Do you know the rich and royal history behind Zinfandel? How does the air in a vineyard affect the flavours you taste in its wine? Why did Zinfandel become such a sensation in North America? What does mythology have to do with Ravenswood wine?
In this episode of the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast, I’m chatting with the Godfather of Zin, Joel Peterson, founder and winemaker of Ravenswood Winery.
You can find the wines we discussed here.
- Why did Joel’s father involve him in wine tastings as a child?
- What sort of colourful tasting notes would you read in Joel’s father’s wine club newsletters?
- What’s the less-than-catchy name you’d use for the Zinfandel grape in it’s home country of Croatia?
- When would you find the first historical reference to the Zinfandel grape?
- How is Zinfandel connected to Old World royalty?
- What makes Croatia a great grape-growing region?
- What do you need to know about “founder grapes”?
- How did Zinfandel come to the United States?
- What history can you taste in Ravenswood Vinters Blend Zinfandel?
- What unbelievable raven encounter led to Joel’s connection to them as a totem?
- How did an opera inspire the name Ravenswood?
- In which areas of mythology would you find references to ravens?
- Why you will love a pairing of baby back ribs and Ravenswood Zinfandel blends?
- Which climatic features make Lodi an ideal grape-growing area?
- How does your tasting experience differ between Ravenswood Vintners Blend and Ravenswood Old Vine Zinfandel?
- Why do you often find higher alcohol content in Zinfandels?
- How do you find the “sweet spot” for wine which has the perfect balance?
- What do you taste differently with wines made with the punch down versus pump over techniques?
- How does “airroir” impact your experience with wine?
- What makes a field blend different from single grape wines?
- Which annual charity event will you find Joel at without fail?
- What influence does growing up with two superstar chemists as your parents have on you?
- The historical roots of Zinfandel and its links to Croatia when it was part of the Austria-Hungarian empire as well as Venetian courts is fascinating, as is the detective work to establish the grape’s true heritage and parentage.
- Zinfandel’s history goes back to 1488, and it’s one of the 12 founding grapes of all wine grapes.
- Why Lodi makes such great Zinfandel with its deep, sandy soils that were once part of an ancient ocean bed. This produces larger grape clusters with smaller skin to flesh rations resulting in less harsh tannins, and a smoother, juicier, fruitier wine.
- How wine achieves sweet spots of different alcohol levels, where everything is in balance i.e. the fruit and acidity say at 13.8% alcohol but maybe not at 13.9%.
- The concept of “airroir” is fascinating and something I want to explore more in the wines I taste in terms of their influences.
- Joel’s story about tasting wines as a child and learning to identify aromas, not just apples, but the type of apples by smelling and eating them. That’s how we all can learn to be better sniffers and tasters.
- The story of Ravenswood name, including all of the raven folklore in Poe and Odin.
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About Joel Peterson
In 1976 Joel founded Ravenswood in partnership with fellow wine lover Reed Foster, a Harvard MBA who handled the green stuff while Joel oversaw the red stuff. In the ensuing years, Joel had dual careers, working nights and weekends in the lab as he built the winery during the daylight hours. In 1977, he’d left his job in San Francisco and moved to Sonoma to work in the clinical lab at Sonoma Valley Hospital. He didn’t quit that job until 1992, a few years after the winery turned its first profit and Robert Parker pronounced Ravenswood wines “first class – bold, dramatic and complex.”
Today, Joel works with 100+ northern California growers who provide grapes for Ravenswood, consulting on irrigation methods, cultivation practices, cropping levels, and a slew of other vineyard management issues. This attention in the field, coupled with the fact that Ravenswood is one of the few wineries that has had the philosophical and winemaking skill of one winemaker for over 30 years, contributes to a consistency of quality and style rarely found in California.
Joel is a current member and former president of the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance (S.V.V.G.A.) and is on the Board of Directors for the Sonoma County Vintners. He is a founding Board member and former two-time President of Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (Z.A.P.). Joel is also a Senior Vice President with Constellation Wines US.
A rakish raconteur (and provocateur) whose erudition and down-to-earth enthusiasm make him an articulate spokesman for the winery (and sometime-heckler of the wine industry), Joel is a stylistic trendsetter who helped make Zinfandel the runaway phenomenon it is today. Along the way, the raven maven (dubbed “the Godfather of Zin” by one media wag) has built a legacy of enjoying wine with grins and gusto.
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Joel Peterson 0:00
baby back ribs are a wonderful match. And there are several ones that go really well with baby back ribs, in part because some stone has this really pretty sweet fruit and the blend he may be talking about is besieged, which is a traditional California field land based on what California did pre prohibition nobody was trying to make for ayatul wines. They were trying to make wines that tasted good. And were particular for that location. They planted grapes together called sofidel. Of course, petite Surat Karina and Ellicott to Shea, sometimes a little granola, sometimes a little serraj sometimes a woman. But those were the blending grapes of California and so beseech is based on that concept.
Natalie MacLean 0:50
Do you have a thirst to learn about wine? Do you love stories about wonderfully obsessive people, hauntingly beautiful places, and amusingly awkward social situations? Well, that’s the blend here on the unreserved wine talk podcast. I’m your host, Natalie MacLean. And each week, I share with you unfiltered conversations with celebrities in the wine world, as well as confessions from my own tipsy journey as I write my third book on this subject. I’m so glad you’re here. Now pass me that bottle please. And let’s get started. Welcome to Episode 104. I was Zinfandel connected to all worldwide royalty? When did Xin come to North America and how did it become California’s signature grape? How did an opera inspire the name ravenswood. What is air water? And how does it change the wine you drink? That’s exactly what you’ll discover. In this episode of The unreserved wine talk podcast. I’m chatting with Joel Peterson, the founding winemaker of ravenswood Winery in California. He’s a rakish storyteller, provocateur, and sometimes a heckler of the wine industry. But he also helped make Zinfandel the runaway phenomenon that it is today. You can find links to the wines we tasted the video version of this chat, where you can find me on Facebook Live every second Wednesday at 7pm. And how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class. That’s all in the show notes at Natalie MacLean comm forward slash 104. Now on a personal note, before we dive into the show, I was watching the first episode of hbos industry and it brought back memories of westerns MBA and the McKinsey interviews. Look to your right, look to your left. One of you will not be here in six months. cop. Thanks for the back doc. This show is wonderfully tense and gritty. Bonus wine is a big part of it. My pairing suggestion, something complex and bold with a long finish. Okay, on with the show.
