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

Girl and the Grape- 3 Years as a Blog, Many More as a Love Affair

Hug a Grape! I became curious about exactly how that grapefruit smell got into a glass of my parents' Chenin Blanc when I was 10.

Hug a Grape! I became curious about exactly how that grapefruit smell got into a glass of my parents’ Chenin Blanc when I was 10.

“You’re so lucky that you decided early on that you wanted to be a winemaker.”

I get that a lot, from friends who know me well in addition to strangers who always seem to be somewhat surprised to see a young woman pouring her wine across the tasting table.

I suppose I was lucky.  I entered UC Davis at least 85% sure that I wanted to be a winemaker but knew enough about agriculture (it’s not a glamorous life, friends) to know I should work a Harvest before I fully committed.  I squished my first grape at Monterey County’s Chalone Vineyard as a teenager and, sticky hands and bee stings and late nights not withstanding, fell in love forever.

Few know that my love affair with grapes and wine started even earlier than that.

Growing up in a little beach town just south of Santa Barbara, my folks and their friends were into the burgeoning Santa Ynez Valley wine scene.  My sister and I were exposed to most of the local tasting rooms and at weekend dinner parties we saw on the table and, most importantly, got to smell in the glass the produce of our neighbor wineries over the hill.

I’ll never forget my first real “wine” memory.  My best friend’s dad handed me his glass of Daniel Gehrs Chenin Blanc to smell and my first thought, beyond the visual beauty of the grassy-gold liquid shimmering in the glass was, “Wait- how did they get that grapefruit in there?”  I knew enough about wine to know Chenin Blanc was a kind of grape and I had no idea what kind of crazy magic could transform the juice of one fruit into something that smelled completely like another.

In my junior high chemistry class I was just beginning to understand that many plants have aroma compounds to attract pollinators and, as it happens, curious noses.  The roses, lavender and lemon verbena I loved so much in my herb garden smelled that way because they had volatile (i.e. smell-able) chemical compounds in the petals which wafted their way up to my nose, over the olfactory bulb and in turn triggered pleasurable sensations in my brain.  Sniff…..aaahhhh…..

 

So here’s to three years as a wine blog and many more years as the Girl and the Grape, connecting the sensory dots between plants and pleasure.  I love what I do, from the product to the places to the people.  Many thanks to all of you who have been loyal readers and welcome to those of you who are new here.  I’ll continue to write about “Winemaking, Life and ‘the Dirt'” and share a little about what makes wine and winemaking so fabulous, frustrating and at the end of the day, fascinating.   I guess I just can’t stop chasing that crazy magic.

 

Alison Crowe is a Napa-based winemaker (garnetvineyards.com, popcorncellars.com, picketfencevineyards.com) author and blogger.  She published The WineMaker’s Answer Book in 2007 and in 2014 won “Best New Wine Blog” at the Wine Blog Awards.  She and her husband, photographer and wine educator, Chris Purdy, live on a small piece of property just west of downtown where they take care of four (going on five) doves, one rabbit, one dog, two cats, and grow herbs, vegetables, hops and two little boys.

 

 

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5 Things You Didn’t Know (or forgot) About Mentoring

Mentor

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill

Tomorrow I’m honored to be a member of a panel discussion on wine making and mentoring as part of the Women of the Vine 2016 Symposium.  This sold-out gathering of wine industry professionals is an opportunity to learn from our peers and to share our experiences, very much like a traditional mentoring arrangement.  As I prepared for our conversation (which our moderator, Guy Stout of Glazer’s, insists will be a power-point free zone), I jotted down some thoughts. I realized that, especially in the wine business, and especially in my slightly unorthodox way of being a “Winemaker” (read: consulting winemaker developing multiple brands), my experience with mentoring others has been anything but traditional.

Here are some things that I realized I didn’t know- or had forgotten- about mentoring.

-It doesn’t have to be with someone “younger”

In the wine business, many people are coming at it as a second or even third career.  When I was a teenager just starting the UC Davis Viticulture & Enology program I was surprised (and in fact a little intimidated) to be on the lab bench next to forty-somethings who had already had success as chefs or teachers or financiers.  Today, I field calls, emails and Facebook messages from folks in their sixties as well as recent college graduates.  Mentoring happens in many age brackets.

