon