On the Santa Rosa Plain, in the heart of Tiger Salamander territory, lies the little Pagnano Vineyard, a throwback Zinfandel vineyard in what today has become Pinotland: Nearby vineyards include Tom Feeney, Fanucchi, Rodney Strong, and Goldfields. Across the narrow country lane was the one-time Vera Gold Ranch and Vineyard, with its heritage old vine Zinfandel. Today, Vera Gold is no more, having been ripped out and regraded to form vernal pools as remediation habitat for the endangered Tiger Salamander. But in 1998, with gorgeous views of Mt. St. Helena and open pastures with wildflowers as their backdrop, Bill Pagnano and his dad salvaged budwood from the best vines of the Vera Gold Zinfandel to plant the little Pagnano Vineyard.
In 2010 we were asking around about a vineyard we might lease, and Andy Wilson, who grew up on the Vera Gold and helped select the budwood for the Pagnanos, connected us with Bill Pagnano. Our first harvest was 2010, which was the year from hell in Russian River Valley: the summer seemed never to arrive, with high temperatures rarely exceeding 70F. Out of nowhere in late August came three days of 105F plus weather, which shriveled most of the fruit, followed by a second killer heat wave in September and a knockout punch of rain. Arnulfo went through three times removing damaged fruit, and still we were dismayed by what we had. Ken was ready to throw in the towel and abandon the crop, but Joe Freeman, our winemaker at the time, encouraged us to persevere. We picked 2 1/2 tons of fruit–less than one ton an acre, and it was the most difficult and painstaking and slow 2 1/2 tons we have ever picked. Yet the wine was, in the end, terrific, and was awarded 91 points and commended by Wine Spectator as one of the best from Sonoma County in 2009 or 2010.
The soil at Pagnano is Huichica Loam. The vines are trained in an upright head-pruned style that follows tradition and also allows superior light exposure to the fruit and air circulation. Curiously, 80 vines in the vineyard were Chardonnay. These we did not use in the first two vintages. In 2012, we budded these vines over to Petite Sirah, which is another heritage California variety, and an excellent blending complement to Zinfandel.