My husband and I are lucky enough to have just bought a little piece of Napa acreage and are currently selling our downtown 1898 Victorian. Though our new “dream home” is a little boy’s heaven of redwood trees bordered by a creek with tadpoles, many people dream of having a Napa Valley hideaway that might include vineyards, historic features or a shed for making a little homemade Cabernet Sauvignon. Though we’re not real estate professionals (and we recommend you hire one of those too by the way) we still thought we should pass on some of the layperson’s tips and knowledge we picked up along the way buying our first and now second Napa home. Interest rates are at historic lows and though prices are definitely on the rise in Napa, it’s still a great time to get into the market.
Most real estate searches, especially if you live in the area, start out online. Sites like Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow are good places to start as most realtors are listing their properties there. Sotheby’s and Coldwell are two of the major firms with a lots of local listings. Surprisingly, I didn’t find the online search portal of the Napa Valley Register (our local newspaper) very helpful or easy to navigate…..but most realtors market their properties correctly and get them onto a multitude of websites like these listed by Bankrate.com as being the best online home search sites.
Get on a bike
When Chris and I bought our Victorian in downtown Napa in 2006, we were already renters in the area. We knew that we wanted whatever we bought to be within walking distance of the corner of First and Main streets- the nexus of the developing Oxbow district and the very heart of downtown. So from that point we drew a 1 mile radius and got on our bikes. After finding two open houses we took shelter from a freak rainfall on the porch of a third- and fell in love with the porch, the hardwood floors, high ceilings and the neighborhood. Biking through neighborhoods rather than driving allows you to go at a slower pace and to get a better sense of the area and people around your new potential home. Don’t wear earbuds and you’ll get an idea of how many birds are chirping in the trees…and if your potential neighbors have a loud, barky dog. As the years have gone by and downtown Napa has burgeoned into the culinary, wine and community-focused center it is today, we recommend this approach to shoppers looking to live within walking distance of this amazing place.
Get in a hot air balloon
It’s hard for anyone, even locals, to get the lay of the land around Napa from street level. When I took Chris for a hot air balloon ride for his 40th birthday last year, we realized we’d found a whole new way of assessing an area. Getting up in the air and leaving the limitations of roads, parks and yes, private property lines, gives you an unbeatable perspective on how near- or very far- certain features are. We never would’ve guessed that our new property, which with the trees and creek feels miles away from anywhere, is actually almost as close to downtown as our old place. Of course I suppose you could also try Google Earth, but it’s nowhere nearly as fun. No matter your method, getting “above it all” is an entirely new way to gain valuable perspective.
Get a Newspaper
You’re going to laugh that we actually found our new place from a newspaper ad. Chris and I have been keeping our ears and eyes open for places on the outskirts of town with some property (so our two and four year old could have ample “free range” space to run around). In the meantime, my sister has been toying with an idea of buying a place in Napa with two units- one for her to rent out and one for her to come up for the weekends from San Francisco. We were together one weekend and bought a Sunday issue of the Register, which contains a special real estate section. We were just scanning the listings when a photo of tall redwoods and wide-open spaces grabbed both of us. We immediately were intrigued by the rest of the listing and even though, at a 2 bedroom/2 bath it was smaller than I was looking for, we went to the open house anyway….and ended up closing escrow on it yesterday. Had I been searching online I might have missed this one because I was only searching for three bedrooms and above. Which brings me to my last tip…….
Get outside the “brackets”
Though the online search results for a given area code can seem huge, in Napa it often pays to search both above and below your price and bed/bath combo brackets. Sometimes larger bedroom/bath houses than you think you can afford have been on the market for a long time and have dropped in price. Or you could find a smaller square footage house that you could easily add on to with the money you’d save on the purchase price. Similarly, there are a surprising number of houses in Napa with “in-law units” and even sheds or shops that will not count as bedrooms or taxable square footage but that would count as valuable useable lifestyle and/or living space for you. We found our new paradise by being willing to look outside of our ideal search brackets, and being willing to plan on putting on a new master suite.
