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

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.

 

 

 

Want Farm-To-Table? Look No Further Than 4-H

Alexa and her Duroc hog, Bessy, at the Napa Town & Country Fair (photo:  Lisa Adams-Walter)

Alexa and her Duroc hog, Bessy at the Napa Town & Country Fair

Sometimes girlandthegrape.com isn’t only about wine and winemaking.  Sometimes it’s about living (and yes, eating) in “Wine Country”.  Wherever you live and eat, and whether for environmental, ethical or health reasons many of us are asking more questions about how food gets to our table.   It’s not yawn-inducing hipster foodie fetishism; it’s about how the choices we make every day affect our bodies, our communities and our world.

For the last couple of years I’ve been searching for a better way to get quality food on  my family’s table.

 

I wasn’t about to pay the outrageous prices charged at Napa’s boutique charcuterie shops ($13.00/lb for pork chops?) or at the farmer’s market ($9 for a dozen eggs, are you kidding me?).

 

So we started growing our own tomatoes and I found a regular source of backyard-raised eggs on Craigslist.com (I literally slip $5 under the door mat for a dozen).  We look for organic or hormone-free chicken and pork as well as grass-fed beef at the supermarket.  Yes, we find ourselves spending a little more on meat but overall we consume less quantity and more quality (luckily the kids love tofu).

 

The 4-H Meat Solution- as local and humane as you can get

For the last two summers, however, I’ve been stocking up our freezer (and those of friends and family) with what I believe to be the ultimate source of humanely raised, amazing-quality, farm-to-table meat:  your friendly neighborhood 4-H club.

Alexa taking "Bessy" for a walk.  Exercising your animal is a key part of raising healthy meat.

Alexa taking “Bessy” for a walk. Exercising your animal is a key part of raising healthy meat.

For those not in the know, 4-H is  national youth-development and mentoring organization with over 6 million members.  Kids can participate in a wide array of activities and projects in areas including business, science, health, agriculture and handcrafts.  In rural/urban Napa County where I live, many 4-H members choose to raise animals as pets or for market as part of their annual project.  Rabbits, chickens, goats, hogs and even dairy cows and horses are shown off every summer at the Napa Town & Country Fair and competition for “Grand Champion”and showmanship ribbons are fierce.

 

To Market, to Market……

I know, it sounds a little weird and involved.  Certainly, buying an animal from a live auction is an experience in and of itself and does take a little practice to get used to.  Luckily, I had done 4-H as a kid myself and had raised lambs for market so knew a bit about “how to do it”.  And this year, since I couldn’t be at the auction for the whole day, I had a friend (a mom whose daughter was at the fair showing rabbits and goats) kindly volunteer to do the final bidding for me.

Alexa strides confidently into the auction ring.

Alexa strides confidently into the auction ring (Bessy is just out of sight in front of her).

After the bidding was done, we were excited to have purchased Bessy, a pure-bred Duroc hog, from Alexa Butts, an 18 year old Napa 4-H member who has raised hogs for auction for the last three years.  Yes, paying $5.00-$8.00 a pound for an entire animal that can weigh over 200 pounds is a big upfront investment.  If you get together friends and family, however, you can form your own kind of “buying club” and make it affordable for everyone.

It’s About More Than The Meat…..

One of the best parts about buying an animal directly from a 4-H member is that you can get to know who raised your animal as well as how.  Alexa told me all about her experience in 4-H this year.  She bought two pigs (one a Duroc, Bessy, and the other a “Cross”) from a specific breeder, after much research.  “Durocs,” she says, “are considered one of the tastier market hogs.” She described some of the work involved.  “You have to feed them, bathe them (on occasion), clean their pen and most importantly practice showmanship,” which prepares you and your animal for final judging in the ring.

 

As Fair-season approached, she switched up the composition of their feeding routine and even included “an apple a day and the occasional sugar cube as a sweet treat.” She admits that as auction time draws near  “It is hard to say goodbye.”  The last two years she has gotten a henna tattoo at the fair with her initials and those of her pigs (this year it was “B&B” for Buddy and Bessy). “It is my small way of saying goodbye and as the tattoo fades so does my sadness, because by the time it is gone I know I need to let go.”

 

Alexa admits, "It is hard to say goodbye" but she knows going in that these pigs are for market.

Alexa admits, “It is hard to say goodbye” but she knows going in that these pigs are for market.

In addition to getting some very tasty meat, by supporting 4-H animals you’re directly supporting their owners.   “I will be attending Purdue University in the fall studying Animal Science, Pre-Veterinary,”  Alexa says, and the money she earns buying, raising and finally auctioning her 4-H animals will help her along the way.  The long hours caring for animals, the research and the hard work involved provide their own lessons.    “Overall, 4-H has taught me responsibility and respect for where our food comes from, and the care that goes into producing it.”

