Fred Peterson may have been a doctor if his grades were any better. Advice from a dean at UC Santa Clara did not predict medical school in his future and, fortunately, for the Dry Creek Valley, a break from school and a summer job at a friend’s family winery, changed Fred’s path to UC Davis, viticulture and winemaking.
Peterson Winery has been a fixture in the Dry Creek Valley since setting up shop in a red barn near Ridge Vineyards at the corner of Lytton Springs and Chiquita Roads. Ridge had acquired the Lytton Springs Winery and their vineyards and Fred Peterson was integral in managing both these vineyards and those in Cupertino. But he was also starting to think about making wines from the vineyards he was discovering in the Valley.
In 1987, Peterson Winery was launched in this old red barn off Lytton Springs and that red barn remains a part of Peterson Winery history and appears on almost every label. At the same, Fred was developing his own ranch on Bradford Mountain. Fred has befriended grape growers and their mutual goals of starting a wine in the vineyard and commitment to farming has allowed Peterson Winery to truly create wines that reflect a sense of place. Dry Creek Valley is a lush valley of microclimates and both the Bradford Mountain vineyards and those of Petersons’ growers get the necessity of growing varietals where they flourish.
Fred, his wife, Kathleen Stewart and children, Emily and Jamie, are active in the Healdsburg and Geyserville communities. Kathleen owns the very popular Downtown Bakery and Creamery while Emily oversees Sales and Marketing for Peterson. Son Jamie trained as a winemaker and took over the reins in 2002 and follows the same winemaking philosophy as his father, “great wine is about place, time and vintage and not about how much the winemaker can change a wine to suit a certain style. I continue the low tech/high touch approach.”
Fred is also committed to the local Geyserville Volunteer Fire Department where he has volunteered for twenty years. Read about his experiences in a blog he wrote for the Russian River Wine Road here.
After many years crafting wine at the old red barn, Fred had the opportunity to move to a new facility in 2005 at Timber Crest Farms on Dry Creek Road. As Fred was converting the new warehouse to a winery and tasting room, Locals Tasting Room became the only place in town to taste these vineyard-centric wines. Upon opening his Dry Creek tasting room, Fred decided to continue have wines at Locals as the perfect in-town extension of the winery, and it has been a perfect balance ever since.
A perfect example of Peterson Winery’s commitment to small lot, hyper-locally farmed is the 3 V’s White Blend of Vermentino, Vernaccio and Verdelho, all grown in small tonnage on Bradford Mountain. A beautifully balanced Mediterranean white that is as perfect for summer as their Rose, which sells out so quickly it may not be available when this is published.
Fred and son, Jamie, love both Rhone varietals and Zinfandels and they do an amazing job with the gamut of reds they produce. Their 2013 Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre (GSM) is bright with cherry fruit but is aged until it is elegant and a perfect balance of acid and fruit. Admitting it is hard for a small winery to hold wines back until they are ready to release because it puts such strain on cash flow, Peterson is adamant that they release wines when they are happy with them and will not rush to sell. At $38, the 2013 GSM is a steal given its Bradford Mountain fruit and barrel aging.
Another very popular wine, maybe the most popular wine for Peterson, is their 2012 Carignane Blend called “Zero Manipulation” which perfectly reflects their philosophy that “we don’t work backwards from how we want wines to be, we work forward from what we have in the vineyard.”
The bargain of the entire line is the Zero Manipulation blend. At $16.50 a bottle and even cheaper as a Locals wine club member, this is a well-made every day wine that pairs perfectly with pasta Bolognese or steak frites. As Fred says, “it’s his public service wine” because the margins are kept so slim! Everyone can enjoy Peterson Winery and their commitment to Dry Creek Valley.
Fred’s commitment to Rhone varietals has not gone unnoticed in France and recently a contingent of winemakers stopped by to honor him with a medal and certificate for his treatment of traditionally French varietals. He and Kathleen, along with four other Dry Creek Valley winemakers, will cruise the Rhone next year pouring their wines for an international crowd and wine club members.
While making a slew of Zinfandels from all over Dry Creek Valley, Peterson extends their commitment to Mediterranean wines with the Italian varietals of Barbera and a Sangiovese blend as well as a few dessert wines including Muscat Blanc and late harvest Cabernet Sauvignon.
Peterson Winery makes an average of 8000 cases annually in small lots from the life-minded growers he now calls his friends. Stop by Locals and taste through the best of them or stop by the winery to taste the full gamut….and you will probably run into one of his friend-growers and a dog or two. Ask for one (or two) of the collectible wood stamp labels designed by local artist Chris Blum since Fred started producing wine. Like many things in life, it is best to stick with the friends that have made you a success.
by Barbara Barrielle