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We’ve selected two of our favorite local wine blogs for whom wine is a passion. Dallas Wine Chick and GrapeStone Concepts take you on a journey and exploration of a wide variety of wines.

Each wine blog is a direct feed into our blog page. Their opinions are their own, and are posted here without edit or further refinement.


 

Ninety Years of Pedroncelli Wines: A Toast to Family, Wisdom and Consistency

It’s been over three week since I embarked on my experience with the Pedroncelli family and I am no closer to being able to bring to life the amazing journey that I experienced.  In an over sanitized, over marketed, over messaged world; trying to use words to capture an experience that was real … and […]

It’s been over three week since I embarked on my experience with the Pedroncelli family and I am no closer to being able to bring to life the amazing journey that I experienced.  In an over sanitized, over marketed, over messaged world; trying to use words to capture an experience that was real … and authentic … and uncensored … and completely humble – still escapes me.

Julie and Jim Pedroncelli share a 90th celebration moment

The Pedroncelli family – while in the middle of celebrating a 90-year milestone that should have been squarely about, well, about them – chose to share the credit with Sonoma County and the businesses that make up the fabric of the city.  As I quickly learned, this is a family that would rather share the spotlight than be in the middle of it.

In 1927, John Sr. (Giovanni) and Julia Pedroncelli purchased the vineyard and a small winery with a total of 90 acres in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley in Geyserville, California for $11,000.  Pedroncelli was one of the first wineries in Sonoma Country and the property originally consisted of a home, 25-acress of vineyards of mostly zinfandel and a winery – that was quickly closed when Prohibition struck.

During this time, like most Italian families, they sold grapes and vegetables door to door in town, which was fondly referred to as “the social media of today.”  The family tells the story of Uncle John’s memory of his Grandfather’s Model T breaking down in town.  The axel snapped and John was left to guard the grapes in the broken-down car while his grandfather trekked back to town to fix the situation.  They continued to tend the vines and sell grapes to home winemakers who had the ability to produce 200 gallons for sacramental or medicinal purposes.

When Prohibition ended, the Pedroncelli’s were ready and the first vintage was produced in 1934.  The original focus was on bulk wines, sold in barrels to stores and individuals.  In the 1940’s, they started their own label and the second generation joined their father with their son John becoming winemaker in 1948 followed by Jim becoming sales director in 1955.  The two sons later purchased the winery in 1963.

At this point, the strategy shifting from bulk wines to estate and single vintages as well as vineyard expansion and diversification.  The acreage doubled from 90 to more than 180 acres.  Over the next 20 years the significant changes continued — the third generation came on board, the Home Ranch Vineyard was replanted, a national sales and export team was established, a new barrel and tasting room was added.  In 2015, the family suffered a devastating loss with the death of John Pedroncelli, Senior Winemaker.  He still is very much a part of the family, but in 2015 the family named Montse Reece as the third winemaker in nearly 90 years and the first woman winemaker.  She is no stranger to the family as she joined the winemaking team at Pedroncelli Winery in 2007 serving alongside John Pedroncelli for seven harvests.

 

Gabe, Amy and me

It should be noted that much about Pedroncelli is old school and based in tradition.  For example, both Jim and Julie office out of what was once their childhood bedrooms.  I had a great and very honest conversation with Jim where he told me he really didn’t understand the whole blogger and social media thing.  Let me be clear that he said this in the most charming and candid way possible.  And, with Gabe Sasso and Amy Anderson Gross representing the blogger’s world along with me, he has a point (grin).

Me and Ed St. John, a Self-Described Innovator and Aggravator

However, the winery is making some key strides ahead of many other wineries in California.  They were the first to bottle Cabernet Sauvignon in Dry Creek.  Pedroncelli not only has a women winemaker, but it is now a 70 percent woman owned company.  And Ed St John, Vice President, has used his 25 years of wine experience to introduce new practices to the winery and in marketing – especially social media with the help of PR pro Robert Larsen.  It appears to be working as the buzz for Pedroncelli’s 90th (even with its own hashtag #ped90th) continued to build.  I’m sure this is a continuous debate as the fourth generation comes up the ranks and it will continue to encourage more debate.

