Making Connections: Montse Reece
August 3, 2021 09:53
A few months ago my sister Lisa made a suggestion to write about our staff and their connections by using the PBS series “Finding Your Roots” as inspiration. So far Manuel Diaz, Polo Cano and Gary Gross have been profiled.
The last three interviewees all came from climates with extremes-the desert or bitter cold winters. Montserrat ‘Montse’ Reece comes from Catalonia Spain where she compares the climate as very close to Sonoma County’s. There is a similarity between Montse’s home in Spain and home here in Sonoma County. They are nearly equal in temperature and geography with marine influence from either the Pacific Ocean or the Mediterranean Sea. Later on when her path took her to California this made for an easier transition, weather wise. Culturally too because we are as focused on wine and food as Montse’s home in Spain.
By virtue of growing up in Spain Montse was steeped in wine and it seems she was almost predestined to become a winemaker. Her father encouraged her to follow this path and she received her degree in Agricultural Engineering with a specialty in Oenology from Universitat Rovira i Virgili. During her first year at university, in order to make money, she worked in a Cooperative winery in the Penedes taking directions from the winemaker over the phone. She finally met him for the first time at the end of harvest. There she processed white wine grapes for making the base wine for Cava. The rest of the time away at school she spent at Montblanc in the Priorat region making red wines. She gathered her years of experience and, once graduated, made her way to California.
She came over in 1998 to intern at Gloria Ferrer and spent the harvest grape sampling, analyzing those samples, riddling bottles, and general cellar work. She loved the area so much she stayed on and was next hired at Ferrari Carano where she worked in the lab and cellar. She married Pat Reece in 2001. Then a stint at Rodney Strong as enologist for three years followed before being hired at Pedroncelli as assistant winemaker.
The 2007 harvest was the first here and she trained under John Pedroncelli for the next 7 harvests learning the ropes, sharing her knowledge and getting to know the ‘house style’ as well as the estate vineyards and vineyards of our grape growers.
Her passion is microbiology. Finding the right yeast for the right wine is her focus. It is also where she and John differed in their approach to making wine. They discussed and considered which blocks or vineyards needed a specific yeast to bring out the best in the wine. She quips, “Every yeast has its’ own personality much like people do. Using a particular yeast complements the fruit and style bringing the best results.” My favorite example is her use of Barolo yeast for our Bushnell Vineyard Zinfandel. She’d notice when the grapes were brought in they needed a slower fermentation to get the right balance of aromas and flavors. Use of this yeast slows the fermentation down significantly and the proof is in the glass-a beautiful expression of Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel with spicy pepper and ripe berry notes.
2021 marks the 15th harvest for Montse. As she prepares for harvest she talks about what she looks for in the fruit as the samples will begin to come in to her lab in a couple of weeks. When sampling a vineyard the berries or bunches are picked over a wide swath of several vines as well as different spots on the vines. Her decision about when to pick is to seek maturity without over-ripeness. I have called it picking on acidity but that isn’t quite the point. It is when the acids and the sugars have harmoniously come together maintaining the aromatics, the flavors, and the structure of the building blocks for a great wine.
Thinking back over her first experiences here she says, "As a Spaniard I had never tasted Zinfandel. The flavor surprised me as it was like nothing I had tried at home." She first tasted Zin back in 1998 when the couple she was staying with, who also worked at Ravenswood, sent her to try the wines. She fell in love with the grape. And to end up at Pedroncelli where she makes four versions of Zinfandel is kismet. She continued, "Zinfandel matches the Pedroncelli personality perfectly."
On the homefront, she and Pat adopted their daughter Marian seven years ago. And Montse maintains one family tradition started in Spain: she makes Paella every Sunday, no matter what.
In the good timing department, my friend Cindy Rynning of Grape Experiences interviewed Montse recently and included a few of our wines.