Get it? Got it? Great- and good luck!
Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker, author and blogger living in Napa, CA. She is the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards among other consulting projects and is the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book. Girlandthegrape.com won “Best New Wine Blog” in the 2014 Wine Blog Awards. She is selling the downtown Napa Victorian where this blog got its start- contact Jocelyne Monello at 707-224-8281 for a showing! The advice above is based on Alison’s personal experience and in no way is meant to replace the advice of a professional agent or real estate lawyer.
I won’t say who danced on the tables at the Ciatti party or who closed down the bar at the Sheraton last night. As they say, what happens at the Unified Symposium, the largest annual gathering of the wine industry in the western hemisphere, stays at Unified.
Except your feedback. We need it to learn which were the best sessions, to address any challenges that attendees may have had and most importantly to keep improving this very special and business-critical annual gathering.
I’m on the Unified Symposium Program Committee and we are tasked each year with choosing the topics, the panels and the speakers who will address our industry . It’s a fiddly challenge because we’re peering into our crystal balls in June trying to figure out what the hot topics will be come January of the following year. The themes and panel ideas have to be vetted, speakers, especially those coming from other countries, have to be invited early and of course the suppliers, the venue and all of the logistics have to be worked out. It’s a year long process.
If you attended the Unified Symposium this year I ask that you please give us your feedback for the sessions you attended as well as the overall conference. It’s only through your conversation with us, the organizers, that we can keep making this gathering of our peers the wonderful annual educational venue, trade show and yes, party, that it is.
Please fill out the survey here:
Now go back to dancing on those tables.
Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker, author and blogger living in Napa, CA. She is the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards among other consulting projects and is the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book. Girlandthegrape.com won “Best New Wine Blog” in the 2014 Wine Blog Awards. She is a member of the Unified Symposium Program Committee which helps choose the Symposium’s speakers and panels each year.
Hi Everyone! I’m Kona the Vineyard Dog and my human is Alison Crowe, a winemaker and the person who usually posts about “winemaking, life, the dirt” at GirlandtheGrape.com. Last time she wrote about some winemaker New Year’s Resolutions. Silly winemakers. It’s my turn now! Here are my Vineyard Dog’s New Year’s Resolutions for 2015:
-I will take up Frenchie on his offer to do lunch at his pad at Raymond. We winery dogs don’t get together nearly enough.
-I will not worry the sheep.
-I resolve to mentor a younger generation. Even though she’s 6 and has mad bung-chasing skills, I believe Chimney Rock’s Raven can learn from my grape tasting abilities.
-Star Thistles. Nuff said.
-I will only allow my Winemaker to patronize establishments that have water bowls outside (and might even dispense treats). Vintage Sweet Shoppe, Fratti Gelato, Gott’s Roadside in St. Helena.
-So many vineyard ponds, so little time- this spring I will sample them all!
-I will refrain from chewing bungs. (Doink! There goes another one!)
-I will donate a case of my Winemaker’s best to NorCal Ausssie Rescue.
-I will finally learn how to work that kobby thing between the two seats.
Kona the Vineyard Dog, at 15, has had a long run and is still a crazy girl. Chris and I rescued her at age 8 from NorCal Aussie Rescue and she has kept me company on the road, in the field and around the house. God bless the Vineyard Dogs!
Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker, author and blogger living in Napa, CA. She is the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards among other consulting projects and is the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book. Girlandthegrape.com won “Best New Wine Blog” in the 2014 Wine Blog Awards. When she has time, she plays tennis, cooks for friends and family, writes the occasional wine article and loves her vineyard dog.
Are you a Winemaker or know someone who is? Is your local vintner wavering between between French or Hungarian oak, biodynamic or “natural” wine, ml or non-ML complete Viognier, Blue Bottle or Ritual Roasters and are otherwise in resolute need of some New Year’s resolutions to resolve? Girl and the Grape is here to help. Read on, friends of self-development, personal goal achievement and guilty wine app-downloading and peruse what will undoubtedly become the Top Winemaker Resolutions of 2015:
-I will not write inane back label copy.