We’re joined by the godfather of Zinfandel. This name is Joel Peterson. Welcome, Joel.
Joel Peterson 3:29
Thank you, Dan. I am delighted to be here. But it’s amazing to be in Canada even when I’m not.
Natalie MacLean 3:37
You are everywhere. Joel and people better
Unknown Speaker 3:39
Natalie MacLean 3:42
You’re actually joining us from is it Las Vegas where you are right now.
Joel Peterson 3:45
Actually I am in Burbank right now. I am near Universal Studios because last night we had this really wonderful charity auction and wine tasting on the backlog of Universal Studios. I was in the streets of New York City last night.
Unknown Speaker 4:00
Oh my goodness,
Joel Peterson 4:01
you are at least the face streets.
Natalie MacLean 4:03
Oh, okay. Create a fundraiser. So you are leaving a wine tasting I guess was it?
Joel Peterson 4:08
Well, I was doing a wine tasting with many other people. And it’s a big auction that’s been going on for about 28 years I’ve been here for about 20 of them made some significant progress in helping to find a cure for cystic fibrosis. It’s been exciting. It’s been fun. The auctions great and there are just a tremendous number of really lovely people who show up at it as well as all my one making friends. It’s probably some of the only time during the year I get to see people that I really liked but don’t get to see very often.
Natalie MacLean 4:36
That’s a very selective comment. Now cystic fibrosis. This is sort of off topic, but I’m still intrigued because you have just so many interesting stories. Is there a tie in for you? Is this a cause that’s close to your heart?
Joel Peterson 4:49
No, it was close to my heart because Ellen and Barbara Bailey Corona Nolan and Barbara Bailey are very good friends. And over the years we’ve done many things together and this is really the Causes close to their heart.
Unknown Speaker 5:01
Also, they’re good friends.
Unknown Speaker 5:03
Joel Peterson 5:04
this is such a thrill, by the way, because, you know, I’ve been in this business for a very long time. And back in the old days, I mean, you had no way of doing this. It was like you didn’t have a conference. There’s no way to talk to all these people. And this is really exciting. I’m one of the greybeards. And to be able to be a great beard and still be part of the modern technical world is fabulous.
Unknown Speaker 5:26
Did you say you’re one of the graveyards?
Joel Peterson 5:28
One of the grey beards.
Natalie MacLean 5:33
You’re not gone yet. on trend, but not quite. Okay. So yeah, I love this too. I really do, Joel, because every week we get better at the technology. You and I were working out the sound and the visuals and everything else, and you just have to have patience with it. But the power of connection is pretty amazing. When you know I’m talking to you. You’re in California. I’m here in Ottawa, Paul’s in Virginia and in Halifax, Liz is in Sunbury, and there’s many, many more people. It’s bringing us all together. I love this, too, that the technology can bring such an old world fascination and beauty is such a non intimidating way. Like we are all sitting at a table. Okay, Joel, back to you. You have such an interesting story. I thought, Well, I’m not going to have to work hard tonight. This man is just a roll of stories. So let’s start at the beginning. 1976 I think is when you started your winery, but you are the child of two chemists. Your mind was a nuclear chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project. And your dad was another kind of chemist who was working on something else. So major brainiacs. And did you go into chemistry at first?
Joel Peterson 6:50
I did. You know, I grew up in this crazy household with two really superstar people who made it by the way, a chemical under society meeting and I guess the chemistry was good. That was the result. But so yes, I ended up studying biochemistry, microbiology when I went to college, and I really didn’t expect to be in the wine business. Even though my father had taught me to taste wine when I was quite young. We used to get together on Friday evenings before his tasting and go through 10 or 12 wines because he thought a kid would have better words for wine than an adult. So if I said shorten a case to like apples, for instance, he would go out and collect a different kinds of apples until we could actually sit down and smell these cut up apples and determine which was the northern spine which was the Golden Delicious or blind. Yeah, so next time we had a sharp neck and steak is what smells like Golden Delicious apples, and so forth. So
Natalie MacLean 7:49
this is only a formal Wine Club. He was just doing this as a passion, not his
Joel Peterson 7:54
he actually started one of the first wine clubs in San Francisco. You know, when my mother went out and found that bottle of 1945 Chateauneuf du Pont that rocked their world and then they got this case of wine. That was a survey of France that included a bottle of 45, okra and a bottle of 29, Chef to E cam for $15 and 40 cents, they begin to get really serious about wine. My father started a wine club called the San Francisco wine sampling society later changed to say a club because tickets it sounded more intense. And he was writing a newsletter that he put out every month and was complex and he would write up wines that he described and I remember you described the 1949 chapter Rouget as smelling like the spars of the USS Constitution for that spot. It was as constitution it was an old sailing vessel old iron sides in American parlance, he probably meant Piney and tarean briny because I went and smelled the spires of the USS Constitution is still exists in Boston.
Unknown Speaker 8:57
What are spars? I’m not assailing spar.