Dry Creek Valley is Home Base
July 29, 2021 10:40
There are many days when I take for granted the view as I drive up Highway 101. From my home in Healdsburg to the winery in Geyserville the panoramic view before me is of Alexander Valley, which parallels Dry Creek Valley. Alternately I take Dry Creek Road home and the tour is complete-these two ‘AVAs’ are the geography I grew up with, two valleys I have known all of my life.
What is an AVA? According to Google: "An American Viticultural Area, or AVA, is a specific type of appellation of origin used on wine labels. It is a delimited grape-growing region with specific geographic or climatic features that distinguish it from the surrounding regions and affect how grapes are grown." Take a little trip across the county with this video produced by the Sonoma County Vintners showcasing the geography of our world class grape growing area.
When my grandparents bought the property there were no AVAs. They lived in Geyserville. Canyon Road was a connector to Dry Creek. In those days, up until Warm Springs Dam was built, the creek actually was dry over the summer and fall until the rains came. The Army Corps of Engineers completed Lake Sonoma in 1982 and brought with it year round flowing water, flood control, much needed water for downstream use, fishing, recreation, as well as allowing fish migration.
I grew up in ‘Dry Creek’ because the appellation name wasn’t used until later. Looking back it seems like something akin to the Gold Rush came along to name and create the many AVAs within the county. Sonoma Valley was established in 1981, Dry Creek Valley in 1983 and 16 other sub-appellations all came together over the course of the next 30 years. The wine geek in me looked to the TTB (short for Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau) which has set up a website where you can find any appellation that has been approved in these United States.
Interestingly the stencil shown here includes Sonoma and this was used by my grandfather to mark the barrels containing our wines in the 1930s and 1940s. This was before we began to bottle our wines in convenient carry out containers. We began using Sonoma on our label in the 1950s to identify where the grapes were from as compared to the more generic California appellation on previous labels.
Once the AVA was approved we added Dry Creek Valley to the label. Each valley or AVA has its’ own criteria, setting it apart from neighboring areas with different climate attributes, soils, and sites. Vineyards near these borders sometimes cloud the issue—our Chardonnay comes from F. Johnson Vineyard where they drew the appellation line right through the property with Dry Creek on one side and the Russian River Valley on the other. There is a difference in quality growing Chardonnay 10 miles south of us. We had it planted on estate vineyard and found it was too warm for the variety and now Cabernet Sauvignon thrives in its place. The cooler area south brings a bit of minerality as well as bright acidity to the fruit striking a nice balance.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay not only dominate the plantings in California they are the two most widely planted in Dry Creek Valley-followed closely by Zinfandel, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. We grow four of the five top varieties.
Dry Creek Valley, as an AVA, excels in producing the best from these grapes as well as Italian and Rhone varieties. Those cool nights and warm days combined with unique soils bring about an expression of place. Our winemaker Montse likes to say you find the personality of the vineyard in our wines, in France they call it terroir. As for me it's home base.
Snapshots from Home on our 94th Anniversary
July 29, 2021 10:33
We celebrated our 94th anniversary on July 22 commemorating the date when my grandparents brought their young family to Geyserville to start a new life. If you have been reading my notes you might know almost everything there is about the winery’s history. These snapshots from home are a refresher for those in the know and a history lesson for those who don’t.
Wineries weren’t a new idea when my grandparents, Giovanni and Julia Pedroncelli (pictured above) bought the property at 1220 Canyon Road in 1927. While they purchased 90 acres which included a home, 25 acres of grapes and a shuttered winery it was still Prohibition throughout the nation. This dry time in our history would take a few more years before ending. Prior to 1919, when the 19th Amendment was voted in, there had been a burgeoning wine business in Dry Creek Valley with nearly 20 wineries established up and down the valley. Grape growing and winemaking began in the 1850s and gathered steam as Italian immigrants made their way to the area after being attracted by the Gold Rush and the push west. About a half a million gallons of wine were made in the final year before Prohibition and closing down wineries made it difficult for many families to wait it out.