-It doesn’t have to happen within your specific industry or area

I’m a winemaker so it’s natural to think about mentoring in term of developing an Enologist or training harvest interns.  In fact, the kind of mentoring I have done the most of is cross-disciplinary within the wine industry.  Perhaps it’s because I am also an author and got my MBA at UC Davis with a lot of non-wine folks, I am contacted by journalists, food industry folks, marketing professionals and social media mavens as well as aspiring winemakers.  They all have great questions and our conversations are rich and hopefully as satisfying for them as they are for me.

-It doesn’t have to happen on the job

One of my most rewarding mentoring experiences happens on the weekends.  A grad school friend of mine (who is in wine sales) and a neighbor (who, along with her husband are wine industry finance professionals) often meet on Saturday mornings to hike and walk in local parks and vineyards.  We talk about our personal lives, of course, but have made some valuable professional inroads in between the vineyard rows.  Just by doing something enjoyable (exercising out in nature) we’ve found another opportunity to grow together in our own co-mentoring group.

-It doesn’t have to be a lot of work

If you find interacting with others enjoyable, folding mentoring activities into your professional and personal life isn’t hard at all.  Respond to that unsolicited email, invite someone to have a phone conversation and volunteer for a cause you find appealing, whether it’s related to your industry or not.  Chances are, in a few months, you’ll naturally find you’ve positively impacted someone’s life.

-It works both ways

You don’t have to be someone’s boss to be a mentor, nor is mentoring a one way street.  Like my weekend workout group has proven to me, it’s practically assured you’ll learn plenty when someone seeks you out.  Working through issues and challenges with someone else in an empathetic way puts you “in someone else’s shoes” by default and again, by default, your own perspective is changed.  When I’m working with someone else I end up better defining my own personal and professional truths.  By listening to others you then learn to better listen to yourself.

 

Tips for mentoring.

-Ask them a lot of questions- oftentimes others are afraid to ask you.

-As an employer, find ways to offer leadership and growth possibilities to all employees.

-Be “findable” (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram etc.) and people will seek you out.

-Help people uncover their intrinsic vs extrinsic motivators.  A healthy combination of both is the key to career happiness and sustainability.

 

Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners and makes wine for Garnet Vineyards, Back From the Dead Red wines and Picket Fence Vineyards among others.  She is the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book, the winner of “Best New Wine Blog” in 2014 and lives in Napa, California.

ancrowe@hotmail.com  @alisoncrowewine

2016 Northern California Budbreak Begins: Girl and The Grape’s First Look

No leaves or blooms in Carneros yet. Right now, the focus in the vineyards is on the gorgeous mustard.

No leaves or blooms in Carneros yet. Right now, the focus in the vineyards is on the gorgeous mustard.

It’s hard to believe I’m talking about Harvest 2016 already.  It makes sense, though, because every vintage is always just a certain number of months away from picking, no matter what time the year.  Indeed, every season of the year, and the weather conditions therein, ultimately decide the size and quality of grape crop we have and the kind of wine we will make.

 

I wasn’t the first one to bring up Harvest 2016; I had my head stuck in a bottling line, putting the cork in my first Garnet Vineyards Stanly Ranch single vineyard Pinot Noir when I fielded a call from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.  Their reporter told me he had just been talking to someone who had active budbreak showing at 25% in the Russian River.  He wanted to know what I was seeing in our vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, and Carneros.

 

As I stood outside Garnet Vineyards’ winery off of 8th St. East in Sonoma, sheltering from gusty bouts of a rare February drizzle, I laughed and said, “Not much.”  The only active green growth I’d been enjoying in my vineyards was this year’s ample, well-watered cover crops.    January’s rainfall and February’s recent three-week warm spell really got the mustard going and from Rutherford to Carneros, the Napa Valley has been one beautiful carpet of yellow and green lushness.

 

Stormy January skies have kept budbreak at bay- until this week's warm weather really got leafing underway.

Stormy January skies have kept budbreak at bay- until February’s warm weather starting to warm things up. Leaves should be well out in a couple of weeks.

Not that I haven’t heard rumors of the odd teeny leaf peeping out here and there.  One of my co-workers had just emailed around a fuzzy bud of Chardonnay (one of the earlier-ripening varieties) which looked like a pale green cotton ball about to unfurl into a tender leaf.   But 25%?  I wasn’t buying it last week and after touring through the Pinot Noir (always my first starter) in the Petaluma Gap and Carneros AVA’s this weekend I’m still not buying 25% in the active bud break/leafing stage. You can find a few pushing buds here and there in the very warmest areas, in pockets, but it’s not widespread…yet.

