Joel Peterson | The Godfather of Zinfandel

Joel Peterson in his element.

As someone I consider to be one of the generous, genuine and brilliant lights of California wine, and someone who has given 50 years to the dirt and the grapes, it was hard to figure out how to do Joel Peterson justice in 450 words.

He is back to kicking dirt, tending vines and collaborating with farmers to make small lots of the best wine he can. This passion project is aptly titled Once and Future Wine.

Sometimes the best answers are the simplest and as I revisited his godfather moniker it all became clear. Dictionary definitions of the term include: “a man who is influential or pioneering in a movement.” Using that as a guide, it is easy to state that when it comes to the Zinfandel-as-fine-wine movement in California no one has been a more influential pioneer than Peterson.

Once and Future wines.

This is true because before him, Zinfandel was seen merely as a high-yielding filler grape for jug wines.

He was one of the first to see the potential for something more worthy of single variety wines grown in top-quality vineyards. Just as importantly, he was the first to promote Zinfandel as being the equal of anything the new world had to offer. In addition, he has protected those Zinfandel’s grand cru vineyards from building development or being replaced with grapes that command higher prices. Lead among those is the Bedrock Wine Co. in Sonoma Valley that contains some of the oldest, gnarliest and most revered vines of Zinfandel and mixed-black grapes of California.

After leading Ravenswood Winery to fame and fortune, he sold his share and contemplated what was next. Within about two minutes he had ruled out retirement and soon after decided he would spend the rest of his life doing what he wanted. And, as it turns out, that is exactly what he started out doing from Day 1. He is back to kicking dirt, tending vines and collaborating with farmers to make small lots of the best wine he can. This passion project is aptly titled Once and Future Wine.

Gnarly vines.

On a recent visit to Sonoma, I walked vineyards with Peterson and tasted through his current wine lineup featuring the Zinfandels, but also including excellent Petite Sirah, Mataro (Mourvèdre) and an absolutely stellar Cabernet Franc that rivals top Right Bank Bordeaux.

While I was certainly not surprised by the quality of the vino, after all this is great fruit in the hands of a winemaking master, I was amazed at the value proposition of Once and Future Wines.

Wines from other producers from these same vineyards are significantly more expensive and considering Peterson’s pedigree and the unique quality of the juice itself, one would expect just the opposite.

For now, the only way to get your hands on these gems is online and for fans of authentic and exceptional red wines, I suggest you take the leap. | onceandfuturewine.com