As changes press forth, I feel confident elements will remain unchanged:  The commitment this family has to the land; to growing their own grapes; and to making affordable delicious wine they are proud to have their name on with a focus on family legacy.

Now let’s talk a little about the Pedroncelli 90th celebration.  We were picked up on Thursday night from San Francisco and brought to the Dry Creek Inn, where I ironically was checked into the Rodney Strong Suite (you may remember that my dear friend, Robert Larsen, who helped with the strategy of the 90th celebration used to run communications for said winery – he assured me it was a coincidence).

 

 

We got to know the entire family over dinner at Catelli’s in Geyserville.  Catelli’s was originally opened in Geyserville around 1936 by Italian immigrants Santi and Virginia Catelli.  The restaurant was originally known as Catelli’s “The Rex” (“The King” as translated from Latin).  Third generation Catelli’s and siblings, Domenica and Nicholas Catelli, are now co-owners.  I think the Pedroncelli’s were a little nervous when Richard, the second-generation patriarch, and myself got into a spirited conversation about politics and Texas and it appeared neither of us was going to back down.  Reinforcements were sent in (unnecessary as strong Italian opinions are part of my heritage and a debate is always fun in my book).

On Friday, we began our morning with breakfast at SHED, a market, café, and community gathering space with a mission is to celebrate and nurture the connection between good farming, good cooking, and good eating.

 Julie Pedroncelli

We moved to the winery with Julie to learn all about the family, it’s history, the wines and to tour the historic winery and walked through the Home Ranch vineyard tasting the wines made from the diverse soils including Zinfandel, Sangiovese and Petite Syrah.  My biggest takeaway is that wine is part of the family’s culture and has been since day one.  We learned that Julie and Ed have known each other since they were in kindergarten when they took the same bus and took a long journey to come back together after being getting married to others and both working in wine.

We then visited Dry Creek Peach & Produce where proprietor Gayle Sullivan allowed us to taste two of the juiciest most wonderful peaches I have ever been lucky enough to taste.  We toured the orchard where more than 30 varieties of peaches, nectarines, vegetables and even a few fig trees are planted.  We even started our day with a lovely Bellini that was bursting with ripe peach and delicious bubbles.

We had a picnic lunch at Lake Sonoma and learned all about the steelhead conservation that happens with a docent tour of the hatchery that included props to bring the story to life.

Our last stop before the hotel was Wisdom Vineyard, one of the first Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards in Dry Creek as well as one that grows all five Bordeaux varieties.  That night we ended our festivities with another small family gathering that included cocktails, wines, ribs, reds and fun.  We may or may not have had a late not stop at Duke’s but photos will be concealed to protect …well everyone…

We awoke on July 22 excited that it was the big day, the 90th anniversary of Pedroncelli.  This is the date the family originally signed papers to buy the original property and winery.  We started at the Sonoma Farmer’s Market with a goal of grabbing breakfast and food for an alfresco lunch at John’s Grove on the shore of Dry Creek.  Little did we know what an intimate family experience we were in for later.

We quickly stopped at the winery and we were in for such a fun surprise.  The winery had just received its certification from the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance (CSWA).  As Ed joked, “We’ve been sustainable for 90 years and counting and it’s in our DNA.”   This is an arduous process that was handled by Mitch Blakeley, a fourth generation Pedroncelli, who worked for a month to answer the hundreds of questions.  He met with an expert, reviewed the self-assessment and in the spirit of good things happen to really good people, got to put up the signs the day of the big anniversary party.

We toured the Bushnell Vineyard, which has been associated with the Pedroncellis for over 50 years.  John Sr. purchased the land in the 1940s and it was passed to their son-in-law Al Pedroni in the 1950s.  Al’s daughter Carol Bushnell inherited the vineyard in 1990 and she and her husband Jim continue the extension of the family estate where they farm Bordeaux variety blends. This is an example of innovation as one block was machine picked for the first-time last year after 89 years of hand picking.

Altogether, two-thirds of all Pedroncelli wines produced are red, with Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel comprising nearly 50% of estate vineyards.

 

 

Courtesy of Gabe Sasso

We left the vineyard and headed to John’s Grove, where we immediately knew we were in for something special.  John’s Grove was built as a tribute for the family to go to remember the special family member they lost in 2015.  It is located around a lovely creek and is tree lined and picturesque.  We had a beautiful picnic and Gabe, Linda, Amy, Julie and I figured you had to get in the creek to experience Dry Creek.  It was amazing and I’m blessed to have been included on a milestone day in a blessed family place.  I know John must have been looking down and smiling at the legacy he helped to build.

Gia, Gabe, Amy, Linda, Dick and Julie

The big event began later that afternoon at the winery kicked off by one of the press attendees that I have yet to mention.  Author Dick Rosano (as well as esteemed wine writer) talked about the Italian influence on winemaking in America.  I knew about the influence of agriculture on these families, but Dick really brought to life the tenacity it took to sell grapes door to door in the middle of Prohibition just to keep the families financially afloat.  I got to know Dick and his lovely wife, Linda, pretty well over the trip and I loved getting to know them.  Dick’s friendship with the Pedroncelli’s, his knowledge of wine and his passion for learning made him one of the most interesting Renaissance men I’ve gotten to know in a long time.

 

Me and Pedroncelli Friend and Bill Smart, General Manager of Lambert Bridge Winery

Syndicated columnist Dan Berger led us through a Flights through the Decades event of Cabernet and Zinfandel wines beginning in the 1970s that I cannot image how hard it was to curate.   Here was our first flight line-up (reach out if you want my notes – I know this is getting long…):

1982 Magnum Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel

1994 Mother Clone Zinfandel

1995 Bushnell Vineyard Zinfandel

2004 Mother Clone Zinfandel

Our second flight line-up of Cabernets were as follows:

1977 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (still dreaming about this one)

1992 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

1996 Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

2000 Morris Fay Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Alexander Valley)

2009 Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon

After the tasting, we joined the Pedroncelli family to dedicate the newest vineyard, the Noventa Vineyard, where Ed had arranged for a drone to take a picture of the entire crew as he, Jim and Julie toasted to “family, wisdom and consistency.”

A brief glimpse at our dinner, which was served by Ken Rochioli of KR Catering:

Braised Chicken over Creamy Polenta with Mother Clone Zinfandel

Filet Mignon with Bacon, Bourbon, Shallot and Mustard Sauce; Grilled Asparagus and Sweet Peppers; Pepper Jack Whipped Potatoes with Cilantro with Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon

Almond Bar with Caramel Drizzle and Fleur de Sel; Cappuccino Chocolate Mousse Cups in Mini Phyllo Cups and Peanut Butter Bars with Honey with Four Grapes Vintage Port

I want to share the video that was played where the family talked about the legacy that they built together.  It’s special as they will never willingly do this.

Finally, we drank from Big Bottles – we ate, we drank, we shared memories and I can’t remember laughing so much.  The room was filled with people who began the journey with the Pedroncelli’s and clearly will be around the next 90 years.  It had all the signs of a big family gathering of people who cared a great deal about each other.  And, it’s interesting – you can’t spend any time with any of the Pedroncelli family without feeling as if you are a part.  As I left, I felt a sense of sadness, as if I was leaving behind a group of near, but very dear friends.

Most of My Family Coming Together in La Jolla

And as I left a few weeks later for my family reunion, my Pedroncelli Rose, Sauvignon Blanc and Mother Clone Zinfandel occupied 25 percent of my wine suitcase.  Because it was important for me that I bring the Pedroncelli experience to my family as they made me feel a part of theirs.

The Two Faces of Winemaker Steven Urberg: A Little Country and A Little Bit Rock and Roll

Winemaker Steven Urberg When you are the winemaker for an iconic sparkling brand, and you have a vision for making a luxury still wine brand, that dream often doesn’t come to fruition.  Unless: i) the sparkling wines come from Gloria Ferrer (the original sparkling wine house in Sonoma Carneros):  ii) you have the backing of […]

Winemaker Steven Urberg

When you are the winemaker for an iconic sparkling brand, and you have a vision for making a luxury still wine brand, that dream often doesn’t come to fruition.  Unless: i) the sparkling wines come from Gloria Ferrer (the original sparkling wine house in Sonoma Carneros):  ii) you have the backing of Freixenet USA: and (iii) you have a tremendous vision based on specific vineyard blocks in Carneros.