 

It’s about to get crazy, however, because we’ve got at least another week of mild weather with highs in the mid-70’s here in Napa coming up.  There’s no rain on the horizon for at least another ten days.  If the leaves get all warm and fuzzy and fat and happy and then a cold snap burns developing buds or a big rainstorm reduces flower fertility during an unseasonably early bloom, it could spell trouble for the 2016 grape crop. However, a colder January than we experienced in 2015 is keeping budbreak more on the normal side for most vineyards as far as I can tell.

winter5

Stanly Ranch in Carneros isn’t experiencing budbreak just yet but this warm weather will be sure to get things into full swing

Everyone is in agreement that California needs more water (especially our parched neighbors on the Central Coast) but as a “drought year” like 2015 showed us, it all depends on when we get it. I would welcome it after bud break and before bloom- and maybe with a little luck on our side we’ll have a “Miracle March” to help pull us away from drought conditions.  So far it seems, from our initial bud analysis, that crop yield is at least starting in a “normal” place.  What we end up taking off the vine, in quality as well as quantity, depends on how much frost we get during the next month and how much disruption storms bring during the bloom and set season.  We are in early days yet, everyone.  Cross your fingers for another nice Napa and Sonoma County harvest.

 

Alison Crowe is a Napa-based consulting winemaker (Vindie Wines, Back From the Dead Red Wine), author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book, and is at the helm of Garnet Vineyards and Picket Fence Vineyards. 

@alisoncrowewine

 

 

Ghoulishly Short 2015 Grape Harvest Explained

zombie-531116_1920graveyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All over California, Harvest 2015 was a spooky one.  Rumors of Sauvignon Blanc mysteriously vanishing were rife.  Grapes were disappearing left and right.  Winemakers tried to blame the viticulturists for poor crop estimates.  Viticulturists tried to blame the weather.  This, however, is the real story behind what happened……

 

In days of yore the Harvest lore

Was all ‘bout tons redundant

Ample flows, wines white and rose

Cheered us with yields abundant

 

Alas, ’15, with yields obscene

Doth make me scratch my head

Could it be our Cab and PV

Were pillaged by zombies instead?

 

One harvest night in full moonlight

A zombie horde I spied

In lieu of brains & bloody remains

My precious tons they triedzombie-499924_1280

 

With bloody paws & dripping maws

They gobbled with wild delight,

And so instead the crazed undead

Left nary a berry in sight!

 

Oh what a pick and such a trick

This grape massacre unforeseen.

Though ‘tis delish and you I wish

A most Happy Halloween!

 

Zombies ate my grapes.  For real.  OK, maybe only in Paso…..

There indeed was a “perfect storm” of causes all over Coastal California:  long-term drought effects, extended bloom, poor set due to weather, sporadic frost damage, the odd freak summer rainstorm during bloom… but the great news is that what we have is looking great.  2015 is set to be a distinctive and delicious year.  Small berries, great color on the Bordeaux varietals, concentrated flavors and extremely fruity wines all are making me grateful that one bad trick has provided many treats this Harvest!

halloween-493456_1920

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alison Crowe is a Napa-based winemaker with projects that include Garnet Vineyards, Picket Fence Vineyards, and Back From the Dead Red.  She works with grapes from Napa, Russian River, Carneros and the Central Coast so saw a wide range of yields in 2005.  She is an award-winning blogger and winemaker and is the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book.

ancrowe@hotmail.com

@alisoncrowewine

What do Winemakers do After Harvest? Step it up a Notch, of Course!

Looking for some post-Harvest Halloween fun - try the Healdsburg Wine Country Half Marathon!

Looking for some post-Harvest Halloween fun – try the Healdsburg Wine Country Half Marathon or 5K!

2015 was a record early Harvest in Northern California’s wine country.  As a result, those of us (read: Winemakers) who rarely get to enjoy the festivities of fall are casting about for ways to celebrate the season.

I know some of us are thrilled to actually be able to make our kids’ Halloween costumes rather than throw something together from Safeway the day of.  Many of we winemakers are mentioning classic fall food as the days get shorter; I’ve seen lots of recipes for pot roast, butternut squash ravioli and split pea soup on Pinterest lately.  A lot better than taco truck burritos on the crush pad, to be sure!