These three ‘kids’ (above) were Margaret, John and Marianne, who arrived with their parents in 1927.
The family who sold to my grandparents, the Canatas, built their winery in 1905 or thereabouts. The original winery, set up to make 50,000 gallons, was put in place to make wine for the family’s store in North Beach, San Francisco. Imagine, wine made from our property has been enjoyed by generations of San Franciscans! The Canatas were related to another local wine family, the Foppianos, and by the time they put their property up for sale the bottom had fallen out on wine grape sales and there was no end in sight of Prohibition. And my grandparents began their own legacy.
The winery façade has changed somewhat over the years, as shown in the three photos above. The shape of the building remains the same from that original barn structure—iconic for us as this is the heart of the cellar. As the winery expanded more buildings were added with the last, our barrel room and tasting room, completed by 1987.
This is one of my favorite family photos (above). It is from the 1950s. I have very few group shots of the first and second generations and there’s a bonus in this one as my cousin Carol represents the third generation. The second photo (below) features my uncle John and dad Jim in a photo taken in the 1970s in the first generation of our Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard. Having snapshots of these times in their lives when they were on the brink of success as a second generation business is very precious to me.
The hills remain the same even though we began replanting in the early 1980s on the Home Ranch. Our vineyards have survived more than a few droughts, lots of rainy seasons, the pandemic and some recessions and boom times. 9 decades helped us find which grape does best in which block. From the first Zinfandel to the latest planting of Petite Sirah we have 11 varieties thriving on our estate vineyards. A testament to what my grandparents began when they purchased the property so long ago.
Note from Home: Vacation in Mind
July 29, 2021 09:56
Summer and vacation. A pairing on par with Zinfandel and BBQ Ribs or maybe even better. Nothing like time away to refresh and rest. Vacation in mind as the month of July is here and for me it is our get away month. By the time you read this I’ll be long gone. Writing this at the end of June and my mind is very similar to a 12 year old who is waiting for the final bell to ring at the end of the school year. After the pandemic and all the stress of the last few months I am ready for a break. When I asked the question last month ‘What is Wine Country to You’ many of the replies came back that this area is your choice to get away from things. I’m fortunate to live here but, like you, I like to get away too!
And of course who could forget the movie Vacation and all the sequels? The quick stop at the Grand Canyon is still one of the funniest scenes. It stayed with me when I made my own sojourn there with my parents and had a similar experience-the part about the quick view and on the road again. It also made me think about vacations we took as a family when I was younger and later when I was married. Tahoe was the place for many of the trips when I was a kid-station wagon stuffed to the gills and the four of us fighting over who didn’t have to sit in the ‘way back’. And for 20 years of our married life we have had our own get-away place in Truckee-I guess I didn’t stray too far from the beauty of the Sierras.
All those years brings back a flood of memories. There is the time Ed, the kids and I wanted to go to Yosemite National Park-we made it to Jamestown where we were going to stay and our car died. We played a lot of card games including Rummy-we basically stopped playing with Joe because he’d go out in one or two hands leaving us with all the points and we never made it to Yellowstone. Joe learned to love swimming vacation in Jackson-at the Black Bart Inn to be exact. Adrienne caught fish in Hat Creek, learned to ski and waterski. We rented a houseboat on Trinity Lake for a couple of summers and spent the days fishing, tubing and waterskiing.
There were a lot of weekends at Lake Sonoma’s boat-in campgrounds. I broke my leg out there one time-now that is a story told over a glass of wine. Trips to Hawaii, to Yellowstone, to Glacier National Park, and Italy. The memories literally are flooding back to me right now-I have seen so many beautiful places and I am sure I am forgetting many more. And as I think back I am thankful for the opportunities to see this beautiful world.
