zinfandel

  • The People Tell The Story: John & Jim

    January 27, 2020 12:14

    The People Tell The Story: John & Jim

    While my grandparent’s story is told often I also tell the story of second gen members John and Jim as frequently. Both generations are deeply entwined in the story of Pedroncelli. They both grew up in the vineyard and winery helping their parents (along with two sisters) to make a go of it here in our little corner of Dry Creek Valley. The People Tell the Story: John & Jim

  • Bottling Up the Vintages

    January 27, 2020 12:03

    The 2019 harvest seems like it just ended yesterday but here we are in February bottling up the Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé from this vintage. The 2018 harvest memories are a bit foggier but now the red wines have had their year in the barrel and are being bottled up. Join me in finding out more as we are Bottling Up the Vintages.

  • The Top Nine of 2019

    December 20, 2019 16:31

    The Top Nine of 2019

    As we begin the New Year reflecting on what took place last year is a good place to start. The Top Nine of 2019 covers many accomplishments and challenges, which is how a year typically goes. Just like life!

    9 We celebrated 92 years in July-marking the anniversary of the day my grandfather Giovanni Pedroncelli signed the papers for this special place in Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.

    8 The Smithsonian connection. Over 10 years ago we had one of our photos in an exhibit at the Museo Italiano in San Francisco. That connection led the curators at the American History Museum to seek us out so they could include that photo in their Food Transforming America exhibit-still going strong after 10 years. In fact they just refreshed the exhibit and included items the family had loaned to the museum-captured in the title photo of this post. Visit Food Transforming America when you are in Washington DC-wine is indeed a part of the transformation.

    7 Our Mission-we crafted our thoughts into a statement capturing the past, present and future: We are a Sonoma County farming family, founded in 1927, sharing our legacy through sustainably-produced exceptional wines.

    6 My parents Jim & Phyllis celebrated 60 years together last February-you wouldn’t know it by looking at them but they are over 60 years old. While my dad grew up here and has worked in the winery from the ground up (literally) my mom married into the family in 1959. She was in integral part of the business as my dad and his brother bought the winery from their parents in 1963. Mom helped out in the office and during harvest as well as kept tabs on me and my sisters-station wagons, after school activities, weekend outings and more kept us all in line. Cheers to many more as 60 years is quite an accomplishment!

    5 The 2019 harvest was the fifth for Montse Reece as winemaker-she was first hired in 2007 as assistant winemaker and worked with John Pedroncelli. She became winemaker in early 2015. Did you know that only 11% of the winemakers in California are women? Cheers to many more vintages and women joining the ranks!

    4 Four generations of one family calling this corner of Dry Creek Valley our home. We continue to strive for excellence with fourth generation member Mitch Blakeley heading up our Sustainability program, leading the way for future generations to call this home as well.

    3 The king of red wine grapes, Cabernet Sauvignon, has quite the presence on our estate vineyards at one third of the acreage planted. I consider it our ‘2nd’ flagship grape as we were the first to plant and maintain it in Dry Creek Valley. The varietal is now the top planted red wine grape in the valley-coincidence? I think not.

    2 We are celebrating the 2nd year of our Gratitude Vine displayed in our Tasting Room. So many people have added their thanks for a wide variety of subjects-family, friends, pets and kids and good health. A toast to another year of gratitude for all of our friends both new and old.

    1 Zinfandel is always number one with us. It is an iconic grape here in Dry Creek Valley and our flagship. We received some nice accolades for all three of our red Zins as well as our Rosé on our recent releases. We are dedicated to this iconic grape and wine-cheers to 2020!

  • The Colors of Zin

    September 30, 2019 15:52

    The Colors of Zin

    The true colors of Fall through the prism of Zinfandel can mean the changing shades of the leaves from green to orange, yellow & red in the Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard or the brilliant magenta hue of the fermenting Rosé. It is as much a part of life in Dry Creek Valley as it is when visiting the northeast and seeing the seasonal change in the trees during the fall. There’s a difference in the color palate of the hills too-the slant of the sun, the distance of sun from the earth and the late hanging fog all make for a myriad of colors and patterns and is why fall is my favorite of the seasons!