 

Eating meat, not to mention eating meat that you’ve actually met, isn’t for everybody.   Animals raised for food consume a large percentage of the world’s resources and yes, we should all be eating a lot more plants.  Animal or vegetable, however, there’s something very special about closing the circle between what’s on your plate, where it came from and what it took to get it there.  Teaching my two young sons about where our food comes from, whether from a row-crop farmer in the Salinas Valley, our own garden or literally from “a girl next door”, is a valuable lesson in and of itself.  Thanks, Alexa, for all your hard work and thank you, Napa 4-H!

 

 

 

 

 

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 for her clients’ projects and lives in Napa with her family and is an alumna of the Carpinteria Valley 4-H Club.  Girl and the Grape won “Best New Wine Blog” in 2014.  Reach her at LinkedIn, @alisoncrowewine ,ancrowe@hotmail.com.

 

Photo credits:  Tia Butts and Lisa Adams-Walter.  Thanks to Lisa for the winning bid!

“A Short Crop Gets Shorter” and Rainy Day June Blues

Garnet Oak 300 dpiWell, I should be excited that coastal California, from Santa Barbara to the Sonoma Coast, saw a little rain overnight.  We need every drop we can get, right?  Yes, that is, unless you’re a late-blooming Cabernet Sauvignon vine struggling to fertilize those last flowers and “set” a healthy number of berries.  Yes, unless you’re a developing cluster of Pinot Noir, just starting to size up and don’t want rot and fungus-enabling moisture to endanger this year’s crop.  And yes, unless you’re a winemaker who remembers 2007 and 2011 harvests when early Fall storms rained on tons of late-ripening Cabernet still out in the field.

There are certain times of the year when rain is welcome to growers and winemakers.  Wintertime is great.  The fruit is all picked and no fragile blooms are trying to fight for their existence.  Even a short storm (as long as it gets warm and breezy immediately afterward) during October is OK.  The Pinot will be mostly picked and the Cab, with its thicker-skinned berries and looser clusters, can hang through one rainstorm without many problems.

I just hope that last night’s excitement isn’t the beginning of a pattern, or a pre-saging of things to come.  Sorry to sound pessimistic, but it’s the “farmer girl” side of me that recalls an old adage:  “A short crop gets shorter.”  What that means is that, this time of year, growers and wineries are trying to estimate their Harvest vineyard yields by counting the number of clusters on any given vine.  The problem is that cluster counts have nothing to do with how each berry in that cluster will “size up” as it goes from being a hard green BB to a full, soft purple grape.  It has nothing to do with how well that cluster, especially if it’s still full of flowers, will “set” and how many berries will be lost to shatter.   Unfortunately, weather events like last night’s rain, can negatively affect both bloom, set and grape sizing.  It’s not an early Harvest anymore, which means that with every passing day, the danger of late-Fall rains damaging the last fruit on the vine (in Napa, that’s usually Cabernet)  increases.

I know, I know.  There’s still a long ways to go before now and the end of Harvest, which for me tends to be around the first week in November or so.  We could have a perfect ripening season, great weather during Harvest and still end up with an “average” sized crop.  Yes, there indeed is a long way to go before all the grapes are safely in the barn and it could all work out perfectly.  However, I’m no weather forecaster but I am hearing rumblings of an El Niño winter.

Remember how last week I said I had my rot and botrytis radar on? I just turned the dial up to “High Alert”.

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 for her clients’ projects and lives in Napa with her family.  Girl and the Grape won “Best New Wine Blog” in 2014.  Reach her at LinkedIn, @alisoncrowewine ,ancrowe@hotmail.com

 

 

 

3 Surprising Things About Harvest 2015

 

Shoots are well out but a cool spring has put the brakes on what could've been a record early harvest.

Shoots are well out but a cool spring has put the brakes on what could’ve been a record early harvest.

1- It’s not early (anymore)

Back in April, after a historically warm winter in California, we winemakers were gearing up for an early start to the harvest season. Budbreak happened around the state at record early times; a full week earlier than 2014 which was in itself 2-3 weeks earlier than normal. Oh well, we said. That means it’ll finish faster and maybe we’ll get to dress up and have some beers on Halloween. Beers aside, one of the true benefits to an earlier-than-normal harvest is the reduced risk of November rain falling on any crop still on the vine.

Fast forward two months and it looks like, just about statewide, we’ve been flung back to “normal”. Two of the coldest spring months we’ve had in many years have really put the brakes on the ripening. For me that means I’ll be starting to pull off the first of our Carneros Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir around September 10 or so, instead of August 18 like last year. It also means that I may have to worry about late fall rains . While I’m not going to get all pessimistic and predict another 2007 or 1989 (though I was still in Junior High back then), I would be lying if I told you I didn’t have my rot and botrytis radar on.

Some AVA's saw enough rain to have ponds almost full while some are experiencing severe water shortages.

Some AVA’s saw enough rain to have ponds almost full while some are experiencing severe water shortages.