-I will not let my marketing department write inane back label copy.
-I will refrain from swirling my latte.
-I will swallow my initial self-disgust at writing a tasting note that calls out “nuances of brioche”….because that’s exactly what it is.
-I will not get pissy when a wine blogger calls my” nuances of brioche” their “nuances of toast.”
-I will learn to love my distributors, wholesalers and sales reps.
-I will send my distributors, wholesalers and sales reps daily emoji stickers of smiley faces.
-I will not fire the intern for replacing the breakroom Blue Bottle whole bean with Starbucks from Safeway.
-I will fire the intern for replacing the breakroom four pack of Pliny with a six pack of Sam Adams.
-I will not take 3 star Delectable reviews personally.
-I will Instagram more pictures of the vineyard dog.
-I will refrain from three-burrito days and remember that taco trucks now come in other flavors.
-I will cultivate my “Happy Winemaker Face” when asked (again) when is it that I add the raspberry flavor to my wine.
-I will refrain from posting too many pictures of my new barrels on Facebook.
-I will install one more raptor box up by the wellhouse on top of block 15 and stop the vineyard sheep herd from chewing on the irrigation lines.
-I will finally get that last damn gopher.
-I will drink less coffee.
-I will drink more Champagne.
Got more? What are your Winemaker Resolutions for 2015?
Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker, author and blogger living in Napa, CA. She is the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards among other consulting projects and is the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book. Girlandthegrape.com won “Best New Wine Blog” in the 2014 Wine Blog Awards. When she has time, she plays tennis, cooks for friends and family, writes the occasional wine article and cultivates a healthy sense of humility and humor.
I will copyright my intellectual property: Alison Crowe 2015
Peace in the Midst of Holiday Madness: A conversation with Napa Bartender and Spiritual Counselor Kate Messmer
Wine and spirituality have been connected for millennia. From ancient Dionysian revels to the Friday night blessing of the kiddush cup or the secular “Auld Lang Syne” toasts as we relax and celebrate the New Year, wine has long held a central part in our rituals and spiritual practices. This is perhaps why I wasn’t so surprised to learn that my favorite bartender, Kate Messmer of the Oxbow Cheese & Wine Merchant in Napa, is also a practicing spiritual counselor. According to her website, peaceofkate.com, Kate’s “life’s passion is to help people find peace within themselves.”
Chatting her up over a glass of Champagne (their Schramsberg Blanc des Blancs is my other go-to) while the market was in full holiday bustle, I was curious what kind of insight she had as to how we can find peace and balance in our lives this crazy time of year. Kate, as always, was generous in sharing some observations- as well as a new wine recommendation- with me.
How do you define, and find, “balance” during the holidays?
There is so much that needs to be accomplished during this time of year, so it is important to take it one day at a time. If you feel like you might be able to squeeze in a party or event, then you might want to think long and hard before committing to it. If you say yes, but in the end realize that it isn’t feasible, then it is completely okay to be honest with yourself and bow out.
Why do you think the holidays are both a source or joy and stress, and what are some suggestions for how people can cope?
For me the joy and the stress of the season are intertwined. I love seeing my friends and family, but with that can come a lot of drama. I do my best to check in with myself and listen to what I want to do during the holidays. It is a form of self-care to speak up and create a compromise, so everyone feels like they are being acknowledged.
Do you find that being a bartender helps you in your work as a therapist, or vice versa?
I think the two complement one another beautifully. I get a lot of practice refining the art of listening!
There are so many wines we can choose these days- Which are the wines and beverages are you excited about right now?
I can’t get enough of J Gregory Wines by Mark Jessup. I especially love his Petite Sirah… it has delicious dark fruit aromatics with an elegant finish. It is bold without being overdone.
Not everyone likes to pair wine with celebrations. Can you recommend a festive non-alcoholic drink for those avoiding alcohol this time of year?
I am a vodka soda kind of girl so when I want to go non-alcoholic, I enjoy soda water with a splash of organic lemonade. This drink is tasty and make me feel as though I am having a cocktail.
