• Winespeak: Body

    July 31, 2015 15:11

    Ending the month with a fairly well known wine word, body, seems appropriate as we end the theme about winespeak and move on to harvest know-how in August.

    When I drink water, juice or even vodka there is a mouthfeel (another winespeak word) as the liquid rolls around in your mouth on its way to your tummy. Our mouths, while used for speaking, breathing and a variety of other useful functions, taste and feel the beverage and is a large part of enjoying them. Body in wine is what you experience-is it heavy? Light? How does it interact with your taste buds?

    It is the ‘feel’ of wine. The weight on your tongue is what adds quite a bit to the tasting experience. And wine is not self-conscious, it doesn’t mind being called full-bodied. When stepping into the wine & food arena, you have some choices to make that pertains to the body of a wine. While I don’t make a lot of food & wine suggestions (leaving it up to you and your own taste) I like pairing a Zinfandel with ribs or Chardonnay with prawns because the body has a lot to do with how well the wine goes with food. Too heavy and it overpowers the pairing. Too light and the food overpowers the wine match. The alcohol level is one indicator of body as are the tannins and acidity. Check labels and tasting notes for information about these and become acquainted with the styles of varietals as well as wines. A touch of Sangiovese with my Margherita pizza will fill the bill tonight.

    A splash of vino with Margherita pizza at the famous Frank Pepe's Pizzeria Napoletana in New Haven CT, a great pairing.

    Pizza and Wine


  • Winespeak: Fruit

    July 29, 2015 15:16

    All kinds of images come to mind when I think of fruity wines, but what does it really mean? Are red and white wines really ‘fruity’ like a tropical drink or Juicy Fruit gum? Wine grapes, after all, are fruit. I write fact sheets for our wines and they always include tasting notes. I rely on our winemaker Montse and cellarmaster Polo to help flesh them out-and each of us comes up with fruit descriptors that come close to what we taste and smell in a particular wine. Sometimes there is grapefruit in our Sauvignon Blanc or ripe black plum in our Cabernet Sauvignon. But these are descriptors and you might taste or smell something completely different. When tasting wine we need to rely on our own aroma history to come up with ways to describe what is in the glass.

    When I was first learning about wine one of my favorite classes was at UC Davis where John Buechsenstein taught a wine sensory evaluation course. With several rows of samples in front of me, each glass held a neutral wine with something extra: a cherry lifesaver, fresh herb, black peppercorns, bell pepper. I swirled and sniffed my way through the samples thereby learning through an intense aroma experience. The lifesaver, as intense as it was, helped establish the fruit character in my aroma library. With this in mind when you try a new wine or open an old favorite, keep the fruit in mind—and try to discern just how a wine grape can be so complex. A splash of Chardonnay with notes of pineapple and lemon in my Dino please.

  • Winespeak: Tannins

    July 24, 2015 15:22

    Posts this month focus on what I call ‘winespeak’ which are terms that sometimes are obvious in meaning and others are not. Today’s word is tannin.

    Recently I was talking to someone who was learning about wine and all the facets found in the taste of wine. He owns a restaurant and was looking for wines to pair with the style of food (Indonesian). I began talking about how acidity and tannins are the links between a great food and wine pairing because each plays an important role in the interplay between the two. I described tannins to him by saying, “remember when you were a kid and you licked a piece of chalk?” I then compared this feeling on the tongue to how tannins in red wine feel. Dusty, drying, almost gritty. And this is also why wines with tannins pair so well with food, especially rich in fat like cheese, steak, or ribs. It is the astringent quality in them which pairs so well with these types of food.

    Where do they come from? The reason red wines are the tannin conveyors instead of white wines is because the reds are fermented with the grape skins-and they are the source of tannins. (White wines still have some tannin but a very low amount.) Tannins add body (a term for another day) framing the fruit and acidity. They also soften with age and become better in balance after a year in oak and more time in the bottle. A little Cabernet Sauvignon in my Dino will go nicely with this grilled steak.

    Since you can’t photograph tannins I’ll leave you with a shot of our Cabernet Sauvignon ready for harvest in a previous vintage.

    Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Winespeak: Acidity

    July 22, 2015 15:39

    Posts this month focus on what I call winespeak which are terms that sometimes are obvious in meaning and others are not. Today’s word is acidity.

    Acidity is what you would call a building block toward balance in wine. Less of it and the wine becomes flabby, too much and your lips will pucker. Levels of acidity start with grapes and depend on the type of climate where they are grown. Dry Creek Valley, for instance, has warm days bracketed by marine fog. The cooling fog layer rolls in at the end of the day and stays sometimes until mid-morning. The combination both ripens and evens the development in the grapes by using a little refrigerator action in the evenings. Wines from warmer regions develop as well but in a different way. It is the reason we as farmers are concerned if the weather is too hot or too cool and the development isn’t all we hope for during the growing season.

