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Many a young man or woman has stepped into their father or mother’s shoes to continue a family business. Many a young business person has faced the challenge of stepping into a legendary business leader’s shoes to run a thriving company. Gary Sitton is in the process of becoming a more prominent player at Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma.

grape-sense-logoRavenswood is the iconic Zinfandel producer just on the outskirts of Sonoma, the city. Joel Peterson is a legendary winemaker in California and remains active at the winery. Any discussion of California Zin features Peterson prominently.

“I don’t consider myself to be Joel’s replacement. He is the Godfather of Zin and he is truly one of kind,” Sitton told Grape Sense. “Besides, he is still actively involved with Ravenswood today. He is a mentor and friend, and my goal is to continue to build upon his great winemaking legacy, showcasing California’s Heritage variety, Zinfandel.”

Gary Sitton in Barrel room 2

Sitton in Ravenswood barrel room.

Sitton credits Peterson for teaching him the nuance of making great Zin. “Joel taught me a Burgundian approach to winemaking. His use of indigenous yeast from each vineyard, in small open top fermenters was key to best expressing the terroir of each site. While on hiatus, I realized how special Ravenswood is and how the vineyards we work with make our wines so special. Some of these vineyards were planted
in the 1880s and survived Prohibition.”

Most of Sitton’s career is tied to Ravenswood as an assistant winemaker 2001-2006 and then as winemaker for a year in 2006. That ‘sabbatical’ occurred during 2008-2010 at Blackstone Winery then a five-year stint as Director of Winemaking at Clos Du Bois Wines. Sitton returned to Ravenswood in 2015 to assume the title of Director of Winemaking. Peterson remains active working with grape growers and
often working as a Zin ambassador to wine drinkers across the country.

Sitton was heavily influenced by Peterson by tasting his wines. “I had an epiphany while tasting site-specific wines with Joel, from the same grape, same winemaker, same winemaking program, but from different vineyard sites, and each wine was so different from the next,” Sitton said.

“As a result, I believe in Joel’s vision for what wine should be: that it is about place, about history and for Ravenswood, that it is deeply about Sonoma itself. It is an honor and a privilege to be back home continuing Joel’s 41-year legacy of expressive, high quality wines from some of the greatest vineyards in the greatest grape-growing areas in Sonoma and Napa.”

Ravenswood is widely distributed and offers an entry-level Zin found in many groceries, liquor stores, and better wine shops. Those better wine shops also carry some of the vineyard designate wines Sitton described above. Ravenswood Old Vine Zin, Sonoma, can be found across the Midwest, usually under $20.

When asked for wine recommendations, in general, I always tell people to go with a name you know until you learn the wines. If you don’t know Ravenswood – you should.