We first spoke with Joel Peterson, aka the “Godfather of Zinfandel,” during our podcast of the Historical Vineyard Society’s tasting event last fall. (Replay the show here.) That was our first introduction to his wealth of knowledge about California’s historic vineyards—but also about the versatility of zinfandel.
Whom better to learn from at ZAP! than Joel Peterson himself about the current State of America’s Grape?
Following our discussions with several zinfandel viticulturists, Peterson sat down with us to discuss how he got into the wine industry and what he’s learned over four decades in the industry. He got his start in late 1972, meeting Joe Swan. That led to a chance to learn the art of winemaking. We could say the rest is history, but that wouldn’t do service to his story.
You’ll need to tune in to hear about his childhood, growing up in a household of two chemists. His father was wine obsessed, eventually writing one of the first wine newsletters in the San Francisco Bay Area called The San Francisco Wine Sampling Society. As we are women-centric at the podcast, we want to give a shout-out to Peterson’s mother, Frances, who trained as a nuclear chemist worked on the Manhattan project at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Woot! Woot!
Now where does zinfandel fit in?
Conveniently for all of us, although Joe Swan wanted to specialize in Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, he practiced his early winemaking with zinfandel. It was those first Joe Swan wines that made Joel fall in love with Zinfandel and, in particular, with older vines.
When he started Ravenswood in 1976, he wanted to focus on zinfandel. Though he was able to make single vineyard wines that helped redefine the qualitative ceiling of California’s old vines, Ravenswood also started to make a wine called “Vintners Blend” that proved immensely popular. Over several decades its annual production kicked up to nearly one million cases, at one point becoming the bestselling red zinfandel brand in the world.
Along the way, Joel has been a Sole Proprietor, a General Partner in a Limited Partnership, the President of both a C Corporation and a publicly traded corporation and a Senior Vice President at Constellation Wines. He’s also served as the President of Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers. He helped found ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) and has had the opportunity to be its President two times. He also sits on the Board of the Sonoma County Vintners and has been inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame. He supports and consults with the Historic Vineyard Society. And, oh, yes! He’s now the proud proprietor of Once and Future Wine, from which we got to taste his 2018 Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel from the Teldeschi Vineyard. (It was stupendous!)
Once and Future Wine Company is a return to the original vision he had for Ravenswood so many years ago. A project that specializes in wines from special vineyards made with a sensitivity to place and in a style that he personally loves and believes in.