Joel Peterson is one of five winemakers who will be inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame on Feb. 21.
The vintner co-founded Ravenswood Winery in 1976 with $4,000 and no vineyards to speak of.
He became a zinfandel expert while working at Joseph Swan Vineyards in Forestville for five vintages, intent on making great zinfandel from older vines planted in the right locations.
Today, Peterson is best known for his single-vineyard zins, and his wines have helped preserve some of California's oldest zin vineyards.
In 2001, Ravenswood was sold to Constellation Brands for $148 million, but Peterson stayed with Constellation as a senior vice president and Ravenswood's head winemaker.
Peterson, who wears a cowboy hat on most days, also serves as head adviser to his son, vintner Morgan Twain Peterson of Bedrock Wines in Sonoma. We asked Peterson how he became a zin zealot.
<CF103>Q: Why did you choose zinfandel? What about this varietal spoke to you?
</CF>A: Zinfandel was of interest based on tastings I had done over the years before I became a winemaker, when I tasted some wines that I thought demonstrated the excellence that was possible with zinfandel.
After apprenticing with Joe Swan, who made some of the most exciting zins in the early '70s, I became convinced that zinfandel was a grape that was under-served in the wine world.
I also thought that many zinfandel vineyards represented great promise in that they shared common characteristics that great European vineyards demonstrate.