We’re all talking about dusting off the hobbies, getting out for a little fall-weather hiking and maybe some “staycation” wine country activities with our friends and families.  If it’s the kind of thing you like do (and it’s the kind of thing I’m getting back into doing), why not join me at the “Best Destination Race in the Pacific West”– the Healdsburg Wine Country Half Marathon/Hallowine 5K on Halloween morning?  It’s my first time doing this race, and, when I saw the invitation from Destination Races of course I had to say yes.  I’ve never done this course because, of course, I’m always super busy on Halloween- except for this historically early 2015 season!

I'm looking forward to running around vineyards and *NOT* working. Grapes? All in the barn, baby!

I’m looking forward to running around vineyards and *NOT* working. Grapes? All in the barn, baby!

Healdsburg Wine Country Half Marathon Details:

Website:  Click Here

When:  Saturday, October 31, 2015

Start Times: 1/2 Marathon: 7:30am PST.  The Hallowine 5k has 2 start waves, 8:45 and 8:50am PST

Fun Fall Extras: 

-Welcome receptions and pre-race dinner events

-Race Day expo

-Post-Race wine and food festival

                -costume contest, feed and beer, live band, awards, wine tasting ($35 extra fee

-Involved wineries include Truett Hurst, Coppola’s newest gig, Virginia Dare Winery, Kendall Jackson, Trione, Mazzocco and Trentadue Winery- what a lineup!

All info can be found here: http://destinationraces.com/runhb/

All in all this looks like a really fun wine country race.  I’m so lucky to live in Napa, where it seems like there’s a 5K, 10K or half marathon within a 25 mile radius almost every other weekend.  Now that I don’t have to grab a fright wig from the “Seasonal Sale” shelves at Safeway, I guess the only question is, what should I dress up as on race day?

Wines

You just ran a 1/2 Marathon, what are you going to do? Taste wine, of course!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alison Crowe is a Napa-based consulting winemaker, blogger and author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book.  She is the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards, Picket Fence Vineyards and Buccaneer Wines, among others.  She got back into running this summer and was invited to participate in the Healdsburg Wine Country Half Marathon event as a local blogger.  All Photos credit:  Destination Races.

ancrowe@hotmail.com

@alisoncrowewine

 

 

10 Things About Harvest 2015 That No Winemaker Said, Ever

It takes a lot of good beer to make good wine. Harvest 2015 was no exception.

It takes a lot of good beer to make good wine. Harvest 2015 was no exception.

He who laughs last, laughs best, right?  Well, in this case it was our boss, Mother Nature who got in the last rib-ticklers as we finish a record early (and quite light) harvest here on the California Coast.  From Santa Barbara County to the shores of the Russian River, she served us up quite a mixed bag.  Though the dust is still settling (and the last tanks still just starting to ferment), there are some things we are sure of.  We know, for instance, that there are ten things about Harvest 2015 that no Winemaker said.  Ever.

 

 

To Wit:

 

-(To local taco truck driver)-“It’s a slow start this year- don’t even worry about putting us on your rounds until September 15.”

 

-(To Assistant Winemaker)- “We don’t need to work a Sunday shift to start pressing tanks out.  This Cabernet never gets ripe before the Chardonnay.”

 

-(To Grower Relations rep)- “I’m not interested in tasting anything unless it’s at least 25.0 Brix- I’ll come out and check on the Pinot in about two weeks.”

 

-(To Night Shift Supervisor)-“Go ahead and schedule tank 5A for a two-week extended maceration- we probably won’t need that tank for a while.”

 

Growers were stretched-literally- as they ranged across many acres to bring in just a few tons.

Growers were stretched-literally- as they ranged across many acres to bring in just a few tons.

-(To Farming Company Scheduler)-“Can I schedule in four Cabernet deliveries off of five separate blocks for tomorrow morning?  There should be plenty of tucks available and you’re not busy, right?”

 

-(To winery owner)- “My estimates indicate we’ll have more than enough tons for our reserve Pinot Noir program.”

 

-(To key regional distributor team)- “Sure, come on out for a vineyard tour  with your folks on October 1.  I won’t even be started picking Cabernet by and there’ll still be plenty of Pinot left on the vine for you to taste.”

 

-(To national sales reps)- “There’s no way we’ll be done pressing before Thanksgiving- I just can’t come out to the East Coast until early December.”

 

-(To Cellarmaster)- “Are you sure we don’t have a bigger tank?  I think these trucks are going to come in heavy.”

 

Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners and makes Garnet Vineyards, Picket Fence Vineyards as well as the popular “Buccaneer” wines (in addition to other projects).  She lives in Napa but works with fruit from all over California’s coastal winegrowing regions.  She is the author of the WineMaker’s Answer Book and is always amused how each Harvest is something different!

