2007 Pickberry Sonoma County Meritage
California: Sonoma County
What we say
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Mission Codename: Pick of the Litter
Operative: Agent Red
Objective: Send Agent Red back to Ravenswood Winery, one of our most popular wineries, to procure their flagship Red Wine, a tiny-production, single vineyard gem that is especially popular with the winery’s wine club members.
Mission Status: Accomplished!
Current Winery: Ravenswood Winery
Wine Subject: 2007 Pickberry Red Wine – Sonoma Mountain
Winemaker: Joel Peterson
Backgrounder: We are very pleased to return to Ravenswood Winery, one of our most popular wineries. This time around, Agent Red was able to secure a handful of cases of their single vineyard Pickberry Red Wine, a low-availability, limited-production wine that is the winery’s hidden gem.
The Sonoma mountain AVA was shaped by ancient volcanic activity. The mountain, which consists of obsidian, marine deposits and ash, rises high above the Sonoma Valley. Vineyards on Sonoma Mountain benefit from being above the fog line. This allows for even, slow ripening – resulting in complex Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with elegant and complex fruit flavors. Today’s wine is a single-vineyard blend of 58% Merlot and 42% Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wine Spies Tasting Profile:
c*Look* – Darkest ruby red hues, with Color concentration that is uniform, from core to slightly lighter magenta edging. After giving the wine a light swirl, tall, thin, wine-stained legs rush quickly down the inside of the glass.
Smell – Layered and lush with sweet spiced cherry, blackberry, raspberry and dark flower petals. These sit atop follow-on aromas of plum, bramble bush, cocoa and sweet cedar.
Feel – Soft and velvet-smooth at first, then grippy and softly textured as the wine settles onto the mid-palate. Tannins are mild and evenly integrated. A medium acidity and slate minerals add balance and elegance.
Taste – Darkly delicious, with big black cherry, overripe blackberry, braised plum, bramble and cocoa dust. As the wine opens up, these flavors are joined by black flower petals, subtle dark spice, darkly toasted oak, flinty minerals and a hint of black pepper.
Finish – Very long, slightly drying and mouthwatering, with delicious black and red fruit that gently yields to earthy flavors of dark flowers, slate and spice.
Conclusion – This wine gets our heartiest recommendation. It is a flavor-packed, delicious, elegant and interesting wine that our tasting panel could not stop sipping. And, when we ran out, we found ourselves dispatching a sober agent back to the winery for more ‘sample bottles’. There is simply just something about this wine that had us all wanting more. This wine also took us by surprise. Most of us equate Ravenswood Winery with exceptional Zinfandels, so when we starting receiving chatter on today’s 2007 Ravenswood Pickberry Red Wine, we were intrigued – and a little skeptical. Just one sip of the wine instantly changed our minds. Once sip was all it took to fall in love. Pair this darkly juicy wine as you would any Cab or Merlot. We’ll enjoy our next bottles with a juicy steak!
Joel Peterson, gentleman winemaker for Ravenswood, was too busy to sit down with us today (Intel suggests that he’s on a covert mission at the moment), but here is a retransmission of our original interview with Joel when we reviewed his Chauvet Zinfandel.
WINEMAKER INTEL BRIEFING DOSSIER
SUBJECT: JOEL PETERSON
DATE OF BIRTH: APRIL 1947
PLACE OF BIRTH: Born in Oakland, California. Fifth generation Californian.
SIGNATURE VARIETAL: ZINFANDEL
WINEMAKER QUOTE: ”Style, history, quality, character – California wine has it all.”
AGENT RED: Greetings, Joel. We are thrilled to be showing your very exclusive Chauvet Zinfandel today. Thanks so much for taking some time to answer questions for our Operatives today.
JOEL: Happy to answer questions, particularly when they are about my favorite subject, wine. I am also thrilled that you are showing my wine today. Direct experience is one of the best ways that we have of developing fans for Ravenswood wines.
RED: I’m sure that our Operatives will respond well to today’s offer. Your Chauvet Zinfandel is excellent! Was there a specific experience in your life that inspired your love of wine?
JOEL: My father taught me to taste when I was fairly young. Many young men play baseball or hunt with their fathers (we did those things as well), but what was unusual was that I learned to taste wine and as a result got an olfactory training that is fairly rare. The single wine that change my vision of wine was a 1957 Chateau Fortia. I was about 20 years old and had developed incredibly interesting and complex perfume and flavors making is one of the most memorable wines that I had tasted up to that date.
RED: And where did you learn the most about winemaking?
JOEL: I spent the years from 1973 until 1977 with Joseph Swan learning the nuts and bolts of winemaking. Joe was good friends with Andre Tchelistcheff and used him as a consultant, so I was able to learn in a very hands on way from the best in the business.