Joel Peterson 9:00
bars are the things that go across the mast in a sailing ship. So the things that hold the sails, okay, so
Unknown Speaker 9:11
as far as at an early age,
Joel Peterson 9:12
yeah. snipping spars? Yeah. But nobody understood that. So he thought a kid would have easier terms for wine. I was 10 Yeah, so I came in as the kind of the simpleton to simple fly language and make it basically more basic. So he was started into this, he wrote these newsletters on a monthly basis. We covered all the great regions of the world. There wasn’t much happening in California at the time. So I really got to taste a lot of Oreos and Burgundy’s and German wines were really the core of it some Italian, but it was a learning experience. I ended up not doing wine. I ended up in medical research. I was doing immunology, research, stimulating sidescrolling tumour cells and doing things like that. And then I ran into like that This is I could talk, I could talk about that. But you know, and the beauty is that a lot of the stuff that I was working on was really before its time in terms of the technological feasibility of that. And we have really moved forward with DNA research and understanding how these things work in ways that we didn’t before. So I’m now beginning to see some of the things I was working on coming to fruition in terms of the kinds of therapies the gene therapies and other things that are be looked at. So that’s very exciting. But you know what, I’m really happy to be in line maker. I think I got very lucky in that way. And interestingly enough, I’m going to just take this on a little sidetrack, because interestingly enough, I just got back from Croatia, and I got back from Croatia, because I was part of a conference that was put on by the Croatians called I Am trivia drug.
Unknown Speaker 10:56
How does that translate? I am Trudy dog.
Joel Peterson 10:59
I am like any drug because the name of the grapes infidel in Croatia the Roma del is tricky drunk.
Natalie MacLean 11:09
That’s not catchy.
Joel Peterson 11:11
Yeah, that’s not catchy tribute record. Sounds like a bad player in a Star Wars movie actually
Unknown Speaker 11:15
does it sounds like the Borg or something that will
Joel Peterson 11:19
and if you read jancis Robinson, in her book on philosophy, where she lists all the grapes in the world, she doesn’t list infidel as infidel. She lists it now as trivia drug really, and, and that was because a university professor here, Carol Meredith, used DNA to identify Zinfandel, and then FBI Grog, and of course, primitivo, they’re all in the same family. And at this conference, we had people from Croatia, we had people from Italy, and we have people from obviously the United States, myself, David gates and Carol Meredith. Were all there to talk about this grape and I learned some stuff that was fascinating. It turns out for a long time, we didn’t know the history of Zinfandel, we didn’t know where it came from. We knew it came from the austro Hungarian Empire, Queens, Long Island, but it didn’t seem right that it was from Austria. And obviously, it was from the austro Hungarian Empire because in 1820, when it got to the United States, Croatia was part of the austro Hungarian Empire. But it turns out that this grape is much older. The first historical reference to this grape is in 1488, and several years before Columbus sailed to blue to find the new world. It says sale of a barrel of wine from Croatia, to the Italians in Apulia. Interestingly enough, because apparently, there were some Croatian monks over there buying wine. So it’s a very ancient Greek. We also know even more about it. Now it turns out that it was the grape of Venetian royalty, princes and the Dukes that lived on the Dalmatian coast. It turned out that the Dalmatian coast was controlled by the Phoenicians from 1400 until about 1800 when Napoleon kind of dislikes them, but they grew this grape so if you went to a Venetian mass fall, one of those nice festive things, the wine you were likely to be drinking was infidel. Wow.
Natalie MacLean 13:19
So clarify there Joel Dalmatian coast. That’s is their historical roots there for Zinfandel with Yes,
Joel Peterson 13:27
the Dalmatian coast is right along the Adriatic. It’s part of what is now Croatia, it’s part of what used to be Yugoslavia. And it is a very interesting group thread region. It turns out that there are 280 some odd, different grape varieties in Croatia that are unique to Croatia. And that is not as many as Italy, which is 530. But it’s nearly as much as LS more than a play sales for sure. The other part that’s really interesting about this is that through the use of DNA and the work that they’re doing with that, they have decided that there are these founder varieties in Europe and they’re like 12 of them that are related to all the other grapes that came out of Europe. And Zinfandel is one of the thunder varieties. So it’s really ancient, it’s there’s about 24 varieties related to it in the Adriatic area. And in fact, one of those varieties is a grape that I ran into over there called Gert Shi r k, which honestly is delicious, but it’s white. It tastes like record Tufo. It’s fabulous. It’s got great body. It’s got these really pretty aromatics. It’s very, very nice. So Zinfandel is one of them. Cabernet Franc, for instance, is another pinos and other. So there are these 12 grape varieties that are so the fathers, if you will, are the mothers of all the other rapes in Europe. It was one of these kind of places where you just got all this information. It was so much fun. recharging my set of information banks was you knows infidel came to the United States in 1822 was brought in by a guy named George Gibbs. Okay, and what’s your geologists
Natalie MacLean 15:14
tasting at the same time? Like so history? Yes. But also, we want to get
Joel Peterson 15:21
Natalie MacLean 15:23
yeah. Yes, there will be why not just theory and academia. So I want you to continue with your story, but also sort of segue into what’s this one?
Joel Peterson 15:35
That has been explained? synthego? I believe? Yes. vendors. leadsom. Fidel was the one that I started making in 1983. Okay, I had started the small winery and was only going to make single vineyard designated wines. And I found out that I was quickly going broke doing that. So I needed a wine that I could get out of the wondering more rapidly, but a wine that didn’t cheat. I wasn’t out to make one that was anything but delicious. And so I had to go to areas that I hadn’t formerly worked very much in Lodi and Amador and Mendocino, because the grapes were inexpensive. And I had to use a little less coconut and I had to move it through the process a bit faster. But it’s still made with native yeast, it’s still you know, has friendship associated with it. So the wine is made precisely, but I could charge less for it. And in charging less for it. I could sell more of it. Obviously, it would sell more rapidly. So, so 1983 I started a small amount. I think I made 1000 cases in 1983. I think that one ultimately became one of the most consumed something else in the entire world.
Natalie MacLean 16:46
And Carrie is saying again, she’s a product consultant. It’s a staple in her store. Excellent seller. You know what I smell this and I want to tell a campfire story. I want to be camping. I don’t like camping. But I imagined myself to be camping under a stirring bolt of the night and I just love this. It’s evocative. So I want to tell a story and I want to have maybe some barbecued meats and bring a blanket and it’s just it’s lovely, delicious wine.
Joel Peterson 17:19
When I’m grilling burgers for friends, just throwing like this big juicy, meaty burgers I do a lot of Buffalo burgers these days. Yeah, bison, American bison. And this one is delicious with it’s got enough brightness and enough acidity so that it makes the burger taste fresh every time you buy it.
Natalie MacLean 17:38
That’s nice. Wow. Okay. So is this the entry level?
Joel Peterson 17:43
That is the entry level?
Natalie MacLean 17:44
Because I have one other that is not infantile, but petite soba. So this would be SR or something like that. Right?
Joel Peterson 17:54
There’s similar because they’re made in that in a similar style from grapes that cost a little less so most of that pizza was from Lodi although some of it is from Mendocino and petite sir as a really interesting grape for a long time it was thought of as a blending grape for Zinfandel. And you see it in the old Seville vineyards a lot. But it’s got this spices got this pepper and it’s got this round kind of juicy character to it. It can be a mouth wrenchingly tannic if you’re not careful, but this one is not this one is, you know, sort of a little softer because a lot of it comes from the Lodi area.
Natalie MacLean 18:33
And what’s about Lodi, I know that area I mean, I’ve heard lots about it. But what is it it’s warm, it’s dry, it’s arid. It’s less costly than, say Napa.
Joel Peterson 18:45
It’s the bottom of an old lake bottom. You know, if you look at California from a distance, you can see that it’s got this giant depression in the middle of it, which was a giant lake. So really, you’re looking you’re growing grapes in very Sandy sedimentary soils that are quite deep. And the grapevines get really big out of Lodi, and they have fairly large clusters, which means that the skin to juice ratio is not quite what it is in Napa or Sonoma. You do get cool evenings and because of that, you get this less concentrated tan and feel. And so the grapes give you a softer effect, which is very nice. In this particular case, they’re not frequently what you would call profound like barella but they’re out they make a really nice beverage.
Natalie MacLean 19:33
Absolutely like plush, voluptuous, satin cushions falling back on cushions, something like that. Ah, so good. Okay, so we’ve done these two, why don’t we just have an internet so here I want to know the story again how ravenswood got named because, you know ravens and I made the mistake were test calling Oh saying the word crows crows.
Unknown Speaker 20:04
I know you had that gut reaction.
Natalie MacLean 20:06
So let’s just take it back. ravens woods. ravens are smart. But what’s the backstory on the name of this wirey?
Joel Peterson 20:15
Please don’t have take yourself way back way back to 1976 when I am determined through some strange quirk of hubris that I want to make one, and I had been working with Joseph Swan from 1972 until 1976. And so I figure I’ve learned the nuts and bolts, and I can do this. My hair is longer than yours is now at the time and my beard was a bit longer and I was living in Berkeley and doing lots of Berkeley things, and spending all my spare time with Joe swan. So I had to find rapes. And I went out and found grits. rovers were very suspicious of me. So they didn’t think I was going to pay the bills. So I had to pay for these grapes in advance. So they were my grapes. I found these wonderful grapes on dry creek, sort of the side of Greater Western west side of dry creek. They were very old. They were exactly what I was looking for. They were Symphony Belle, I wanted to make something that I knew that it could make great wine and somebody paid attention to it. So I contracted for the grapes, I paid for the grapes. The deal was the guy was supposed to put them in my 50 pound load boxes, he was supposed to load them on the truck for me. I was helping just one that day. So it was going to come up in the evening and pick them up. And I was I waited until the last minute honestly to pick these grapes. And there was a rain storm coming in and I knew I had to pick them. So I picked them or had to pick them and got up there at six o’clock in the evening and pick them up. And sure enough, they were picked but they were spread over four acres of vineyards and 50 pound wooden fruit boxes because of the rainbows because there were like three rainbows It was like pretty spectacular. And the sun was going down. And the clouds were kind of obsolescent pink and orange, it was really beautiful. But I’m in a state of panic, because I’ve got to pick these grapes up isn’t the days before cell phones, remember those days, and I had to pick up those boxes and I started writing them down to the end of the rows and setting them down. Turns out you’re picking up not four times a great you’re picking up 16 tonnes of grace because you have to pick up each box for five minutes. So you pick it up once but at the end of the row, pick it up again, put it on the back of the truck, pick it up on the truck, pick it up again and put it in place. It takes a long time. And the clouds move in as began to rain. And I’m thinking this is gonna be really messy. I just couldn’t leave the grapes in the field. So I’m doing this, this huge ravens float into the tree next to the vineyard. And they begin doing this kind of strange chant. It’s like this rolling, throaty thing that ravens do. It’s not like the call. It’s another voice that they have. And I’m thinking this is really weird. But I continued to work into the night and loading this track and the Ravens stick with me usually ravens come and go this pair hung out. And I got the truck loaded and it was raining around me it didn’t rain on me and I’m thinking this is pretty strange. And I got the truck tied up went down to Joe swans winery, the streets were wet, but I didn’t get rained on. Joe is waiting for me at the winery to help me offload the grapes. And so we dump them in the crusher is we took them off the truck. And about one o’clock in the morning we finished up and the skies just opened up. I mean systems crazy. So I’m lying in bed that night, you know, because you can’t sleep at or something like that you’re exhausted. But you’re just your mind is going too fast. And thinking there. What is this about rainbow Raven? So I’m thinking this is pretty amazing. And then I remembered because I’ve done school in northwest that Raven was one of the trickster gods of the Northwest Indian. So I thought why not just run in my first trickster guide. Amazing. And I had been reading Carlos caffeinated at the time, you know, it’s a story about a guy who takes pity with a witch doctor so he could find his internal animal spirit. And so I’m thinking I’m praying for total. So Raven became my total.
Natalie MacLean 24:08
You’re talking fast right now. So you got the total.
Joel Peterson 24:12
I got the totem. By 1979. I had made several vintages but I hadn’t bought anything and I was going broke and I couldn’t afford to follow what I already made. I thought it was like the end. I mean, just like it wasn’t going to work out. So a friend comes by because he can tell I’m depressed. He says I’m going to take you to an opera house. Let’s go to an opera. I said yeah, that’s great. Let’s go to the Barber of Seville or something like that. He said, No. I’m taking a builder cheat. allow more. I said, Oh great. Everybody dies. And he says yeah, I said I want you to see how bad it can be a little Cheerio.
Natalie MacLean 24:40
Italians have a knack for tearing you up because life’s always worse with them. Yeah, Romeo and Juliet. Everybody dies. Yeah,
Joel Peterson 24:47
man. So well. This is like Romeo and Juliet gone worse. And they Romeo characters a guy named Eduardo ravenswood. In the opera, he falls on his sword but it’s based on a novel by story. Scott called the brighter blommer more Scott was guy row dive in it. And it’s for told that Eduardo ravenswood will ride in for and drowned in the quicksand. And I thought, wow, I get ravens I get hengst with this name. I think this is the name for ravenswood. Obviously, I didn’t crammed in the quicksand. And just shortly after that, I found 15 guys who were willing to sort of gather together with me and braid this wonderful vision of ravens with
Natalie MacLean 25:30
Edgar Allan Poe. quoth The Raven, Nevermore evermore Do you tie into that as well.
Joel Peterson 25:36
didn’t tie into that at all. I mean, but there’s so many wonderful Raven images, there is Edgar Allan Poe, but there’s also the two ravens that sat on Odin and shoberg. Since I’m a Nordic extraction. Yeah, he had two ravens who sent out over the world who can move in thought memory, and they brought him information and told him what was going on. So it’s a great image.
Natalie MacLean 25:58
I love all the mythology I love that there’s a backstory. Oh my gosh, I’m there. Oh, Carrie says ravens remember faces True story. ravens are smart, right? True.
Joel Peterson 26:10
True story. ravens remembers faces.
Natalie MacLean 26:13
Okay, I know crows are smart too. And they have a same shiny objects. But what’s the difference between crows and ravens?
Joel Peterson 26:20
ravens tend to be bigger. Okay. ravens tend to be smarter than crows, crows flying flocks ravens mate for life ravens have territory’s however they are sociable. And if they have a meal like a piece of carrion that’s down there this bigger than they can eat themselves. They will call in their neighbouring crows for a feast one presumes that Zinfandel to course of course
Unknown Speaker 26:46
is always important because I’ve learned about hawks how they mantel their food like they just sort of put their wings around like back on
Joel Peterson 26:54
so so ravens are also figure heavily and legend because they’re unique personalities. In Indian legend they found man and a pod on a beach and taught him how to survive under the worst possible circumstances brought fire and light stole the star moon and sons from the other guns so that man would have to entertain
Natalie MacLean 27:17
that’s great. Oh my gosh, I love that that you’ve dug deep here. Oh, Paul. He’s enjoying baby back ribs with a blend of ravens would great match. Yes baby back rows would be a great match when it not for
Joel Peterson 27:36
baby back ribs are a wonderful match. And you know there are several ones that go really well with baby back ribs, in part because some stone has this really pretty sweet fruit. The blend he may be talking about is besieged, which is to say traditional California field land based on what California did pre prohibition nobody was trying to make for ayatul wines. They were trying to make wines that tasted good and were particular for that location. And they planted grapes together called sofidel. Of course patisserie Karina and Alicante. Bush Shea, sometimes a little granola, sometimes a little serraj sometimes a little bit tar or a little bit. But those were the blending grapes of California and so beseech just based on that concept,
Unknown Speaker 28:21
Natalie MacLean 28:22
interesting. So, I don’t know if I’ve gone in sequence here but with this one, perhaps be next up. Old vine.
Joel Peterson 28:33
Lodi. Okay, so Lodi, that would be a perfect next step. Okay, good.
Natalie MacLean 28:39
Tell us about this one and how it differs from the last ones we were looking at.
Joel Peterson 28:44
Okay, the last one. The dinners planned is a California blend and that has old lines in it from Lodi and Mendocino and Amador, and little bit from Sonoma County as well. So it’s a composite blend I put together to taste good to not be kind of over the top and not necessarily represent anything except Seville California. So this is Lodi. So we’ve narrowed the range in which I can play so the average age of the vines in this bottle is about 85 years old. It is all from Lodi. Lodi is this growing region which is due east of San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge forms a gap in the mountains or the hills and the air flows in through and across the day, and actually up into an A battle an 11 mile stretch of Lodi, which would be sort of the north south diameter of it and wish you can grow good grapes if you go too far to the south or too far to the north. The grace began tasting like brown sugar candy because it gets too hot. So this is an area where it gets warm days full nice diurnal variation. It’s been growing grapes for a long time. Long time, many old mines there much of this fruit during Prohibition, the reason that has so many lines is because much of this fruit got shipped to home winemakers in places like Canada and places like eastern United States and Chicago and places like that. So these fines stayed in. Up until fairly recently, maybe 20 years ago, most of this fruit was still shipped out. But it was kind of the playground of Gallo few drank Gallo hardy Burgundy, a lot of the Lodi was in it. But people like rich and myself began to make wines from this area. And they turned out to be really pretty, they’re soft, they tend to be round. They tend to have a lot of blueberry tones to them. They tend to be spicy, and the winemaking. And this is a little bit more upscale than the winemaking live interisland vendors plan tends to be larger volumes, not massive volumes, the larger volumes and the Lodi tends to be smaller, some of the tanks are punchdown tanks, some of the tanks are pumped over tanks, we’re using a bit more French Jochen, this is gets about 20% new friendship, and it stays in barrel, you know, not 10 months of the station build for 14 months. So it’s got a little bit more time to evolve and change. So we make it a little bit bigger than the russland, if you will, but it also has got the character of Lodi.
