Ravenswood Winery

I had the pleasure of being hosted by Joel Peterson, the founder and current President/CEO of Ravenswood, at the 2013 ZAP Festival’s Winemaker’s Dinner. He started his winemaking career in the mid 1970’s by buying, harvesting and vinting zinfandel grapes. Since then, he has been one of the leaders in the renaissance of zinfandel wine. This has also lead him to be in forefront of the efforts to support and protect the 75+ year old zinfandel vineyards that, because of their marginal (but exceptional) grape production, are too often being bulldozed under and either replanted with new varietals or are replaced with subdivisions. His winery originally focused on vineyard designated wines with fairly limited production and has grown to a huge production (100’s of thousands of cases per year) with wines spanning the price spectrum. On Luke’s first visit to Sonoma Valley, we elected to begin the trip at their winery.

 

 

Ravenswood winery

The Ravenswood Winery Tasting Room with a pregnant Cathy Straube Gannett in the foreground

Ravenswood view 2

View from the patio at the Ravenswood Winery patio

The winery is currently located just outside Sonoma (the town). Although close to the town, it is down a few country roads and is nestled in a small, secluded valley giving it a very pleasant, rural feel. The outside patio had fantastic views of the rolling hills. Mid-September was the perfect time to visit. The weather was sunny but not overwhelmingly hot, the summer hordes had left, the winery was busy with the harvest, and, on a Monday morning, the number of other visitors was such that there was a buzz in the room but few enough that we had an opportunity to talk with the winery personnel.

As this was one of the first winery visits of the trip, we elected to take the tour and tasting. The tour is reasonably priced at $20 but is a great deal (read free) for members of any of the Ravenswood wine club members (guilty!). Although most of the grapes for the Ravenswood wines are sourced from growers, there is a small winery owned mixed grape vineyard at the winery.

 

Zin grapes

Zinfandel grapes ready for harvest

Ben, our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable and entertaining. We were visiting a few days prior to harvesting this vineyard and were encouraged by the guide to taste several varieties of ripe wine grapes. We were then offered the most recently release wines made from these vines while surrounded by the vines themselves. Obviously, the quality of any wine begins in the vineyard. At this vineyard, Merlot was planted in north-south rows so that sun could reach both sides of the trellis and the increased sun exposure is tolerated because of the variety’s relatively thick skin. Although not a fan of Merlot wine, these were some of the best tasting grapes we tasted. In contrast, the Zinfandel vines were grown on east-west trellises to protect the sun-sensitive grapes from excess sun exposure. Having tasted the zinfandel grapes we samples a glass of the 2011 Estate Zinfandel wine. This was a very spice (cinnamon, nutmeg and lots of black pepper) forward wine with restrained fruit. This had a great nose but the finish was not exceptional.

 

 

Fermentation tanks

Open top fermentation tanks

Barrel tasting

Mr. Dr. tasting the 2012 Teldeschi Zinfandel thieved from he barrel by Ben

Although production has since moved to a larger, more industrial facility, we next toured the fermentation area. The wines are made in open tank fermenters with daily “punching down” of the floating cap composed of the solids (skins, seeds, and stems). The duration of contact of the juice with these elements determines the style of wine produced- 12 hours of contact yields a rosé wine while 7-10 days yields a dark, opaque red wine. In the fermentation room were several maturing wines in barrels. We tasted the 2012 Teldeschi Vineyard from the barrel. The wine is obviously still young but was very fruit forward with heavy black fruits, cherries, blackberries, and a hint of citrus with a moderate amount of black pepper. All-in-all a pleasant and educational way to spend an hour.

From there, we moved to the tasting room. Ravenswood has three tiers of wines. The vintner’s wine series is their inexpensive line. These are reasonably priced, good value-for-money wines that are a nice, “quaffable” daily drinker. The mid-range is their county series of wines. These are available at somewhat higher prices and somewhat better quality. The stars of the winery, however, are the single vineyard designated wines. These are what rightly have made the Ravenswood name. They are produced from grapes sourced from exceptional, usually old to ancient vineyards.  These are offered in a tasting at the winery for $15 (also free for wine club members). We have found that the quality of taste room servers differs wildly from winery to winery. At Ravenswood, we had two very helpful and knowledgeable people pouring. One of these had recently sold his vineyard and was a storehouse of information about the vineyard side of wine production. Our tasting notes (a summary of the notes from the four tasters in the group):

Barrica Zin2011 Barrica Zinfandel ($35): The grapes for this wine came from the 36 acre vineyard in middle of the Sonoma Valley with 100+ year old vines. The wine had lots of blackberry with some spice notes of cinnamon and pepper. The taste did not meet the promise of the nose with some astringency and a sour finish.

 

 

2011 Big River Zinfandel ($35): The grapes for this wine come from the 13 acre vineyard in on the border between the Alexander Valley and the Russian River areas again with 100+ year old vines. This was a big wine with lots of tannins, a nose of plums with hints of mint and olives with a long finish.

2011 Teldeschi Zinfandel ($35): The grapes for this wine are a field blend (mainly Zinfandel) from one of the more famous old vine vineyards in the Dry Creek Valley. This is very peppery with moderate cherries and obvious tannins that make for a very big zin blend.

Cooke Zin2011 Cooke Zinfandel ($35 sold out): This Sonoma Valley wine had a strong cherry taste with moderate black pepper. The strong spice gives way to a long fruit finish.

 

 

 

2010 ICON ($75): Icon is a blend of Zinfandel, Carignane, and Petite Sirah with a smattering of other grapes. This is a big, dense wine with dark berries, moderate spice, and substantial tannins. The price is high but probably worth it for a special occasion.

2010 Teldeschi Petite Sirah (currently unavailable): A big wine with black fruit, earthy overtones and strong tannins.

Al-in-all, a great start to a whirlwind tour of Sonoma Valley.

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