by L.M. Archer FWS, Bourgogne ML
(first published 6/16 | shared with permission from binNotes)
I’ll never forget my first trip to Dry Creek Valley. Splayed out silently in the early morning mist like gnarled soldiers on a battlefield stretched acres of old vines, mostly Zinfandel. Like other powerful moments in life, this one merited my full attention. So this is what struggle looks like.
Some struggles produce the sweetest rewards. Pedroncelli Winery understands this. Nearly ninety years of arduous vine tending and meticulous wine making distill down into soulful drams reflective of this thoughtful family’s site.
Recently, Julie Pedroncelli St. John shared her story with me – a story about family, sense of place, sustainability, and devotion to The Mother Clone.
Pedroncelli Winery celebrates almost ninety years and four generations of wine growing in Sonoma. Talk a bit about John Pedroncelli, Sr., the patriarch who purchased the first Pedroncelli vineyard in Dry Creek Valley in 1927, endured Prohibition, and witnessed his sons John Jr. and James purchase the winery in 1963. What do you think he would make of the third and fourth generations today, which include 70% women, plus a woman winemaker?
I think my grandfather would be gratified to know his winery continue to grow. Having women at the forefront would make him very proud – he and my grandmother worked very hard in the early years to develop their business.
Montse Reece is our winemaker, and my sisters Lisa, Cathy and Joanna work with me at the winery in various capacities.
Let’s talk terroir. Pedroncelli Winery stands out for its sense of place. Pedroncelli’s estate vineyards include old vine Zinfandel vineyards in Dry Creek Valley, benchland Cabernet Sauvignon,Cabernet Franc, and Merlot, east of benchland Zinfandel, west side Sangiovese and Petite Sirah, plus sourced east Dry Creek Valley Sauvignon Blanc and field blend port varietals, south Dry Creek Chardonnay, and Russian River Pinot Noir. Anything you care to share with readers about what makes these particular microclimate(s), varietal(s), and/or vineyard(s) so essential in reflecting the Pedroncelli Winery ‘voice?
I think how our voice developed over the years (89!) is that each of these varietals is site specific. For instance, one of our Cabernet Sauvignon vineyards (five acres on West Dry Creek Road) was first planted to Cabernet Sauvignon in 1965; we were the first in the valley to do this.
We gained a lot of wisdom over the fifty years it has been planted to this grape, replanting ten years ago to add Malbec. We planted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay on estate vineyards, and they have given way to Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon as the ‘right’ varietal for the site. We now buy Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from growers in the southern/cooler end of Dry Creek Valley and solely buy Pinot Noir from Russian River Valley, where these grapes develop the best varietal characteristics.
Any favorite(s) site(s), vineyard(s), varietal(s)?
My favorite site is our Sangiovese vineyard because it was planted in the early 1990s and I have been able to follow the maturing of this vineyard and seeing how the wine has evolved from a very astringent version of the grape to a wine that shows fruit, acidity and balance.
Anything you’d like readers to know about the vineyards with whom you share long-term relationships?
Two of the vineyards stand out: Bushnell Vineyard has been in our family since my grandfather owned the land in the 1940s and sold to his daughter Margaret and husband Al Pedroni. Their daughter Carol and husband Jim now tend the twenty-two acres, and we buy all the fruit for our various wines.
Buchignani is another one although not family—Nivan (Buchignani) planted Zinfandel on West Dry Creek Road over fifty years ago and we have always included this old vine vineyard in our Mother Clone Zinfandel.
Pedroncelli Winery has long been ahead of the curve viticulturally, dedicating itself to sustainability long before Sonoma Wine Growers implemented the Sustainable Sonoma Program in 2014. Talk a bit about some of the best practices Pedroncelli Winery employs to reduce water, build healthy soil and protect the vineyard environment.
Over the years we have developed ways of conserving water by moving to drip system rather than overhead sprinkling, and conserve water even now by checking the soil and giving each vine the right amount to thrive. We are looking into solar panels as a way of alternate energy. Inside the winery have adopted energy-efficient lighting systems throughout.
Cover crops in the vineyard are very important and have evolved over the years, but are important to keep the vineyards protected. We have many riparian habitats across the properties, including owl boxes and naturally occurring oak and other trees. Part of our property on Dry Creek will be turned into a fish friendly area by participating in the Dry Creek Habitat Enhancement Project.
Does Pedroncelli Winery consider its vinicultural practices more Old World, New World, or a bit of both?
I think it is a bit of both. Old World when it comes to our style – Pedroncelli wines always have great acidity and tannins and are varietally correct- and New World when it comes to our focus on the fruit, without being overly ripe.
Talk about your team. Many family businesses fall apart as subsequent generations fall prey to a sense of entitlement. What makes your family grow stronger and closer, rather than fragmented, over subsequent generations? How do you work to compliment strengths and remain ‘big picture’?
Great questions! I sometimes call us the ‘quiet’ Italians – we are very serious and hardworking, take pride in what we do, but egos aren’t inflated. We also had great role models in the form of the first and second generations. They are/were loyal, full of integrity focused on doing the best for family.
I think we all have our own ‘work’ style and learning to rise above the family stuff is key (I am the oldest of four girls—like all families we had our own personalities and ways of dealing with things); and not every family member works for the winery as they were free to choose whether the winery fit into their goals/career choices.
As I look at the next generations I think we’ll encourage them to develop their talents and figure out where they best fit within the family business.
We are a family of introverts but something I learned early on was if I stayed quiet I would never sell wine. My dad had his ‘in the market’ persona and was known as “JP”(Jim Pedroncelli). I developed my extrovert style as a result of a public speaking class and learning to tell the family story from my own viewpoint.
We as a family are all part of the business in one way or another, and have been able to recognize our strengths and use them in this many-faceted business.
What does the team envision for the future of Pedroncelli Winery?
We envision a continuation as a family owned business by carefully curating how we do business now-not growing too large but also growing the production so it supports each of us who are involved.
Anything else you’d care to share with readers about Pedroncelli Winery that explains its success?
Longevity is a gift that began with my grandparents. Continuity came from all those years we’ve been making wine. People still remark about when they first had Pedroncelli wine, and are pleased we are still family owned – a testament to all of us working together.
Finally, if winemaker has taught the Pedroncelli family anything, it’s taught you…?
Patience! It starts in the vineyard but is a common thread throughout our history. We’ve learned to ride the waves so to speak.
L.M. Archer is a wine and lifestyle writer specializing in Burgundy and bubbles. Her works appear in numerous domestic and international publications, including Wines and Vines Magazine, Meininger Wine Business International, South Bay Accent Magazine, basil + salt magazine, Oregon Wine Press, Palate Press, France Today, wine- searcher.com, Vineyard and Winery Management, and Foodable Network. Read more of her work here.