I hope this summer when you take a vacation (or if you are a fall/winter/spring vacationer have at it!) you’ll cherish the memory, you’ll come back refreshed, and the weight of the pandemic was removed from your thoughts for a time. There are many posts about the “big one”, the party that will come after the pandemic and the virus have officially ended. I believe we will celebrate all across the world. Until then the gift of a get-away (week or weekend) is here for us to enjoy.
Here are some vacation photos from some of our friends and their vacation spots.
Our Wine Club Manager Colin Sinclair at his campsite in Bend Oregon:
Our friends Elizabeth and Bob invited us to lunch at their cabin overlooking Emerald Bay.
Arthur and Jane sent a photo of their porch where they spend time in Chautauqua.
Making Connections: Gary Gross
June 28, 2021 09:52
A few months ago my sister Lisa made a suggestion to write about our staff and their connections by using the PBS series “Finding Your Roots” as inspiration. I profiled Manuel Diaz and Polo Cano so far-both of these men have worked for Pedroncelli for a combined 60+ years.
Gary Gross, our Tasting Room Manager, is this month’s subject. Gary has worked with us for 20 years and this makes him one of our long-time employees-with a twist. He is retiring in July, July 4th to be exact. Independence Day takes on a whole new meaning for Gary this year.
His roots are Midwestern. He was born in a small farming town, the county seat, Princeton Illinois. With a population of 8000 he compares it to Santa Rosa as it was 50 years ago-a farming community and is the reason he ended up liking Sonoma County and later made it his home base later on in his career.
The reason for the move? He quipped, “Six months between October and February-that’s enough winter for me. Following college where he obtained a Voluntary Agency Administration degree he found a job in Pasadena, California with the Boy Scouts of America.
Gary already had history with the BSA-he and two brothers achieved Eagle Scout status in large part thanks to his parents who were stalwart Boy Scout supporters and leaders. One other brother didn’t make Eagle Scout-but that is a story for another day.
He met future wife Joy at a BSA training in Oregon but it wasn’t until 5 years later when they met again-she as an interviewer and he the interviewee-when interviewing for a position as District Director in Northern California.
He later teamed up with Joy to operate International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans and was Western Regional Director where they marketed and administered an intern program and made the move to Tracy. Following this they ran Gourmet and Natural Foods Company for 10 years and left this company to work for one of their customers, G & G Specialty Foods, out of Santa Rosa.
They both had connections to Sonoma County: at one point Joy had lived in Sebastopol and Gary had visited Sonoma County on occasion as well as spent time at the BSA camp in Cazadero over a few summers. They loved their time in Sonoma County so it was a good fit when the G & G opportunity brought them here.
He shared the memory of his first visit to Pedroncelli, several years ago. He found the winery through his roommate's father who, at the time, was a Vice President at Wells Fargo. In the late 1950s the bank relocated him from the central valley to work on the burgeoning winery business in Napa and Sonoma because of his deep knowledge of agriculture. He sent Gary and his son winetasting in 1978 over Thanksgiving weekend because he had visited the wineries himself and knew almost every owner at the time. The family lived in San Rafael so it was easy to visit wine country from there.
Fittingly, while working for G & G, Gary also worked part time for events at Pedroncelli as well as filled in on the occasional weekend in the tasting room. When he left G & G he came to Pedroncelli as Tasting Room Manager.
Reminiscing, he says it has been fun to watch the changes in why people come to taste wine. Over the years he has seen the shift from people seeking out wine for wine’s sake to more of a social experience and the spike in the growth of wine country tourism has expanded the expectations. “We’ve been able to expose people to the wines who are new to wine; this place makes wine very approachable, it makes people feel comfortable and brings the wine experience into their life/dining experiences.
After 20 years of visiting with guests and sharing stories I asked if there was anything we don't know about him. He shared he is a NASCAR fan and has attending a race at Daytona on his bucket list.
