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

Archives: 2017

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

Cornhole

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q:  What can the public expect at this event?

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the details:  Carneros Cornhole Tournament & Wine Tasting

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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A Barrel is Born: Part I

 

French chateaux, French food, French oak....the gardens of Versailles are traditional and timeless, much like French oak and winemaking.

French chateaux, French food, French oak….

Ah, La Belle France…..fine food, fashion, architecture and, of course, wine.  Talk to any winemaker, however, and their favorite French export is likely to be French oak.  Once just made into water-tight containers for storage and transport, French oak (along with a few other woods and nationalities, more on that later) has grown to become an integral part of the flavor and texture of many wines.

 

Not originally part of an ancient winemaking culture which relied on clay, stone or leather containers, wooden barrels have, over the centuries, made oak and wine a natural partnership. Oak’s capacity for bending and shaping, as well as its ubiquity in the forests of Northern Europe, ensured that as the wine trade grew in the Middle Ages, so did the use of oak barrels and casks in wine making.   In modern times, as winemakers have built upon and adapted those ancient traditions, wood has become, for many winemakers and wine drinkers, almost a taken-for-granted wine ingredient.  When wine comes in contact with oak it extracts flavor and aroma compounds as well as tannins from the wood, all of which can contribute to a wine’s complexity and longevity.  The barrel’s structure as well as the porosity of the wood create a unique aging environment that allows the transfer of tiny amounts of oxygen to the wine over time.

The French forestry industry officially got its start when Louis X1V began to "farm" oak trees for shipbuilding.

The French forestry industry officially got its start when Louis X1V began to “farm” oak trees for shipbuilding.

 

There’s a reason we rely mostly on oak in wine making and not pine, orange or cottonwood trees.  Oak is one of the few woods that can be cut, bent and crafted into a leak-proof container.  It also imparts largely pleasant flavor and aroma compounds; it’s easy to like the vanilla, butterscotch and spice notes that well-toasted (more on that later too!) oak can bring to a wine. Are some wines over-oaked and some winemakers too heavy-handed in their employment of what some have called “Medieval Tupperware”?  Absolutely.  In my winemaking approach I never rely on a recipe. Wines heavier in natural tannin and color can “handle” a little more oak whereas a Pinot Noir generally calls for less.  For me, wines like a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir Rose never see any oak at all.  I let the intended wine style, and the wine itself, be my guide.

 

This June I was lucky enough to be invited to France by one of my barrel suppliers, Radoux, to witness first hand how one of our most beloved wine making tools gets from the forests of France into our cellars.  From acorn to tree, from tree to barrel and from barrel to finished wine, I and three other winemakers traversed France and Spain on our quest to get to the heart of what wood brings to wine.  We asked a million questions, drove what seemed about a million miles but also, as you might imagine, had a lot of fun.  The next few posts will detail my journey through the Loire, Bordeaux, Rioja and the Ribera del Duero as I learned about the art of growing and working with French oak.

Stacks of oak staves aging in the mill yard, a critical process for proper tannin and flavor development.

Stacks of oak staves aging in the mill yard, a critical process for proper tannin and flavor development.

 

Alison Crowe lives in Napa and is the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards and Picket Fence Vineyards in addition to sundry other bespoke wine projects.  Girlandthegrape.com won “Best New Wine Blog” in the 2014 Wine Blog Awards.  Alison is also the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book  , loves a good French flea market and has a particular fondness for Champagne.

Twitter and Instagram:  @alisoncrowewine

 

 

 

 

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A Winemaker Asks: What Does the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium Mean For You?

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The annual Unified Wine & Grape Symposium is the largest wine trade show in the Western Hemisphere and for the last 23 years has attracted thousands of wine industry folks from around the world.  It was started in 1995 by two non-profit groups, the American Society for Enology & Viticulture (ASEV) and the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) as a way for the industry to keep up to date on information and technology.

This January over 14,000 winemakers, executives, grape growers, vineyard workers, consultants, marketing professionals and suppliers converged on the Sacramento Convention Center in what some have described as “The City’s Biggest Party”. Whether one comes for work, pleasure or a little of both, the Unified Symposium is the premier event for education and networking in the U.S. wine industry.

I stopped a few folks in the hallways to ask what they got out of this year’s event and what Unified means for them.  Here’s what they said:

 

Tim McDonald, of Wine Spoken Here PR and Ray Johnson, Executive Director of the Wine Business Institute

Tim McDonald of Wine Spoken Here PR (L) and Ray Johnson (R), Executive Director of the Wine Business Institute

Ray Johnson, Executive Director, Wine Business Institute, Sonoma State University

“It’s an opportunity to connect with the people who are making it happen in the wine industry.”

 

Tim McDonald, Chief Everything Officer, Wine Spoken Here Communications

“I have attended Unified from the start and this year was perhaps my favorite because of the outside-of-the box sessions! It started with a ‘bang’ when a wine journalist speaks about transparency and ingredient labeling. You have to be authentic and have to have a dialogue vs. a monologue with our consumers as well as empathy for them too. Learn, be inspired and most importantly, act! Plus I loved the berry to cannabis exploration… brilliant.”

 

 

Erica Moyer, Broker and Partner, Turrentine Wine Brokerage

Erica Moyer, Broker and Partner, Turrentine Wine Brokerage

 

 

Erica Moyer, Broker and Partner, Turrentine Brokerage

“Unified means being able to get together with friends, drink a little wine and eat good food.  Everyone seems to let their hair down a little.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chris Younger of Vino Farms and Pete Opatz of Silverado Investment Management Corporation

Chris Younger of Vino Farms (L) and Pete Opatz of Silverado Investment Management Corporation (R)

 

Pete Opatz, Vice President Vineyard Operations, Silverado Investment Management Corporation

“Going to the general sessions to get the trends and information is great, but seeing everybody is just as important.  Networking is right up there with content.”

