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Q&A With Winemaker Joel Peterson, Founder of Ravenswood Winery

Wine Wisdom From Ravenswood Founder Joel Peterson

At a tasting recently, I had the opportunity to get acquainted with California pioneer vintner, Joel Peterson. In 1976, he founded Ravenswood Winery, one of the country's preeminent Zinfandel producers. More than 30 years later, he remains Ravenswood's head winemaker.

Joel's love for life and sense of humor were so infectious that I couldn't resist getting his insight into the world of wine. Learn more about his inspiration, as well as his tips for enjoying wine on a budget, when you read more.

On what inspired him to become a winemaker:
My father [who had a wine sampling club] died suddenly in 1971. I began to reevaluate my life. I was living in Berkeley, doing wine writing; I had a science background in chemistry and microbiology, and I was ready to go and explore the land. Joseph Swan let me be his apprentice. I liked being able to do something that was artistic, I was able to work with growing things. In 1976, I made 127 cases of wine. I worked a second job until 1992 to support my habit. I was incredibly fortunate.

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On ordering wine at restaurants:
Remind yourself to celebrate. I always order a glass of Champagne before every meal. Let the food be the guide for the wine. Look for value, for interesting vintners from regions that are not the most expensive. There's always a gem on the wine list. Sommeliers have a sense of humor and put gems in there for people looking for them.

On the wine world's next big thing:
You're going to see a lot of blended wines, like The Prisoner, which seems to be very popular. Albariño from Spain: it has the same general characteristics as Grüner Veltliner, only better. There'll be a bigger cult of Petit Sirah than there is now. People want big, rich wines that leave substantial impact.

Words of advice for the novice wine drinker:
Taste widely, be open, enjoy, and learn as much as you can about the place and the story of the wine, because it makes what you taste so much more interesting. [Tasting wine] is an interesting and complex thing to do, but it's also an expensive habit. Find friends to share an expensive bottle with, and build a dinner or event around it. It helps you understand it, and [sharing wine with friends] makes it that much more enjoyable.

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