His time in the tasting room will be remembered for his diligence duing the pandemic in making sure we welcomed guests appropriately while keeping staff safe as well. Among other things he is always dependable to map out and execute our events. Helpful, a storyteller, a foodie, with a deep knowledge of wine and a love for it as well. His Boy Scout sensibility has helped us through many times where a quick fix was needed-he always had the right tool or idea. Their motto is Prepared. For Life™. Quite fitting.
Just know he’ll be enjoying much deserved time with Joy and his extended family, including his 98 (!) year old mother. Do you have a story or memory of Gary? Share them so I can in turn put them together for him. We all wish you well as you enter retirement Gary!
What is Wine Country to You?
June 22, 2021 11:30
The question “what is wine country to you” came up in one of my COVID Coffee Chats a few weeks ago as we discussed the potential of people coming back to visit us and what they expect when going wine tasting. California officially opened up on June 15-with a few qualifications. Sonoma County is cautioning us to open up carefully. We eagerly awaited this day, for 15 months, as the businesses open up including hotels, restaurants and, of course, tasting rooms. In Wine Country we are looking forward to welcoming more visitors as travel resumes.
Like you, when I travel to a destination I like to find some exciting new things-whether it is natural wonders, local watering holes, a museum, a great wine bar, a new food or restaurant. I usually gather some information about the area. Is there a guide that comes highly recommended? We had a wonderful guide when we visited Buda Pest (photo on right) a few years ago-he brought the city to life and alternately we had a wonderful Jeep tour in Sedona. How about recommendations-do you look up Travel Advisor or Yelp? Do you ask Facebook friends or see what the latest wine and travel writers are saying about the area you are visiting?
Wine Country covers a lot of ground with 141 AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) to choose from and that’s just here in California. There are maps, trade associations, tour guides, apps, both paper and people guides, among other tools to help you decide where you want to visit. Once you have targeted your favorite wine country destination it’s time to move to the tasting experience.
For years, going back to my grandfather’s days, we offered tastes of our wine at the bar-stand up, list in hand, and when staff was busy you didn’t get a lot of information. By the time the pandemic hit many of the tasting rooms around us had already started the move toward a slower pace and a curated experience. We have shifted the way we do wine tasting-and are still evolving. Initially during the lock down we used the time to enhance the Pedroncelli Tasting Experience. We developed a set of flights and provided seated tasting to help you take time learning about and tasting our selections.
How about your expectations of your visit here: do you want an adventure or dial it down to easy access and tasty wines? We’ve found that some folks want to visit with us, and some want to visit with each other. The seated experience allows for either in a comfortable setting. When you arrive are you looking to get dust on your feet and communing with the vines? Or is it comfy chairs and low key vibes? Or a more elegant space? It all comes down to this: providing our guests with the best possible encounter between you, our wines and our story.
I’d love to hear about your favorite experiences and those that left you wanting more. They always say if you need advice, ask the experts. In this case we are asking you—we think you know more about what you’d like to experience than we can ever know. Please send me your thoughts to email@example.com
Hip Hip Rosé!
June 22, 2021 11:20I picked up a t-shirt a few years ago and, because it had Hip Hip Rosé screened on it, was a natural choice. Since we have been making Rosé for 67 years I'll wear it as we celebrate National Rosé Day on the 12th and again on International Rosé Day on June 25th. Twice in one month-and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share our 7 decade history of this wine.
It goes back to the early 1950s actually when my uncle John was starting out as winemaker. We had made Zinfandel for many years as a red wine and blend. Working with his father he did what comes naturally. He decided making it out of Zinfandel was a natural extension of our estate fruit. At first it was known as Vin Rosé but soon became known as Zinfandel Rosé honoring the grape. My dad Jim remembers the first vintage of Zin Rosé because he worked the 1954 harvest before leaving to join the Army. They released it in 1955 and the rest is Rosé-story.
I remember running across some paperwork about production of our varieties in the early 1970s and saw that we made 10,000 cases! You do have to remember we were one of a handful of wineries during this time-the winery renaissance of the 1980s was just around the corner. The style of our Rosé was also sweeter-which matched well with what people wanted out of this type in those days.
