Winemaking. Life. The Dirt. Alison Crowe is a Winemaker Based in Napa.

Unified Symposium Preview- What’s cool, new and different in 2019


May 2018

“Winemaking Begins With People”….and we’ll see some of our favorite folks this coming week at the 2019 Unified Wine & Grape Symposium

Some of you have heard me say before that no, wine doesn’t begin with grapes, it begins with people.  And you can see some of your favorite industry peeps, and meet some new friends and colleagues, at the 2019 Unified Symposium, the Western Hemisphere’s largest grape and wine trade show, in Sacramento this week.  What am I excited about, besides getting to see so many of my fabulous, vinous tribe?


Lunchtime Keynote- Listening to and Learning From….the Spirits Industry!(?)

Talk about something new, this year’s lunchtime keynote will not be yet another wine industry luminary but rather Master Distiller Lance Winters from St. George Spirits, one of the most successful artisan distilleries in the country if not the world.  So why are we listening to a guy who makes booze and not wine?  Among many other reasons, because Lance and his team have always been way out ahead of trends, consumer needs and customer desires when it comes to alcoholic beverages.  St. George is also always spot on with their ingredient-sourcing, packaging and marketing not to mention overall product deliciousness.  Listen and learn…..

Tuesday Jan 29, 11:30-1:30, Sheraton Grand Nave Ballroom, priced separately and includes plated lunch and wine


New Exhibit Hall Floor Tour-Marketing Focus

One of the cool “underground” experiences that Unified offers are themed exhibit-hall tours so you can get a curated edit in a short amount of time without having to wade through miles of booths.  In addition to the regular winemaking and viticulture tours, this year they are also offering a Marketing Tour, focusing on the marketing, sales, and PR services available to the wine industry.  As we all know (or should know) it’s harder to sell good wine than it is to make it and as consumers are increasingly in demand of transparency, authenticity and quality experiences, every successful brand needs a stable of marketing and sales professionals on their side.

Wednesday Jan 30, 3:00-4:00 PM, meet in Sacramento Convention Center Room 203


UWGS_Logo_RGB_SM-Use (002)Disruptive Development Panels- Custom is Key

Have a great brand idea but don’t have the juice to fill it?  Have some amazing wines in your cellar but are looking beyond your winery’s brands in order to move it to the right customer?  Wednesday’s “Alternative Routes to the Retail Market” will focus on how to make private, control and custom projects work for you.  Of a similar vein but applicable to almost any winery or brand, “Outsourcing Success Stories: Leveraging Custom Crush and Processing Services for Growth and Profitability” speaks to brand pivots, SKU re-alignments and strategic growth. Disclaimer- I’m the moderator (I bring over 10 years experience in custom winemaking) and my expert panelists and I will lead you through the legal and practical why’s and how’s while showing you the pitfalls to avoid in the custom crush world.

“Alternative Routes to the Retail Market” Wednesday Jan 30, 1:30-3:30, Hyatt Regency Ballroom C

“Outsourcing Success Stories” Thursday Jan 31, 1:15-3:15 Sacramento Convetion Center Room 202
PinotFSMA- The Annual Update

Hey, it may not be sexy but compliance, QC and food safety are a critical part of what we’re all about in the wine industry.  “Do not pass go, do not collect $200”… know the drill.  The FSMA (FDA Food Safety Modernization Act) legal and practical update has become a critical annual informational download and this year’s panel, led by Paul Huckaba of Bronco Wine Company and including Charles Breen, who is perhaps the most experienced FSMA consultant in the country, should be required attendance for small and large winery leaders alike.

Wednesday Jan 30, 1:00-2:15, Sacramento Convention Center Room 204


Want to explore even more about this year’s program?  Check out this video intro and interview with Dr. Nichola Hall and Dr. Tom Collins, the Program Committee Vice Chair and Chair, respectively.

It’s impossible to see or do it all at Unified but hopefully the above gives you a sneak peek into what I’m thinking about as I pack my bag and wrap up work at the winery this weekend.   Grab a copy of the schedule, get ready to party and I’ll see you, and all my other favorite Winemaking people, in Sacramento in a couple of days!


Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners, a supplier of coastal California AVA-driven wines.  All of her wines are sourced from her company’s 100% sustainably-certified vineyards and clients include national brands, restaurants and retailers. Wines include Garnet Vineyards, Picket Fence Vineyards, Verada Wines and Buttercream Chardonnay and Back From the Dead Red.  She has served on the Unified Symposium Program Committee since 2013.

Twitter and Instagram:  @alisoncrowewine

The Winemaker’s Take: Mild 2018 Harvest Promises Old School Elegance


Velvety-soft Napa Cabernet berries ripening slowly in the mild October sun.

Velvety-soft Napa Cabernet berries ripening slowly in the mild October sun.












A year ago today I was frantically driving around Napa’s Rutherford and Oakville back roads, dodging Police barricades and sneaking around road blocks to check on the last of my Napa Cabernet.  95% of my harvest was in the barn but I still had to get the last bit in as power outages and mandatory evacuations from the Tubbs, Atlas, Nunn’s  and Partrick fires threw all plans into disarray.  As a complete contrast, this year on October 9 I have yet to harvest a single Cabernet berry statewide.



It's what makes a Subaru a Subaru....cooperage gets a lift.

It’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru….cooperage gets a lift.

And I’m not panicking.  So far, 2018 is mirroring all the best parts about the 2010 vintage (cooler measured growing season, robust acidities, great freshness and fruit tone) with none of the bad bits (early frost burns, an early fall heat spike that caused raisining in the Pinot Noir).  Though the cool weather in June meant an extended veraison and a subsequent extension of ripening, all my Napa and Sonoma County Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are now harvested.  I’m still combing through Monterey County for my Garnet Vineyards and Verada Pinots, but the moderate brixes, higher acidities and refined tannins are proving that even this late in the Pinot game, the grapes are not overripe and are coming in just to my taste- perfectly balanced.