    Here the deep purple color in the bunches is the harbinger of great flavor in the glass. As the juice and skins ferment together the resulting aspects of berry and spice come from this maceration and temperature controlled fermentation. Keeping things cool slows down the action of converting the natural sugar in the juice to alcohol. enter image description here

    The 'cap' consists of the skins rising to the top of the tank. Pumpovers ensure the juice is poured over the cap and in doing so absorbs more color and flavor.

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    The color of our Rosé of Zinfandel is another story entirely. Winemaker Montse Reece always takes a picture of it fermenting because it is so beautiful to her. For our style of Rosé the grapes are picked earlier than for red Zinfandel, not as ripe and allows more acidity which leads to a crisper fresher style. The juice tells the story, this is going to be a good year for this wine.

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    Finally, our Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard in all her glory-fall and harvest reflected in the leaves.

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  • Harvest 2019-To be continued...

    September 30, 2019 15:49

    Harvest 2019-To be continued...

    We usually are wrapping things up as September comes to an end-but not this year. We didn’t pick our first grapes until September 4th and will be harvesting grapes until the 2nd week of October. Here are a few observations from the busy days of September-and a final wrap up of numbers for you coming your way soon.

    If there is one word we can use for Vintage 2019 it is ‘steady’ and was coined by Mitch Blakeley, fourth generation family member, when he described this year’s harvest at a recent staff meeting. His role is to assist in the vineyard with his father (and our vineyard manager) Lance as well as in the cellar as needed. As a family business you need to be light on your toes and fast on your feet in order to respond to the many responsibilities that comes when the grapes are ripe.

    The harvest really began months ago when our dormant vineyards were seeded with the heavy rainfall received in the winter which delayed the start of growth in the vineyard by a couple of weeks. While the steady and above-average rainfall (20 inches or more above the normal 40” average) was welcome and extended into May, the moderate growing season that followed was equally as important and the two factors are the reason for the full production the vines are producing in 2019. No heatwaves, no big cooling off, we had an evenhanded, nice and ‘steady’, growth and development in the vineyards.

    Since the first day of picking grapes, which was also delayed by a couple of weeks (see the pattern?)- this sense of steadiness grew over the month. Each varietal like Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay or PInot Noir had its moment and was picked at the right time. We didn't pick our last Zinfandel block until the end of September which was a sign of the season and continued the pattern. Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, Petite Sirah and our Portugeuse varietals are still hanging because of the cool temps at the end of the month. Mid-month there was higher heat which tilted some of our days over 100 degrees but just a few days-and all this did was speed things up a tad.

    It isn't over until the last grape is picked, the last tank is fermented and the wines slowly make their way to bottle (Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé) or to barrel (Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon). I'll have more of the story behind the 2019 harvest next month.

  • Dinner in a Very Special Vineyard

    August 27, 2019 13:43

    Dinner in a Very Special Vineyard

    There is dinner in a vineyard and then there is Dinner in a Very Special Vineyard where you come to find out how a special connection from years ago links my grandfather with a vineyard and a church in Cloverdale, the next town north of Geyserville.

    Ed and I were invited to attend a Dinner in the Vineyard by my parents Phyllis & Jim in support of the Italian Catholic Federation at St. Peters Church. We picked up my parents and made our way to the event and as we were getting out of the car my dad remarked on the history my family has with this place.

    Some of you may recognize the ‘St. Peter’s Church’ as a single vineyard designation on a few winery labels as it is a very special vineyard in many winemaker’s and wine lover’s eyes (the late Kent Rosenblum among them). It is a vineyard with a long pedigree and has been planted to Zinfandel for nearly 160 years.