At one point our rosé style diverged and we made both a Zinfandel Rosé and a White Zinfandel. Popularity of the lighter and sweeter styled rosé spanned the vintages of 1984 through 2000. All along we had a small but mighty base of fans for the OG Rosé. Taste changed and by 2005 the popularity of Rosé in general would soar and we were back in business. We haven’t looked back.
If you talk to winemaker Montse she’ll tell you it is the most challenging wine to make out of all of our wines-and we make 21 in total. The style has changed from John’s time however. In those early vintages it was made in the saignee method-where the winemaker draws off the juice from fully ripened Zinfandel and separates it into its’ own tank. The color was a deep salmon red, full bodied, full flavored and a bit higher alcohol than the current release.
Montse now seeks to pick early, also known as an intentional rosé. This means harvesting about two weeks ahead of when we would pick for red Zinfandel. By doing this the wine has lower alcohol, is lighter in color and brings crisp acidity for balance with the fruit. Once the grapes are brought in, the skins are separated to achieve a paler shade of rosé. The beauty of this photo shows the fermenting pink stuff perfectly. Montse records each vintage this way.
It is a family favorite when we gather and is almost always the answer when I am wondering what to pair with dinner. Speaking of pairings, this wine is made for your glass, a meal or just an afternoon on the deck. My dad came up with the Zin Cooler years ago-adding a touch of orange-flavored mineral water. Later on we developed a few cocktail recipes including the Negroncelli.
Rosé and food-the match made in heaven. There is a whole world of possibilities. Just off the top I can think of oysters, burgers, prosciutto wrapped melon, roasted chicken, Thanksgiving dinner (goes with everything except the pumpkin pie), Orzo Pasta Salad, Watermelon Salad or click here for these and more recipes!
Note from Home: Making Connections, Cellar Master Polo Cano
June 2, 2021 11:02
My sister Lisa shared an idea she had to highlight different members of our staff by telling their background story. She is a fan of the PBS series Finding Your Roots so she envisioned these stories as connecting our co-workers between where they came from and where they are now at Pedroncelli. This month I sat down with our Cellar Master Hipolito 'Polo' Cano.
Polo arrived in Sonoma County in 1988, following his father Emiliano and Uncle Lupe to Dry Creek Valley. For the first 5 years he lived in a house a few yards away from our Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard. When he arrived the valley was in the dormant period. His home town, La Piedad in Michoacán is desert-like and he remembers nothing much grows there besides cactus so the area reminded him of home. When the vineyards began to grow he was amazed at the life in the vines. He couldn't figure out how they'd be able to grow.
He learned the life cycle of the vineyard first hand with seasonal work. In those days the work was timed by need: pruning, suckering, and picking with downtime in between. To make ends meet he helped harvest other crops like apples and olives, worked in construction and restaurants. Through his Uncle Lupe he came back and worked the harvest here in 1989. He became a full time employee and the first 10 years were spent between the vineyard and cellar.
As he settled into the job he took English as a Second Language classes and when communication was better, he studied articles and used other resources to learn about wine. As part of his training he was encouraged (by assistant winemaker Mandy McCord)to do more research by joining a local industry technology group (CERA). A wide range of subjects included bottling, winemaking, lab and barrel focus groups which he joined on a monthly basis to continue his education. During this time he made connections, saw how other wineries functioned, and says it was a great experience overall. He also joined a weekly winery group with different topics like tasting trials where he deepened his knowledge even more with presenters willing to share their experiences.
Along the way he met Maria Ramirez and married in 1993. They have three children and live in Healdsburg.
He has seen how much technology has changed in just three decades. By working in the vineyard in the early days he was able to see the replanting done in the 1990s. Irrigation changed from overhead to drip systems. He has watched and participated in the changes made in the vineyard and cellar including different techniques in the way pumpovers are done, different picking times to get better results, the use of machine harvesting alongside hand harvesting, newer more efficient equipment.
His time here spans the days of making Sonoma Red and White to varietally focused wines. He recalled the Mother Clone vineyard, now 40 years old, coming into its' own having been replanted prior to his arrival and seeing it mature into old vine status. He enjoyed meeting the many farmers bringing in their grapes, lined up all the way to the road, gondolas piled high during the height of harvest patiently waiting their turn at the crush pad.
Among all the vintages he worked the 1989 harvest remains the most challenging. It was also his first harvest at Pedroncelli. He remembers it well because it was one for the books-rain mid-harvest left the vineyards muddy and the grapes had to either be harvested or left until the soil dried out making picking conditions very difficult. When asked about his favorite vintage he chose to include his favorite grapes to work with each harvest: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel.
His mentor, John Pedroncelli, loved making wine and Polo appreciated this attitude. John would joke around with him and he always knew where John was by his whistling. (I do remember finding John by listening for him in the cellar.) He notes while John didn't take deep dives into the trends of the day he did research them and once approved they made changes.
For Polo, his role has never been boring. There is always a challenge and his job keeps his interest going. Winemaking is not a simple recipe. It
takes knowledge of the vineyard, knowing how grapes transform in the cellar, staying curious, researching the latest and doing what you love.
Note from Home: A Blessing in Disguise
June 2, 2021 10:48
Recalling the early days of the pandemic which included working remotely, cleaning products and toilet paper in short supply and the virtual world replacing many activities like business meetings and socializing. I took part in a few Zoom cocktail sessions which were fun. About a month into the stay at home orders I wondered if anyone would like to join me in a virtual coffee get-together. I love a good cup of coffee and I enjoy the conversations I have had over said cup of coffee.
I floated the idea via Facebook and several people nibbled at the concept so I put down the first date for what would become known as my COVID Coffee Chat-April 21st, 2020. Not everyone who was interested ended up joining. The blessing in disguise came in the form of six women who answered the call and the friendships made during this time. We have been meeting every week for about 50 sessions (we skipped a day once in a while).
A screen shot of our group, that's me on the top left. Our group in order after me:
Allison Levine, owner of Please the Palate and a freelance wine writer and podcaster, Southern CA
Betsy Nachbauer, owner of ACORN Winery, Healdsburg CA
E Slater, owner of InShort Direct Marketing and co-founder of Wine industry Network, Oregon
Cindy Lowe Rynning, owner of Grape Experiences and a wine writer, Illinois
Dr. Elizabeth Smith PhD, TravelWineChick and freelance wine and food writer, Napa CA.
While wine is the obvious thread we all have in common I’ll point to wine education as the deeper link. We all one way or another write or talk about wine and educate through our various roles. Food is another affinity especially when one of us mentions chocolate.
The span of subjects over 50 plus meetings was focused on COVID guidelines, vaccination news, which tier we were in Red? Orange?. Next up could be the politics of the moment, the shared name of three of our members (Elizabeth), how tall we are, hair styles of the past, or our background stories. The conversations always included advice, listening, swearing, lots of laughter, tears, shared frustrations, celebrations, opinions, commiseration. Pretty much what we would do if we met in person.
I will tell you we experienced many milestones in this time together. Some life changing, some happy, some sad. Examples of the arc were always reflected in the latest turn of the pandemic. Two of us had tasting rooms that open/closed/opened again and then were put under strict and limiting guidelines. Some of us were very careful because of compromised health and followed the hard and fast rules to protect others as well as ourselves. E had just moved to a new state-a couple of weeks before the pandemic began-and because of the situation she and her husband have made exactly one friend who had moved just before them into the same building. Allison took us with her (via her phone) when she received her first and second vaccinations. Birthday milestones were cheered on-one each turned 50, 60 and 70 but I’m not telling who.