Natalie MacLean 31:27
So can we talk alcohol, please. So this is 14.5. So as I’m tasting these, to me, they don’t taste hot. But 14.5 and I’ve got some others here. 14.9. Holy smokes. So what makes a balanced one, even if you’re at high alcohol and why do these wines have high alcohol and can still not taste hot?
Joel Peterson 31:56
Okay, so let’s talk about why they have high uphold to start with. And then I will give you a whole dissertation on alcohol, which is great. I’m glad you asked that question. So simply doesn’t need uneven ripening great. a cluster of Zinfandel has berries that are perfectly ripe berries that are slightly under ripe, and berries that are slightly overripe or slightly withered on the same cluster. If you pick something else too early, and it doesn’t have a few of these slightly overripe berries on it, the ones have lower alcohols, but they don’t have any kind of internal substance. They don’t have any character, or weight, or any of those things that make them into really good table wines to make them competitive with wines that are from the road or other good European wines, if you will. So you have to get some of that. The trouble with getting some of that is that these slightly weathered berries have extra sugar in them. So you can pick the grapes at what you think is 23 bricks, which is might be where you would pick Cabernet. But actually in the fermenter, it ends up at 25 bricks. So there are two ways of dealing with that either you can pick earlier and get lighter wine, or you can try to find exactly the right spot. So you end up with alcohols around 14 or 14, five, or you can do what some people are doing, you can let them get really ripe because they’re trying to make these big, dense, slightly sweet wines and dilute them back. And hopefully, so you get to like 15 or something like that, but frequently ended up with 16 with some residual sugar associated with them. So alcohol is like one of these funny things, I try to pick at that precise point where the lines come in between 14 and 15% alcohol. And the wines are fresher that way than they are if you let them get riper, and then water the back, and they have more staying power, there’s just better brightness. Now, on to balance. This is a more complicated picture than anybody ever thought it was. It turns out that because of a thing called reverse osmosis, we’ve been able to play without all there been several people who specialise in this. So it turns out that if you take a wine that is 16% alcohol, and you reduce the alcohol level to 13 five, it actually may taste more alcoholic in terms of the way you feel it, then it does at 16. It also turns out that alcohol is not linear. So if you take and you take this wine that you’ve reduced to 13 five, and you add back alcohol and one 10th point incurrence so 13 637 13 849 14 you’ll find that there are what they call in the biz sweet spots. 13 five may take up the whole length of 13 1613 seven make a stop behind but you hit 13 eight and you suddenly reach this point of harmony, where you can’t really taste the alcohol the wine seems to have good character. It seems more balanced. And then you hit 39. And it goes out of whack again, and it goes out of whack, you know, maybe 13. I mean, everyone’s different, but maybe it’ll go up to 14 too. And you’ll say, Wow, so another point of harmony and 14 to it really tastes good, again, doesn’t taste out of balance. So things do this all the way up to scale, the effect of the alcohol is present, because Apple makes the wine taste sweet, as well as everything else. So the one we’ll see seem bigger and rounder at these sweet spots along the way. Now, the way I make wine the way most people make wines, we’re not using reverse osmosis. So it’s a bit of a crapshoot. And whether you end up at one of these sweet points or not, and this is why we blends Why keep all my Lodi vineyard separate from one another. And then I begin to sort of create a blend. And part of creating a blend is creating the harmony. And really part of what we’re doing is finding the sweet spot for alcohol by blending
Natalie MacLean 36:00
the sweet spot for alcohol where it comes together with the flavour and it’s not distinguishable as that’s alcohol. That’s heat that’s worth
Joel Peterson 36:09
Unknown Speaker 36:10
Natalie MacLean 36:10
Interesting. Karissa saying same
Unknown Speaker 36:15
punch down, is it two processes. I’m not sure what that means. Do you know
Joel Peterson 36:21
i’m not sure but she is. But we can describe punch down you know, when I was first making one punch down is where the winemaker literally stands on a board above the bat, and has a punch, which is a disc on the end of the board and pushes the must or the grape skins back into the juice. So you get more of the homogenization of the juice and the mixing so that you get more flavour out of the skin. The other technique that is used through lots of techniques, there is plenty other techniques it’s called uncover where you take the juice off the bottom of the fermenter and you pump it over the top of the fermenter. So you’re creating this blanket of juice that then goes down through the skins and breaks them all up. They give you different things I mean, because you’re actually physically moving the skins around when you’re punching down, you tend to get more structure out of a wine like that, when you pump over tend to be more gentle. It’s a way of maintaining more of the fruit and the one. So winemaking techniques tend to be customised to grapes. So for instance, in Burgundy, they use a lot of hand punchdown and they actually walk around in the must in some places there just to get it broken up. Because Pinot Noir has got thinner skins and it’s not quite as tannic, and you’re really trying to get as much can out of it. So lighter colour grey, but in Bordeaux, where they have this big, massive tannic great you know, Kevin a, Sonia, they tend to pump over because it gets less extractive you don’t get any of the bitterness associated.