RED: What is your winemaking style or philosophy?
JOEL: Wines should reflect the flavors of the places that they were grown. Wine should taste like fruit, not oak. Wine should be balanced, rich and complex and interesting. The best wines are the ones that develop well with age. To that end we attempt to let each vineyard express it’s optimal character by using winemaking techniques and careful attention to detail that dwells on each vineyards particular strengths. Our mantra is “no wimpy wines”, meaning that we want each wine we have to exhibit strength of character, not merely power.
RED: What wine or winemaker has most influenced your winemaking style?
JOEL: There are a whole series of wines that have influenced my winemaking style. Most of them have been European form places like Bordeaux, the Rhone and northern Italy. These memorable wines have a certain balance of fruit, density, acid and tannin that I find desirable in a wine.
RED: How long have you been making wine?
JOEL: 35 years
RED: Who do you make wine for?
JOEL: I make the wine that best expresses the vineyard, the vintage is balanced and tastes good. As a result ,it is fair to say that, Ravenswood makes wine for me, wine reviewers and wine lovers everywhere.
RED: Tell me, what makes the Sonoma Valley so special?
JOEL: The Sonoma Valley is, from a historical perspective, one of the first important grape growing regions in California. It was chosen because it has all the elements that create excellent wines. The soils, for the most part, are volcanic. In the case of Old Hill, they are called Tuscan Red Hill soils. These soils are ideal for dry farming vineyards. The other primary characteristic is that it has a maritime influence which creates a significant diurnal variation; that is warm days and cool nights. This allows for longer maturation resulting in more intense and fresher fruit flavors in the wine.
RED: What is one piece of advice that you would give to someone that is considering a career as a winemaker?
JOEL: Learn your craft well, be patient and love what you do. It is not “just a job”.
RED: What is occupying your time at the winery these days?
JOEL: The usual things, but I spend a lot of time these day sharing the joy of wine and the special aspects Ravenswood with as many people as I can.
RED: Please tell me a little bit about the wine we are featuring today
JOEL: The 2006 Ravenswood Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel is a wonderful wine. It received 95 points from Wine and Spirits Magazine and was their highest rated Zinfandel of the year. The vineyard is one of California’s most historic and interesting vineyard plantings. It is located in Sonoma Valley and was originally planted in 1861 by William McPhearson Hill. The vines that go into the wine that we are featuring were planted in 1889. This is a unique vineyard because it is a mixed field blend planting from the old school of California viticulture. As planted, it includes zinfandel which is about 51% of the field blend, and as many as 14 other grape varieties. Many of these varieties are Rhone varieties like Syrah and Grenache and Mourvedre. This contributes a rather interesting Rhone-like character to the wine, which is rich, complex and age worthy as one might expect of a vineyard with this kind of low production and vine age. The vineyard is certified organic and is farmed with great attention and care. The winemaking is very simple, designed to bring out the best flavors of the grapes. Open top fermenters, punched down by hand, native yeast fermentations and approximately 30% new French oak contribute to the complexity, harmony, and nuance found in this wine.
RED: What is your favorite pairing with today’s wine?
JOEL: This wine would work well with anything that had its origins in the Mediterranean or Northern Italy. One of my favorite pairings with this wine is osso bucco or, alternately, a lamb daube.
RED: Please share one thing about yourself that few people know
JOEL: I delivered my son, Morgan, at home.
RED: Both of my mini-agents were, as well! Tell me, what is your favorite ‘everyday’ or table wine?
JOEL: Sherman and Hookers Shebang. A one liter jug wine from California. Beyond that, I taste so much, my answer should be whatever wine is in front of me.
RED: How would you recommend that people approach your wines, or wine in general?
JOEL: With a sense of exploration, joy and with food and company.
RED: If you could choose any one wine to drink (regardless of price or availability), what would it be?
JOEL: I would never make such a choice. Wine is about diversity and complexity. One wine would be boring. This is not a monotheistic endeavor.
RED: Excellent answer! What is the one question that I should have asked you, and what is your answer to that question?
JOEL: Do you have the best, most interesting, most diverse, most challenging, most satisfying job in the universe? My answer, “YES!”
RED: Thank you so much for your time. We learned a lot about you – and about your wine. Keep up the great work, we are big fans!
JOEL: Every winery needs fans. Without them there is only a singular void. So, thank you to you and all those who make wine part of their daily experience.
Wine Spies Vineyard Check:
The location of Teldeschi Vineyards in Sonoma’s Dry Creek Valley can be seen in this satellite photo.
