Joel Peterson has been making wine in California’s Sonoma Valley since before tourists saw it as a vacation destination. The Ravenswood Wineryfounder’s parents introduced him to the crushed grape early on, after bottle of 1945 Châteauneuf-du-Pape was tasted at their 1951 Thanksgiving dinner, along with an early 1950’s Château d’Yquemthat cost $3.45 a bottle. Joel’s father started one of the first wine tasting societies in the San Francisco region of California, and would look to his young son, with a fresh, naive nose, to identify aromas in the wine. If Joel smelled apple, the society would taste the night selections with apples; if he smelled licorice, they would taste with licorice. He helped influence the pioneering society with a fresh perspective. Joel’s fate was set then and there.
He started Ravenswood in 1976 with a total of 327 produced cases. Today that number has grown to hundreds of thousands. When he started he wanted to create a great Bordeaux blend, but knew that he wasn’t ready to compete with the big dog of the time, Robert Mondavi, so he decided to be a small fish in the small Zinfandel pond and create something special from this truly Californian grape. In order to develop respect for this fruity grape he co-founded ZAP, Zinfandel Associates and Producers, organization. The first ZAP conference had about 50 people in attendance, 25 of which were from the wineries. Today it is an international conference, with the annual San Francisco event hosting and attendance of over 9,000 Zinfandel lovers and additional conferences held all over the country.
Clearly, Joel’s desire to craft classic style wine, from what he believes is the best grape to grow in California, from exceptionally old vines, has proven successful. He has an uncompromising determination to create the best his vineyards will allow, and today he is the largest producer of Zinfandel in the world. Follow the jump for more.
His most affordable is the Ravenswood Vintner’s blend, which he started producing in 1983 with 1,500 cases. Today he makes over 500,000. Though the quantity of wine produced is big, he still maintains style and stability in his wine. With grapes of his own, as well as sourced from Lodi, Mendocino and Amador counties, he strives to produce a Zinfandel that is affordable and drinkable, and doesn’t give you a massive headache in the morning from high alcohol, a problem with some Zinfandel. He notes the main sin of Zin is too much fruit, alcohol and oak….
The Zinfandel of his County series maintain his thought that wine needs to be “brought off the pedestal and onto the table” by making wine in an expensive, classic style that consistently is priced below $20 for the Lodi, Napa and Sonoma series Zinfandel. These wines are made from vines that are a minimum of 55 years old and up to 110 years old….these are old vines. Each brings a different flavor profile to the collection due to the regions they are grown in and the age of the vines, though all are balanced, approachable, fruit forward and a go to for pairing with anything from hearty cheese to rich Texas barbecue.
The Ravenswood Single Vineyard series contain small production, complex Zinfandels with depth, complexity, and a bit of a racy, never wimpy, style. Big River Vineyard Zinfandel is made from vines plated over 100 years ago in California’s Alexander Valley. Spice, raspberry and plum exude from this well rounded, jammy wine, characteristic of old vine Zinfandel. Teldeschi Zinfandel, made from Dry Creek Valley vines, is aged 20 months in 100% French Oak adding vanilla undertones to this wine filled with black cherry and sweet spice like cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.
The Icon is the smallest production Zinfandel that Ravenswood makes, a blend of Carignane, Petite Syrah, Alicante Bouschet and Zinfandel. It is the highest end wine Ravenswood makes, and arguably the most refined in the portfolio. A tribute to Sonoma’s Mixed Black fruit with intense black cherry, plum, black pepper, sweet spice and blackberry, the wine is a tribute to old vines in California, and an amazing pairing with Dallas Fish Market’s Black Truffle wrapped Sea Bass.
Joel’s goals, now 30+ years into successfully making award winning wine in California, seem to revolve around continued travel to some of his favorite areas of the world, including the Nordic regions of Europe, celebrating the new found success of his son Morgan and his winery, Bedrock Wine Company, and continuing to make satisfying Zinfandel that will keep global wine drinkers wanting more.
Ravenswood Vintner’s Blend can be found in grocery stores throughout Dallas. The Single Vineyard series is available at most Dallas Goody-Goody Locations.