    Basically wine has two types of acid: malic acid and lactic acid. Well you start with malic and in order to soften this sharp acidity the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation. The malic acid (think tart green apple) converts to lactic acid (dairy or butter essence) and makes the wine easier to swallow. The process is called malolactic fermentation by the way. All red wines undergo this conversion and some white wines do as well, like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. It all depends on the style the winemaker would like to achieve. And sometimes the decision to add more acid comes into play, depending on the inclination to higher or lower acidity. This year I am hanging my wine tasting hat on high acid white wines-so refreshing and crisp! A splash of Sauvignon Blanc in my Dino please.

    Sauvignon Blanc and a close-to-harvest shot from a previous vintage. We're not there yet but getting very close to picking the 2015 vintage!

    Sauvignon Blanc grape bunch

  • Winespeak: Color

    July 2, 2015 15:48

    Posts this month focus on what I call Winespeak which are terms that sometimes are obvious in meaning and others are not. Today’s word is color.

    In the beginning, as the berries develop, they are the same color: green. As they develop color, called veraison, the green pea colored berries turn either purple for red wine grapes or a golden or yellow color for white wine grapes. Color of wine is the first thing you notice when it is poured into your glass. When it is a white wine you have a color spectrum of light yellow to golden brown (this would be leaning toward an older wine). When it is a red you can go from light garnet to deep purple to brownish edged red (also an aged wine). It all depends on the varietal and aging-whether oak or time in the bottle.

    White wines often are pale yellow with a tinge of green, just a tinge. As some wines are aged you’ll have a deeper hue of dark gold. Do you know why the wine is so clear? Or have you ever had a cloudy glass of wine? Fining and filtering help clarify the wine so it is clear in your glass. Note: not every winemaker filters wine so educate yourself! The mainstream wines typically are filtered but ask your local winemaker about the process.

    Red wines run the gamut of light garnet (think Pinot Noir) to deep purple (Petite Sirah) and many shades in between. As they age, so does the color. Some of the wines from the 1970s I have tried are in the reddish-brown stage. A great way to really see the tones and color of wine is to hold a piece of white paper behind the glass and tilt it away to see the rim of the liquid. Here the background helps to define the color even more.

    Enjoy the wine color spectrum as you enjoy your glass of Chardonnay or Zinfandel over the weekend. A toast to red and white wine with a splash in my Dino!

    Glasses of red and white wine

  • Varietally Speaking: Syrah

    May 28, 2015 16:30

    The final post for this month is about Syrah and is a tale of two vineyards. We have four acres planted between two very different locations: our home ranch in Dry Creek Valley and on a family-owned mountain side high above Alexander Valley. Rhone varietals have been planted in the valley for more than 30 years beginning with the most well-known: Syrah. California acreage totals 19,000 (!) and in Sonoma County there are 1890 acres. In Dry Creek Valley the acreage is smaller, so I’ll estimate under 200 acres. John Pedroncelli and vineyard manager Lance Blakeley planted 2 acres in 1998 and the varietal has done quite well, thriving in its own microclimate of hillside and rocky soil on our home ranch vineyard. The second vineyard was planted in 2003 on the Ridge Ranch, owned by John and Christine with roots going back to 1963 when Christine’s father purchased the property, with 2 acres high above the Alexander Valley. We combine the two vineyards into our where they are a welcome addition with the characteristic fruity quality helps underscore our red wine blend. A toast to our varietals as we end the month on a Syrah note-from my Dino to yours.

    While the Portuguese varietals can be seen in fall splendor at the top, our Syrah vineyards are the green bands at the bottom-this is on our home ranch.

    Syrah Vineyards

  • Varietally Speaking: Port

    May 26, 2015 16:35

    We have four acres of Portuguese varietals planted in the mid-1990s on our home ranch. We have found the hillsides are a great spot for these dessert wine grapes which consists of 30% Tinta Madera, 30% Tinta Cao, 20% Souzao and 20% Touriga Nacional. The stats for acreage in the state of California are sketchy when it comes to these varietals as I could only find Souzao which has a total of 88 acres in the state and 2 in Sonoma County-we have 1 acre. The other listed is Touriga Nacional with 270 acres statewide and 2 acres in Sonoma County, with one here. John Pedroncelli, who liked to experiment and find out which site is best for each varietal, began making this wine in 1990 from a grower nearby (does Raymond Burr ring any bells?) and soon added this to our permanent portfolio.

    When I give a vineyard tour at the top of our Mother Clone vineyard it is easy to see the bands of color, in the growing season and fall, representing the different grapes planted across the way. If you are wondering why we can still call this a Port, thank the 2006 trade agreement when we were grandfathered in because we have been using the name for so many years. The vines continue to thrive in our Mediterranean climate. Each grape adds its’ own unique character to the blend be it color, flavor or tannin.