Chris Younger, Vino Farms

“We come to see the technology on the exhibit floor and in the sessions. The State of the Industry talk is great- it’s interesting to see a wide perspective.”

 

 

 

 

Brant, North Carolina

Brant Burgiss, Thistle Meadow Winery, North Carolina

 

 

 

 

Brant Burgiss, Winemaker, Thistle Meadow Winery, North Carolina

“I come for the lectures and to see the vendors.  I wish there were more lectures in fact! Coming all the way from North Carolina was totally worth it.”

 

 

 

 

 

Steve Burch of Radoux Cooperage pours some oak trial wines for Unified attendees

Steve Burch of Radoux Cooperage pours some oak trial wines for Unified attendees

Steve Burch, Regional Sales Manager, Tonnellerie Radoux

“I look forward to the Unified Symposium every year to both catch up on emerging technology in the wine industry and catch up with relationships built over 20 years in the business.”

 

 

 

 

I think the Unified Symposium is our chance to learn, to be inspired and then to act.

I think the Unified Symposium is our chance to learn, to be inspired and then to act.

 

 

Learn, Act and Be Inspired

Part alumni reunion, part deep-dive into technology and trends, it’s our annual industry get-together and learning opportunity.  On Thursday morning, Amy Hoopes, President of Wente Vineyards lead a TED-style panel called “Adapt or go Extinct”.  “Let’s be curious and engage in that which is outside our own silos,”  she said.  “We need to learn, be inspired and act.”

The most important thing we can do after Unified is to act on what we’ve learned. Follow up with that supplier who could really impact your business in a positive way.  Jot down some ideas that inspired you. Write a thank-you note to someone who gave you some great coaching over coffee and shake the hand of a young first-timer.  You never know who you might teach and inspire, or what you might learn to move your business forward.

 

 

 

Did you attend the 2017 Unified?  Please tell us what Unified means to you by filling out our attendee survey form and session surveys:

http://www.unifiedsymposium.org/session/session-surveys

A big thanks to the staff and volunteers that make Unified Symposium possible- from the Sacramento Convention Center workers to the CAWG and ASEV boards to the Unified Symposium Program Committee and beyond.

Alison Crowe is an award-winning consulting winemaker and author based in the Napa Valley.  She is a member of the Program Committee for the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium.

Her wines (among many other wine projects):

www.garnetvineyards.com  www.picketfencevineyards.com

Her book:  The Winemaker’s Answer Book

Email:  ancrowe@hotmail.com

Twitter:  @alisoncrowewine

UW&GS and the UW&GS Logo are licensed trademarks of Unified Wine & Grape Symposium LLC

 

 

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Wet Feet? What the recent rains mean for North Coast vineyards

 

Chardonnay vines in Carneros after about 2 inches of rain. They drained out pretty quickly the next day.

Chardonnay vines in Carneros after about 2 inches of rain. They drained out pretty quickly the next day.

Friends and colleagues around the world have seen pictures of a very wet wine country in the media and many have contacted me wondering what the impact of all of these storms will be on grapevines.

Here’s what I posted on Facebook on Tuesday, January 11th after the first big storm (about 4.5 inches in 72 hours at our house in Napa) rolled through the area:

“Question: What do the recent rains mean for Napa and Sonoma grapes? I’ve seen pictures of flooded vineyards on the news and online.

Answer: Grapevines can tolerate flooding/”wet feet” for around 20 days. In fact, the French once used vineyard flooding to control the Phylloxera root pest. The recent Napa/Sonoma rains were acute (and did produce some “clickable” photos) but short lived. The few affected Napa valley floor vineyards I’ve seen this morning are draining out. Like everywhere else, the ground is saturated so you can bet everyone is going to be keeping an eye on trees, slopes and vineyard architecture (posts, trellises) to make sure we don’t have negative effects due to erosion and downed trees. I’m thrilled our vineyard reservoirs are full and that water tables are getting replenished- it bodes very well for the 2017 harvest.”

 

We are now facing another series of storm cells lined up off the Pacific Coast.  It started with yesterday’s (Wednesday, 1/18/17) wet and windy day and isn’t supposed to stop coming until this coming Monday.  The forecast is for around five inches to find its way into Napa and Sonoma Counties in as many days.

I predict that, once again, the news folks will be out snapping photos and shooting videos for their nightly newscasts.  Once again, we’ll be sharing our soggy vineyard pictures on Instagram and reacting with the Facebook “Wow!” button when we see the Conn Dam spillway back in action.

For water-starved Northern Californians, I have to admit it’s been pretty fun to be able to finally see creeks rise and reservoirs get full-to-bursting, even though of course we don’t want anyone to get hurt or suffer serious property damage.  The truth is, there will always be the low-lying areas (like poor Guerneville on the Russian River) that get waterlogged for a period of time.  We will always have those corners of our vineyards that get “wet feet” and dry out later than everywhere else.

Even if pruning has to be delayed a little bit in some places, there is still time to get the work done before bud-break in early March.  After years of drought and parched vines struggling under super-dry conditions, I’m happy to see this season’s turn-around. Because these acute periods of rain so far have been followed by at least a few days to dry out (we have at least six sunny days forecast starting Tuesday), many of us in the wine business have been saying, “Hey, we’ll take it!”  I’ll even take a few vineyard blocks with wet feet because, after all, that’s what’s “normal” for this time of year in Northern California.  For once, in an industry that increasingly values the rare and extreme, normal feels pretty good.

Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker, blogger and author who lives in the Napa Valley.

Her book:

The Winemaker’s Answer Book

Her wines:

www.garnetvineyards.com

www.picketfencevineyards.com

ancrowe@hotmail.com

 

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