As 2014 winds down and you put away the holiday gifts, take a moment to think about how to achieve balance and peace in your. It can mean different things at different times. For instance, I am finding peace today by going through old cupboards and organizing things to recycle, give away or donate. I could be fulfilling a dozen social obligations instead, and going through boxes is hard work, but it’s a form of self care that I need to engage in right now. Sometimes it feels good to say “No” and talking to Kate helped make me feel justified in doing what I needed to do to find a sort of mental peace after the madness of Christmas. Cleaning, organizing, donating…of course as well as contemplating which bubbly to serve this coming week as we ring in the new year of 2015. Here’s to wine and wellness in 2015. Peace be with you…..
Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker, author and blogger living in Napa, CA. She is the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards among other consulting projects and is the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book. Girlandthegrape.com won “Best New Wine Blog” in the 2014 Wine Blog Awards. When she has time, she plays tennis, cooks for friends and family, writes the occasional wine article and enjoys organizing things.
For the last couple of weeks I’ve had a lot of friends express their concern about the recent Northern California storms. Alarmed about images they’ve seen on the news of vineyards up to their elbows in water, they query, “On top of the earthquake, now you’ve got to deal with flooded vineyards? Can’t you guys in Napa ever catch a break?”
What they don’t know is that this December rain is just the break- the break in the historical drought- that we’ve been looking for.
This Harvest many of us were in a state of quiet panic. One more dry winter and ponds and reservoirs wouldn’t have enough water for frost protection during bud break. There would be precious little natural water in the ground for the vines to sip and many would go thirsty as the heat of summer parched developing leaves and clusters. In a Harvest heat spike, crop-saving water wouldn’t be available from wells or vineyard ponds to prevent grapes from turning to raisins on the vine. In short, without rain this winter we would be facing a very dire situation. Winter 2015 would be make or break.
It looks like (fingers crossed), in the short term at least, we are getting just what we need. Many areas in Northern California are close to average rainfall totals for this time of year and it’s only December. The overall picture of the drought Statewide is improving, especially in areas north of Santa Barbara County. Recent reports show the likelihood of the next three months being nice and wet.
We are not, however, out of this historic drought yet. If we don’t get enough water frozen into our Sierra Nevada snowpack “reservoir”, it’s possible that a wet 2015 will simply kick the can down the road and we’ll be quietly panicking again come the 2015 Harvest season. These storms need to deposit quite a bit of snow in the Sierra as well as significant precipitation in Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties to make me feel better about my vineyards on the Central Coast.
In the meantime, don’t worry about my little grapes getting wet up in Napa. As fellow Nap-kin Dan Berger recently explained, vines can survive “wet feet”, even for an extended period of time. Sure, the rain has caused and is causing small amounts of localized flooding and the odd new grapevine replant or two will end up in a culvert. We’re continuing to watch pockets of erosion-prone slopes and are taking care not to run the tractors into the mud bogs.
Wet vines? John Deere up to his axles in mud? So much water in our ponds that the reservoirs spill over? All of my wine making and grape growing buddies and I, North and South, near and far, have just two words on our minds and on the tips of our tongues: “Bring it”.
Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker, author and blogger living in Napa, CA. She is the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards among other consulting projects and is the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book. Started in 2013, www.girlandthegrape.com won “Best New Wine Blog” in the 2014 Wine Blog Awards. When she has time, she plays tennis, cooks for friends and family, writes the occasional wine article and does a daily rain dance.
The old saying is that it takes a lot of good beer to make good wine. For my part, the bubbles I want at the end of the day on the crush pad are in a glass of sparkling wine, not beer. Add the holiday season to already festive post-harvest celebrations and it’s no surprise that a lot of sparkling gets consumed in wine country between October and January.
But how to select which bubbles to serve when? Do you go on price? Familiar chateau or famous pedigree? Do you pick up a case of whatever’s on sale this week and hope it’s good? Rather than employ any of the above strategies I always think first about how I’m going to be using the wine.
