ONCE & FUTURE
"Life must be lived forwards but can only be understood backwards." -Kierkegaard
In late 1972 I met Joe Swan and was given an extraordinary chance to learn the art of winemaking. I was a complete novice when it came to the craft, but not when it came to wine. I had grown up in a household of two chemists: my mother Frances, a nuclear chemist and my father Walter, a physical chemist. After my brother and I were born my mother applied her meticulous science skills to food (later doing much of the recipe testing for Alice Waters’s original Chez Panisse cookbook). My father became obsessed by wine, eventually writing one of the first wine newsletters in the San Francisco Bay Area: The San Francisco Wine Sampling Society. With this as a childhood backdrop, I learned about the pleasures and complexities of food and wine at an early age, along with a healthy love of science.
I learned that the most interesting wines were generally made in fairly small lots, frequently relying on native flora for fermentation and more often than not, stored in wooden cooperage for some period of time to mature and concentrate before bottling.
When Joe Swan took me under his wing in the early 1970’s, his fastidious winemaking techniques, and wines, mirrored my theories and tasting experiences. Grapes from carefully selected and cultivated vineyards were harvested at ripeness but not over ripeness. They were fermented in small 3 – 4 ton open top redwood fermenters and punched down by hand. The processing was minimal and the aging occurred in small, newly imported French oak barrels. It was those first Swan wines that made me fall in love with Zinfandel and, in particular, with older vines. I came to see these as the most European grapes in California; mostly planted in the right locations, frequently mixed with other varieties, usually dry farmed, moderate in production, head pruned and intermixed with other varieties that were unique to California.
When I started Ravenswood in 1976, I wanted to focus on Zinfandel.
Along the way, I have watched and participated in the growth and maturation of the California wine business. I have seen the increased sophistication of an expanding wine consumer population. I have worked with some of the best, most talented and nicest people in the wine business.
I have travelled to and sold wine in most of the wine drinking countries of the world. I have had the pleasure to taste many great wines. I have 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. I have been the President of Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers. I helped found ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) and was its President two times. I support and consult with the Historic Vineyard Society and currently am a member of the Board of the Sonoma County Vintners. In 2011 fellow industry members gave me the honor of induction into the Vintners Hall of Fame. Best of all I have a son, Morgan Twain-Peterson, who has chosen winemaking as his career and runs the highly innovative and successful Bedrock Wine Company.
Both in the vineyard and in life, I have definitely learned a thing or two about vintage variation. I am enormously proud of the wines I make at Ravenswood, from those wines that sing of place - Old Hill Ranch, Dickerson, Belloni, Barricia, Teldeschi - to the more economical wines that helped turn a couple of generations of people onto the joy and deliciousness of well-wrought wine. However, after nearly 45 years in the wine business, I feel it is time to return to my roots.
Once and Future Wine is the return to the original vision I had for Ravenswood so many years ago – a small project specializing in wines from unique older vineyards, made with a sensitivity to place and in a style that I personally love and believe in. Wines that force me to dust off the old redwood vats and get out a new punch down tool (my original is in the Smithsonian), wines that dye my hands a harvest shade of black/purple and sometimes force me to take an additional Ibuprofen in the morning. In short - wines of sweat, commitment, and love.