Monday, February 15, 2016

Report from: Ravenswood Tasting with Joel Peterson - Nov 16, 2015


As founder of Ravenswood Joel has some pretty interesting stories to share. He started the winery at 40 years of age (1976) and while many of his contemporaries are eyeing up retirement he says: "It's hard for me to ever consider [it]".

Joel got into wine at an early age and mostly because of his parents' love of it: his mother's first wine was a 1945 Chateauneuf-du-Pape (that's why mom loved the fermented juice) and he helped his dad simplify wine describing terminology at age 10 (as an official sniffer).

Joel Peterson (Nov. 16, 2015)
To keep his winery dream afloat Joel held down a second job till 1992. He saw his first profitable year (on paper) in 1987 and until 1982 when he open his own winery he was a "nomadic" winemaker - making his wines wherever he could.

He started with Zinfandel for two reasons: it had a past (arrived in California 1852) and by 1888 was the most planted variety, and it definitely had a future. He has a theory about Zinfandel that I have never heard before, but does make an awful lot of sense: "What ever you make you're always going to be compared to Bordeaux and Burgundy, except when it comes to Zinfandel." 

The 8 wines we tried - all Zin (no pink)

He calls Zinfandel a "chameleon" because it really takes on the character of the site it is planted on - and Joel should know because he makes quite a few single vineyard offerings. Today he makes 800,000 cases from 1000 acres of grapes.

Today's wines were both a look ahead and a look behind at the work of Joel Peterson and his icon Ravenswood (you will notice no wimpy or pink wines in these reviews) :

2014 Besieged
Known as a blend of "Mixed Blacks" - sounds racial but actually means: Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Carignan, Alicante and a few others ... traditional California field blend: Dark purple/red in colour with sweet black cherry and plum on the nose; ripe round chocolate-cherry, plum and vanilla on the palate. (*** 1/2+)

2013  Lodi County Series
20% new French, Joel is a fan of oak but only as a perfume on the wine. Aromas of black cherry, white pepper and hints of spice; good acidity on the palate with black cherry, plum and a blueberry-earthy type finish. Primarily made from 80 year old vines with a little Petite Sirah and Carignan added for depth.  (*** 1/2)

2012 Dickerson Vineyard
The Dickerson Vineyard is located in Napa on Zinfandel Lane and was planted in the 1920's ... the 2012 has aromas of strawberry, violets and mint (not surprising says Joel because there's a eucalyptus tree on the property); palate is strawberry, raspberry, cherry with hints of plum and violets on the finish - this is a very pretty Zin.  (****)

2006 Dickerson Vineyard ... mint, strawberry and raspberry lead things off; there's a little oak on this one and it's apparent along with earth, strawberry, pepper and raspberry that also show up - it's still quite powerful and intense.

1999 Dickerson Vineyard (from Magnum - 1500ml) ... a mint and tarry character start it off but gradually dried raspberry and herbal notes materialize ... palate is smoky with plenty of dried red fruit, herbal and pepper - very Barolo-esque.

2012 Old Hill Vineyard
Joel started making this wine in 1982 - the vineyard itself was planted in 1861 with some different different varieties, 75% Zinfandel and 25% mixed blacks (some of the grapes in this vineyard haven't even been DNA tested yet, so who really knows what's in here): Chocolate, cherry plum and white pepper followed by a rich plummy note with spices, cherries and great acidity making the whole thing a treat to drink - exceptionally pretty and pure; bright and flavourful ... simply put this wine was stunning.  (*****)

2006 Old Hill Vineyard ... aromas have a touch of plum and wood  but come across very Port-like; the palate has a sweetness of fruit with vanilla and dried cherry backing it up on the long finish.

1999 Old Hill Vineyard ... incredibly youthful wine with aromas and flavours that seemed much younger than the previously tasted 2006: chocolate, plum, black cherry all lightly smoked with a touch of vanilla added to season along with a dollop of sandalwood ... gorgeous for a 15 year old Zin, must another reason why I love this grape.

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