We’re going to be drinking it, obviously, but will I be pouring a float of brandy on top of the flutes for a Champagne cocktail? Will I be serving it on its own with blinis, caviar and lemon or was I hoping to find a sparkler to pair with a creamy seafood dish? These very different situations can and should be served by very different wines. Below are three examples (all available at BevMo stores this holiday season) of how grape type, fermentation process and length of aging can really change how a wine behaves in the glass and with food. By first analyzing how you need the sparkling wine* or Champagne to perform, you’ll be able to select the appropriate wine for the job.
The wine: This is a relatively unknown “Cremant de Bourgogne” which means sparkling wine from Burgundy. The wines from Champagne get all the thunder but there are many wonderful sparklers made in just about every region in France. This wine is really charming and shows zesty aromas of pear skin, honey, citrus peel and a lively mousse on the palate. It clocks in at 1.1 g/L sugar so carries enough for roundness though doesn’t finish overly sweet. The Ugni Blanc and Chardonnay blend plus 9 months aging in the bottle (methode traditionelle**) give it more complexity than most cavas or domestic sparklers in this price range.
Use it for: Don’t hesitate to use this as your go-to “cocktail wine” this holiday season. Keep a case on hand (one bottle always chilling in the fridge, obviously) to offer to visitors and to reward yourself with a weeknight glass. Use this as a base for all your “bubbly +” needs like sparkling wine cocktails, mimosas and other recipes. However, it’s not “big” enough to stand up to rich appetizers or creamy, savory main dishes. Though I usually don’t serve sparkling wines with dessert (I don’t like syrupy bubblies), this wine, with its balance of sub-threshold sugar and acidity, could be a nice refresher for light-hearted treats like a passed holiday cookie plate. Additionally, its zesty citrus notes would do really well with fresh, vibrant flavors like chiles, cilantro, lime. Chips and salsa, anyone?
Other great choices: Michelle Sparkling Brut, USA $11.99
The Wine: Another “methode traditionelle” non-Champagne discovery, the “Toques et Clochers” Cremant de Limoux is a real treat and a great value. Aromas of honeysuckle blossom and lemon sugar cookie lead the way backed up by lovely notes of fresh-baked baguette. Flavors of lemon curd and citrus peel are balanced perfectly with yeasty, creamy flavors. The 24 months that this wine aged in the bottle makes for a fatter mouthfeel, a longer finish and a bigger mouthful of wine. If you are looking for a sparkling wine that tastes more like a traditional Champagne and not a fruity cava or Prosecco, this is a great choice.
Use it for: This wine’s balance of citrus fruit and fresh-baked brioche character make it quite a chameleon. It can stand up to cheese, olives and charcuterie but would also do well with the above-mentioned caviar on blinis garnished with lemon or cracked dungeness crab with garlic and citrus. It would make a fine standard “Champagne Cocktail” with Cognac and Angostura bitters but I wouldn’t use it where more vibrant, fruity flavors were needed as in a “Champagne sorbet” recipe (I would use the Ambal, above). This is the perfect pick-me-up to leave chilling in an ice bucket for Santa, by the way.
Other great choices: Roederer Estate Brut, Anderson Valley USA $23.99
The Wine: A true Champagne made from 35% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier. Flinty, stony aromas of wet concrete, ripe pear, muted ozone and fresh wild mushrooms open up this higher acid, lower sugar wine that is begging to be served with food. The three years aged in the bottle create a rich mouthfeel with flavors of toasted brioche, fresh butter and apple peel. The finish is long and savory.
Use it for: This wine has enough acid, complexity and weight in the mouth to be able to go with poultry and fish dishes, like scallops finished with tarragon and a light cream sauce. It could be served on its own to open a party but I would be sure to offer cheese gougeres, wild mushrooms on toasted baguette rounds or something similarly rich to offer a counterpoint to the body as well as the acidity of this savory wine.