    The connection? My grandfather Giovanni used to help farm it in the late 1940s to mid 1950s. A bachelor named Andrea Ghiotti owned the property that included this vineyard. He also owned a winery not too far down the road from this site-that was housed below his home. My grandfather even bought his grapes during this time and added them to our own Zinfandel blend. When he passed away my grandfather was instrumental in having the land donated to the Catholic church and, in turn, it became the new home of St. Peter’s Church along with the vineyard. It took a few more years before it became known as "St. Peter's Church Vineyard' and I was happy to find out how my family was connected.

    The roots do run deep in Wine Country and this is one of the countless examples from our storied 90+ years in this great place.

  • Zinfandel Harvests Past & Present

    August 27, 2019 13:35

    Zinfandel Harvests Past & Present

    Our first Zinfandel harvest was in 1927 shortly after my grandfather purchased the property. 92 years later we are still harvesting Zinfandel-the rest is our story.

    During those early days, when Prohibition was still in place, the grapes were sold to head of households who had obtained their government permit to make 200 gallons of wine. From Repeal onward Zinfandel has been a central grape on our estate and in our line of wines. There are many high points and challenges in the last 92 years for this varietal when the grapes were selling for low prices, the yields weren’t as high as we wanted or the weather didn’t cooperate. Then there are glorious, highly lauded harvests, every farmer's dream, where the weather and growing season came together beautifully and produced a bounty of fruit perfectly ripened.

    There are three generations of Zinfandel on our Home Ranch: the original dating to the early 1900s with very few vines left but most of them over 100 years old; the second generation, nearing 40 years old, was patterned after the original vineyard using budwood from the old vines as well as neighbor's vines and finally the newest which was planted with the Rockpile Clone, a hearty hillside choice with distinctive bunches and DNA to bring out the best in this grape. Known as our Mother Clone vineyard it is mostly head pruned (goblet trained or bush vine to the Aussies) along with some experimental blocks that are trellised.

    As we get ready for vintage 2019 I am looking out over the Mother Clone Zinfandel vineyard. She has a lot of stories to tell! My grandfather's days of bringing in the boxes of grapes aided by the whole family including young sons John and Jim entailed great effort; son John's first crush as winemaker was in 1948 and he along with 2 other men processed 800 tons-as he said in his Oral History it was 'a heckuva crush'; Jim recalls very cold and rainy harvests especially in 1964 when it rained and made it difficult to ripen and pick-one of the latest harvests on record that year at the end of October; the drought of the mid-1970's which produced fabulous vintages but lower production; the 1980s at first brought above average rain and abundant harvests to a drought at the other end and 1985 stood out as the best of the decade for Zinfandel; on to the 1990s with the '97 vintage considered the 'vintage of the century' because everything aligned from production to perfect weather but there were other standouts like 1995 for Zinfandel-considered one of the best due to great growing conditions again; in the next decade we saw one of the earliest harvests on record (2004) and one of the best of the decade-2005 (there seems to be a theme of years ending in '5') with remarkable quantity and quality; the last 9 years have brought a long period of drought which in turn gave great concentration to our Zinfandels as well as a couple of heat spikes that virtually fried the vineyard after a long cool summer (2010) as well as high temperatures over the 2017 Labor Day Weekend prompting the vineyard and cellar crew to pick the Mother Clone vineyard as soon as possible.

    Today I can see the vineyard is in the final week or two of ripening. I can tell by the way the canes are beginning to droop and the bunches are turning deep purple. This is turning out to be a good production year for our Zinfandel with a late start to the growing season and a normal picking time expected in a couple of weeks. My judgement on the vintage is reserved until after fermentation is over. I'll look forward to this vintage like my father and my grandfather before me-with a farmer's eye and an appreciative palate.

  • Finding Zinfandel's Place

    July 26, 2019 16:39

    Finding Zinfandel's Place

    Just where does Zinfandel (the grape and varietal) fit into place in today’s world of wine? How much Zinfandel is made these days? Finding Zinfandel’s Place is about going back to the roots of grape growing in the area and discovering why was it such a popular grape. I'll also try to figure out what made it the preferred wine to make in those days and why is it still planted widely throughout Dry Creek Valley and other areas?