What the winery says
91 Points – Wine & Spirits – “Joel Peterson’s classic blend of merlot (58 percent) and cabernet sauvignon is packed with flavor detail in 2007. It tastes vinous rather than bluntly fruited as it evolves across the palate, yielding tart red berries, floral scents and game. The tannins have reached a chocolate ripeness, while the wine shows some acidity, framing it along the edges. Decant it for a thick-cut sirloin.”
91 Points – International Wine Cellar – “Musky aromas of red- and blackcurrant, tobacco, cocoa powder and herbs. Sappy and fresh, offering impressively concentrated red and black fruit flavors in a youthfully linear style. Tangy minerality adds lift to the back end, which is complicated by a medicinal character. Finishes firm, with note of cherry and candied flowers and dusty tannins. I’d bet on this aging very slowly.”
About This Wine:
The outstanding growing season gave us excellent ripeness that resulted in rich, round tannins. This lovely wine also has hints of the classic cinnamon and cardamon baking spice we associate with Pickberry.
About The Winery:
For as long as anybody cares to remember, this has been the credo (calling card? Battle cry? Team yell? Coat of arms?) of Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma, California. Expressing our commitment to full-flavored varietal wine — notably Zinfandel — it sums up our mission to capture everything a vineyard has to offer, and to promote it in a way that won’t put people to sleep. Wine is, after all, one of the most fascinating and fun things in life, which is why Ravenswood winemaker Joel Peterson believes that it belongs on the table — not on a pedestal or in an ivory tower.
How did the name of Ravenswood become interchangeable with irresistibility? In the early 1970s, when California’s claim to fame was the “best jug wine in the world,” Joel’s dream was to create wines that would rival the greatest of Europe. Turned out he wasn’t dreaming: In his first vintage, 1976, he produced 327 cases of Dry Creek Zin that took first place in a prestigious San Francisco tasting. But despite the cult following and critical acclaim that began to swirl around its hypnotic logo, Ravenswood remained a roving boutique until the late 1980s, when its Vintners Blend program was launched. Conceived on Joel’s conviction that, besides great wine, the world needs good, affordable wine (“a lake of wine an inch deep”), it redefined the concept of Best Jug Wine in the World.
Thanks to this and a few other things (not least, its tireless campaign against priggish elitism), Ravenswood acquired an informal reputation as the people’s premium winery. In 1999 the company went public with a “Dutch auction” of shares offered over the Internet, and two years later Ravenswood was purchased by Constellation Brands, becoming part of its fine-wine division, Franciscan Estates — a productive partnership that kept the winery under Joel’s control while providing greater resources for efficient operation and growth.
The picture has changed a bit since 1976. Following the original inspiration of wineries like Ravenswood, California has now shirked its once-wimpy status to a fault. But the more things change around our Sonoma headquarters, the more they stay the same. In this brave new enologically altered world, Ravenswood continues to set a stubborn standard for complex, balanced, uncompromising wine that captures everything a vineyard has to offer (and, we might add, nothing more).
About The Winemaker:
Joel Peterson grew up on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay during the Dark Ages when California wine was judged by the type of jug it was bottled in. However, Joel’s farsighted father Walter bucked the status quo by starting the San Francisco Wine Sampling Club, which studied fine wines from all over the world. Walter allowed his son to join the group’s twice-weekly tastings when Joel was nine years old, carefully measuring the wine in the boy’s glass — then his spittoon — to make sure everything was expectorated.
By the time he was a teenager, Joel thus had a working knowledge of European vineyards and vintages, along with a collection of headstrong opinions about what made good wine. After graduating from Oregon State University, he followed in the professional footsteps of his parents (both of whom were chemists), going to work as a laboratory scientist. On the side, he made money through wine writing and consulting, gaining a local reputation as a gifted taster (and tasteless punster).
Eventually it dawned on Joel that he had the background (not to mention the prejudices) to be an actual winemaker. Hence, he apprenticed with Joseph Swan — one of California’s outstanding craftsmen of fine Zinfandel — to learn the art of traditional winemaking as practiced in Bordeaux and Burgundy. In 1976 Joel founded Ravenswood in partnership with fellow wine lover Reed Foster (a Harvard MBA gone astray) and over the next half-dozen years, their fledgling operation moved from the rear corner of one willing winery to another. When Ravenswood finally turned a profit after a dozen years of operation, they settled on the northern edge of Sonoma, where the winery’s tasting room is located.
Joel is now acknowledged as a leader in California wine — an articulate spokesman and stylistic trendsetter who helped make Zinfandel the runaway phenomenon that it is today. If there were a California Winemaking Hall of Fame, he’d be a shoo-in for early induction — not just as a home-run hitter but as one of the most popular players in the majors. (It’s said that even as a Little Leaguer he could handle the spitter with aplomb.)
Varietal: 58% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon
Appellation: Sonoma County
Aging: 20 Months in French Oak
Ageability: 5-20 years