Huey enjoyed walking the Carneros Hills scouting out the last Pinots.

Huey enjoyed walking the Carneros Hills scouting out the last Pinots.

What does all this mean for the coastal California 2018 Vintage writ large?  If our annual Fall rains can hold off until all the fruit is picked this could be one of my very favorite vintages of all time and dare I predict, a darling-to-be of the cognoscenti.  The 2018 wines, both early Pinots and later Cabs, will be fruity, brightly colored, approachable in youth but very age-worthy.  Though I wasn’t around to witness them, I’ve heard the term “old school” bandied about by industry veterans, indicating that 2018 could hearken back to the moderately-boozy yet character-rich vintages from the 1980’s.

Falling acorns are a sign of the impending Cabernet Harvest.

Falling acorns are a sign of the impending Cabernet Harvest.













The acorns are ripe and falling off the trees, the Halloween decorations have started to come out around our west-Napa neighborhood and we’re all grateful to be here a year after the 2017 Wine Country Fires menaced our paradise.  Maybe it’s no wonder I’m having some nostalgic Fall feelings in light of what we endured a year ago.   As I walk our blocks from Napa to Sonoma to Paso Robles, rolling soft, round Cabernet berries between my fingers, the blues seem more brilliant, the leaves underfoot more vibrantly yellow.  This year I suspect I’m not alone in embracing a comforting slide into what is turning out to be a stately and elegant “old school” Harvest.










Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Napa-based Plata Wine Partners and sources her wines exclusively from her company’s own sustainably-farmed Napa, Sonoma and Central Coast vineyards. She makes Picket Fence Vineyards, Garnet Vineyards and Verada Wines, among other bespoke wine brands and projects.  @alisoncrowewine

The Most Important Step in Winemaking That Nobody Talks About

The finished product- 2016 Picket Fence Russian River Pinot Noir

The finished product- bottled and ready to share

Harvest:  Sunlit vines, sweeping vistas and artisans working around the clock picking and crushing grapes.  Blending the final cuvée:  the master Winemaker contemplates a sparkling array of nectar-filled glasses, carefully selecting the perfect blend.   All highly Instagramable, all part of winery marketing campaigns and part of the public’s notion of how wine comes to be.  What doesn’t get the “likes” and “shares” not because it’s not important but because it’s usually not talked about as much?  Bottling.


I’m thinking about bottling a lot these days for a couple of reasons.  One, I’m in the thick of the pre-Harvest bottling season where we package up our “early to bottle” wines (read:  Chardonnay and Pinot Noir lots which need less than a year of aging) before the grapes start flying and two, I’m breaking in a new state-of-the-art custom bottling facility in Napa, Infinity Bottling.  Being the first bottling client across the line isn’t without its challenges but it’s been truly exciting to watch all that shiny stainless steel come over from Italy, be assembled and breathed into life by an expert team of handlers.  Disclosure:  the President and GM, Jessica Tuteur, used to by our Operations Manager at Plata Wine Partners before she decided to open her own bottling facility and I’ve worked with most of her QC (Quality Control) and technical team at other wineries over the years.

2016 Longhand Alexander Valley Cabernet heading down the conveyor towards the labeller at Infinity Bottling.

2016 Longhand Alexander Valley Cabernet heading down the conveyor towards the labeller at Infinity Bottling.

See what I did there?  In the preceding paragraph I threw out some technospeak, industrial-sounding terms and a couple of acronyms.  Not exactly the stuff winery marketing campaigns are made of.  Aside from Jordan Winery’s brilliant bottling line “Despacito”  parody video, bottling is hardly glamorous enough to merit major content dollars.

That’s a pity because of the important part bottling plays in everyone’s final experience of that wine.  Perhaps because I’ve spent an intensive last two weeks in a “Laverne & Shirley”-esque world of boxes, bottles and conveyor belts watching hundreds of bottles fly past my eyes, I’ve had a lot of time to think about bottling’s role in the winemaking and, eventually, in the wine-enjoying process.

Finished boxes of 2016 Longhand Alexander Valley Cabernet, ready to be loaded onto pallets and shipped out to stores.

Finished boxes of 2016 Longhand Alexander Valley Cabernet, ready to be loaded onto pallets and shipped out to stores.

Why is bottling so important? 

-It’s the last time for the winemaker to touch the wine, to really get it right or get it horribly wrong.

If you’re not bottling with the right crew at the right facility, it *can* go horribly wrong.  From poor sanitation to a wrinkled label to a slightly out-of-round batch of bottles from the glass company, there are a million places a bottling run can go (literally) pear-shaped in an instant.

-It can be as tough, if not tougher, than Harvest.  At Harvest there’s sometimes a rogueish devil-may-care attitude that prevails because of the chaos and time crush of the moment.  In contrast, bottling is about a measured precision and about each machine, each packaging component (bottle, cork, capsule, label, box) working in concert within millimeters of spec.  Throw in multiple packaging changes, different wine types and tight to-market timelines and you can get an idea of the pressure and stakes involved.  Try to align all the moving parts of Harvest and sometimes, with a lick and a promise, you’ll get away with one less pumpover among hundreds or a few imperfect clusters making their way into a 5-ton fermentor.  Fail to align all the moving parts at bottling and you’re courting disaster.

