Joel Peterson is known affectionately in the wine world as ‘The Godfather of Zin’. He’s the man who gave Zinfandel its iconic status in the US, having co-founded Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma back in 1976. It was from here that the expression ‘no wimpy wines’ was born and Peterson became the poster man for rich, concentrated, figgy Zinfandel wines that packed a huge, alcoholic, tooth-staining punch.
Fast forward to now however, and Peterson’s focus has shifted. He sold Ravenswood to Constellation in 2018 and has gone back to his roots, literally, to embark on a much smaller project where we gets to make tiny quantities of fine wine from vines that are often over 100 years old. Gone are the jammy, powerhouse wines made in huge quantities. Say hello to concentrated, yet fresh, lean and perfumed wines where often, only a couple of hundred cases of each are made. This new project is called Once & Future.
“I never want to produce more wine than I can physically make myself,” he tells us at a recent tasting of wines from the just-released 2017 vintage. “Once & Future allows me to get back to what I always wanted Ravenswood to be: a small project with old vines and a keen sense of place.”
Joel looks for forgotten vineyards with old vines with grapes that should have had more of a legacy than the ‘blight’, as he calls it, of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir. From the sandy soils of Oakley Vineyard where 117 year old Mataro (Mourvedre) vines stands on their own roots to 129 year old Zinfandel vines in the famous Tuscan Red Hills Series soils, these Once & Future wines, while a new project for Joel, showcase a real snapshot of Californian viticultural history.
The Once & Future Wine Range
We taste through the range of six wines and it becomes apparent immediately that this is not Ravenswood mark two; these are wines in a totally different league. Grapes that traditionally have made juicy, boozy, inky fruit bombs are graceful, light on their feet and silky, mineral smooth. All are incredibly bright, supple and fresh. Still so young, but incredibly drinkable, it will be exciting to see what happens to this with a few more years of bottle age.
On the table
2017 Once & Future Oakley Road Vineyard Mataro from Contra Costa County. RRP £56
2017 Once & Future Oakley Road Vineyard Zinfandel from Contra Costa County. RRP £48
2017 Once & Future Bedrock Vineyard Zinfandel from Sonoma Valley. RRP £48
2017 Once & Future Teldeschi “Frank’s Block” Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley. RRP £48
2017 Once & Future Sangiacomo Vineyard Merlot from Carneros. RRP £56
2017 Once & Future Palisades Petite Sirah from Napa Valley. RRP £56
By Helena Nicklin