There are some people you can’t help liking, who always seem to have a smile on their face and who leave you encouraged and uplifted at the end of every interaction. Such was the case with David Stevens, whom the wine industry has been mourning since we learned of his sudden and unexpected passing due to natural causes Tuesday April 10 2018. I was clicking around Facebook on Wednesday when I saw a post from Bob Foster, a friend who runs wine competitions, stating that David was gone. As the word got out and a shocked wine industry and extended wine community started to mourn on Facebook, I invited friends to leave a little tribute in the comments below my post with the promise I’d collect them into a blog as soon as I felt it was appropriate.
I first met David wine judging about ten years ago and have had the great pleasure to spend time with him around the judging table in San Diego, Napa and Sonoma over the years. Not only a great taster and wine judge, Dave was first an award-winning winemaker with the likes of Bouchaine and Domaine Carneros. Later in his career he started teaching part time at Napa Valley College and at UC Davis, leading the OIV Wine Marketing Program along with Christian Miller of Wine Opinions and Full Glass Research. Many of us know and remember David Stevens for his welcoming, supportive personality as well as his zany and infectious sense of humor. An avid baseball fan and lover of games, David leaves behind a wife and two daughters and many, many devastated friends and colleagues.
Undoubtedly, we all have lived a fuller life having known him. One of the best tributes we can give him, and one of the best ways to carry his spirit with us, is to try to be just a little bit like him. Where to start? Be curious, be kind, laugh at yourself, laugh more than a little at your friends and occasionally your industry. Be a giver, not a taker. Be a teacher, a mentor and always be looking for ways to connect people and ideas together in positive ways. Be a booster, a cheerleader, a colleague, and most importantly be a friend. Laugh a lot. We’ll be a stronger, more united, respectful and dare I say, lighthearted, wine industry because of it. #bedavidstevens
Here are some remembrances of David Stevens, a man who touched so many people in many parts of the wine industry:
Mike Dunne- Regardless of context – sitting on a panel at a wine competition, orchestrating a marketing seminar at UC Davis, joining a tasting of old dessert wines in Sacramento, rounding up people for a trek to some obscure Korean or Chinese restaurant in Pomona – David could be counted on for his levity, smarts, ability to listen and knack for sharing in a way helpful, upbeat and generous. And always, many hearty laughs.
Jim Lapsley- Dave was a stalwart in the OIV course and when I retired I was SO pleased that he and Christian Miller agreed to take it on. Dave had so much information that he passed on in a gently humorous way. We will miss David for the rest of our lives, but will remember him at odd moments and smile.
Lessly Wharton VanHoutan- My heart is broken. Dave had nothing but kind words and encouraged me. He kept me from losing my mind and soul. To the moon and back DS.
Paul Robert Blom- My last wine chat with David was during #mundusvini end of February. We lost a friend and sure source of information on any subject of viticulture and a praised member of the world wide judging ‘society’. R.I.P. David, you will be missed.
Linda F Bisson- Deeply saddened to hear this – will miss him, his smile, his positive outlook, his wit and wisdom.
David Graves- We were privileged to have him as a colleague in Carneros.
Greg Bjornstad- What a wonderful man! So sorry to learn of David’s passing. We were classmates and TA’s at Davis and colleagues in wine, recently having opportunity to collaborate on a project. Smart, funny, warm and curious. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends that miss him already. Cheers, my friend…
Patricia Ann Howe- Ok- thinking of David’s best story. He told me about the time he dressed up as Bigfoot/Sasquatch and freaked out some folks. The kicker is that “sighting” made into a book of unexplained legitimate encounters. That is such a typical David stunt.
Mike Swan- We were set to go to Portugal in January. I cancelled my tickets yesterday. The most wonderful man I have ever met and was able to hug him goodby 3 weeks ago at our wine competition. Not shake hands, HUG!
Jeff Stewart- Sad news….. Great winemaker and better person.
Ann Noble- Dave leaves a void….How sad to lose someone so young.
Merrikay Locati- Omg, he will be so missed here in Walla Walla. He was so fun when he came to visit and help us make wine at Robison ranch. We are without words.
Melissa Bates- David was so full of life and laughter. He was loved by so many and he made sure you knew how much he enjoyed your friendship. My condolences to his family for their loss.
Christian Miller- This is awful, awful news. It’s a rare thing to find in one person a brilliant intellect, great wit and humor and an appreciation for what is sweet and humane. The world was undoubtedly a better place with Dave in it.
Laurie Walters Foster- One of the warmest, nicest special people on the wine judging circuit…will be so missed! Such a beautiful and talented soul….
Tim Hanni MW- I am so saddened to hear the news. I just spoke with David last week – he is the epitome of everything good about humanity and the wine business. I am grateful that I was able to call him my friend.
A memorial service for David Stevens will be held 11 am Saturday April 21st at St Mary’s Episcopal Church in Napa, 1917 Third St. Napa CA 94558.