Email:  ancrowe@hotmail.com  @AlisonCroweWine

 

#InRealLife- How Facebook (and some vineyards) Turned me Back Into a Runner

 


“The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other…but to be with each other.”
Christopher McDougall, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Me and Sara- smiling after a 500 foot huff. Look at the view! Mt. Tam (and San Francisco- very tiny) in the background.

Me and Sara- smiling after a 500 foot huff. Look at the view! Mt. Tam (and San Francisco- very tiny) in the background.

Been Doon That Long Road

It’s been about ten years since I’ve been able to call myself “a runner.”  Back when I was working for Bonny Doon Vineyard in Santa Cruz, I did the casual 5 or 10 K’s and planned a couple of triathlons into my year.  I was never what you would call hard core.  I did, however, really enjoy regular solitary foggy mornings in my West Side Santa Cruz neighborhood and loved to put in some miles atop the windswept bluffs overlooking the  Pacific Ocean.  I had always been a solitary runner- I ran for myself and I ran only with myself.

Then marriage, grad school, a new full-time job based in Napa plus two pregnancies and four years of subsequent sleepless nights intervened.  Needless to say, being up  at 2 AM because your toddler can’t sleep is not conducive to early morning, pre-work jogs.

 

Time for “Me Time”….

About two and a half months ago our youngest, Bryce, began sleeping through the night on a more regular basis and I decided it was time to reclaim some of that vaunted “me time” they talk about.  I started setting out running clothes (and the all-important automatic coffee maker) the night before a few times a week, and if the little one didn’t keep us up, got up with an early alarm and got out the door.  Exploring our new neighborhood was nice (Chris and I moved to a new place in west Napa in March) and it did feel good to get some cool “early in the morning” time to myself before the world got crazy with Cheerios and work emails.  But I realized something was missing.

Digital Life to #InRealLife

Thinking that I was lacking a goal, I searched for a local road race.  I posted the details for one on Facebook, knowing that some of my friends-you know, the ones that have their lives so together they already do that kind of thing-would see it.  I had never before done a race with anyone else.  This time, however, I thought, if I had someone to meet me on race day I would be more committed to getting out of bed in the morning.

Neeraj and I- looking west towards Carneros, about 589 ft elevation. Happy runners!

Neeraj and I- looking west towards Carneros, about 589 ft elevation. Happy runners!

I was really happy when my friend Neeraj Singh, a fellow UC Davis MBA grad who lives in Walnut Creek but works up in Napa and Sonoma Counties a few days a week, contacted me about being interested in the race.  He had never done any road racing before but he and some buddies had the long-term goal of completing a half-marathon this spring.  This 5 K on September 13 in Napa would be his first step.  Knowing I had to commit for real if I had someone else to meet on race day, I realized I would have to do some more training than just schlepping around the block in the mornings.  Because I was already hiking around at Stanly Ranch in Carneros (part of which is open to the public as a portion of the San Francisco Bay Trail) checking on my Pinot Noir grapes, why not combine work with some working out?

 

“Team Awesome”

Fast forward four weeks or so and we’ve been having a blast.  We’ve roped in one of my neighbors, Sara Guzman, also a mom of two little boys but someone who’s got a lot more experience running than either Neeraj or I, and the invitation is still open….  We three went for our first “group run” on Saturday and as Neeraj and I carpooled to the start site we were laughing so hard about stupid stuff (don’t ask), our warm up huff of 500 feet, straight up, didn’t seem so tough.  For the first time I was willing to run with others.

After a scenic 50 minute elevation and interval-intensive course, we stood around stretching and talking politics, the wine business and working parenthood (Neeraj has yet to reach that Waterloo).  Team name?  Highland Huffers?  The Green Team (a nod to being “new” and to Neeraj’s volunteer experience with Auction Napa Valley and his “Napa Green” T-Shirt)….How about “Team Awesome”?  Over the top to be sure, but hey, we’ll take it.  We all admitted that we were just still figuring it all out-life the universe and everything.  And getting out early on a Saturday morning to kick up the dust together was pretty awesome.

We’re meeting again tomorrow, have swapped running books (from which I extracted the above quote) and the running bug is infecting the extended family; my husband and his brother are set to do a half marathon in early December.  Sara, Neeraj and I will high-five our way through our little 5 K on Sunday and then we all agree we’re looking for our next race.  We’re eyeing the Wine Country Half Marathon on Halloween in Healdsburg.