-It’s the winemaker’s last chance to say goodbye and Godspeed before launching their creation out into the world.  One of my favorite parts about being a winemaker is the thought of my wines making someone’s day brighter or dinner better.  Bottling may not be the most glamorous or photogenic part of the winemaking process but it’s a rite every wine must go through and one that is full of potential potholes and pitfalls. Getting it right is stressful and most winemakers cite bottling as their least favorite part of the whole process.  It’s not always fun, it’s often maddening and bottling correctly certainly isn’t something we win big accolades from customers or critics for.  Bottling is perhaps the most important but also most under the radar part of the winemaking process.  So here’s to bottling (or kegging, or canning, these days).  It’s a necessary step of the process and one that deserves a little bit more love, attention and kudos from the rest of the wider world.


Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners, a luxury and ultra-premium custom wine company based in Napa, responsible for such brands as Garnet Vineyards, Picket Fence Vineyards, and Verada Wines among many others.  Up until the brands were recently sold to Vintage Wine Estates, Plata was responsible for Layer Cake and Cherry Pie wines.    @alisoncrowewine

#bedavidstevens- The Wine Industry Remembers and Celebrates a Beloved Colleague

This is how I'll always remember David Stevens- at a wine competition judging table, laughing. Photo credit Mike Dunne

This is how I’ll always remember David Stevens- at a wine competition judging table, laughing. Photo credit Mike Dunne

There are some people you can’t help liking, who always seem to have a smile on their face and who leave you encouraged and uplifted at the end of every interaction.  Such was the case with David Stevens, whom the wine industry has been mourning since we learned of his sudden and unexpected passing due to natural causes Tuesday April 10 2018.  I was clicking around Facebook on Wednesday when I saw a post from Bob Foster, a friend who runs wine competitions, stating that David was gone.  As the word got out and a shocked wine industry and extended wine community started to mourn on Facebook, I invited friends to leave a little tribute in the comments below my post with the promise I’d collect them into a blog as soon as I felt it was appropriate.

I first met David wine judging about ten years ago and have had the great pleasure to spend time with him around the judging table in San Diego, Napa and Sonoma over the years.  Not only a great taster and wine judge, Dave was first an award-winning winemaker with the likes of Bouchaine and Domaine Carneros.  Later in his career he started teaching part time at Napa Valley College and at UC Davis, leading the OIV Wine Marketing Program along with Christian Miller of Wine Opinions and Full Glass Research.  Many of us know and remember David Stevens for his welcoming, supportive personality as well as his zany and infectious sense of humor.  An avid baseball fan and lover of games, David leaves behind a wife and two daughters and many, many devastated friends and colleagues.

Undoubtedly, we all have lived a fuller life having known him.  One of the best tributes we can give him, and one of the best ways to carry his spirit with us,  is to try to be just a little bit like him.  Where to start?  Be curious, be kind, laugh at yourself, laugh more than a little at your friends and occasionally your industry.  Be a giver, not a taker. Be a teacher, a mentor and always be looking for ways to connect people and ideas together in positive ways.  Be a booster, a cheerleader, a colleague, and most importantly be a friend.  Laugh a lot.  We’ll be a stronger, more united, respectful and dare I say, lighthearted, wine industry because of it. #bedavidstevens

Here are some remembrances of David Stevens, a man who touched so many people in many parts of the wine industry:

Mike Dunne- Regardless of context – sitting on a panel at a wine competition, orchestrating a marketing seminar at UC Davis, joining a tasting of old dessert wines in Sacramento, rounding up people for a trek to some obscure Korean or Chinese restaurant in Pomona – David could be counted on for his levity, smarts, ability to listen and knack for sharing in a way helpful, upbeat and generous. And always, many hearty laughs.

Jim Lapsley- Dave was a stalwart in the OIV course and when I retired I was SO pleased that he and Christian Miller agreed to take it on. Dave had so much information that he passed on in a gently humorous way. We will miss David for the rest of our lives, but will remember him at odd moments and smile.

Lessly Wharton VanHoutan- My heart is broken. Dave had nothing but kind words and encouraged me. He kept me from losing my mind and soul. To the moon and back DS.

Paul Robert Blom- My last wine chat with David was during #mundusvini end of February. We lost a friend and sure source of information on any subject of viticulture and a praised member of the world wide judging ‘society’. R.I.P. David, you will be missed.

Linda F Bisson- Deeply saddened to hear this – will miss him, his smile, his positive outlook, his wit and wisdom.

David Graves- We were privileged to have him as a colleague in Carneros.

Andrew Waterhouse- A gentleman and a scholar. I am greatly saddened to hear this news. We will miss him!

Greg Bjornstad- What a wonderful man! So sorry to learn of David’s passing. We were classmates and TA’s at Davis and colleagues in wine, recently having opportunity to collaborate on a project. Smart, funny, warm and curious. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends that miss him already. Cheers, my friend…

Edward Schulz- We had good years and many good meals together. Carneros, Paso, Temecula. Barrels brought us together. Death takes us apart, dang it.
Ira Kreft- So sorry to hear about it- what a loss. I always appreciated his knowledge, insight and humor. My notes contain a number of winemaking rules of thumb and insights that he provided me.
Ernie Farinias- Very shocking to hear David’s gone. Have great memories of David at Davis.

Patricia Ann Howe- Ok- thinking of David’s best story. He told me about the time he dressed up as Bigfoot/Sasquatch and freaked out some folks. The kicker is that “sighting” made into a book of unexplained legitimate encounters. That is such a typical David stunt.

Mike Swan, Dave Stevens. Photo Credit, Mike Swan

L-R Mike Swan, Jason Wimp, Dave Bridgeman and David Stevens, holding a big ling cod haul in Alaska, 2016. Photo Credit, Mike Swan

Mike Swan- We were set to go to Portugal in January.  I cancelled my tickets yesterday.  The most wonderful man I have ever met and was able to hug him goodby 3 weeks ago at our wine competition.  Not shake hands, HUG!