Natalie MacLean 38:00
Well, I need a part two here because I need to show the other wines and have another conversation with you. Okay, so I am going to show you two wines here, Joel, from the Dickerson vineyard because I have them here. 2013 2014 from the Dickerson if you want to tell us a little bit about these,
Joel Peterson 38:24
because I wouldn’t be happy. Okay, those are, those are my single vendor designated ones. So we’ve just kind of moved down an Echelon, or up an Echelon in the sense that the vendors I make distant single vineyard wines are really unique, very special vineyards that stand alone, they just make terrific wine. So Dickerson vineyard is a vineyard that was planted in 1920 on Zinfandel lane in Napa Valley. It was one of the first vendors planted on leaf roll infected rootstock. So this changes the way that vineyard metabolises. So instead of being big and round of plummy, like you might expect a Napa Valley Zinfandel to be it tends to be having more red fruit, lots of raspberry tones, lots of spicy tones, some cedar aromatics, and there’s a little bit of a mint Enos to it as well because there’s a hint of the quality. There’s a eucalyptus tree not so far away from it. So it has what I call airwash.
Natalie MacLean 39:25
I wanted to get to that now. Okay, that’s pretty cool. terroir we know or geeks now terroir, climate, soil, etc. Yeah, but what is airmar
Joel Peterson 39:36
aerobar is what you get from the environment around you. So the French like to talk about Gary. In southern France. I like to say that the odours of the lavender and the wild time and things. The oils blow off across the grapes, they land on the grapes and they flavour the wines. We certainly know that. That’s true with Eucalyptus. I’ve seen it also with things like Bay trees, I have a friend who does wine analysis and he takes things apart with this gas chromatograph. And he once gave me an extract and he said, Hey, what’s this? One of the lines? I said, juice? It smells like a fry restaurant smells like greasy. And he said, Yeah, he says the standard is right behind a fast food restaurant that fence out over. He says, the character that you’re getting is in fact, you know, Gregory’s we tasted the wines, you couldn’t actually taste it in the wine it comes out as this lightly interesting character. He wouldn’t say oh my god that smells like a greasy spoon. But it’s there and the same if you showed me another one that was next to a diesel truck stop. And the his fraction you can actually smell the diesel fuel but in the wine, it was there. But it was like you know, only if you knew
Natalie MacLean 40:54
what’s happening is it the molecules airborne molecules settling on the leaf so the grapes,
Joel Peterson 41:01
it’s actually the airborne molecules settling on the clusters. You see it most radically with say, eucalyptus trees which produce oil Yeah, and in windy years that are quite hot. The ones tend to have their near Eucalyptus tend to have a more Eucalyptus flavour associated with them. Because they’re these little drops of oil blow out across the vineyard and ultimately, are highly flavoured. If you’ve ever been in a sauna with Eucalyptus, you know how distinct it is. So those when those get on the grapes, they’re there to stay. They go through the whole winemaking process with you.
Natalie MacLean 41:35
Hmm. So they actually impact the flavour of the final line.
Joel Peterson 41:40
They do. Absolutely. Nice Martha’s Vineyard as a perfect example of you know how every everybody talks about how minty it is. And now you will see it is? Yeah, that’s that and tastes almost any Australian Sure. As always has that kind of mediaeval, fussy? No, that’s because it’s got Eucalyptus around. Interesting.
Natalie MacLean 42:02
Okay. Well, we’ll take your word for it, but I’m sensitive to as well. So we’ve got the Dickerson Is there much difference in your opinion between the 2014 and 2013?
Joel Peterson 42:16
Really, they’re both from the same vendor. 2013 was a bit of a smaller vintage, so it tends to be a little bit more concentrated and there tends to be a little bit more roundness to the fruit, but they’re both very pretty. Bill Dickerson was a very good friend of mine, and he and I were running a domain Chandon race before I knew him actually, he was in my father’s group when I was a kid. So I’d run into him before. And we were running along. And I looked over at this guy, and I said, I know this guy. And I said, Tony, I know you’re from somewhere. And he looked over at me, and he said, I’m sure I don’t know you. I was in my long hair days. And I said, Yeah, that’s the North Carolina accent. I know. You’re bill Dickerson, aren’t you? And he looked at me, and a slightly horrified way, thinking I was probably one of his patients. He was a psychiatrist. So he said, What are you doing here? I said, Well, I got a little wine ring. I said, What are you doing here? So like a little dinner, you know, and I find a degree Zinfandel. So I’m running along. I’m trying to negotiate Symphony Bell from him. And he says, you know, maybe you’d like to start running. Now. He said, we’re getting near the end of the race. We can talk about this afterwards. Now. He’s old enough to be my father. So he’s like, 20 years older than I am, at least. And I’m just thinking, Okay, old man, let’s run. And he beats me by a full minute. I was pretty embarrassing. Wow. So we ended up doing this finger together and insisted that I make wine for him, as well. So he had something called Dickerson press. And it was the same one basically, I would start the bottling line I Bible myself. 1800 cases, I bought 200 cases for him. And then I finished up with the mom in line. But you know, this one’s number got the same score from the line writer. Yeah, really. And sometimes even the same periodical. Even though they were identical ones. Yeah.
Unknown Speaker 44:01
That’s why writers there’s so that’s
Joel Peterson 44:03
why writers is so difficult.
Unknown Speaker 44:05
Don’t get me going.
Natalie MacLean 44:09
So let’s differentiate. This is the Bologna Am I saying?
Unknown Speaker 44:14
Natalie MacLean 44:15
Bologna from the Dickerson what is the Bologna?
Joel Peterson 44:18
Bologna is one of my favourites. So Dickerson is the name of the vineyard, felonious name of the vineyard, delone Dickerson’s, 100% Zinfandel. Okay, but bellone is one of the true old mind field plan. This one’s planted around 1900
Natalie MacLean 44:34
let’s define blend it’s because they didn’t really they planted a bunch of different vines and whatever, right?
