Travels in Wine / Sonoma

Travels In Wine Sonoma: Catching up with Joel Peterson & Silver Oak

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Sarah Knowles MW Sarah Knowles MW / 17 January 2019

A Peterson update

Last year we were the first to ship Joel Peterson’s new wines Once and Future.

Joel’s status as the ‘godfather of zinfandel’ was sealed when his limited-production single-vineyard wines sold out quickly in this first offer and have been resoundingly enjoyed by critics and members alike.

At home with Joel (the godfather of zin) Peterson
At home with Joel (the godfather of zin) Peterson

This year I met with Joel on a Sunday morning at his home to taste through the barrel samples of the 2017s. Joel has expanded his range, using his long-established network of friends who own old vines across Sonoma to secure parcels of fruit with exceptional quality from often 100-year-old plus vines.

Joel describes the 2017 vintage as a tricky one, with a number of heat spikes, and some shatter (coulure – poor fruit-set) with yields 20-30% down. However, by harvest the grapes were showing good phenolic ripeness sooner than usual, which enabled an earlier harvest and brighter natural acidities. Joel felt that structurally, the tannins were well balanced and that these wines would age well.

Many of the wines Joel now crafts are made in only 200-300 case quantities, and my tastings notes are peppered with references to vines planted in the 1800s such as Joel’s own Bedrock vineyard, planted in 1888. The wines are vibrant and bold. Joel famously has never made ‘whimpy wines’ and his style has not been compromised with this project. However, the slightly earlier harvest, use of his old redwood tanks and limited (if any) new oak aging, has created a range of very intense, bold and yet bright reds.

A real treat – older vintages of Ravenswood Zinfandels over brunch
A real treat – older vintages of Ravenswood
Zinfandels over brunch

A treat that I love, is that often at my tastings with Joel he will produce older bottles of his Ravenswood Zinfandels (many made from the same vineyards he is working with again with new project Once & Future). I was not disappointed and over a Sunday brunch, Joel, Erika and I shared two wines from the 1990s. I am always delighted to see how well zinfandel can age, and in which way it goes. From my tastings, after 20 years once powerful, fruit laden chocolatey zins can smell tart, spiced and savoury, falling somewhere between older Rioja and Chianti. These fine wines are a treat to enjoy, and as any of you who already collect the wonderful Ridge Zins, these O&Fs wines are a must to add to your cellar!

Samples of new vintages from barrel
Samples of new vintages from barrel

We will be selling Joel’s 2017s in March 2019 – so keep your eyes peeled as stocks are sadly limited.

A new winery and cellar-door facility for Silver Oak

Sonoma heavyweights Silver Oak have just finished a huge redevelopment of their winery and cellar-door facility.

On this visit it was fascinating to see how detailed the redesign of the cellar and winery was. Everything that could be done to make the process of making the wine more efficiently, maximising every opportunity to increase the quality of the end product, was done.

The iconic water tower at Silver Oak
The iconic water tower at Silver Oak
Silver Oak barrel hall
Silver Oak barrel hall

Another important factor considered in the rebuild was sustainability. The new building meets or exceeds all modern specs for sustainability. Water is down-cycled three times, through a complex network of colour-coded hoses, before being filtered onsite. Solar panels installed will be powerful enough to create enough energy to more than cover the planned usage, with the aim to put energy back into the grid rather than draw from it. From its first vintage it is a net zero energy and water system.

The new cellar-door facility is also sustainable, but is nonetheless incredibly stylish; a perfect setting to present these polished wines.

Silver Oak winery state of the art water-reclamation membrane-bioreactor
Silver Oak winery state of the art water-reclamation membrane-bioreactor

Silver Oak's 2595 rooftop solar panels generate over one megawatt of electricity a year
Silver Oak's 2595 rooftop solar panels generate over one megawatt of electricity a year


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