    Let’s start with production. There are roughly 44,000 acres of Zinfandel planted in California. Sonoma County is second on the list of most widely planted counties with just over 5000 acres. You’ve heard it before and I’ll repeat-Dry Creek Valley has half of the Zinfandel planted in this county-the smallest of the four major appellations by the way and quite a concentration of one varietal.

    At Pedroncelli it is the number one grape on our estate with 33 acres on the hillsides where it has been planted since the early 1900s. About one fifth of our case production is Zinfandel, about 12,000 cases, split between our Rosé, Mother Clone, Bushnell Vineyard and Courage. It is our flagship wine, and the flagship of this appellation. The numbers above, while reflecting only California grown Zin, don’t include other areas where the grape does well. Among them the Yakima Valley in Washington, Barossa and Hunter Valleys as well as Margaret River in Australia, and South Africa.

    Records from the Gold Rush days show that Zinfandel was planted by the mid-1800s. In Dry Creek Valley the grape took root and was a favorite of home winemakers and budding wineries. Even during Prohibition it remained popular and is the reason why we have vineyard to this day. The wine made during those days was approachable and easy to enjoy early on-not much, if any, aging and a quick turn-around for consumption put the wine on the table in a few months.

    The quality of Zin grown today in Dry Creek Valley is stellar and stands on its own with the one-two punch of berry-pepper and the rounded, mild tannins. The combination makes for a food friendly wine. This is where Zinfandel finds its’ place-balanced between the ripe fruit and pepper spice quality. Picking the fruit at a time when the acidity gives the wine structure. Aging for a year in barrel to add smoky notes. Its’ place is there at the table with a story to tell, one that captures your imagination and creates a legacy of enjoyment.

    Today Zinfandel has its’ place on wine lists and in wine lover’s minds. It even has its’ own fan club-just ask ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) one of the most focused and longest running varietal trade groups. They have dedicated a celebration of California’s grape for over 30 years. You'll find Zins' place there among the many fans tasting and comparing the styles from all over California and beyond.

  • The Original

    June 25, 2019 15:04

    The Original

    The 7th post on Zinfandel this year and the focus is on the origins of this unique grape. Where did it come from, where is it planted and how many countries produce a Zinfandel these days. We'll dive into the background as we know it.

    I am highlighting our flagship grape each month and I have been thinking through the origins of Zinfandel’s arrival to the U.S. It originated in Europe, was brought over sometime in the early 1800s in the form of cuttings and a century and a half later became known as ‘America’s grape’. Very similar to the way my grandparents made their way to the New World. There was opportunity to begin a new life here and to put down roots in a new place. For many of those early arrivers they brought something from the home country to make them feel at home in the new one. Wine was a tradition for many who came to America during that time and it follows the grapes from Europe were an important step in maintaining that connection in America.

    From those early days of planting the grape, Zinfandel had many spellings and names. In some cases it may have been a misspelling similar to when an immigrant checked into Ellis Island and received a different spelling of their surname. Or simply someone couldn’t read the handwriting. Who knows? What did happen is over the first few decades the name went back and forth, at times similar to the varietal we know today (Zeinfindall) and other examples (Black St. Peter’s or Zirfantler anyone?) went out on a limb. Glad they finally settled on its’ current name of Zinfandel.

    Today there are 42,000 acres of Zin planted in California alone! A little over 5000 acres are planted in Sonoma County and half of that amount is right here in Dry Creek Valley, the smallest of the four major appellations. It was first planted here in the mid-1850’s alongside other varietals like the Mission grape that made a wine that was easy to drink soon after fermentation. Other countries around the world, specifically Croatia where the lineage of the grape has been traced to recently-a great article here outlining the story-grow it and are at about 5 outside of the United States.

    For your enjoyment here is a history taken from our Zin Kit produced in the 1990s and includes a 70 year timeline:

    1832—First record of Zinfandel being grown in the US by William Prince on Long Island, New York. He identifies it as a Hungarian variety.

    1834—First reported exhibit of Zinfandel by Samuel J. Perkins of Boston.

