Save $10 on any purchase over $75 at - promo code: SW-8937

Click for California Wine Club

"Wine is sunlight, held together by water" 

Galileo Galilei, Italian scientist and genius, 1564-1642.


Everything old is new again!

Winery Insight Featured Article - August 2005 by Timothy O. Rice


This is the story of a single man and two times.


The first time was the age of the Roman Empire.  In the days of the Caesars, Rome invaded Britain, with the permanent takeover beginning in 43 AD and continuing in stages after that.  As always, Rome’s rule brought law and roads and new cities.  Roman citizens, often older soldiers pensioned off onto conquered land, settled in the new territory.  As everywhere else they settled, Romans sought the comforts of home in their new land and inevitably that meant wine and vineyards.


But times change.  Rome’s empire crumbled under the assaults of barbarians and the weight of the decades.  By 410 A.D. the Romans had evacuated Britain and the land disintegrated into clan and tribal warfare, ravaged by Vikings, invaded by Angles, Saxons, and Jutes.  Vineyards vanished in a climate not conducive to the grape and wine became a product imported from abroad, a luxury.


The man is Richard Grant Petersen, winemaker and scientist.  He began his winemaking career in 1948 at age 17 by borrowing a book from his local library in Iowa.  After the Korean War he racked up a slew of degrees and went to work in the wine industry, starting with E & J Gallo in 1958.  His ten years at Gallo brought him to the attention of Andre Tchelistcheff, the legendary winemaker at Beaulieu Vineyards.  In 1968, Tchelistcheff convinced him to leave Gallo to become his successor at Beaulieu.


From there Petersen moved on to Monterey Vineyards, quietly inspiring the blossoming of that winery and appellation during his 13 years there.  He then moved back to Napa at Atlas Peak Vineyards in 1986, and became an owner at Folie a Deux in 1995. 


Along the way, he carved an impressive record for quality and innovation.  His constant desire to test and improve led to new techniques and equipment for winemaking, simplifying the winemaking process and making it more efficient.  He invented a new pallet system that increased storage space for wine barrels dramatically – then gave it away to the industry, royalty free.  When Seagrams bought Monterey Vineyards, he invented the first wine cooler for them.  Quality and efficiency were always his trademarks.


This brings us to the second time, our time, the last 50 years or so.  In about 1950, people in southeastern England, near the village of Wrotham, began to remark on a grapevine that had always been there and seemed very hardy.  No one was sure what they were exactly, but they seemed to thrive in the English climate.  A small local winery began cultivating it -- and in 1980 Richard Grant Peterson, PhD., was in England judging a wine competition.  He tasted the local wine and liked it enough that his curiosity caused him to bring cuttings back to California with him.


He cultivated those vines wherever he worked.  One day he planted them on two acres of his family farm in cuttings.  In the 1990s, speculation in England began to center on this being a Pinot Noir.  The grapes looked like Pinot Noir grapes; the leaves and vines did not.  Quietly, Richard Petersen picked up the phone and asked Department of Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis to test the DNA of a grape variety he had on his farm.  The result came back: an exact match for Pinot Noir.  Simply a new one to join the roughly 200 “selections” of Pinot Noir known to exist.


Three years later, Richard Petersen harvested and pressed and produced 398 cases of a new wine: Richard Grant 2000 Wrotham Pinot Napa Valley Blanc de Noir, a sparkling wine.  An old grape, long forgotten and neglected, brought back to the light of day by careful hands and skilled minds; a piece of the past in our present day world.



 Last modified: August 07, 2007