So I’ve gone from “couch to 5 K” in about three months and, with the help, encouragement and laughter of Sara and Neeraj (and the babysitting prowess of my husband) and can now once again call myself a runner.  And the goal isn’t necessarily to set a Personal Record or even cross a finish line.  It’s wanting again and again that mix of laughing so hard you’re crying and breathing so hard you’re gasping- and capturing the joy of beautiful places, in real life, and sharing it with others.

The rigors of a professional career, the stresses of Harvest and the insidious isolation of social media can all take their toll if we let them.  I still log solitary morning miles but have learned to appreciate the brother and sister-hood of others.  I’ll say it again because it bears repeating:

“The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other,… but to be with each other.”
Christopher McDougall, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen

Alison Crowe is an award winning Winemaker, author and blogger and laces up her running shoes in and around Napa.

@alisoncrowewine ancrowe@hotmail.com

Mother Nature Always Bats Last- Harvest 2015 Update

checking the grapesToday I had a great catch-up conversation with friend and colleague Craig Root, a 30-year winery tasting room and hospitality veteran.  Though not a winemaker or grower, Craig has “been there done that” in Sonoma and Napa Valleys for many years and of course has seen many harvests come and go.

 

He asked me how Harvest 2015 was going and I filled him on what I’ve been experiencing in Napa, Sonoma and on the Central Coast as I pull in grapes for Garnet Vineyards, Picket Fence Vineyards, my Buccaneer, Longhand projects and many others.  “Well,” he said.  “Mother Nature always bats last.”

Indeed she does.

Rodgers Creek Vineyard, high up on a cold ridge in the Petaluma Gap, Sonoma Coast appellation, always is the last Pinot Noir Garnet Vineyards picks- and is tracking perhaps 3-5 days earlier this year

Rodgers Creek Vineyard, high up on a cold ridge in the Petaluma Gap, Sonoma Coast appellation, always is the last Pinot Noir I pick.

Line drive?  Surprise pop fly?  Strike out?  Here’s what Mother Nature is swinging at us as Harvest 2015 really starts to get underway:

-Yields are down:  After three cosy and ample harvests (’12, ’13 and ’14) 2015 is a bit on the lean side tonnage-wise.  Many of us will admit that, as with the stock market, it was time for a correction. However- if you’re planning on getting 8 barrels-full of Rodgers Creek Pinot Noir and only come up with enough grapes for 5, that’s a little tough.

-Yields are unpredictable:  So far, North Coast Chardonnay seems to be in “average” yields and since I haven’t harvested Napa Cabernet yet can’t speak to these later-ripening varietals.  Sauvignon Blanc from Napa was about 20% down from predicted yield for me.  Pinot Noir seems to vary by vineyard and even by vineyard block.

Bins

Bins of Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir lined up ready to be fermented.

-Hurry up and wait:  It’s like bases loaded, a hit into McCovey Cove to end the first inning and then….crickets.   I’ve pulled in the “early bird” blocks like Block 17 Pinot Noir at Stanly Ranch (Napa Carneros) and Sauvingnon Blanc from Alexander Valley and now, like many of my colleagues, am waiting for the next wave of grapes to ripen.  It was an historically early harvest for most of us across the state, still and sparkling wine producers alike, and a heat spike last week got a lot of winemakers a little antsy.  We then had about a week of cool weather that slowed everything down again.  We’ve been enjoying a few warm days now but it’s slated to cool off again this weekend.  I’ve heard rumors of precipitation but it seems to be just that- rumors for those of us south of Eureka.

Chardonny, which I usually pick about halfway through the Pinot harvest, is later than expected this year.

Sauvignon Blanc is all picked- and yields are down about 20%.

-Lower Brixes with respect to other signs of ripeness:  Could 2015 be a “lower alcohol year” and shift some winery’s styles back into what some would call “Classic Old School” California?  Craig, and many of my best sources for wine industry stories, love to regale us young whippersnapper winemakers with tales of lower-alcohol Cabs from the 1970’s and 1980’s that tasted like a dream, aged beautifully and didn’t get you hammered after two glasses.  So far, I’m seeing that I don’t need to wait for something to get to 25 Brix to taste ripe.  Acids are dropping out quickly, seeds are browning well, and flavors are “popping” – all at moderate Brixes.