Jeff Stewart- Sad news….. Great winemaker and better person.

Ann Noble- Dave leaves a void….How sad to lose someone so young.

Merrikay Locati- Omg, he will be so missed here in Walla Walla. He was so fun when he came to visit and help us make wine at Robison ranch. We are without words.

Danusia Scout Szumowski- Dave was one of my teachers at the UC Davis OIV wine marketing program. I remember him fondly – and remember last time I saw him – always a smile, an introduction to “someone you should really meet” – and endless enthusiasm for a love of all things wine. Thank you, David, for sharing your knowledge and passion with us. You will be missed.
Amy J. Butler-David was a compendium of wine knowledge. He had digested all of the literature…you could look it up or you could just call Dave. He had an opinion (backed by research) on all the new wine technologies, so many smarts. I’ll miss that but I’ll miss also the music fan (always turning me on to new bands), the sports fan (a 20+ year Oakland A’s season ticket holder), the proud dad, and my friend.
Neeraj Singh- I am terribly sorry for our loss. David was someone who took me under his wing from my first day at the OIV program. His positive impact in my life goes beyond words at this moment. I will very much miss his enthusiasm and energy.
Rosie Lopez Holland- He was a wonderful man and will be remembered for his humor and kindness. Over the rainbow 🌈 my friend.
Raeanne Passantino- I am going to miss David so much! He was a great friend and spectacular human being. I feel so very blessed to have spent two of the opening weekend A’s games with him this month. There are no words to express how much he will be missed by Section 216. RIP dear friend.
Ever the educator, here's Dave Stevens "judging" an ad hoc "First Annual Glacier Bay Wine Competition" in 2016. Sweepstakes winner was the Williams Selyem. Photo Credit Mike Swan

Ever the educator, here’s Dave Stevens “judging” an ad hoc “First Annual Glacier Bay Wine Competition” in 2016. Sweepstakes winner was the Williams Selyem. Photo Credit Mike Swan

Melissa Bates- David was so full of life and laughter. He was loved by so many and he made sure you knew how much he enjoyed your friendship. My condolences to his family for their loss.


Christian Miller- This is awful, awful news. It’s a rare thing to find in one person a brilliant intellect, great wit and humor and an appreciation for what is sweet and humane. The world was undoubtedly a better place with Dave in it.

Laurie Walters Foster- One of the warmest, nicest special people on the wine judging circuit…will be so missed! Such a beautiful and talented soul….

Tim Hanni MW- I am so saddened to hear the news. I just spoke with David last week – he is the epitome of everything good about humanity and the wine business. I am grateful that I was able to call him my friend.


A memorial service for David Stevens will be held 11 am Saturday April 21st at St Mary’s Episcopal Church in Napa,  1917 Third St. Napa CA 94558.


Alison Crowe is Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners, which makes Garnet Vineyards and Picket Fence Vineyards wine among many other custom and bespoke wine projects.  Sourced from her company’s 100% sustainably certified vineyards, she works with fruit from Napa, Sonoma, and the Central Coast.  @alisoncrowewine email:

Winemakers Love April Showers…. but Only Before May Flowers

Cloudy skies and rain this week don't pose a problem- it's OK for grapevines to have April Showers before May Flowers (grapevine bloom).

Cloudy skies and rain this week don’t pose a problem- it’s OK for grapevines to have April Showers as long as it comes before their May Flowers (grapevine bloom).

4/6/18, Napa CA

An early April “Pineapple Express” is upon us, having rushed into the North Bay as of last night, providing a steady rain through today, Friday, into Saturday.  I was tasting with a client yesterday and he asked, as we swirled our Pinot Noir glasses, “Isn’t this rain going to mess stuff up in the vineyards?”


My short answer was, “No, not really.”


The reality is that we’re still in need of precipitation in Northern California and, even though it might slow down work in the vineyard for a few days, we still need to replenish our water tables and top up ponds and reservoirs.  I chatted up our Senior Viticulturist, Rich Schaefers, this morning on the way to the office and he agrees with me; we need the rain and since the new clusters haven’t begun bloom yet in Napa and Sonoma, we’re not in any danger of losing developing fruit that way.


The danger comes when the rainclouds depart, leaving clear skies and frosty temps overnight.

The danger comes when the rainclouds depart, leaving clear skies and frosty temps overnight.

This has turned out to be a very warm storm, so we’re not going to be bulking up the snow pack (and in fact, may be melting some), which increases flooding hazards for downstream Sierra foothill communities.


The real danger for Northern California vineyards, however, lies not with flooding (so far) but with the frost that comes when the warm storm front moves through and is replaced by clear, cold nights.  Bud break started a few weeks ago and so tender young shoots and leaves are well pushed out and will continue to be vulnerable to frost damage until sometime in May when night time temperatures rise consistently above freezing.

So no, a few April showers aren’t going to worry me, because my “May Flowers” (grapevine bloom) aren’t on the horizon for another few weeks.  Rain during bloom can be a big problem because raindrops can prevent causing a dramatic reduction in crop and uneven set.

So far so good.  These cooler days have put a halt to what looked like a super-early budbreak last month, so in my estimation the start of HArvest 2018 is tracking more “normal”.  I expect to start harvesting Pinot Noir for rose wine the last week in August.  Harvest?  Did I just say that?  It’ll be here before we know it!


Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker living in Napa.  She is the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards, Verada Wines and Picket Fence Vineyards in addition to sundry other branded and bespoke wine projects.   Alison is also the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book , enjoys tennis and horseback riding and loves the green grass Springtime rains bring.  Special thanks to Senior Viticulturist Rich Schaefers for contributing his thoughts on this topic.

