At the northern end of California’s Sonoma County sits Dry Creek Valley. The myriad of soil types (there are 75 variations) which impact the vines is one of the things that set Dry Creek Valley apart as an American Viticultural Area (AVA). Another is that nearly every winery large or small is family-owned and -operated. That has been the case at Pedroncelli in Geyserville since they started 90 years ago.
Today, Pedroncelli has second-, third-, and fourth-generation family members involved in their day-to-day operations. Family patriarch Jim Pedroncelli, now in his mid 80s, goes to the office every day and is keenly involved in the winery's affairs. Earlier this year, he was named a Sonoma County Wine Icon — an honor well-deserved for someone who has been a champion of Sonoma County for decades. Among other things, he was one of the first in the county to insist on putting the appellation name on labels, thus helping to spread the reputation of the county.
I attended the party for their winery's 90th anniversary this summer, and spent a couple of days ensconced in all things Pedroncelli. This helped me learn some things I didn’t know and underscore a few things I already knew. A hallmark of their family brand has been to produce quality wines at affordable prices for everyday drinking. They have done this all these years from a combination of estate vineyards and fruit sourced under long-term agreements with neighbors. Pedroncelli has stayed on that mission, while constantly looking to improve all aspects of wine-growing. This begins with planting the specific grapes that will thrive best in each spot. Over time, that’s led them to replanting sections of vineyards to get the best fruit possible. In one particular instance, the Pedroncellis planted sangiovese on their Home Ranch, and it’s thrived ever since.
The family has been farming with sustainable practices for their entire history, but this July they were officially certified as such. Their wines which have always been genuine in varietal character, pure in flavor and easy to drink — and widely available on store shelves all across the United States and select other parts of the world.
Their best-known wine is their Mother Clone Zinfandel. This textbook example of classic zinfandel is personally meaningful to me. After receiving it in a California Wine Club shipment some 25 years ago, I was inspired to make my first trip to Sonoma County. Today, it would be impossible for me to compute how much time I’ve spent there.
Spanish-born winemaker Montse Reece, who has been on board since 2007, working initially alongside John Pedroncelli,was named winemaker in 2015, after John passed away. She is the first female winemaker at Pedroncelli and only their third winemaker overall. She honors her mentor’s 66 vintages by staying true to the Pedroncelli legacy of winemaking, while gently guiding the style forward. Over the course of several days in sit-down tastings, convivial meals, and other settings, I tasted all manner of Pedroncelli releases both current and from their impressive library.
These wines have been a delicious part of my life for 25 years now, and if you’re not familiar with them, now is a perfect time to try them, and toast Pedroncelli on their ninetieth. Here’s a look at some of my favorite Pedroncelli wines, tasted over the last couple of months.
Sauvignon Blanc 2016 ($15)
The fruit for this came from three vineyards, the winery's own estate and those of two nearby growers. Yellow melon, citrus, grass, and a hint of vanilla all burst from the nose. Citrus, stone and orchard fruit flavors are all in play through the palate. White pepper and limestone notes are evident on the crisp, refreshing finish. Dry Creek Valley is renowned for sauvignon blanc, and this is a fine illustration of why.
Dry Rosé of Zinfandel 2016 ($15)
Pedroncelli has been producing a dry zinfandel rosé since the ’50s. This one is made from Dry Creek Valley fruit. Ripe wild strawberry and white pepper notes are evident on the nose. The palate is loaded with appealing red fruit flavors. The long finish shows off continued juicy red fruit and hints of vanilla. This beautifully dry expression of zinfandel has a bit more heft than the average rosé and is suitable for pairing with somewhat bolder foods than most.
Sangiovese 2015 ($17)
This wine is produced from sangiovese sourced from Pedroncelli's own vineyards. Red fruit and violet aromas are prominent here. The palate shows off cranberry, sour cherry, and bits of pomegranate along with copious spice notes. Wisps of earth are evident on the finish, alongside black pepper. Firm acid lends to the mouthwatering and super food-friendly nature of this wine. It may be a Dry Creek Valley sangiovese, but it possesses the soul of Chianti.
Bench Vineyards Merlot 2015 ($18)
Too often merlot wines taste like anything but merlot. This merlot from Pedroncelli is both delicious and a fine example of the grape. Leather and red cherry fill the nose. The palate is stuffed with red and black fruit, earth, and hints of bacon fat. The finish is above average and shows off chicory and continued cherry fruit. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better merlot from Sonoma County in anything near this price range.
Mother Clone Zinfandel 2015 ($19)
Red and black raspberry notes dominate the nose, along with hints of white pepper. Black plum, blackberry, and cocoa powder are all discernible on the palate. Black fruits, tinged by bits of red raspberry, continue through the finish, which is also studded with copious spice notes. Firm acid keeps things mouthwatering and food-friendly. In one vintage after another, Mother Clone is the best zinfandel you can buy for less than $20.
Three Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 ($20)
Bits of thyme and sage punctuate the red berry fruit aromas that lead the aromatics here. Red and black cherry, leather, and roasted espresso notes are all in play on the substantial palate. Toasty oak, bits of pomegranate, and chicory are evident on the above average finish. This is an excellent value in cabernet sauvignon.
Wisdom Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 ($36)
All of the fruit for this wine came from a single vineyard the family has owned since 1965 but recently replanted. Wisdom is one of the newest additions to the Pedroncelli line and it’s a worthwhile one. It stands apart from the other cabernets they make. Starting from the first whiff all the way through to the last sip, this represents a richer, firmer style. Blackberry, vanilla, and toasty oak notes light up the nose. Black fruit flavors dominate the palate; bits of olive tapenade and bay leaf are present as well. Earth, mocha, and crushed black cherries are evident on the long, velvety finish. Wisdom has the depth of palate and overall quality of cabernets that command twice the price.
Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 1977 (N/A)
A sit-down tasting of library vintages was a major highlight of my recent trip to Pedroncelli. This cabernet, at 40 years old, stole the show. The aromatics here are off the charts, with fruit still present, but leather and earth leading the way. Savory herb, black olive, and wisps of red fruit are dominant on the palate. The finish is long, racy, and fresh. This wine is simply remarkable. The key here is how perfectly balanced it is. All of the elements have become perfectly integrated.
Mother Clone Zinfandel 2004 (N/A)
At 13 years of age, when the vast majority of znfandels are over the hill, this Mother Clone is fresh and alive. The nose is full of blackberry laced with hints of vanilla. The palate is stuffed with a concentrated cornucopia of jam-laden fruit. Bits of sweet dark chocolate and wisps of chicory are evident on the solid finish.