Joel Peterson 44:41
Yeah, this isn’t coke plantation. So back in the old days, they didn’t really care to make for lunch just wanted to make the best flavoured one. And different regions have slightly different mixes of grapes depending on what they needed. So this is Russian River, so it has a fair amount of outcome to O’Shea because they had trouble getting colour, but they also had lentils let it hang long enough. So they did acidity. So it’s got some carrying on. It’s got a little mataro in it as well. Yeah, and a little cheat syrup. So I pick all the grapes together, and I co ferment them so that you get all the goodness and all the synergies that those grapes bring to one another. But may may have exactly the same way Dickerson is made. Yeah, same photographer matters the same time and barrel on the same native use. But of course native use, this is another place we can go for if you’re interested, not a native use this part of terroir. Now, the native ease. Every vineyard has a fingerprint. We know now based on all this good DNA we do with PCR, everything has a fingerprint that is identical for that particular vendor.
Natalie MacLean 45:44
PCR is what
Joel Peterson 45:46
PCR or polymerase chain reaction is the same. And just Yeah, don’t you know, polymerase chain reaction, it’s the new way we have of looking at mix solutions of organisms and identifying them with their DNA. People use it originally on gut microflora when they’re trying to figure out you know, why people had colitis, and things like that. But it turns out, you can use it in vineyards. So we can look at the mix of micro flora. In, for instance, fermentation solutions, we can look at micro Flora on grapes by crushing the grapes all together. And we can identify every fungus and every bacteria within that particular solution. So it’s quite amazing.
Natalie MacLean 46:36
Wow, you’re so into science. This is not enough. This one conversation.
Unknown Speaker 46:40
Natalie MacLean 46:41
need to do this again. Well, at least you know what, it’s gone so fast. Joel, really, I mean it, I want to have you back again and dive deeper because the stories bring to life, the wine, and yet there’s lots of education wedged in the middle crevices, which are amazing. I’m going to close this right now. Not that I want to, but because you need to go on and have your life and other people need you. But I want to invite you back again, when you come back, please, you know soon. And talk with us again, because this is amazing. I love all the history, all of the science, all of the backstory. It’s been terrific.
Joel Peterson 47:26
I would be delighted to do that. It’s great fun to talk to you, you about good questions. And this technology. It’s amazing. We can do it. I mean, it’s not that hard. It’s not like I have to travel. Any place that I can just pull out my computer and we can talk.
Unknown Speaker 47:42
Yeah, it’s it’s pretty cool.
Unknown Speaker 47:44
bringing us together through wine and technology is
Joel Peterson 47:47
Natalie MacLean 47:48
So thank you so much for a great chat. I
Unknown Speaker 47:51
really appreciate it.
Joel Peterson 47:53
Thank you, Natalie. All right. See you soon.
Natalie MacLean 47:55
Yeah, absolutely. Good luck.
Well, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my chat with Joel Peterson. Here are my takeaways. Number one, I love Joel’s story about tasting wines as a child and learning to identify aromas, like not just apples but the type of apples by smelling and eating them. That’s how we all can learn to be better sniffers and tasters to the historical roots of Zinfandel, and its links to Croatia when it was part of the austro Hungarian Empire as well as the Venetian Cortes is fascinating. As is the detective work to establish the grapes true heritage and parentage. Its history goes back to 1488 and it’s one of the 12 founding grapes of all wine grapes. And three, I now understand better why Lodi makes such great Zinfandel with its deep sandy soils that were once part of an ancient ocean bed. This produces larger grape clusters with smaller skin to flesh ratios, resulting in less harsh tannins and a smoother juicy or fruity or wine. For I also appreciate how wine achieves sweet spots of different alcohol levels where everything is imbalanced. I eat the fruit and the acidity say at 13.8% alcohol but maybe not at 13.9% especially when it comes to Zinfandel. Five. The concept of airwasher is fascinating and something I want to explore more in the wines I taste in terms of their influences. And six, I love the story of the ravenswood name, including all the raven folklore and Poe and Odin. You won’t want to miss next week when I chat with Janet Fletcher, the author or co author of nearly 30 books on food and beverage, including cheese and wine. She publishes the weekly planet cheese blog, and her writing has appeared in The New York Times several Fine cooking and food and wine. We’re talking about wine and cheese pairings for the holidays. In the meantime, if you missed Episode 45 go back and take a listen. It’s all about pairing wines with Turkey. Whether that’s for Thanksgiving, if you live in the US, or for the upcoming holiday season around the world. I also chat about wine trends that you can completely ignore, and a weird wine defect called mouse. Who knew? I’ll share a short clip with you now, to whet your appetite. Unlike poultry and gamebirds turkey meat is very dry and texture especially if I cook it No, I can’t cook. What am I saying? I pull corks I don’t cook. Even with the best of cooks Turkey is not your friend in terms of juiciness. Good options. Wine wise are crisp whites like Riesling and Pinot Grigio. And yes, you can drink red wine with white meat. Pinot Noir, Beaujolais gourmet Zinfandel all have juicy, berry ripe flavours that go well with the turkey. What you want to avoid really are grippy tannin. Big reds like Cabernet. A big buttery Chardonnay from California Chile can compliment the roasted smoky flavours of squash chestnuts and pecan stuffing. But if you’d rather have a contrast to the richness of cream sauces and dressings, try a crisp New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or an Austrian gruner Veltliner. If you like this episode, please tell one friend about it this week, especially someone you know who be interested in the wine tips that Joel Peterson shared. You can find links to the wines we tasted in the show notes, the video version of this chat, where you can find me on Facebook Live every second Wednesday at 7pm and how you can join me in a free online wine and food pairing class. That’s all in the show notes at Natalie MacLean comm forward slash 104 Thank you for taking the time to join me here. I hope something great is in your glass this week. Perhaps on lip smacking delicious Zinfandel.
You don’t want to miss one juicy episode of this podcast, especially the secret full body bonus episodes that I don’t announce on social media. So subscribe for free now at Natalie MacLean comm forward slash subscribe. We’ll be here next week. Cheers