Not only did winemaker Steven Urberg do that, but he also produced two new brand new vintages this summer for Gloria Ferrer.  He made it clear that the Gloria Ferrer wines that we were trying were very separate in terms of identity of the new boutique still wines we would be sampling at the luncheon.

 

We tried the latest release of the non-vintage Gloria Ferrer Brut Rose and Urberg talked about the increasing adoption of sparkling wines in the United States of sparkling due to prosecco adoption.  It was a blend of 60 percent pinot noir and 40 percent chardonnay.  I tasted notes of black cherry, crème brulee, ripe berry and citrus.  Fermented for 6 months before blending, the wine was in bottle for five and a half years before disgorgement.  This was delicious with stone fruit, apple, honey, vanilla, crème brulee and black cherry.

We then moved to the new luxury wine brand WineVane, a homage to the wine that contributes to the unique character of the wines of Western Carneros named from the wine patterns and microclimate of Carneros.   Their two vineyard sites are known for the steepest, rockiest and thinnest soils with diverse microclimates, allow for slower ripening, intense flavor development and high levels of acidity in the grapes.

Urberg was very pragmatic in his approach to balance, “No chef ever wants to beat a steak into submission.  Wine is the same – it’s all about texture and balance.”

We tried two estate wines with very different characteristics.  Our first was the 2015 Chardonnay, which tasted of buttered popcorn, lemon, pineapple, white stone fruit and had a little nuttiness and a lot of creaminess.

The second, my favorite, was the 2014 WindVane Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir, a blend of Pinot Noir from vineyard blocks from the east facing 335-acres of estate vineyards located in Carneros.   Only 100 cases of the WindVane Carneros Reserve Pinot Noir have been produced and Texas unfortunately will not be receiving the shipments.  This is an elegant, nuanced, black cherry, earthy, bottle of deliciousness.

Cedar Ridge Distillery: One Man’s Original Dream for Putting Iowa on the Map Leads to Distillery of the Year

Jeff Quint and me  Jeff Quint traces his family back nine generations with a history of making wine, brandy, distilling and grain farming.  The winery that his great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Gerlaci Quint, started in the 1700s, which is located on the Moselle River in Germany, is still producing wine today. In the 1880s, his great-grandfather, Johann […]

Jeff Quint and me 

Jeff Quint traces his family back nine generations with a history of making wine, brandy, distilling and grain farming.  The winery that his great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Gerlaci Quint, started in the 1700s, which is located on the Moselle River in Germany, is still producing wine today.

In the 1880s, his great-grandfather, Johann Quint, moved the family from Wintrich, Germany, to eastern Iowa, and that’s where the story of farming and distilling continued.  In 2005, he and his wife, Laurie, founded Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery, Iowa’s first and oldest distillery, and solidified the family’s legacy in craft distilling.  That legacy was solidified in April of this year when Cedar Ridge beat out more than 300 distilleries representing 44 of the 50 states and 18 different countries to win Distillery of the Year from the American Distilling Institute.

In Jeff’s way, he’s very non-descript about the honor.  He states it simply – “It’s about authenticity. It’s about using the corn of the state.  It’s all about grain to glass. And, it’s all about crating micro-distilled small batch spirits dedicated to craftsmanship.”   He’s passionate.  His frustration of the fact that Iowa is the number one corn producing state, but had no bourbon, resulted in the founding of Cedar Ridge.  He has a Midwest mentality — do the best you can do with what nature provides and never, ever sacrifice quality for quantity.

Sounds simple? Right, but there’s much more to the story.  Swisher-based Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery has a mission to be focused on whiskey with an emphasis on controlling the process from start to finish.  Cedar Ridge not only grows its own corn, but it also mashes, ferments, distills, ages and bottles the product with a focus on letting nature run its course with non-climate controlled aging in barrels stored in a natural environment.

The production capacity is currently at 1,000 barrels, but has the capacity to double in the future.  The whiskeys are double distilled to 148-150 proof, resulting in a purer end-product.

I had the chance to try the Cedar Ridge Bourbon, Cedar Ridge Malted Rye Whiskey and the Cedar Ridge Single Malt Whiskey.