Other exciting changes or additions in the last year included: Allison and Cindy began Crush on This a weekly video series focused on different wine subjects. E wrote a book which gathered her knowledge from teaching classes about selling wine in the tasting room and is soon to be published. Because of the pandemic Elizabeth changed her career course and became a freelance author of numerous articles on food and wine as well as started her own pet sitting service, named after her beloved cat Einstein who passed in October. Betsy worked hard to change and stay afloat amidst the challenges of operating during the pandemic and with much success.
Just as in real life, loss was a theme throughout the year with family members and cherished pets passing. The most memorable was when one of our group received a phone call during our chat and heard the news her mother had passed. I can’t tell you how painful it was but it was a moment witnessed by the five others, sharing in her grief and touching each of us deeply.
This month Allison brought a group of media friends (she would want me to include that all of us were vaccinated) and had dinner at Pedroncelli. Betsy and her husband Bill were co-hosts. All brought together by the COVID Coffee Chat experience.
Connection. This is how it all started. During the pandemic we craved what we were missing and found ways to reach out and bond. We will continue with our chats and one day we will gather together around a table at a café. Over the last year there was a lot of hope for things to change, for the guidelines to lift, for travel to begin again. The blessing in disguise was the gift of time and getting to know someone on a deeper level. How about you, do you have a similar pandemic experience you’d like to share? I would love to hear from you!
Note from Home: Water Matters
June 2, 2021 10:35
I have been back at my office at the winery now for two months. In those two months I have waited and watched as our Mother Clone Zinfandel vines began their journey toward vintage 2021. It will be our 94th year of bringing in grapes and the upcoming crop is now in full swing.
Water matters and, as farmers, we are water dependent. Since grapevines are what we farm, we rely on the annual rainfall to provide most of what is needed to get from point A-the beginning of growing season to point B-harvest. Last year, besides COVID, the lock down, and the late summer fires we went through here, one bit of information slipped the news headlines: our first year of drought had already occurred.
Last October, as the 2019/20 rain season ended and the next one began, I checked in with the predictions on what type of winter to expect. Was it going to be an El Nino or La Nina year? Meaning with the first choice we’d get a normal amount of rain or one with very little. La Nina graced us with her presence. When you total the combined rainfall between the last two years it equaled one year of average rainfall-32 inches, split between the two.
The lifecycle of our vineyards depends on drip irrigation to help the vines along as spring turns into summer and will be especially important this year. Measures are taken to determine we aren’t using too much of this precious resource-and in fact the vineyards used to be watered by overhead irrigation and cast a much wider swath (and used a larger amount of water) than we do now with the system close to the ground and emitting directly into the soil.
Water cycles and climate change.
Since many of you have been reading my posts for a while (much appreciated by the way) you’ll remember I follow the weather cycles. We have had several droughts and several rain-filled cycles throughout the years. In our time here we have seen two five year droughts along with the shorter two and three year cycles. We have also seen amazing rainfall well above average (remember 2017?, 1982?). The quality of some of those vintages are remembered with great reverence, like 1976 and 2015 chief among them as well as others with perfect conditions like 1978 and 2018. The climate has changed and will continue to do so. Preparation for the future is key. Finding which varieties are most drought tolerant or which is the best technology to help conserve water will pave the way for future re-plants.
We continue along the growing season with these incumbent thoughts: how warm is the summer going to be? How many times should the vineyard be watered? What about the vines-will they tolerate another year and what will production look like? These are all farmer’s concerns as we head toward what we hope is a trouble free vintage.
Conserving water, which in my opinion should be practiced at all times and in as many ways as possible whether a farmer or me in my home, is so important all around California and beyond. Our county has asked us to reduce our water usage by 20%. I know there are farmers up and down the state making difficult decisions. Not just grapes but all the other types of farming from almonds to cows. Whether we admit it or not, we are in this together.
Here is the report from the state of California for full on weather geekery and charts:
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