Twitter and Instagram:  @alisoncrowewine



Napa and Sonoma’s Early and Frosty Bud Break….and its Silver Lining

It looks scary, but purposefully-sprinkled frozen water actually protects baby grape buds, as long as the temperatures don't get too much below freezing.

It looks scary, but purposefully-sprinkled frozen water actually protects baby grape buds, as long as the temperatures don’t get too much below freezing. Here, one of our Carneros Chardonnay vines hangs tough.

Thursday, 2/22/18- It was quite a sight for the morning commuters zipping along Hwy 121 between the towns of Sonoma and Napa Monday this week:  curtains of icicles, in some cases reaching all the way to the vineyard floor, hanging from the grapevine trellises of Carneros.  No, we didn’t have an overnight cloudburst that made our little corner of the world less Sonoma and more Saskatchewan.  It was simply farmers doing what they do best, using a combination of science and smarts, to defend against the latest curve ball from Mother Nature.


The 2018 growing season is shaping up, so far at least, to be a dry and an early one.  An historically-dry January and February coupled with some higher-than-average temperatures have lead to an early bud break.  Bud break is when the nascent buds, which turn into the coming Harvest’s shoots, leaves and grape bunches, swell with life after winter’s dormancy and begin to spread their leaves in preparation for the upcoming season’s growth.  In this case, however, the tender new buds were greeted with a sudden mid-Frebruary cold snap, putting them at risk of freezing in the early hours of the morning.  If enough buds suffer cold enough temperatures for a long enough time, the upcoming Harvest yields and quality can be negatively impacted.


Hence the sheets of ice hanging from the trellis wires in Carneros on Monday morning.


There are a few things growers can do to try to mitigate freezing temperatures at night.


Protective ice shielding new buds in Carneros on the frosty morning of February 19th.

Prune late for frost protection:  The first round of measures are passive, like pruning as late as you can, which naturally delays a vine’s bud break date a little.  However, as pruning has to get done sometime before the weather warms up and as it takes a lot of time and labor to do, it isn’t a realistic solution for every vineyard block.

Mix up the air:  For vines already pruned, anti-frost measures have to be a bit more assertive.  Cold air sinks, so if you can keep the air in a vineyard moving, the warmer air above the vines will mix in with the coldest air sitting on the vineyard floor.  This is why we see so many fans, which look like airplane propellers mounted on telephone poles, in vineyards and why many of us hear those powerful engines firing up on cold nights.  Even one degree above freezing helps.


Turn on the sprinklers: If that layer of cold air is just too deep and running the fans doesn’t bring enough warm air into the fruit zone, turning on the sprinklers can be a next line of defense.  By creating a thin layer of ice and, critically, by keeping that layer of ice wet, the temperature of the bud won’t get below 32 F.  However, if you let the ice dry out and it starts to evaporate, you can actually exacerbate the freeze by the evaporative cooling effect of the water.  Similarly, if temperatures get below 23-24 F, this ice shield simply doesn’t offer enough protection. For this reason sprinklers can only be used under very specific conditions.  Luckily, any water used this way will sink back into the soil and eventually replenish the vineyard water table.


As you can see, frost protection is a delicate dance and is the biggest reason why growers lose so much sleep between February and May.


An early bud break’s silver lining? As long as you can protect against most frost, it’s better for wine quality to get ready to Harvest a few weeks early than to be “rained out” by storms in October and November.

So where are the silver linings in all of these threats?

First of all, only a few AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) and varieties are affected right now so it’s not like a frost-threatened budbreak is a widespread phenomenon.  In our Napa and Sonoma vineyards, buds are largely limited to a few spots in Carneros and this cold weather will retard the emergence of other buds, protecting those from exposure.


Secondly, as a winemaker, I’d much rather have an early start to the season than a late ending.  So what if I start pulling off my Pinot Noir for rose a couple of weeks earlier than in 2017?  So far we seem to be right in line with 2015, and it just means you need to get the winery ready to go a little bit sooner.  The real disaster for wine quality comes with a late bud break and a later start to the growing season.  As grape ripening gets delayed and Harvest gets pushed further into September, October and in the case of Napa Cabernet, November, the chances for disastrous rains increase.  Any grapes still on vine when the fall and winter rainy season begins in earnest are at risk for mold, rot, dilution and a complete loss of flavor and quality.  I’ll gladly take an early Harvest over a late one.


Thirdly, thinking of 2017 in Napa and Sonoma Counties, the earlier we get all grapes in the barn, the less risk we have that Harvest will be interrupted by wildfires.  Once the grass on the hillsides dries out, technically fires can happen any time but the highest probability occurs in October, after months of hot weather and before the first cold snap and real rains.  Begin Harvest a few weeks early and there is a greater probability of having all your grapes safely tucked away in tanks and barrels.


Seeing all that ice in Carneros on Monday morning was dramatic and quite unusual.  I’m glad we have these frost-protection options but I’m equally glad that it looks like we’ll be facing a slightly earlier Harvest in 2018 rather than a late one.  As with anything to do with Mother Nature, however, stay tuned for how the growing season unfolds as we know the only certainty is change……

Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker living in Napa.  She is the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards, Verada Wines and Picket Fence Vineyards in addition to sundry other branded and bespoke wine projects.   Alison is also the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book , enjoys tennis and horseback riding and above so many other things loves a good winter rainstorm.

