Pedroncelli, Quietly Overachieving For Nine Decades
Jan 06, 2020
by Rob Griffin, Statewide Director of Wine and Wine Education
Start with nine decades of grape growing in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley spanning four generations of family ownership, with a fifth not far from the threshold. Factor in a not very diminutive range of 19 wines produced from 13 distinct varietals, grown on 110 acres of prime Sonoma vineyard land. Top off the calculation by noting that 67 consecutive vintages were made by one person, the late owner/winemaker and chief style-meister John Pedroncelli, whose crowning vintage was 2015. By the way, there may be a few cases left of 2015 Pedroncelli Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon–if you hurry.
Those are some pretty studly numbers, but things didn’t start out anywhere near that robust and, if any of this is news to you, there’s a good reason why. In the words of third-generation owner Julie St. John, the Pedroncellis are “introverts.” They don’t make a lot of noise, but they do make a treasure trove of terrific wines that they sell at compelling price points. It’s a simple formula, best expressed by Julie, who notes with characteristic brevity that her family makes, “flavorful and balanced wines that reflect their region’s characteristics.” Boom! That’s all one needs to know. Except for the part about how it all came about. Here’s the back-story on that.
Starting From Scratch
In the sweltering summer of 1927, many Prohibition bound Americans were preoccupied with drinking bathtub gin, bootleg whiskey and speakeasy lagers, while watching baseball legend Babe Ruth swat a record 60 home runs in one season. It was the height of the so-called “Roaring Twenties,” an era of high prosperity and serious partying up and down the eastern seaboard and throughout the nation’s middle.
Meanwhile, out west in rural Sonoma County, California a twenty-something young immigrant couple from Italy found themselves engaged in a far quieter pursuit, the purchase of 90 acres of farmland west of Geyserville, in an area called Dry Creek Valley. Barren save for a struggling 25-acre patch of half-hearted Zinfandel and a ramshackle cabin, to Giovanni and Julia Pedroncelli the land they bought was worth every penny of the $11,000 it cost. It was a good deal for the industrious couple who were able to negotiate a low price for the vineyard because wine grapes were almost impossible to sell under the yoke of Prohibition.
With the purchase of land in America, Giovanni became John and like many other young immigrants to California’s wine country, he started a family business on a shoestring. At first, the young farmer sold individual lots of grapes to “home winemakers” who were permitted to produce a small amount of wine annually for “home use only.” The times were harsh but the family hung on until 1933 when Prohibition ended. Like other growers, the Pedroncellis saw the end of Prohibition as the beginning of opportunity. Acting with characteristic alacrity, John Pedroncelli was among the first to apply for a license to make wine in Sonoma County.
Transitions Over Time
The next 20 years went by quickly bringing steady growth and transition driven by careful acquisitions of choice new vineyards and, of even greater significance, an in-house bottling line. Following these advances, the modest but growing winery began putting the family name on their wine labels and in the mid-1950s Pedroncelli was among the first to add the words “Sonoma County” to a wine label.
By the early 1960s John Pedroncelli’s sons, John and Jim, were securely at the winery helm and eager to launch a renewed era of vineyard expansion and winery upgrades. While their families grew, the brothers became pioneers in varietal winemaking. They were the first to plant Cabernet Sauvignon in Dry Creek Valley as well as among the earliest Sonoma winemakers to incorporate small oak, including French oak into their winemaking protocol. Simultaneously, extensive long-term vineyard re-planting programs (that continue to this day) were initiated.
In the 1990s “single vineyard” and “special selection vineyard” tiers were added to the lineup to showcase the family’s top sites and best winemaking practices, gleaned after eight decades. Around this time, third-generation family members began joining older brother John, whose winemaking career traversed the years 1948-2015 and younger brother Jim, whose marketing and sales career started in 1957 and still is going strong.
Throughout this near-century of Pedroncelli grape growing and winemaking, a core style has resonated gracefully and consistently over time. Those in the know say the family’s quiet voice is amplified through their wines. The message is straightforward and hard to miss—it says we make flavorful and balanced wines with varietally correct tannins, that are a natural reflection of where they come from. They make it sound so simple when they say that!
But achieving that message from year to year over the course of a century is the hard part. For the Pedroncellis, who clearly are in it for the long haul (presently, members of the 4th generation are filtering into the family business), the winning formula emanates from a heady alliance of healthy agricultural disciplines brought together under a collective umbrella called “sustainable practices.” All of Pedroncelli’s vineyards are “certified sustainable.” Given the requirements involved, that’s no small achievement!
Deep dark purple in the glass this is a full bodied Cabernet Sauvignon with aromas of blackberry, warm baking spices and creamy oak. The rich flavors of ripe boysenberry and black plum are framed with a touch of mocha and dried green herbs. Woven throughout are velvety oak notes, rounded tannins and medium acidity and give the wine its structure. With reserve-style complexity and depth, this is a wine to enjoy now or age another 10 years.
“Very fluid texture; lush, dense, and flavorful with a long finish; a friendly, balanced wine aged 16 months in 40% new American oak barrels.” – 92pts The Tasting Panel
Our Mother Clone is a classic Dry Creek Zinfandel with aromas of ripe blackberries and a touch of warm baking spices. This Zin is plump with jammy berry flavors combined with a touch of black pepper spice and notes of vanilla, and toasty oak. The spicy-berry dynamic so typical of Dry Creek Zin combines round tannins and a long, spicy finish which are a hallmark of our style.
“Well-structured, with a firm backbone of acidity to the dried dark currant, dark cherry and dried berry flavors. Cedary accents show midpalate, featuring notes of graphite and slate on the tannic finish.” – 90pts Wine Spectator