    Bands of color delineating the Portuguese varietals in the fall.

    Varietal Hillside

  • Varietally Speaking: Petite Sirah

    May 22, 2015 16:39

    As I continue the series about varietals we grow, the focus is on Petite Sirah. This wine grape is an important part of Dry Creek Valley’s grape-growing history although it has been in the shadow of Zinfandel all along, being a supporting player when blended. Adding deeper tannin, color and structure to our Zins, it is a delicious wine on its own. It has also been growing on my cousin’s vineyard (Bushnell) and we make a Family Vineyards blend of the two. Let’s step back and take a look at the grape itself. There is a bit of a mystery why it is called Petite Sirah but I can tell you it is the love child of Sirah and Peloursin and known in France as Durif. While the name and pedigree can be confusing, thank heavens they didn’t try to name it Peloursin Sirah. Looking at the grape acreage planted in California there is a sum total of 9576 acres and I was surprised at the amount planted in Sonoma County-I thought we would have led in number of acres but at 650 we are in the middle of the pack. Between our vineyard and the Bushnell vineyard we have 7 acres and this provides blending opportunities as well as a stand-alone offering. There are a couple of distinctive qualities about this grape as it has small berries and tightly packed bunches. Like Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah has a small amount of juice to skin ratio and the deep purple bunches produce what I call a ‘bruiser’ of a wine-deep and inky with chalky tannins. In fact it is the wine of choice to age-and some experts say it ages better and longer in the cellar than Cabernet Sauvignon! For more about this intriguing grape you should visit PS I Love You-a winery and grower organization support group. To add one more antidote: PSILY once held a Blue Tooth Tour-proof this wine stains more than your glass. A toast to blending in and standing out, only Petite Sirah can do it.

    Our Petite Sirah vineyard is located on our home ranch, where it has thrived since the earlier 1900s.

    Petite Sirah grape bunch



  • Varietally speaking: Sangiovese

    May 20, 2015 16:44

    Sangiovese is the focus varietal for today’s blog post featuring of the different grapes we grow. In the early 1990’s John Pedroncelli wanted to add an Italian varietal, in honor of our heritage, to our home ranch vineyard. We planted the first 2 acres in 1993 and it took to the hillside as if it were home. We named it Alto Vineyard, and soon another 3 acres followed on two other hills. We went into the California Chianti business. Yes, this grape is the backbone of Italy’s Chianti region. In number of acres planted in California, it is most widely planted in Sonoma County with 365 acres scattered around the many appellations in our county with a healthy amount taking root right here in Dry Creek Valley. The vineyard crew has learned these vines like to start early-usually the first at bud break and needs some hang-time on the vine to ripen properly-this is a high acid grape and the longer it hangs with the right climate the better it gets. You could say it is a vineyard I have seen mature from the early astringent days when we added Merlot to soften it to the recent 2012 vintage where it stands on its own as a true California Chianti with bright acidity balanced with perfectly ripened fruit. Now for a toast to our heritage!

    Our Alto Vineyards Sangiovese hugs the hillside terraces.

    Sangiovese Vineyards

  • Varietally Speaking: Sauvignon Blanc

    May 15, 2015 12:43

    In honor of the focus on varietals we grow, today I’ll talk about Sauvignon Blanc. It is the only white wine varietal we have planted on our vineyards and is the white wine counterpart to Zinfandel as the signature wine of Dry Creek Valley. For comparison’s sake here are the numbers: 2700 acres planted in Sonoma County, it is the most popular white varietal in Dry Creek Valley, with an estimated 1100 acres planted. We have 7 acres planted on the valley floor where the sedimentary soils and balance of warm days and cool nights create near perfect conditions for making great Sauvignon Blanc. Located down on the east side of Dry Creek, we farm two blocks where the vineyard crew takes special care during the growing season to tuck and cover the ripening fruit-this process is almost as important as where it is planted and what type of microclimate we have there. Tucking the shoots back makes way for sunshine to do its part in ripening up the grapes. As farmers, we always want the best of both worlds: sun and shade. Leaves are a very important part of this cycle as they provide the much-needed cover for the grape bunches as they go through the season. Not enough shade, and the grapes become raisins in due time, too much shade and the wine takes on green flavors. Tuck and cover is an apt description for this vineyard process. As I like to say the wine reflects this pattern: it ripens on the vine, makes a stop at the fermentation tank and bottled shortly after harvest capturing tropical fruit and citrus aromas and flavors finishing with crisp acidity. Cheers, I’ll have some in my Dino.

    East Side Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc.

    Sauvignon Blanc grape bunch