Who’s up next?  Pinch hitter?  Stay tuned…..After all, Willie McCovey was one of the best. But don’t ever forget that, like Craig says, Mother Nature always bats last.

 

 

Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners and harvests from all over the North and Central Coasts for her winemaking projects and brands.  She lives in Napa.  ancrowe@hotmail.com  @alisoncrowewine

Go Giants!

Harvest Timing Likely Saved Lives, Property During 2014 Napa Earthquake

Our kitchen clock stopped at 3:20 AM on August 24 2014.  The battery was shaken loose by the 6.0 quake.

The clock stopped at 3:20 AM. The battery was shaken loose by the 6.0 quake.

Harvest happens- and so do earthquakes.

An historically early 2015 harvest is what is rocking the winemaking world in Napa right now.    A year ago, however, the early morning rumblings weren’t the sound of grape trucks heading from the field to the winery.

At 3:20 in the morning, after 15 seconds of shaking at 6.0 magnitude, most of Napa County was without power.   Barrels toppled from metal racks, bottles launched off shelves and even stainless steel tanks full of wine lurched from their concrete pedestals.  Heavy stonework showered down onto cellar floors, old stonework facades unpeeled onto crush pads and wineglasses mingled with reagent bottles and measuring cylinders in slippery shards on laboratory floors.

I lost about 100 bottles in our sample store room.

I lost about 100 bottles in our sample store room.

Luckily, most wineries quickly cleaned up the mess and got on with the business of prepping for the Harvest to come.  Most lucky indeed was the fact that most of us- winemakers,lab staff, cellar hands and vineyard crew-were largely home in bed when the quake hit.

Olive oil slides out from under the door of an olive oil shop downtown Napa.

Olive oil slides out from under the door of an olive oil shop downtown Napa.

“It could’ve been so much worse” is always tiresome to hear.  Tell that to my neighbors down the street who were red tagged, or the owners of Sala Salon, Vintner’s Collective or Napkins restaurant, who had their businesses (among many others) badly impacted by the quake.  The semi-morbid reality is however, had Harvest 2014 been as early as this year, many more of us would’ve been in harm’s way.

In late August 2014 only  a handful of wineries were in such full Harvest swing as to be working a night shift.  The sparkling wine harvest typically starts at least two-three weeks earlier than other wineries because they seek grapes at lower sugars and higher acids for their Champagne-like fizzy wines.  I knew that my buddies at Mumm and Domaine Chandon had been picking for about a week or so but most of us who do Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Carneros or Sauvignon Blanc from Napa (typically the earliest grapes to get going) hadn’t scheduled our picks yet.  We were still prepping tanks, cleaning barrels and letting our crews get some precious sleep before the 12 hour days and the midnight pumpover shifts started.

Post-Quake cellar selfie- I'm smiling because our barrels largely came through unscathed.

Cellar selfie- I’m smiling because our barrels largely came through unscathed.

It was chilling, in the early morning hours of August 24, 2014, to drive around to the local wineries where I make my wine (one practically over the epicenter) and to realize how lucky we were that the quake happened in the dead of night and that Harvest 2014 wasn’t earlier than it was.  All of our wineries had been shut up tight, and amazingly, the damage report was only three broken barrels, broken bottles in the store room and some random drops of wine which had slopped over a full tank top onto the cellar floor.  Later that day I dropped by a friend’s winery in Carneros and was distressed to witness both his shellshocked face and the terrible state of his barrel room.  Had Harvest 2014 started earlier, there would’ve been much more new wine in barrel and the possibility of much higher property loss.

This is not to say that we “got off easy” from the Quake, nor that it was a complete disaster.  The damage was very uneven, varying from winery to winery and neighborhood to neighborhood. My old Victorian house in downtown Napa, one of the hardest-hit areas, got off lightly with cracked plaster and broken wine glasses while three houses in our neighborhood came off their foundations and practically came down.

One of the worst casualties- the top floor of the building at the corner of Main and Third St. in downtown Napa.  Repairs are still being made today, but Napkins and Carpe Diem, two restaurants below, are now open for business.

One of the worst casualties- the top floor of the building at the corner of Main and Third St. in downtown Napa. Repairs are still being made today, but Napkins and Carpe Diem, two restaurants below, are now open for business.

I was relieved when I heard later in the day that the night crew up at Mumm (still a small number because of how early Harvest started) all got out safely when the shaking hit.  Facebook feeds, text messages and emails helped keep us in touch as the days wore into weeks as we cleaned up, took stock and moved forward towards recovery.