    1839—Zinfandal vine wins its first award as part of the Otis Johnson collection on the East Coast.

    1848—John Fisk Allen of Salem, Massachusetts, publishes description of locally grown Zinfandal that closely matches what is now called Zinfandel.

    1852—The year Agoston Haraszthy imported Zin into California, according to his son, Arpad, writing in the 1880’s. Haraszthy is sometimes known as the “father of Sonoma County winegrowing”.

    1857—Captain Frederick W. Macondray and J.W. Osborne exhibit Zinfandal at Mechanic’s Fair in San Francisco.

    1858—Commissioner of Patents lists Zinfandal as part of its collection.

    1858—A.P. Smith of Sacramento exhibits Zeinfindall at State Fair.

    1859—Antoine Delmas wins first prize for his wine, believed to be Zinfandel, at the State Fair.

    1860—William Boggs plants Zinfandel in the propagation garden of the Sonoma Horticultural Society. Leads to extensive Zin plantings in the county.

    1860—General Vallejo’s winemaker, Dr. Victor Flaure, advises Sonoma growers to plant all the Zinfandel they can.

    1864-1869—Dry Creek Valley attracts the first growers who planted Zinfandel and Mission grapes to support or start their own wineries.

    1868—First North Coast award (a silver medal) for a Zinfandel given to Sonoma pioneer wine man Jacob R. Snyder at the Mechanics Institute Fair.

    1872—The first winery in Dry Creek Valley was built by George Bloch. A vineyard boom soon followed bringing 15 growers to the valley by 1877.

    1878—Zinfandel is the most widely planted varietal during California’s first wine boom.

    1883—Dry Creek grape growers increased to 54 by this time and Zinfandel was the top planted varietal with a total of 395 acres.

  • Is Zinfandel ‘the wine’ for Barbecue?

    May 24, 2019 15:53

    Is Zinfandel ‘the wine’ for Barbecue?

    There are many articles about pairing wine with barbecue. You know the stuff: smoky, layers of flavor from the many spices used or the sauce is a bit sweet to offset the heat. And there’s something about Zinfandel being the ‘all-American’ grape that makes it a great choice.

    When I am putting together a menu I always keep wine in mind. What am I fixing and which of them will go best? There are a few things to consider as I choose which meat, which sides, which wine-or is it which wine, which meat? The other things I take into consideration are fat and heat. Now I think I am complicating things. It should be very easy. Chicken or the egg-which comes first? Let’s go with the wine.

    Zinfandel in this case. The berry-spice quality of this varietal makes it a easy when it comes to pairing with the flavors of barbecue. It has some softness from the berry fruit, lighter tannins (as compared to Cabernet Sauvignon or Petite Sirah) and the zing from the spice partners nicely with the world of barbecue flavors. Balance is important too because when there is balance between the fruit, acidity and tannin there is a more perfect pairing between Zin and barbecue fare.

    Other things I consider are the protein: pork or beef. These are my favorites to pair with Zin especially pork. And then there is the level of spice and fat—which cut to use and making sure it is fattier like ribs, pork shoulder or brisket. Fat is the bridge between wine and food and in order to make the pairing sing you need to have enough fat. It acts as the buffer and allows you to truly enjoy the pairing. Fourth is bringing the heat or not. I like a little spice but not chipotle/cayenne/ghost pepper hot. I go for layers using different mild to medium chili powders and backing them up with dried herbs to match like oregano. Again balance is what I am seeking for an enjoyable and tasty meal. Sweetness is your fifth consideration but not necessarily the deciding factor. Sometimes there is too much sweet for me and it interferes with the wine and food.

    I said easy so here it is in a nutshell. The berry-spice quality of Zinfandel makes it the best choice when it comes to pairing with pork (pulled or ribs) and beef (brisket or steak). I use mostly dry rubs instead of sauce because there is less sweetness to interrupt the great combination of flavors. I like the idea of balance from the wine to the ingredients in a dish. So there you go-Zinfandel, the go-to, All-American choice for this summer’s BBQs.