The Proust Q&A: Joel Peterson

14th March, 2014 by Lucy Shaw

Joel Peterson is the founder of Ravenswood in California. Known as the “King of Zin”, for the last 38 years, Peterson has tirelessly pioneered his “no wimpy wines” philosophy, favouring the bold over the bland. While he is most famous for his punchy Zinfandels, Peterson also makes Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz, Petite Syrah and Chardonnay. Anyone that turns up to the Ravenswood tasting room inked with the estate’s three ravens logo is entitled to free tastings for life. Peterson lives in Sonoma with his wife Madeleine. Their son Morgan makes wine at Bedrock Wine Co.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A week on a peaceful, carefree tropical island with a good book, an unlimited supply of great Champagne and my lover (who also happens to be my wife).

What is your greatest fear? 

Dying in an unconscious way.

Who do you most admire?

The Dalai Lama.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Drinking Champagne every evening.

What is your current state of mind? 

Energised but peaceful.

What is the quality you most like in a woman? 

Generosity.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

“Zinfandel”, “California”, “no wimpy wines”, and “it is what it is”.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

My amazing and generous wife, Madeleine.

When and where were you happiest?

Holding my children when they were babies.

Which talent would you most like to have?

Insight.

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

My coronary arteries.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Being at peace with myself and my life’s work.

Where would you most like to live?

Somewhere unaffected by climate change. It doesn’t exist, of course, so Sonoma will have to do.

What is your most treasured possession?

After life itself, it would have to be my Tesla electric car.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Tenaciousness.

Who are your favourite writers?

David McCullough, Kurt Vonnegut, Doris Kearns Goodwin, Richard Rhodes, Stephen Dunn, and Billy Collins.

Who is your hero of fiction?

Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist of Kurt Vonnegut’s 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five. 

What is it that you most dislike?

Negativity and ignorance.

What is your greatest regret?

The inability to speak more languages fluently.

What is your motto?

We are all stardust.

Who would be your ideal dinner party guests and what wines would you serve them?

I’d have to have humanitarian, deep thinker and great physicist Albert Einstein at my table and would serve him a 1971 Egon Muller Scharzhofberger Auslese because he deserves see beauty, sweetness and quantum mechanics demonstrated at the same moment.

Secondly, I’d invite early California wine pioneer, Zinfandel advocate and adventurer, Aguston Harazathy. I’d pour a 2009 Ravenswood Icon to share with him how far his vision has evolved as a way of connecting the past to the future. it would also help loosen his tongue about early California wine history.

Lastly, I’d invite the great American investigative journalist Ida Tarbell, famous for her expose on the Standard Oil Trust and John D. Rockefeller. For her I’d pour a 1957 Château Fortia from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a beautiful, powerful and authentic wine from the Europe she loved.

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