Other great choices: Domaine Carneros Late Disgorged 2008 Brut Cuvee, USA $48.00
As you can see, neither price point or pedigree alone can dictate how and when a sparkling wine can best be enjoyed. Just because it’s not from Champagne doesn’t mean it can’t be impressive and it’s much more important to pay attention to style and your intended purpose rather than price point alone. Sparkling wines and Champagnes are some of my favorite beverages because they are naturally celebratory and literally have a life of their own. From cavas to Champagnes to California sparkling wines and French cremants, the world of sparkling wine is complex, delicious and just begging to be discovered.
*Only sparkling wine that comes from the Champagne region can be called “Champagne”. I use the generic term “sparkling wine” as a catchall for bubbly vino that comes from other places.
** “Methode traditionelle” is the traditional manner in which Champagne and many other sparkling wines are produced, the key part of which is aging the wine in the bottle. EU rules stipulate that areas outside of Champagne must use the words “methode traditionelle” to describe the process rather than the “methode Champenoise” used to describe Champagne, even though they are essentially the same protocol. Length of aging in the bottle may differ
Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker, author and blogger living in Napa, CA. She is the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards among other consulting projects and is the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book. Started in 2013, www.girlandthegrape.com won “Best New Wine Blog” in the 2014 Wine Blog Awards. When she has time, she plays tennis, cooks for friends and family, writes the occasional wine article and loves to drink sparkling wine.
The above featured French sparkling wines were among a selection tasted on 11/20/14 at a “Wines of France” tasting hosted by BevMo! and are currently available at their stores. Many of the domestic wines also mentioned can be found at BevMo as well as at other retailers nationwide and directly from the wineries.
Copyright Alison Crowe 2014
Last week we heard the tale of a World War II resistance fighter whose ghost still haunts the site of his captivity in Nuits St. Georges, Burgundy. This time, I’ve got a “Real Haunted Wine Country” tale from California that comes to us from a friend and fellow UC Davis alum, Winemaker Steve Burch. Steve now lives and works here Napa but back when we were new winemaking graduates, he set up shop in the notoriously haunted Gold Rush town of Grass Valley and had some experiences he couldn’t explain away.
Here is Steve’s Haunted Wine Country story: “I used to have a winery and tasting room in the gold rush town of Grass Valley in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. The tasting room was in a retail storefront in a 2 story building in down town that was built in 1851. The street level had always been retail, however the upstairs had been a meeting hall and city offices at times but had been condemned from occupation decades ago because it was not up to fire code.
Having been around for over 150 years, the building certainly picked up its share of energy. There were a few incidences of paranormal activity that had been related to me by the previous tenants and one that I experienced directly.
When I moved into the space, the woman that was moving out, told me that the building was haunted. She made sure to tell me “don’t close the door to the store room”. If you do, the resident ghost will not be happy and he/she will knock merchandise off the shelves and break things. She had found this out the hard way. There were also the strange noises. There were times you could hear people talking when no one was around. Or you could hear music with no apparent origin. Not being a “Believer” I chalked this up to localized hysteria and vowed to keep the storeroom door open just in case I was the one afflicted with the hysteria.
Other tenants had stories of items being moved, doors closing and at least one irate customer demanding to know “how the clerk opened this drawer next to her from over there behind the counter!” There was no explanation. She left in a huff.
One night, late, after a street festival, I was alone doing paperwork and wrapping up from the day. I noticed faint music as I sat in the quiet tasting room. I ignored it at first thinking someone must still be partying on the street or in a neighboring store. Then I happened to look at a clock. It was well after midnight. I walked to the front of the store and the music faded a bit. OK, that’s odd, I thought. I looked out the front door then walked out side. No one. Not a sole. Not a light on. Completely silent. I went back to my desk and listened hard. I could here piano music. OLD piano music. I later found out the room upstairs had, for some time, been the local dance hall and was referred to as “the music room”.