Twitter and Instagram:  @alisoncrowewine



For My SoCal Friends: Lessons I learned from the Wine Country Wildfires

Day 2 The "Burnt Toast BnB" Crew surviving- with masks on. L to Right, John Egerman, Alison Crowe, Sandy Crowe, Jennifer Crowe

The Wine Country Wildfire “Burnt Toast BnB” Crew surviving- with masks on. L to Right, John Egerman, Alison Crowe, my mom Sandy Crowe and sister Jennifer Crowe. Wearing our “N95” anti-smoke masks!

My parents were just up here in Napa helping Chris and I prepare to evacuate during the October Wine Country Wildfires and now they are facing a similar situation at home.  As the Thomas Fire creeps closer to Carpinteria, California, the idyllic little beach town where I grew up, my heart goes out to all my friends and family in the area.

There’s not much I can do from hundreds of miles away, besides post current fire maps on Facebook and try to be a communication bridge from afar.  However, I can at least compile a list of lessons and “to do’s” I learned during the Wine Country Wildfires of October 2017.


If you have to evacuate soon, like in the next few hours: 

-Make a list of “To Do’s” and “To Pack’s”.  Stress makes for forgetful minds and writing it down will add to your sanity and calm.

-Know your escape routes and keep posted on if and when they might get pinched off.  Have a backup escape plan (or two).

-Pre-arrange a rendezvous point out of the area post-evacuation in case you get separated on the drive away from your house (if you’re taking more than one vehicle).  That way you’ll know immediately if everyone made it out OK.

-If you haven’t already, sign up for local alert systems like Nixle.

-Turn on local radio channels.  We listened to Napa’s KVYN 99.3 a lot.

-Be wary of false or rumored information on social media.  Do verbal or messaging check ins with people to confirm information.

-Find all your animals immediately.  So many people got delayed chasing down scared cats or dogs.

-Evacuate little kids early if possible, as early as possible.  It will be far less traumatic for them watching from Grandma’s than seeing your scared faces and listening to the stressful grownup conversations.

-“Fireproof” safes are not.

-If you don’t have time to pack a suitcase, grab your dirty laundry basket.  At least it will be full of items you’ve recently worn (seasonal and will fit) and you can always visit a laundromat or wash clothes at a friend’s house.  (thanks for the tip, Julie Schreiber!)

-If you choose to wear a mask or respirator (highly recommended) make sure it’s labeled “NIOSH-Approved” or marked “N95” or “P100”.  Simple dust masks only trap large particles and the smaller smoke particles can still damage your lungs.

-Open your garage doors.  In the event of a power outage, it’s difficult to open electric garage doors.

-Pack essentials….and only the essentials.  Do the critical stuff first (passports, clothes, medicine, phones, chargers, batteries, food, water, pets and pet food) and then pack up some extra boxes later only if you have time (like your jewelry box, the wedding silver etc).  This is where a prioritized “To Do” list is important.

-Be prepared for the power to go out at any time.

-Snap pictures of every room in your house and anything valuable in the yard or outbuildings for insurance purposes.

-Remember that vineyards, orchards and green space make great firebreaks.

– If you have well-irrigated fields, orchards, or  vineyards, consider moving cars, boats or RV’s into the middle if you can’t evacuate all of your vehicles.  This saved a lot of vehicles during the wine country fires.

-If it’s coming soon and there’s nothing you can do, turn on the irrigation.  Green lawns and plants will help keep fire away from the house.

-If you have a pool and a pump, you’ve got a great source of water to irrigate your roof and property.

-Turn off your gas when you leave.


If you think you might have to evacuate in the next day or two: 

-Prepare as early as possible.

-Pack an “immediate” go bag and keep it by your front door.

-Take out cash, preferably in smaller bills, and keep some in your cars and in your “go” bag.

-Fill all vehicle gas tanks.

-Park your vehicles with the nose pointed out.

-Put a flashlight in all vehicles in case you have to evacuate at night.

-Know how to open your garage doors in the absence of electricity.  Normally there is a hand-pull mechanism.  I’m constantly surprised at the number of times I heard that people had delays getting out because they couldn’t get their garage doors open.

-Sleep with shoes beside your bed in case you have to get out fast in the middle of the night.

-Keep a flashlight with fresh batteries by your bed.

-Save key electronic documents to the cloud in case you don’t have time to pack your computer.

-Move all woodpiles, wooden patio furniture or other moveable burnables away from the house.

-Be careful and watch for announcements- you may have to boil your water if power goes down and water treatment plants are not able to operate.

-Clean out your gutters

-Put sprinklers on your roof.

-If you have a pool, go and find a “Billy Pump” water pump like this if you don’t have one already.  Get one soon; they’ll go fast at Home Depot and Wal Mart.

-Get out your earthquake/disaster kit, go through it, make sure your supplies are fresh and current.  Shop for items you need to replace.

-If you have time, pack up some sentimental boxes of things you know you’d miss if your house burned down.  We packed original artwork, kids art projects, antiques and other irreplaceable family heirlooms.


If you don’t think you have to evacuate but are dealing with severe smoke in the area: 

-Be a good neighbor and open your home to evacuees.  We did and John (see picture above) was a tremendous help during the two weeks of fires here in Napa.

-If you have the space, offer up your driveway or property for boat or RV storage for evacuees.

-Volunteer at the Red Cross, Salvation Army or shelter.

-Buy air filters and masks as early as you can; they will quickly run out at area stores.  Have out of town friends bring them if they come to help, order them from Amazon if you can still get delivery to your house.

-Keep windows closed.

-Invest in a portable USB battery so you can charge your phone if the power goes out.

-You may think the fire won’t come your way; act like it will.


Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners in Napa, California and grew up in Carpinteria, California.  She is the winemaker for Garnet Vineyards and Picket Fence Vineyards in addition to other brands and projects.  She can be reached at  Twitter and Instagram:  @alisoncrowewine




Give a Happy Thanksgiving to Wine Country Fire Survivors

Thanksgiving plateIt’s been exactly a month since the Wine Country/North Bay Wildfires were raging at their height across much of Northern California.  Since then, Harvest has ended, the air has cleared, schools and roads are open once again and life is slowly (very slowly) returning to “normal” for most families.


For some, however, “normal” won’t happen anytime soon.  As I make my own lists for organizing my family’s Thanksgiving in Napa, I couldn’t help but round up another one:  a list of organizations to which you can donate your money, time or wine in order to help someone affected by the fires.  Let’s help everyone to have a happier Thanksgiving.


Sonoma Family MealSonoma Family Meal: They Need Monetary Donations

Sonoma Family Meal is a grass-roots organization that sprung up during the fires, bringing together a coalition of chefs, hospitality, and culinary workers who desperately wanted to help those in need.  Since October 15, Sonoma Family Meal has prepared and distributed over 50,000 meals to North Bay Area residents free of charge.  A number of my good friends in the “cheffing” community are involved in this important and effective project.  They need your financial help to put Thanksgiving on the table for needy local families.  Click here to donate.


RedwoodRedwood Gospel Mission Great Thanksgiving Banquet: Donate and Volunteer

The Redwood Gospel Mission is holding a giant, free Thanksgiving dinner at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa on Weds Nov 22 11 AM-7:00 PM.  there will also be free haircuts, showers, a bouncy house and all-around family community.  You can volunteer your time, donate or, if you are a fire victim, register to receive a free turkey and family food box at the above link.


CANVCommunity Action of Napa Valley/Napa Food Bank: Donate

CANV/Napa Food Bank is Napa Valley’s main food bank organization and they are always in need of extra funds during the busy holiday season.  By clicking the link above you can put your money towards the food bank or “where it is needed most”.



CommunitySonoma Community Center Free Thanksgiving Dinner:  Volunteer your time

The Sonoma Community Center will host its annual Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, Nov 23 and this year they expect more people than ever to come.  Please consider volunteering your time to help serve.  This year’s dinner is brought to you by the Rotary of Sonoma Valley, cheesemaker Gary Edwards, and chef Daniel Quijada.




ChefsgivingChefsGiving: Help house the displaced by eating, drinking and celebrating

We sure know how to wine and dine in Northern California and with ChefsGiving, everyone in the Bay Area now has the ability to do good while enjoying a good meal.  Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn is behind this week of special tasting menus at Bay Area restaurants and a Nov 19 gala fundraiser in San Francisco.  ChefsGiving’s goal is to raise money to help find temporary and permanent housing for fire victims.  “ChefsGiving Week” is Nov 13-19 and on Nov 19th join local chefs at the San Francisco Ferry Building for the final Chefsgiving benefit gala.  Click on the above link to find a Chefsgiving event near you.
 Donate wine, beer, non-alcoholic beverages

It’s the little things…. to some out of the area it might seem trivial, but beverages are really (really!) important to so many of us in Wine Country.  We work and live in the drinks business and for so many folks, a key piece of getting “back to normal” is getting to enjoy a glass of something at the end of a long day.  Along with their homes, many folks also lost personal collections of precious local vintages. So many displaced people now don’t have the time, money or brain-space to  engage in those little acts of self-care like sharing a bottle of wine with family at dinner or making a special juice drink for their kids at Thanksgiving.  Hence, “Comfort Drinks”, a brainchild of Sonoma-based freelance writer and community leader Sarah Stierch.  By “Bringing bottles of joy to disaster victims”, Comfort Drinks links up fire survivors who have lost their homes with donations of wine, beer, non-alcoholic drinks and glasses, bar ware etc..  Email or click on the link in the header above to make a donation.


Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking and a Partner at Plata Wine Partners in Napa and the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards and Picket Fence Vineyards.  She is thankful this holiday season that her house and family survived the North Bay Wildfires intact and encourages everyone to give what and how they can this Thanksgiving.

Twitter/Instagram:  @alisoncrowewine

Mixed Feelings Alert: After the fires, Napa will largely be fine- it’s Sonoma that’s hurting

Though taken from the Napa side, this is looking west at the Nuns Fire raging largely in Sonoma County. Taken at Hwy 29 at Oak Knoll Ave on 10/10/17.

Though taken from the Napa side, this is looking west at the Nuns Fire raging largely in Sonoma County. Taken at Hwy 29 at Oak Knoll Ave on 10/10/17.

I originally posted the following on Facebook ten days ago, on 10/19/17 after reading an account of one Sonoma County resident’s evacuation during the first week of the fires.  Virginie Boone, Contributing Editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine, lived through the Nuns/Oakmont Fire complex and her retelling of her family’s flight and, luckily, escape from the flames really brought home to me what was happening “over the hill” in Sonoma.

Though I live and have my office in the city of Napa, I work with a large number of vineyards and a small clutch of custom-crush wineries for my Garnet Vineyards and Picket Fence Vineyards brands in Sonoma.  Virginie’s harrowing tale of her experiences on the normally-bucolic Hwy 12 corridor near Kenwood left me in tears.  It also left me with a host of other feelings.

Hence, my original post below, typed on my iPhone, in the dark, but from the safety of my own home in Napa:
“Mixed feelings alert. Am I the only one that feels that, in the national and international news at least, “Napa” has seemed to get more of the attention than our neighboring counties during the North Bay firestorms? It’s probably in part because fewer people and reporters know where Santa Rosa, Kenwood, or Redwood Valley are. It’s also partly due to the fact that Napa got on the international marketing bandwagon back in the 1950’s and has been drumming it hard since then. What I would like my friends around the country and the world to know is that the wildfires in Napa county, where I live, were largely confined to the hills around the valley floor.