Cedar Ridge Bourbon – my husband is the bourbon expert in our family, but I loved how easy it is to sip this bourbon – notes of caramel, honey, anise and cedar are well balanced making it very approachable.  The blend is 74% corn (as we say in wine, it is estate grown from the family farm), 14% toasted rye and 12% malted barley.

Cedar Ridge Malted Rye – lots of notes of toast, smoke, spice and berry.  Another easy drinker with a blend of 51% malted rye, 34% rye, 12% corn and 3% malted barley.

Cedar Ridge Single Malt Whiskey – another smooth, fruity and malty expression of a great scotch with notes of vanilla, honey, spice and a nuttiness.  The blend is 100% malted barley and there is a 3-step aging process, which includes primary and secondary cast married with solera.

Cedar Ridge sells more than 20,000 cases per year.  It’s available to 90 percent of the U.S. population in 15 states including Iowa — and Canada and the Caribbean.  It’s the No. 2 seller in Iowa next to Maker’s Mark.

Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery offers daily tours and tastings, and wine and spirits are for sale on site.

It was a pleasure to taste a true expression from “grain to glass” and experience the craft expertise of why Cedar Ridge Distillery brought home the gold this year.

Insulated Disco Ball Tumbler in Rose

Disco Ball Drink Cup in Rose Color

Back by popular demand is the cheeky little disco ball drink cup.

Cute at the pool, little girl’s party or big girls, travel in the car or just for fun. This fun tumbler has a removable lid to easily fill with your favorite drink.  All your friends will ant one too.  They come in Rose or Silver color tumblers. 

Villa Maria: A Virtual Taste of New Zealand with a Croatian Twist

New Zealand is a country known for hard work and innovation.  From Sir Ernest Rutherford splitting the atom in the twentieth century to the invention of the Hamilton jet boat to electric fences to the fastest motorbike in the world, this has been a country known for hard work and embracing new things. That is […]

New Zealand is a country known for hard work and innovation.  From Sir Ernest Rutherford splitting the atom in the twentieth century to the invention of the Hamilton jet boat to electric fences to the fastest motorbike in the world, this has been a country known for hard work and embracing new things.

That is why I was excited when last month’s #snooth virtual tasting took me across the world to New Zealand.  Villa Maria was our host and Lead Winemaker Helen Morrison was our guide.

I’ve had the Villa Maria Sauvignon Blanc before, but as I unpacked my six pack of sample wines, I was excited to see I would be trying a sparkling sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and a rosé as well as several red wines.

The Villa Maria name comes from Founder George Fistonich, who started making wine in 1961, when he leased land near Auckland from his father. George mashed up two names — Villa, a common name for a house in New Zealand, and Maria, a popular name from Croatia where George is from.  He wanted a European name because it sounded authentic.

Since then, he’s been singularly focused (and passionate) about crating unique, New Zealand style sustainable wines from four regions – Auckland, Marlborough, Hawkes Bay and Gisborne.  The winery has grown from George and his wife, Gail, to more than 250 people and exports to 50 different countries.

We tasted a variety of wines that ranged from $13 to $45.  Villa Maria offered something for everyone as I found with my neighbors gathering to help me taste through these wines.

2015 Bubbly Sauvignon Blanc – this was my first New Zealand sparkling (friazzante meaning lightly sparkling) wine.  It tasted like a slightly carbonated sauvignon blanc with notes of lime, tropical fruit, grass and tart apple.

2016 Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc – I’ve had the opportunity to taste another vintage of this sauvignon blanc and I enjoyed it as well.  Very crisp and tart and is a great expression of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

2016 Private Bin Bay Rosé – this was my first New Zealand rosé and I loved it.  Lots of berry with a great minerality.

2015 Taylors Pass Chardonnay – this was a complex and nuanced Chardonnay with a great deal to offer.  There were some oaky notes to it, but the fruit shone brightly.

2014 Cellar Selection Pinot Noir – herbs, terroir, red and black fruit made this a very, very drinkable wine.  It was the first red to disappear.

2013 Cellar Selection Merlot-Cabernet – I tasted blackberries, blueberries, spice, oregano and this one also was very easy drinking.

I enjoyed the ability to branch out and try the variety of Villa Maria wines during this tasting.  These wines have always been easy to drink, well priced and a safe bet for the consumer.  If you want to watch the Snooth video, feel free to follow along here.