Big River Vineyard - Alexander Valley Zinfandel - Ravenswood Winery
Whether you roll in on four wheels or two (either motorized or pedal-powered), it’s a nice spot to enjoy some of the world’s finest Zinfandels and our line-up of other great wines. Sip your wines in the main Tasting Room or outside enjoying the amazing views. We have several options available to suit your taste, and any tasting can be augmented with one of our popular new cheese & charcuterie plates.
Ravenswood’s tasting room and our one and only estate vineyard can be found on the outskirts of Sonoma, tucked into the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains at the end of Gehricke Road. The atmosphere is laid back, the mood relaxed.
- Forty Years, Zero Wimpy Wines.
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The son of two chemists, Joel grew up on Point Richmond on the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay. Mom was a nuclear chemist who worked on the Manhattan Project; she used her scientific training to become an excellent cook who tested recipes and helped edit Alice Waters’ first cookbook. Dad was a physical chemist specializing in high-temperature lubricants used in industrial machinery.
Walter Peterson also was a wine lover and serious student of the grape who organized twice-weekly gatherings of the San Francisco Wine Sampling Club (today’s San Francisco Vintners Club) at the family home. Joel’s oeno-education began at the age of ten when he sat in on his first tasting session, with stern instructions to “Shut up and spit.” (Afterward, his father carefully measured the wine in the boy's glass and in his spittoon to make sure everything was expectorated.)
Back then, California had a dearth of fine wines; most of the bottles the club tasted were from France, Italy and Spain. By the time he was a teenager, Joel had a working knowledge of European vineyards and vintages. He not only learned how to judge wine, he learned how to talk about it (to the delight and consternation of everyone’s who’s met him since).
During his early career as a medical researcher, Joel made extra money through wine writing and consulting. Eventually it dawned on him that he had the background (not to mention strong opinions and the confidence to stick by them) to be an actual winemaker. He apprenticed with Joseph Swan — one of California's outstanding craftsmen of fine Zinfandel — to learn the art of traditional winemaking as practiced in Bordeaux and Burgundy. “From Joe, I learned to pick grapes by taste and to farm for less fruit, not more. That using wild yeasts may be tricky, but makes for more interesting wines. To ferment long and warm, and age in French oak.” Ravenswood still uses these same basic techniques to make its wines today.
In 1976 Joel founded Ravenswood in partnership with fellow wine lover Reed Foster, a Harvard MBA who handled the green stuff while Joel oversaw the red stuff. In the ensuing years, Joel had dual careers, working nights and weekends in the lab as he built the winery during the daylight hours. In 1977, he’d left his job in San Francisco and moved to Sonoma to work in the clinical lab at Sonoma Valley Hospital. He didn’t quit that job until 1992, a few years after the winery turned its first profit and Robert Parker pronounced Ravenswood wines “first class – bold, dramatic and complex.”
Today, Joel works with 100+ northern California growers who provide grapes for Ravenswood, consulting on irrigation methods, cultivation practices, cropping levels and a slew of other vineyard management issues. This attention in the field, coupled with the fact that Ravenswood is one of the few wineries that has had the philosophical and winemaking skill of one winemaker for over 30 years, contributes to a consistency of quality and style rarely found in California.
Joel is a current member and former president of the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance (S.V.V.G.A.) and is on the Board of Directors for the Sonoma County Vintners. He is a founding Board member and former two-time President of Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (Z.A.P.). Joel is also a Senior Vice President with Constellation Wines US.
A rakish raconteur (and provocateur) whose erudition and down-to-earth enthusiasm make him an articulate spokesman for the winery (and sometime-heckler of the wine industry), Joel is a stylistic trendsetter who helped make Zinfandel the runaway phenomenon it is today.
Along the way, the raven maven (dubbed “the Godfather of Zin” by one media wag) has built a legacy of enjoying wine with grins and gusto.
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.