Zinfandel may have European origins, but no place produces better quality Zinfandel than Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley on the California North Coast. Consider the 2014 Pedroncelli Winery, “Mother Clone” Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, a modestly priced wine at around $16 per bottle nationally.
The wine epitomizes delicious, unpretentious pleasure. Lovely red and black fruit aromas open with a touch of brown spices and black pepper. Full, ripe flavors follow with just the right amount of fresh acidity and elegant tannins. The wine is full bodied with 14.9% alcohol by volume, but it holds all elements in perfect proportion and neatly avoids the fallacy that bigger is better. Instead “Mother Clone” Zinfandel delivers immediate, fresh pleasure to complement classic dishes such as spaghetti with homemade meat sauce and cheese.
“We strive for balance between Zinfandel’s ripe berry fruit and the black pepper component we get from the Dry Creek Valley terroir,” says Julie Pedroncelli St. John, granddaughter of Pedroncelli Winery founder, Giovanni Pedroncelli.
And what a truly beautiful and distinctive terroir. At every turn along the Dry Creek Road just outside of the town of Healdsburg, gorgeous ranks of vines cover the steep hillsides and the flatter terraces leading down to the Dry Creek river bed itself. Nearby, Pedroncelli Winery lies on Canyon Road towards Geyserville.
The high quality of the Zinfandel grown here turns on pronounced maritime influences, brilliant sunshine, and diverse, infertile soils.
“Foggy nights during the growing season develop the balance of acids and sugars in the grapes,” Pedroncelli St. John says. “We sometimes go from over 90 degrees (℉) during the hottest times down to 50 degrees at night.”
At night the Dry Creek Valley–located just 20 miles east of the Pacific Ocean and 70 miles north of the San Francisco Bay–draws chilly fogs into its narrow two-mile wide width. Sheltering mountains around the valley, however, trap early morning heat that by 10 AM burns off the marine fog as hot and sunny conditions prevail.
The cool nights prevent grapes from ripening too quickly, so they retain acidity to give backbone and structure to the wines. The warm days make for jammy, rich fruit flavors and the potential for ample alcohol levels.
Meanwhile the Dry Creek Valley’s alluvial gravel soils and rocky hillsides force Zinfandel vines to struggle and focus their energies on smaller but more intense berries. Complex aromas and flavors result.
Beside climate and soils, crucial human factors play a role with Dry Creek Valley Zinfandels. French and German settlers began planting grapes in the mid-19th century, and the first commercial Zinfandel appeared in 1872. Italian grape growers began arriving in the early 20th century to continue the traditions. At the Pedroncelli’s Home Ranch, Zinfandel vines in the “Mother Clone” vineyards date to the early 1900’s. After purchasing the property in 1927, the family carefully maintained the head-pruned, dry farmed Zinfandel vines. When the family began replanting the vineyard in the 1980’s, they “cloned” the vines.
“Cloning meant using historic budwood, planting in the same head-pruned style on the same root stock along with the same vine spacing,” Pedroncelli St. John notes. “If you saw the vineyard in the 1960’s and now it looks virtually the same.”
Pedroncelli’s signature “Mother Clone” Zinfandel uses fruit both from the Home Ranch vineyards and other vineyards cultivated in sustainable, traditional style. Only organic materials serve as fertilizers, synthetic pesticides do not touch the vines, and synthetic fungicides are strictly limited. Drip irrigation, however, applies in the vineyards outside the Home Ranch. The vines used for the “Mother Clone” bottling average forty years old, according to Pedroncelli St. John.
Another key to success involves picking at just the right moment. As a relatively thin skinned grape, Zinfandel requires skilled eyes and lots of tasting during maturation. If the grapes hang too long, the berries turn prune-like; pick them too early, and unpleasant “greenness,” inadequate alcohol and high acidity result. It’s a vital question of winegrowing, not wine manufacturing.
After deciding to pick, the Pedroncelli’s harvest manually with meticulous attention to detail. In the winery, John Pedroncelli, pictured in his early years with his father Giovanni, oversaw winemaking until he passed away at age 90 in 2015. Montse Reece, a Spanish and California trained winemaker who had assisted John Pedroncelli since 2007, then took the helm. Like John Pedroncelli, she lets the wines speak for themselves in an understated style. It’s a time-tested approach that faithfully presents ZInfandel’s enduring beauty wrapped in the Dry Creek Valley’s rural spirit.
Tip: Follow the link below for more insight on the Dry Creek Valley and its winegrowers: