• The 2017 Harvest Weather Report

    September 28, 2017 07:01

    The last five weeks have been filled with exciting weather patterns from the 112 degree heat wave over Labor Day Weekend to the cooler weeks following with a few heat spikes. Natural for September-we’ve seen it all before. As farmers we all need to be prepared for weather challenges. Usually it is rain that we worry about but the heat spike that came just 7 days after the first grapes were harvested at Pedroncelli was reminiscent of a nearly identical one in 2010. We lost nearly half of our Zinfandel that year because the heat spike came at the end of a very cool summer. This year we had a hot July followed by a temperate August. Then September roared in with heat blazing. The vines and grapes felt the heat and we employed drip irrigation to give the vines much needed hydration. Many vineyards including ours did suffer from loss of juice due to dehydration especially in the Zinfandel vineyards. The crew picked the Mother Clone Zinfandel as fast as they could and dealt with shorter days due to the excessive heat. While it wasn’t as intense as the 2010 heat wave it had its’ effect. Loss of juice translates to a higher concentration of flavor in the wine-and Zinfandel was most affected because it was closest to being ready. While it is a bit early to tell, Lance Blakeley, Vineyard Manager, estimates a 25% loss for our Zinfandel production. Many other red varietals weren’t as affected because they still had some ripening to do. This one is in the books at the end of September. I am looking forward to trying this Zinfandel in a few years to see the effects of this harvest year. Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Down to Earth Month: Fish Friendly

    April 8, 2016 16:00

    Recently my dad Jim and brother-in-law Lance (our vineyard manager) attended an event in Dry Creek Valley to get more information on the Dry Creek Habitat Enhancement project. As part of Down to Earth month we'll go fish friendly.

    But first, I’ll take a walk down memory lane. When I was a kid growing up here ‘Dry Creek’ itself would dry up during the summer. The function of this major creek is to empty into the Russian River which in turn empties into the Pacific Ocean. When I was in high school the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) began work on what would become known as Warm Springs Dam and Lake Sonoma. It was built for three main reasons: flood control, water supply and recreation. A fish hatchery was also part of the plan. As farmers we all know the importance of this vital element in both grape and wine growing. The argument was this dam was needed to save the lower parts of Sonoma County from excessive flooding in heavy rain years-see a photo below of the town of Guerneville during flood stage, with the dam in place-imagine what it would have been like without it!

    Fast forward to 2012 or so and over the ensuing years lots of erosion along the creek banks has occurred because water is let out of the dam year round-widening and pitting in many places and making a poor habitat for the fish to thrive. In order to protect the endangered Coho salmon as well as the threatened Steelhead and Chinook, the Sonoma County Water Agency in cooperation with wineries, private landowners and the USACE proposed a six-mile habitat enhancement project. This development would use boulders, root wads and logs to create backwaters, side channels and shady habitats for the young fish that live in Dry Creek during the summer. Ultimately the project is intended to restore our creek to its original flow and restore the original ecosystem so that wildlife can thrive. We, as landowners, have agreed to participate in the program and are proud to continue this worthy venture. A toast with some Sauvignon Blanc (which grows along Dry Creek) in my glass to these future efforts.

    The 1986 flooding of Guerneville along the Russian River.

    1986 Guerneville Flood


  • In Water We Trust

    February 12, 2016 17:44

    The weather outside is delightful. It seems like spring is upon us with these mild warm days with temperatures in the 70s-I know our friends on the East Coast would like a bit of this warmth right now! We are experiencing a spring-like mid-February with the high pressure system pushing the rain north and east of California. It isn’t unusual to have a break in the rain and a warming trend.

    There is good news even as a few are fearful El Nino has left the building. Winter isn’t over until March 20 and there is hope we will receive more rain between now and then and into early spring (April showers…). For now the update is we are slightly above average on rainfall for our area. The two lakes, Sonoma and Mendocino, are full to capacity and even slightly above in Mendocino’s case. They are doing their job as flood control and for future water needs and recreation year round. As farmers we depend on the weather and work with what we have. Here's hoping for more precipitation and a toast to Mother Nature in all of her glory.

    Thanks to the rain we have a lush cover crop. Bell bean shoots and buttercups mix between the vines.

    Bell Beans and Buttercups


  • Fog Blog

    January 27, 2016 17:58

    Fog makes up a significant part of climate here in wine country. It is what makes summer nights into cool evenings. The ripening grapes benefit from the marine fog intrusion by cooling down the vineyard. The temperatures, typically in the 90s during the day at the hottest point, quickly cool down to 50 degrees or so because of the fog.