Sonoma County, however, suffered more fatalities and more structure loss and as many workers live in Sonoma and commute to Napa to work in the hospitality industry, I would wager more Sonoma County residents are going to be hurting for longer to get their lives back together.

Yes, more vineyards and wineries logged damage in Napa County and we also had tragic fatalities and harrowing tales of escape. I would never diminish anyone’s loss. A singed vineyard (I have two) and a burned winery outbuilding, however, are easy to report. Not so easy to count are the thousands of homeless and displaced, the bartender who lives on tips who hasn’t worked in 10 days, the undocumented vineyard worker who doesn’t know where to go or the housekeeper whose key clients are now also homeless.

I read Virginie Boone’s account of her family’s flight during the fire in the Kenwood area and, especially after witnessing the Sonoma-side destruction personally this week, realized the hurt and damage in Sonoma will run deeper, and probably for longer, than in many other places.

I had mixed feelings listening to the radio yesterday as some of my fellow Napa county members chimed in about their wineries being open for business while so many people, especially on the Sonoma side of the mountains, were still evacuated and the fires were still burning out of control. I understand that tourism is our life blood and we need to get the message out that restaurants, hotels and wineries are still standing and, indeed, are or will be open for business. It just felt like it was too soon to indulge in self-promotion.

I hope we can all find ways to continue to help each other across county lines in ways that I witnessed during this firestorm. Winemakers from Mendocino to Lodi to Carneros offered each other crush space in the face of power outages, friends opened their homes to each other and vineyard managers combing the hills of all affected counties kept us informed via social media as they kept their wary eyes on the skies. We all want to find ways to donate our time and our money as we claw our way through to recovery.

As we do this, I can’t help but reflect that the fires in Napa County largely chewed through forest and hillside acres and are now largely out. The fires in Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino County really ravaged neighborhoods and ripped apart the lives of so many people I know…and so many people I don’t. #707strong #winecountryfires #redwoodvalleyfire #sulphurfire”-Originally posted 10/19/17

In the last ten days we’ve learned the following sobering facts:   Napa County had about 500 structures burned.  Sonoma County had well over 5,000.  The City of Santa Rosa alone lost over 5% of its housing stock with occupancy rates hovering around 1%.  Think of what that 5% loss just did.

If you would like to donate your time or money to assist in the recovery effort, please click here to find out how:

North Bay Fires Donation List

The above list began as a Facebook post, grew to a Google doc and is now a stand alone website thanks to the tireless organizational efforts of freelance writer, Sarah Stierch, of Sonoma.


Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Napa-based Plata Wine Partners and makes Garnet Vineyards, Picket Fence Vineyards, Back From the Dead Red and many other branded and bespoke wine projects.


Instagram and Twitter:  @alisoncrowewine










Carneros Wine Alliance Hosting Bean-Bag-Toss Tournament and Tasting to Benefit Local Fire Department


Sat Aug 12 come try your hand (and tastebuds) at the Carneros Wine Tasting & Cornhole Tournament at Liana Estates in Carneros

Ever wanted to go head to head with a winemaker in a gripping bean bag tournament?  You’ll have your chance on Saturday, August 12 at Liana Estates.  The Carneros Wine Alliance is hosting an open-to-the-public event where you can hang out, taste wine and play Cornhole, the newest outdoor game to sweep wine country.

Tickets are $40 (purchase them here) and all proceeds go to the local Carneros and Schell-Vista Fire Department.

I got in touch with Carneros Wine Alliance Vice-Chair, and Schug Winery Marketing Coordinator, Crista Johnson, to find out more.

Q:  The Carneros Wine Alliance has held media and trade-only tastings in the past, but the Cornhole Tournament and Wine Tasting is the first public event the organization has held in a couple of years, right?

A:  “Correct. We are excited to connect with our customers, locals and tourists -and to help our local fire departments!”

(Read:  This is a unique and fun opportunity, so take advantage of all these great wines being in one place at one time in a gorgeous place.)

Q:  What can the public expect at this event?

A: The Carneros Cornhole Tournament and Wine Tasting will be a casual hangout at one of the finest wineries in Carneros and a friendly competition between the public and winemaking teams!”

(Read:  this will be a great chance to get down and dirty with your friends, and with Carneros winemakers (who might end up being your friends) on the playing field. Oh- and eat good food and drink great wine.)

Q:  What makes Carneros a fun/special/unique region to visit?

A:  “The casual atmosphere (while making some seriously good wines) and warm and friendly people.”

(Read:  You’re going to have fun and it’s going to be beautiful.  I would also add that it’s super-close to the Bay Area and easy to get to, about an hour from San Francisco and Sacramento, even closer to Oakland and the East Bay.  Liana Estates, one of Carnero’s newest coolest wineries to visit,  is located at 2750 Las Amigas Road, Napa CA.)

Here are the details:  Carneros Cornhole Tournament & Wine Tasting

What:  Taste classic Carneros wines from Carneros Wine Alliance members Bouchaine, Cuvaison, Etude, Hyde, Liana Estates, Schug and Truchard and then compete against local winemakers in a Cornhole Tournament! All proceeds go to the Carneros & Schell-Vista Fire Department.

When:  Saturday, August 12 2017, 4-6 PM

Where:  Liana Estates, 2750 Las Amigas Road, Napa CA

Tickets:  $40, buy them here, all proceeds go to the Carneros and Schell-Vista Fire Department


Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker, author and blogger based in Napa.  She is the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards and Picket Fence Vineyards and is on the Advisory Board for the Carneros Wine Alliance.  @alisoncrowewine