According to what I’ve heard and read lately, it’s been quite a recovery.  The #NapaStrong Comeback video, created six days after the quake by Evan Kilkus, told the Bay Area and the world that we were open for business while local vintner’s groups and wineries communicated the same “Come Visit Napa” message they do every harvest.  A recovering national economy has no doubt helped, but from what I understand most businesses are back on their feet and wineries welcomed record numbers of guests in the last year.

After we cleaned up we still managed to carry on in Napa style- BBQ on the back deck and, of course, wine on the table.

After we cleaned up we still managed to carry on in Napa style- BBQ on the back deck and, of course, wine on the table.

One of the best things to come out of the earthquake was the amazing sense of community, togetherness and sharing we felt then and still feel today.  Neighbors dropped everything to help neighbors, benefit concerts and dinners were hastily arranged, and the Napa Valley Vintners started a community assistance fund with $10 Million in seed money.  On Monday, August 24 2015, Napa is planning an anniversary event of remembrance and togetherness-“Napa Strong 6.0/365”- at Veterans Park from 3:20 PM-6:00 PM.  Music, speakers and disaster preparedness booths and presentations will be featured, all in view of many of the damaged buildings on Main Street still swathed in scaffolding.

Those of us in the full swing of the early 2015 Harvest will read about it in the paper on Tuesday and continue to be glad we weren’t crushing-yet- a year ago.

 

Postcard created by "Roost Napa" owner Patricia Trimble- a photograph of their boarded-up front window downtown.  Available for $1 at theroostnapa.com.

Postcard created by “Roost” Patricia Trimble- a photograph of their boarded-up front window.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comeback Video by Evan Kilkus, produced 6 days after the quake.

“Community

Friendship

Neighbors

Appreciation of History and Heritage”

Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners based in Napa, author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book and award-winning blogger and winemaker.  This is her 11th harvest in Napa.

ancrowe@hotmail.com  @alisoncrowewine

Carneros is Throwing a Birthday Party, and You’re Invited

Girl and the Grape(s) at Stanly Ranch in Carneros.  A special place for Pinot, Chardonnay, sparkling and more!

Girl and the Grape(s) at Stanly Ranch in Carneros. A special place for Pinot, Chardonnay, sparkling and more!

The Carneros Wine Alliance is turning 30, we’re throwing a party and you’re invited!

Back when I was a college student at UC Davis, the Carneros AVA held a special place in my heart, for a lot of reasons.  It was the closest serious wine region (about 45 minutes) to campus.  Though known for great Pinot and Chardonnay its tasting rooms produced amazing sparkling wines as well as structured and soulful Merlots, Cab Francs and Syrahs.  More than a few of us worked Harvest seasons as interns, shuttling back and forth between long shifts on the crush pad and our crash pads in Davis.

Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir is tracking 7days earlier than average

The wide open spaces of Carneros, where the grapes are influenced by the wind and water of the San Francisco Bay.

Characterized perhaps more by what it was not (touristy, expensive, pretentious) than what it was (authentically California, laid back and “cool” in more way than one), Carneros became a favorite secret spot for many.  Founded in 1983, Carneros was one of California’s first American Viticultural Areas.

Today I’m proud to say I’m on the Carneros Wine Alliance Board, serving this special, quirky, quality AVA with my time, my wine and #CarnerosLove.

A gorgeous day in Carneros.  Peaceful and rural, Carneros maintains an old California agricultural charm.

A gorgeous day in Carneros. Peaceful and rural, Carneros maintains an old California agricultural charm.

Come join us this Saturday, July 25 at 3:30 at the diRosa, a beautiful property housing an extensive collection of Bay Area art.  Alongside beautiful sculpture, installations and other artworks we will be sipping art of a more liquid kind from 20 of my fellow Carneros wineries.  Food will be provided by Stag Dining, wine and food pairing by Fine and Rare, while live music by the Max Bonick Trio and a magnum raffle will be sure to keep things hopping.

Tickets are still available– join me this weekend for a Birthday Bash to remember!

Click here to buy tickets, hang out, and see why I love Carneros.

 

 

Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners and Winemaker for Picket Fence Vineyards, Garnet Vineyards and others.  She sources from vineyards all over California, including Carneros, for her clients’ projects.  Girl and the Grape won “Best New Wine Blog” in 2014.  She serves on the Carneros Wine Alliance Board and can be reached at LinkedIn, @alisoncrowewine ,ancrowe@hotmail.com.