California vintner mixes humor and wine

I’ve been in the wine business for more than 15 years and have made some great friends along the way. I count Fred Peterson of Peterson Winery a friend, and we are always thrilled when he makes his yearly sojourn to South Dakota to visit. Fred has been making wine for 25 years in Dry Creek Valley, which is located in Sonoma County, Calif.

Fred loves South Dakota. He has embraced our state and is a winemaker/owner who really likes to stay in touch with the people who sell his wine. He doesn’t take himself very seriously, but he makes seriously good wine. Together, with his son Jamie, they make about 24 different wines, depending on the growing season and whatever trips their trigger.

One of my favorites is the Peterson Old School Zinfandel. It is known as a field blend and includes carignane and petit sirah in the 2011 vintage. Jamie calls this wine “comfort food in a bottle.” It is full-flavored with intense blackberry flavors that are not over-the-top jammy and fruity. There is a creamy texture to this wine with nice hints of oak and a little bit of smoke. Even though it is a 2011 vintage, it is ready to drink now and goes beautifully with most food.

The Old School Zinfandel is definitely an example of Fred not taking himself very seriously. Every year, the label of this wine changes and tells a simple story. The stories are meant to entertain and amuse and encompass both the back and front label. This year’s label features an older gentleman farmer with a giant screw going through the front of his overalls. As a business owner, the story struck my fancy, and Fred gave me permission to repeat it here.

It goes like this: “The California Department of Employment, Division of Labor Standards claimed a small grape farmer was not paying proper wages to his help and sent an agent out to investigate him. Agent: I need a list of your employees and how much you pay them. Farmer: Well, there’s my hired hand. I pay him $200 a week, plus free room and board. Then there’s the clueless guy. He works about 18 hours every day and does about 90 percent of the work around here. He makes about $10 per week, pays his own room and board, and I buy him a bottle of bourbon every Saturday night so he can cope with life. He also sleeps with my wife occasionally. Agent: That’s the guy I want to talk to — the clueless one. Farmer: That would be me.”

While Fred and Jamie make a lot of red wine, they only have a few whites, and their new Peterson V3 is delicious. Fred and I share a common love of wine beginning with the letter V. Vermentino, verdejo and vernaccia are Mediterranean varietals Fred planted on one acre of land near his Bradford Mountain property. The 2012 V3 wine is the first crop harvested from these vines. These whites were blended with an equal amount of Fred’s Timber Crest Farms Sauvignon Blanc, and the resulting wine is superb.

The sauvignon blanc in the blend gives it the savory flavors and aromas of lime zest while the V varietals give it a light garden herb-type aroma with a creamy texture. The slate mineral backbone compliments the tropical fruit, and the acid gives it my favorite zing. Jamie recommends oysters, scallops, Caesar salad with anchovies and even hot artichoke dip with this wine. I love to just sip it all on its own. The Petersons only made 90 cases of this white, so supply is limited. As the vines mature, we hope they can make more in the future.