2-Some areas won’t be so affected by the drought (this year)

The warmer, drier winter that accelerated an early bloom this year had a silver lining. Because we didn’t have many frost events, especially in the North Coast, those wineries using irrigation pond water for emergency frost protection didn’t have to get the sprinklers out. As a result, going into the (presumably) hotter summer and fall growing season, many folks in the North Coast have ponds over 80% full. The cooler, damper spring we’ve been having has additionally kept some areas of the state a little greener as we roll towards June.

Some areas of the state like Paso Robles however, have been so dry for so long that we’re starting to wonder if not just the quantity, but the quality of any water used for irrigation might have impacts on the fruit and on the vine.  Higher salt levels can translate to higher levels of potassium in the grapes which in turn can cause higher pH’s (lower acidity).  That can have a real impact on fermentation dynamics and eventual wine quality so those of us in really dry areas will be keeping an eye on juice and wine chemistries early on.  Unless we get a really wet winter, even those of us who skated through this year will start to be really affected.  If we don’t see appreciable rain in late 2015/early 2016, I predict a much lighter crop for Harvest 2016.

 

Small and large berries mingle on the same cluster, making it difficult to uniformly predict ripeness.

Small and large berries mingle on the same cluster, making it difficult to uniformly predict ripeness.

3- It’s going to be hard(er) to find the right pick date

If the weather is warm and clear during the bloom-to-set period of grape ripening, when the flowers get fertilized and turn into developing grape berries, it usually lasts two or maybe three weeks.  Because of the cold, drizzly weather many of us have been experiencing this spring, this critical period has been elongated and interrupted.  Little delicate flowers have a harder time getting consistently fertilized when it’s windy, cold or rainy.  This means many of us are still seeing blooming flowers and set berries on the same shoot as well as many “hen and chick” clusters where bigger berries are interspersed with tiny little hard BB’s.  This in turn means that, as the grapes approach ripeness, some clusters on the same vine and even berries within the same cluster may be more or less ripe when compared to their neighbors.  That means winemakers have to be super-vigilant when choosing pick dates.  They will have to really make sure their vineyard brix sample size is big enough to be significant and they will have to rely on multiple cluster rather than berry-only samples.  Forget about just skipping down a few vine rows popping random berries to taste for development; 2015 will be a season where it will pay to sample early, widely and often.

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 for her clients’ projects.  Girl and the Grape won “Best New Wine Blog” in 2014.  @alisoncrowewine  ancrowe@hotmail.com

 

 

A Local’s Tips for Buying Napa Real Estate

 

 

We just bought property in Napa- and are selling this downtown Victorian at 2020 Brown St.

We just bought property in Napa- and are selling our downtown Victorian at 2020 Brown St.

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.

Get online

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.

The Victorian we're selling at 2020 Brown captivated us immediately as we sheltered from a rainstorm back in 2006.  We found it riding our bikes in the neighborhood.

The Victorian we’re selling at 2020 Brown captivated us immediately as we sheltered from a rainstorm back in 2006. We found it riding our bikes in the neighborhood.

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…….

From Creek

We would’ve missed out on our new place if we’d only been searching onine for 3+ bedrooms. By looking at smaller houses we were able to find our dream property….with ample room to add on a master suite!

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.

contact:  ancrowe@hotmail.com  Twitter:  @alisoncrowewine  LinkedIn:  Alison Crowe 

What Happens at Unified Stays at Unified- except your feedback.

UnifiedI 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:

2015 Unified Symposium Session Surveys and Feedback Forms

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.

contact:  ancrowe@hotmail.com  Twitter:  @alisoncrowewine  LinkedIn:  Alison Crowe 

“I will not worry the sheep”: A Vineyard Dog’s New Year’s Resolutions

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:

Who you lookin at?  Vineyard Dogs can get in on the New Year's Resolutions game too!

Whatchoo lookin at? Vineyard Dogs can get in on the New Year’s Resolutions game too!

 

 

 

-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.

 

Ahhh....I think this Chardonnay is "juste a point!"

Ahhh….I think this Chardonnay is “juste a point!”

-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.

 

The weather forecast is looking great- let's let it hang!

Vineyard irrigation source? Nah- that’s my personal swimming pool!

-So many vineyard ponds, so little time- this spring I will sample them all!

 

-I endeavor to give mad doggy props to my fellow dog-friendly wineries- Chimney Rock, Honig, Pine Ridge, Hawley winery, Thumbprint Cellars, Raymond Vineyards, Selby Winery, Bennessere Vineyards….

 

-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.

 

UCD opening and Kona Vynd 011

You get shotgun! This time I’m driving!

-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.

contact:  ancrowe@hotmail.com  Twitter:  @alisoncrowewine  LinkedIn:  Alison Crowe 

 

New Year’s Resolutions for Winemakers

Garnet Harvest 2011 015

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?

@ancrowe@hotmail.com  @alisoncrowewine

 

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.

contact:  ancrowe@hotmail.com  Twitter:  @alisoncrowewine  LinkedIn:  Alison Crowe 

I will copyright my intellectual property:  Alison Crowe 2015