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Pellegrini Wine Company

Pellegrini Wine Company is found on the gorgeous Olivet Lane.

If it seems like Pellegrini Wine Company fell off the Russian River Valley wine tasting map a few years back, it’s fair to say that’s what happened. Pellegrini was closed for nearly two years, coming back on the scene as, effectively, a new winery — albeit with the same cellar and celebrated vineyard. A new winery, just with “a 100-year-old history,” says owner Robert Pellegrini.

The Lane Remains the Same

Alexia Pellegrini, Robert’s daughter and the winery’s chief operating officer, fills in the details during a quick drive around the family’s estate vineyard on Olivet Lane, just off Olivet Road.

Planted in 1975 by Robert and his parents Vincent and Aida, the family’s Olivet Lane Vineyard has some of the oldest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines in Sonoma County. While Wente clone Chardonnay still dominates the site, 10 of its former 40 acres are being replanted with budwood from the 20-acre Pinot planting, which is an old Martini clone of Pinot Noir.

Whether it’s the age of the vines, the vineyard’s sweet spot in the middle of the Russian River Valley AVA, or a combination of factors, the grapes were a hit with top Pinot producers like Gary Farrell, Williams Selyem, and Merry Edwards. The family broke ground on an estate winery, designed by winemaker Edwards, which opened on Alexia’s twenty-first birthday in 2001.

Anyone who visited the winery in the past decade may remember a big bowl of local cheese and a tiny bar in the corner of the barrel room. That’s all changed, partly due to a family dispute that settled when Robert Pellegrini bought the winery.

“We had to stop the engine to fix it,” says Alexia. Back at the winery, I learn more about rest of those 100 years from Bob Pellegrini.

Prohibition Roots

Nello and Gino Pellegrini immigrated to the United States from Tuscany around 1908. When Prohibition hit Sonoma County wineries, the brothers discovered there was good money to be made shipping grapes to home winemakers back East.

Afterward, they established a successful wine and spirits distribution company, but the next generation saw the writing on the wall when a big East Coast spirits company bought out a supplier, and explored the grape growing side of the business.

Pellegrini Wine Today

Winemaker Lynn Krausmann had to hit the crush pad running when her first day on the job nearly coincided with the reopening of the winery in 2013. With previous experience at Clos du Bois and Williams Selyem, Krausmann loved working with red varietals like Pinot Noir, but Chardonnay was not really her thing.

“I’m going to think it,” she says she told herself. “Like I’d think through Pinot Noir.” You wouldn’t think the 2015 Pellegrini Unoaked Chardonnay ($24) is a wine of that style—so often an “unoaked” Chardonnay is simple, apple-crisp, but lacking texture and interest. This wine offers up a baked, golden apple aroma and custard flavor, despite itself. Extended lees contact helped to lend it texture, says Krausmann.

Yet the 2014 Olivet Lane Vineyard Chardonnay ($45) is not over-oaked, showing a thin glaze of butter brushed over a golden apple fritter, a wispy line of caramel weaving around saline, citrus-tensioned tropical, pineapple flavors.

Wines bearing the Pellegrini label may be sourced from area vineyards, while the Olivet Lane label is reserved for estate-grown wines. As an introduction to the Pinot line, the 2014 Pellegrini Russian River Valley Pinot Noir ($35) contains a bit of estate fruit and is all the slightly smoky, cola and vanilla spiced, black cherry-fruited Russian River Valley Pinot one might wish for.

Dried rose petals, potpourri, and spice—does the 2014 Olivet Lane Vineyard Pinot Noir ($65) stand apart from the 2014 Pellegrini Hurst Vineyard Pinot Noir ($50) and the 2014 Pellegrini Toboni Oakwild Ranch Pinot Noir ($50) because of the Martini clone, often associated with the Carneros region more than today’s Russian River Valley? Who can say — just enjoy the high-toned raspberry, cherry fruit and fleshy, sweet texture of this fine example of older vine Pinot Noir.

Merlot is now off the menu, so sorry, but there’s no need to miss the winery’s Zinfandel — although the old Zin vineyard went another way after the split, a vineyard farther down Olivet Lane contributes to the 2013 Pellegrini Zinfandel ($25), a toasty, plush, fig- and date-scented sipper that smacks of boysenberry wine. It was Zin, after all, that first put the Olivet area on the map.

Down the Lane

Tours of the vineyard sometimes include a stop to visit adorable goats down the lane at the neighbor’s place. A short drive north on Olivet Road leads to River Road: turn left, carefully, to get to the Russian River recreation area; turn right to find the legendary Sonoma County cuisine of John Ash & Co. restaurant.

Details: 4055 West Olivet Road, Santa Rosa, 707-545-8680, tour and tasting by appointment

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