    Today I’ll be talking about the two types of fog we have here in California: radiation fog and advection fog. The first type comes in the wintertime and the second in the summer. In fact it is the cooling down of the vineyards from the advection fog in thanks to the marine influence just 30 or so miles to our west combined with a deep crevice along our Sonoma Coast making the water even colder hence creation of this type of summer morning and evening fog.

    Advection provides us with Tule Fog-famous in Sonoma County in my younger days for blanketing the stretch between Healdsburg and Windsor, the town to the south. I haven't seen much of it in the last decade or so in this area although while out on my walk at 6am today there was quite a layer-obliterating the waning moon. You find it mostly situated in and around San Francisco. I found a video of it for you here by our local ABC news station. The vines don’t need much cooling in the winter but the beauty of it is indeed striking. 

    Remember Carl Sandburg’s poem Fog?

    The fog comes

    on little cat feet.


    It sits looking

    over harbor and city

    on silent haunches

    and then moves on.


    I think this is the perfect image of winter fog. A toast to our unique California climate and all that it brings to our wines!

    The photo below captures the winter fog as the vineyard crew prepares for erosion control measures.

    Spreading Straw

  • Winter and Erosion

    January 22, 2016 18:02

    As I walk around the vineyards during the rainy season one concern on my mind is erosion. I keep my eyes on the hills and vineyard rows as does the vineyard crew. We’ve had slippage in years past. Erosion is a fact of life during any winter season. As rain accumulates either in a large storm or over a number of days once in a while you have a hill slip or a vineyard row collapse. When I was 10 years old or so my sisters and I watched as the hill beside our home split in the middle-a big event because we thought the mud was going to reach our house. It didn't and the hillside has been planted to zinfandel for many years, helping to bring stability there.

    To mitigate these from happening we do a number of things in the vineyard. Most important is the cover crop that actually helps hold the ground together. Straw mulch will also protect the vineyard by applying before the rains. When I write about a vineyard crew’s work is never done this is why it is a year round project. Once the grapes have been picked it is time to stabilize the vineyard by planting cover crop and if needed adding straw on some of the roads or rows. We even have employed the use of grape stems on some of the vineyard roads to help provide important coverage. All in all is boils down to being good stewards of the land at all times. A splash of vino in my dino to the rain and all it brings.

    The top of the hill looking over the home ranch. You can see the cover crop is doing its' job.

    Joe Block Vineyard


  • Weathering storms & media reports

    January 20, 2016 18:06

    Climate and other aspects of weather remain the focus of my posts with El Niño in my sights today. When you are a weather watcher like me, with vineyards hanging in the balance during our four years of drought and as we hope and pray for more rain, the conflicting reports about whether El Niño weather is going to stay strong or fizzle out are frustrating. Just last week a headline declared the end of El Niño and this week the media is back at it, trumpeting the amount of rain dumped on Northern California, indicating the pattern is here to stay through March. Hmmm. Once I did a bit of digging around for more information it all made sense, thanks to two websites I visited: and (Golden Gate Weather Services). While there is definitely an El Niño pattern it may not be the strongest. And for heaven’s sake don’t call it a storm because the definition of El Niño is our overall climate is affected by the warming of the waters near the equator outside of Peru which in turn influences the storm patterns over our region. I also read where we have received the most rain in this month, which has 10 more days left to record the amount, than we have in the last 6 Januarys (!).

    The world of meteorology has changed quite a bit since the largest (97/98) and second largest (82/83) El Niños were recorded. Back then the media reported on the storms but nothing like the technology we have currently. Recalling predictions over the last couple of years they contain almost to-the-minute, accurate target areas, and length of storm information and are correct 99 out of 100 times. One thing is for certain though, this winter will not make up for the years of drought but it is more than a drop in the state’s bucket. I'll splash a drop of Zin in my Dino to El Niño!

    One of the things we do at our vineyard is spread straw to help with the erosion that comes with the storms.

    Spreading Straw

  • Counting Raindrops

    January 8, 2016 18:19

    I have become somewhat of a water watcher these days digging around the internet for stories about the drought and reading articles about El Nino. Looking up the archives I see I wrote about the average rainfall for Dry Creek Valley being around 35-40 inches of rain. The last three years of the drought we have seen just above half or in other years even less.

    According to a couple of websites I frequent, The Sonoma County Water Agency and University of California Cooperative Extension Sonoma County, I see some good news as El Nino drops this much needed rain. Right now we are within 2 inches of what is considered normal rainfall for this area at this time(SCWA data). Secondly we are far above January totals in the first 7 days than we have been over the last three winters (2013-2015) with the measurement taken from Santa Rosa to the south of us. It is close to 3 inches through today when the most that dropped in the three previous years for the whole month was between .02 inches to .89 inches (UCCE data).