Lastly, the most baffling incident was described by the owner of the store next door. There were 3 retail establishments at street level, my tasting room, an antique store and a jewelry broker. The antique-store owner, I will call him Rich… because that is his name, was the caretaker of the building for the absentee landlord. One particular winter there was a lot of rain exposing the fact that the roof had several leaks. A storm rolled in late one evening and not wanting to deal with a lot of soaked merchandise the next day, Rich took a proactive approach… mostly because he was the only person with a key to the upstairs where an effective defense of the drenching could be mounted. He and his partner, I’ll call him Jim, again, because that’s his name, gathered sheets of plastic, buckets, ladders and staplers with the idea of stapling the plastic to the ceiling and funneling water from the ceiling to the buckets on the floor for emptying later. The rain had begun by this point and by the time they were finished with their diversion efforts, they realized they were fighting a losing battle. It had only been an hour and the bucket were already half full! Defeated, they went home for the night resigned to mopping up in the morning. Early the next day, mops in hand, they went back to the building. Now, remember, Rich was the only person with a key to the upstairs and, it had rained for several hours after they left for the night. When they walked up the stairs to survey the damage, they discovered empty buckets and dry floors. Apparently our resident ghost did not like to be soggy.”
Many thanks to Steve Burch for sharing his story with me!
Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker, author and blogger living in Napa, CA. She is the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards among other consulting projects and is the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book. When she has time, she plays tennis, cooks for friends and family, writes the occasional wine article and loves to hear the odd ghost story.
There’s something magical and perhaps slightly moribund about the end of the Harvest season in wine country. One or two forgotten grape clusters still cling, with mummified grip, to the dessicated vines and the yellow and brown leaves crunch underfoot on the vineyard floor as they slowly rot into next year’s compost. Wintry winds whistle around the corners of wineries and we look up at the grey stones and lichen-encrusted oak trees and wonder if they don’t have their own ghost stories to tell. Below is a true “Wine Country” ghost story as told to me by my friend John Corcoran who lives just over the county line in Sonoma. John is a well-traveled and well known figure in the wine business who graciously accepted my invitation to re-tell a personal ghostly encounter here on my wine blog. Who doesn’t love a good ghost story? It’s especially intriguing when it happened to someone you know.
John’s Burgundian Ghost Story: “In 1981 I was living in an apartment in the attic of the wine merchant Labouré-Roi in Nuits-Saint-Georges. It was a dark, cold rainy fall night, just after harvest. The wind was making the doors and windows shake and the floorboards creak. I heard a clink, clink, clink sound on the long stairway leading up to my bedroom. Suddenly the door shook like the door in Disney’s Haunted Mansion. I jumped up and opened the door and was greeted by a chill. A chill that made me shudder. I turned around to see the faint image of a man in chains walk across the room and disappear through the wall.
The next morning, I shared my story with the gérant. Jean Louis shrugged and told me that I had just seen the resident ghost. A French resistance fighter who the Gestapo had captured and kept captive in the cellar of the winery towards the end of WW II. The man had tried to escape before, so he was chained to the wall. He managed over several days to work himself free and headed up the back staircase to the attic. The wall that he seemed to walk through was, at the time, a door to the attached inn.The inn had served as housing for Gestapo officers occupying the region, which had been a center of the French Resistance. He walked in on a group having a late dinner. He was shot and killed on the same date that 36 years later he walked through my bedroom. An act that he repeated on the anniversary of his escape attempt and death.
Yes, history has a way of repeating itself, even the history of a courageous man who gave his life for the chance of freedom. A history kept alive each year in early October, in an old chateau in the middle of a small French wine town.”
Stay tuned for a more local edition of Real Haunted Wine Country: a Grass Valley Tasting Room Ghost
Many thanks to John Corcoran of Balance Beam Partners.
Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker, author and blogger living in Napa, CA. She is the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards among other consulting projects and is the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book. When she has time, she plays tennis, cooks for friends and family, writes the occasional wine article and loves to hear the odd ghost story.
In addition to making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for Garnet Vineyards, I consult for a wide array of wineries and brands around the state of California. Every Harvest I crush quite a few tons for my clients and work out of a number of wineries from Napa to Sonoma to the Central Coast. You could say I get around. What that means is, aside from seeing some beautiful scenery and getting to work with a lot of wonderful people, I get a pretty good view of what happens across the state during Harvest.
