Our History: The Zinside Story
On a fall day in 1976, as ravens taunted from tree branches above, Joel Peterson worked doggedly to bring in four tons of grapes before a looming thunderstorm hit. The fruit he crushed that night was used for one of two single-vineyard Sonoma County Zins – the first wines to bear Ravenswood’s signature ring of ravens.
The fledgling winery got off to a great start when those wines came in #1 and #2 at a prestigious San Francisco tasting in 1979. With the critical thumbs-up, Joel was able to gather a few wine-loving investors to help get his winery off the ground. He still didn’t have enough money to buy property, so he looked around for more grapes.
The Ravenswood flock grew as Joel forged strong bonds with a cadre of grape growers who share a couple personality traits with the man who buys their fruit: commitment and stubborn independence. Then as now, these co-conspirators proudly sell us grapes for almost everything we make, including Ravenswood’s prodigious portfolio of Single Vineyard Designate wines, each proudly titled with the name of the distinctive vineyard where the fruit grew.
And Joel didn’t just make great Zinfandels; Ravenswood also made classic Cabernet Sauvignon and in 1977, was one of the first wineries to produce a varietally titled Merlot.
Despite the cult following and critical acclaim that began to swirl around our hypnotic logo (perhaps the most tattooed symbol in the wine biz), Ravenswood spent its first years as a wandering winery. In five years, Joel moved the entire operation, tanks, stock and barrels, five times. We did manage to settle down for ten years in an old tin-roofed shelter, once a vegetable-packing warehouse and woodworking shop making gourmet oak toilet seats, demonstrating that you can make good wine just about anywhere if you’re determined enough.
In 1982, Joel decided to make a Zin not just with grapes from one vineyard, but with fruit from several properties in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek region. From this initial blending foray, Ravenswood’s County Series emerged – wines that capture regional distinction on a broader scale than our Single Vineyard Designates.
From the County Series, it was a practical jump to Vintners Blend – Ravenswood’s affordable everyday wines, which debuted in the mid ’80s and quickly took off.
In 1991, thanks to the success of the Vintners Blend wines, Ravenswood moved to its very own little piece of heaven on the outskirts of Sonoma.
The wine world and California’s place in it has changed a lot since 1976. But the more things change, the more they stay the same around our Sonoma Valley headquarters. In this brave new enologically altered world, where wineries compete to produce wines that mimic the latest darling that’s captured wine reviewers’ fancy, we stand by our love of old-vine varieties and our belief in traditional Old-World winemaking. Ravenswood continues to set a standard for uncompromising wines that are true to the places where the grapes grew – nothing less, nothing more.