    Right now the vineyard soil is becoming saturated-I heard it percolating yesterday during a respite after four days of rain. More is expected in the next week but not to the extent of what we have received so far. As heart breaking as it was to see dusty vineyards for the last three January's this year there is plenty of vegetation and such a relief to see the hills green again. Canyon Creek which flows through our winery on down to our vineyards along Dry Creek itself had enough water to flow all the way to our main water artery to the Russian River and on to the Pacific Ocean itself. A splash of Zinfandel in my Dino as I enjoy the soggy view!

    January 2014 our Mother Clone vineyard was as dry as a bone. Once we had some rain it turned our hillsides green.

    MC Zin Vineyard comparison

  • Rain! (1)

    January 6, 2016 18:25

    Rain-it’s in the forecast as an El Nino year. How much so far? We have measured 13.8 inches by the 4th day of January with another 4 as this is written. More is expected as several storms pass over us. The headlines I read keep saying this isn’t the end of the drought-no kidding. Remember the phrase ‘It ain’t over ‘til it’s over’? I’ll be waiting for the next 6 months when the official rainfall is recorded for the year in order to know where we stand.

    The ‘Dry Creek’ of Dry Creek Valley ran dry in the years preceding the formation of Warm Springs Dam and Lake Sonoma, the body of water created by the dam and is situated to the north of us. Built in the early 1980s, it was put in place to provide flood control, irrigation and recreation. The recent years of drought created low lake levels which plummeted even more since water is released year ‘round. As of January 4 I am happy to report it is 70% of capacity but below the usual average. I have provided a link in case you are interested in the comparison between this year’s capacity, last year’s total as well as 2005-2014. Like I said earlier, the season isn’t over yet. In fact it has just begun and right now the future looks pretty wet. A toast in my Dino to more rain!

    My uncle John standing in flood waters circa 1950s-it isn't this bad yet but Canyon Creek does run through our property all the way down to Dry Creek and sometimes it can overflow its' banks even as recent as two years ago.

    1950 John in Flood

  • Canyon Creek Rising

    December 11, 2014 12:30

    This day will truly go down in the books as an answer to the many prayers for rain. 5 inches overnight. And a few more inches today. While the drought is nowhere near over, this is a good healthy addition to our annual rainfall. Canyon Creek begins just north of us and runs through our Home Ranch as well as our East Side Vineyards, a mile west on Dry Creek Road. Part of it goes underground beneath the fermentation buildings, crush pad and bottling warehouse. Sometimes when we have this type of deluge it runs over. Today was one of those days—it flowed through our yard and partly into our cellar and warehouse. It even ran over Walling Road. The crew had their hands full cleaning up and trying to stay ahead of the storm. In the photo below, taken in the 1950’s, my uncle John is standing in the yard just outside of our cellar. As you can see, Canyon Creek spilled over then, the same as it has in every large storm. We’ll keep an eye on our hillside vineyards-sometimes they’ll slip with this much rain. Overall this is the relief that we were looking for-just all at one time. Grab your glass and toast the bounty of rain and 87 years of weathering storms.

    While we didn't see this much water through here today, Canyon Creek is known to crest pretty high. John Pedroncelli, circa 1950s.

    John in flood

  • Harvest 2014 Ends

    September 25, 2014 15:34

    To recap, we began on August 19 with Sauvignon Blanc and ended with Cabernet Sauvignon on September 24, 5 weeks and two days later. One of the great things about writing a newsletter since 1990 is I have copious copy illustrating our harvests year after year. There is quite a bit of talk about this being a super early vintage so I looked up the ‘earliest’ harvest we have recorded which is 2004 when we picked Sauvignon Blanc on August 11 and I see we brought in Cabernet Sauvignon over Labor Day weekend. We finished early in the third week of September.

    This year it was a very compressed harvest for a couple of reasons: the weather stayed with us and didn’t cool off or heat up too much and some vineyards ripened ahead of schedule. For instance we picked estate Merlot before our growers harvested their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The second reason has to do with availability of picking crews. Manuel Diaz, Vineyard Foreman, said he had a steady supply of men and women to do the picking-in other years we had to wait until a full crew could be mustered, hoping the grapes would hang in there until they could bring in the fruit. While it is a few more days until we finish fermentation, here's a toast to all of our hard working crews in the vineyard and cellar on our 87th harvest!

    2014 Harvest Gondola