You’ve probably already heard the chatter: “Early.” “Fast.” “High Quality” (the latter the standard rote from all of the regional vintners’ associations.) However, you may not have heard all that I did as I traveled, worked and shared the occasional beer with my grape-growing and winemaking colleagues during this fast and furious crush season. Below are some lesser-known bits of winemaking insight and what they might mean for the developing wines of Harvest 2014.
Harvest wasn’t early everywhere or for every varietal
In the North Coast, where I live and where my operations are based, Chardonnay was actually quite late. I got into the bulk of my Russian River Chardonnay only after I started pulling in Alexander Valley Cab, which in ten years of working with my current slate of vineyards has never happened. On the Central Coast last week I had friends that were still waiting for some Zins and Carignane to ripen, which is odd for their relatively warm Paso Robles climate. Here in Napa, one of my Oak Knoll Cabernet vineyards which is typically among the first to come in was one of my last this year, as I waited longer than anticipated for the flavors to really “pop”.
The consequences of this atypical ripening pattern were largely twofold. First, wineries had a bit of a tough time pressing finished red fermentations while pressing incoming whites. Unless you have multiple presses (or want rose wine) you have to carefully clean red skins from the press before loading in white grapes. This, coupled with cellars already crowded with wine from the bountiful 2012 and 2013 vintages made for tight quarters, long hours and frazzled nerves. So far from what I’ve seen, wineries pulled off miracles but it makes me wonder if all winemakers got their fruit processed exactly when they desired. Secondly, the flip-flopped ripening order made 2014 a year where, especially, you had to be in the vineyard early and often to determine the perfect “pick window”. This Harvest’s ideal moment for picking any given block was unpredictable and it’s likely that winemakers who just relied on Brix reports (and didn’t even visit the vineyard until sugars hit 25.0) missed it.
2014 could be the perfect “low alcohol” year for some reds
Looking for “lower alcohol” red wines that might clock in at 13.0% rather than more typical levels above 14.50% alcohol? 2014 might be a year to watch from your favorite producers, especially those who make Pinot Noir as well as Napa and Alexander Valley Merlots. These varietals came in from my vineyards up north and on the Central Coast at record early dates and most had reached full flavor and tannin maturity at brixes well under 25.0. Pyrazines (a dreaded “bell pepper” aroma indicative of unripe Cabernet and Merlot) even disappeared early, further indicating a high-quality, lower-brix pick date. I attribute all this to the warm, largely frost-free growing season we had on the North and Central Coasts as well as some propitious late winter rains that helped keep soil profiles relatively full except in the driest spots. Stanly Ranch Carneros Pinot Noir at 23.8 Brix on August 28th? Flavors were there, the balance was there, and tannins were ripe so I ignored the calendar and picked it. Based on what I just tasted in barrel yesterday, another year from now I know I’ll still be glad that I did.
Mid-October rains are not worrying winemakers (for once)
A major mid-October rainstorm in Northern California would normally be call for alarm during any typical Harvest season. Instead of worrying winemakers in what would usually be the height of the picking panic, the high probability of a few wet days this week is being welcomed by almost everyone I know. Unlike most years, just about every grape is in the barn, happily fermenting away, or just scooting in before tonight’s predicted raindrops are slated to start falling. Like “noble rot” dessert wines, those which get their concentrated sugars and distinctive, luscious flavors from indigenous vineyard molds? This extra moisture will surely encourage the growth of Botrytis cinerea and wines from producers like Napa’s Oro Puro and Foley Johnson should be especially fabulous from the 2014 season.
So believe the hype. Harvest 2014 was early (mostly). It was also fast, unless you’re still hanging your Semillon waiting for Botrytis to cover your clusters with a fuzzy grey blanket. And yes, you can believe the vintners’ associations too. I don’t know how we got off so easily, but statewide, Mother Nature blessed us with a flavorful, colorful, high quality Harvest- for a third time in a row. Now let’s just hope she comes through with a really wet winter.
Copyright Alison Crowe 2014.