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One of Cloverdale’s best kept secrets

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011 | Posted by

Sometimes the best kept secrets are hiding in plain sight.

For example, take the vineyard behind St. Peter’s Catholic Church at 491 S. Franklin Street in Cloverdale.

Fr. Thomas Devereaux in front of the vineyard with a bottle of the Valdez Family Winery's 2009 St. Peter's Church Vineyard Zinfandel.

To the casual observer, these 7-acres of vines appear to be just another beautiful part of the landscape in a county where vineyards are plentiful.

As it turns out, St. Peter’s is one of only four churches in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa that have vineyards on their property. The others are located in Yountville, St. Helena and, most recently, Gualala.

St. Peter’s, though, has the unique distinction of being the oldest vineyard on church property in the entire United States. It is over 120 years old.

Vines from the vineyard are so disease resistant they are used for grafting in the Enology Lab at UC Davis. The Rockpile Appelation in the upper Dry Creek Valley was started with cuttings from St. Peter’s.

Cloverdale’s first Catholic mass was celebrated in the Cloverdale Hotel in 1866. The original St. Peter’s was built in 1879 at the corner of Main and Broad Streets, and was used until the current St. Peter’s was built in 1962.

Father Frank Reali was the parish priest who negotiated the purchase of the Franklin Street property, including the heritage vineyards, in the late 1950’s and oversaw construction of the current St. Peter’s church and other buildings.

For many years, wine giant Kent Rosenblum purchased the grapes for his Rosenblum Cellars. Their promotional materials once declared, “Given the sinful decadence of this wine, it’s hard to believe that our 2007 St. Peter’s Church Zinfandel was raised behind a church.”

Bob Fraser, Executive Director of the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition, said he asked Rosenblum a few years back which vineyard, of his many vineyards of Zinfandel, really stood out.

“He told me the vineyard was within a couple blocks of my home, St. Peter’s. For one of the most respected Zinfandel winemakers and winery owners in California, that is a statement and tribute of the quality of those grapes.”

Parish priest Fr. Thomas Devereaux said St. Peter’s was once offered $8M for the vineyard. When he went to the Diocese office to discuss it with then-Bishop Daniel Walsh, he was advised to get the church board, the finance committee, the congregation and the neighbors to all agree to the sale. When Fr. Devereaux protested that that would be next to impossible, Bishop Walsh said, “Well, there’s your answer.”

Jeff Cohn, former winemaker at Rosenblum Cellars, and now Owner/Winemaker of JC Cellars and consulting winemaker for Valdez Winery in Cloverdale, calls this vineyard “Mecca for Zinfandel.”

Adeline and Elizabeth Valdez in the Valdez Family Winery and Tasting Room with a bottle of 2009 St. Peter's Church Vineyard Zinfandel.

Ulises Valdez, whose vineyard management company has taken care of the vines since leasing the vineyard in 2001, now has his own Valdez brand of wines, including a 2009 St.Peter’s Church Vineyard Zinfandel.

The Valdez Family Winery and Tasting Room is located at 595 Santana Avenue, Suite A, in the Reuser Industrial Park, at the south end of town off Asti Road. The Tasting Room is only open Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. or by calling 894-3710 and scheduling an appointment.

It is also the only place locally to purchase St. Peter’s Church Vineyard Zinfandel.

On Saturday, September 24 at 6 p.m., Fr. Devereaux will be conducting the 1st Annual Blessing of the Grapes in the vineyard. The grapes will be blessed and prayers will be offered for a bountiful and safe harvest.

Afterward, there will be live New Orleans-style Jazz performed by the Russian River Ramblers, and food such as BBQ Chicken, Prime Rib Sandwiches, Tamales, salads and desserts will be available for a nominal fee. Wine and non-alcoholic drinks will also be available. Everyone is welcome.

For more information, call 894-2535.

  • Michele Leonard

    Great article Mary Jo! I really enjoy learning about the history of Cloverdale and how it blends so beautifully with the present.

  • Sandi Crayford

    Love, love, love this. As always, outstanding job on your coverage of our treasures in Cloverdale!

  • Colleen Hale

    Wow! All these years in Cloverdale and daydreaming looking into the vineyards during Catechism classes as a kid – I had no idea of the importance and history of the grapes. Congratulations and best wishes for the Blessing this weekend and harvest!

  • d hufnagel

    I do so love the history around here, and you always do a superior job of digging and telling!

  • http://dolorosacandles.net Harry Martin

    A great story of a rich heritage.

  • Robert Bauer

    Great story! I had no idea that the Rockpile Appellation was born of St. Peter’s vineyard. Another good job by Mary Jo keeping Cloverdale front & center on the Press Demo website. Nice photo of Fr. Devereaux too. He’s got that Zin tucked under his arm like he’s about to run like the wind.

  • DaveR

    “On Saturday, September 24 at 6 p.m., Fr. Devereaux will be conducting the 1st Annual Blessing of the Grapes in the vineyard. The grapes will be blessed and prayers will be offered for a bountiful and safe harvest.”

    Headline on Sept. 25: “Morning rain not welcomed by grape growers”

    Behold the power of prayer?

    • Mary Jo Winter

      Ah, but if you read a little further into that story, it said “…The morning’s heavy mist and rain was minimal, moved on quickly and shouldn’t have caused much, if any, damage.

      “The good news is the breeze came up when it quit. It’s sunny now, which is a big help,” (Nick) Frey said. “It’ll dry things out quickly, which is important.”

      So, yes, I guess you’re right. Behold the power of prayer.

      • Michele

        Clearly we can see who benefits from the power of prayer! Good job Mary Jo.

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Mary Jo Winter is our Cloverdale correspondent.
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