Alison Crowe is Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners, which makes Garnet Vineyards and Picket Fence Vineyards wine among many other custom and bespoke wine projects. Sourced from her company’s 100% sustainably certified vineyards, she works with fruit from Napa, Sonoma, and the Central Coast. @alisoncrowewine email: email@example.com
Thursday, 2/22/18- It was quite a sight for the morning commuters zipping along Hwy 121 between the towns of Sonoma and Napa Monday this week: curtains of icicles, in some cases reaching all the way to the vineyard floor, hanging from the grapevine trellises of Carneros. No, we didn’t have an overnight cloudburst that made our little corner of the world less Sonoma and more Saskatchewan. It was simply farmers doing what they do best, using a combination of science and smarts, to defend against the latest curve ball from Mother Nature.
The 2018 growing season is shaping up, so far at least, to be a dry and an early one. An historically-dry January and February coupled with some higher-than-average temperatures have lead to an early bud break. Bud break is when the nascent buds, which turn into the coming Harvest’s shoots, leaves and grape bunches, swell with life after winter’s dormancy and begin to spread their leaves in preparation for the upcoming season’s growth. In this case, however, the tender new buds were greeted with a sudden mid-Frebruary cold snap, putting them at risk of freezing in the early hours of the morning. If enough buds suffer cold enough temperatures for a long enough time, the upcoming Harvest yields and quality can be negatively impacted.
Hence the sheets of ice hanging from the trellis wires in Carneros on Monday morning.
There are a few things growers can do to try to mitigate freezing temperatures at night.
Prune late for frost protection: The first round of measures are passive, like pruning as late as you can, which naturally delays a vine’s bud break date a little. However, as pruning has to get done sometime before the weather warms up and as it takes a lot of time and labor to do, it isn’t a realistic solution for every vineyard block.
Mix up the air: For vines already pruned, anti-frost measures have to be a bit more assertive. Cold air sinks, so if you can keep the air in a vineyard moving, the warmer air above the vines will mix in with the coldest air sitting on the vineyard floor. This is why we see so many fans, which look like airplane propellers mounted on telephone poles, in vineyards and why many of us hear those powerful engines firing up on cold nights. Even one degree above freezing helps.
Turn on the sprinklers: If that layer of cold air is just too deep and running the fans doesn’t bring enough warm air into the fruit zone, turning on the sprinklers can be a next line of defense. By creating a thin layer of ice and, critically, by keeping that layer of ice wet, the temperature of the bud won’t get below 32 F. However, if you let the ice dry out and it starts to evaporate, you can actually exacerbate the freeze by the evaporative cooling effect of the water. Similarly, if temperatures get below 23-24 F, this ice shield simply doesn’t offer enough protection. For this reason sprinklers can only be used under very specific conditions. Luckily, any water used this way will sink back into the soil and eventually replenish the vineyard water table.
As you can see, frost protection is a delicate dance and is the biggest reason why growers lose so much sleep between February and May.
So where are the silver linings in all of these threats?
First of all, only a few AVA’s (American Viticultural Areas) and varieties are affected right now so it’s not like a frost-threatened budbreak is a widespread phenomenon. In our Napa and Sonoma vineyards, buds are largely limited to a few spots in Carneros and this cold weather will retard the emergence of other buds, protecting those from exposure.
Secondly, as a winemaker, I’d much rather have an early start to the season than a late ending. So what if I start pulling off my Pinot Noir for rose a couple of weeks earlier than in 2017? So far we seem to be right in line with 2015, and it just means you need to get the winery ready to go a little bit sooner. The real disaster for wine quality comes with a late bud break and a later start to the growing season. As grape ripening gets delayed and Harvest gets pushed further into September, October and in the case of Napa Cabernet, November, the chances for disastrous rains increase. Any grapes still on vine when the fall and winter rainy season begins in earnest are at risk for mold, rot, dilution and a complete loss of flavor and quality. I’ll gladly take an early Harvest over a late one.
Thirdly, thinking of 2017 in Napa and Sonoma Counties, the earlier we get all grapes in the barn, the less risk we have that Harvest will be interrupted by wildfires. Once the grass on the hillsides dries out, technically fires can happen any time but the highest probability occurs in October, after months of hot weather and before the first cold snap and real rains. Begin Harvest a few weeks early and there is a greater probability of having all your grapes safely tucked away in tanks and barrels.
Seeing all that ice in Carneros on Monday morning was dramatic and quite unusual. I’m glad we have these frost-protection options but I’m equally glad that it looks like we’ll be facing a slightly earlier Harvest in 2018 rather than a late one. As with anything to do with Mother Nature, however, stay tuned for how the growing season unfolds as we know the only certainty is change……
Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker living in Napa. She is the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards, Verada Wines and Picket Fence Vineyards in addition to sundry other branded and bespoke wine projects. Alison is also the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book , enjoys tennis and horseback riding and above so many other things loves a good winter rainstorm.