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

Archives: Harvest 2014

Harvest 2014: There’s a party at your place and EVERYONE is coming

One hopes Harvest is like a genteel, civilized cocktail party......

One hopes Harvest is like an epicurean cocktail party……well-paced and genteel.

Ever throw a casual cocktail party where you tell friends to just “drop on by anytime” after dinner and to “feel free to bring some people along”?  Ideally, a steady stream of pleasant company trickles through, keeping you entertained until you wave a fond “goodnight” to the last guests.  Your homemade canapés paired perfectly with the Champagne, all stemware made it safely back to the kitchen  and a satisfyingly genteel time was had by all.

 

 

For better or worse, the Harvest 2014 Party in California is shaping up to be less Martha Stewart and more Holly Golightly.  Everyone will show up early, the Sauvignon Blanc is going to invite the entire neighborhood  and the Cab and Syrah (now that’s an interesting couple) are going to be barging into the foyer just as the Pinot Noir is attempting to leave.   I took a quick drive around my north coast vineyards yesterday and after tasting through early-pickers like Alexander Valley Sauvignon Blanc and Carneros Pinot Noir as well as latecomers like  Napa Cab, all I can say is that Harvest 2014 is going to be one heck of a rager.

Harvest 2014 is gonna be a rager....

For better or worse, I predict Harvest 2014 is gonna be more like a rager at your BFF’s apartment….

Here’s the 411 on Harvest 2014:

-It’s Early: After walking through vineyards yesterday and looking through my Brix reports, I confirmed what I was guessing:  I am tracking a good week or two ahead of 2013, and two to three weeks earlier than average.   This is my tenth harvest working with my current slate of  vineyards from Napa, Sonoma and the Central Coast and this year will be my earliest pick ever.  Last year I started picking Sauvignon Blanc on September 2.  This year it will be August 20.

-It Ain’t Small: OK, maybe statewide it won’t be as big as 2013 but it won’t be wimpy either.  Depending on where you get your grapes be prepared for some healthy crops even though there seem to be hens and chicks and some pockets of mediocre set.  Different than last year:  big berries in some vineyards.  Clear the decks.

Brown seeds can be a sign of ripeness in certain vineyards.

Brown seeds can be a sign of ripeness in certain vineyards. Alexander Valley Sauvignon Blanc, almost ready to pick, about three weeks earlier than average.

-It’s Gonna be Fast:  A picture-perfect growing season and water at just the right times (late winter rains for the North Coast at least) have set up vascular systems and tissues into ideal ripening and sugar-accumulation mode.  Red varietals, like Oak Knoll Cabernet at our Red Hen vineyard for example, are already showing significant seed browning, berry softening and pyrazine reduction.  This means 2014 could be a banner year for those making lower-alcohol red wines but it will also mean the reds will be hard on the heels of the whites.  This is one gathering that’s going to have plenty of gate crashers, and they’re all going to be looking for some space to party.

-It’s Gonna be Awesome:  Luckily, even though it’s going to be early, fast, and sizeable, Harvest 2014 is shaping up to be a party to remember.  Quality across all AVA’s I’ve tasted is looking to be just as great as 2013 and possibly even better.  Lest you turn into a nervous host, remember that sometimes the most insane parties are the ones that get talked about for years afterwards.  So what if a little Riedel gets broken and you end up ordering pizza at 3:00 AM (no one will care it’s not Tra Vigne)?  Knock on lots of Tronçais, Mother Nature will not only continue to smile  indulgently upon us but will leave us the keys to the guest cottage and conveniently get out of town for the weekend.   Everybody in the pool….now where did I put those canapés?

 

 

“I’ll never get used to anything.  Anybody that does, they might as well be dead.”  -Holly Golightly, Breakfast at Tiffany’s

 

 

Alison Crowe is the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards and other client projects.  She can be reached at ancrowe@hotmail.com and @alisoncrowewine.    Party on, everyone.

Copyright 2014 Alison Crowe

Advice to an Intern: 10 things Winemakers want you to know

 

A winery during crush is a wet, cold, slippery and sometimes dangerous place.  Winemakers share their tips for getting through Harvest.

A winery during crush is a wet, cold, slippery and sometimes dangerous place. Winemakers share their tips for getting through Harvest.

The other day I got an email from a reader who was about to embark on her first harvest as a winemaking intern.  She wondered if I had any tips or advice for her.  She had a good pair of boots but what else would she need?  What should she be worried about or watch out for?

I had my own list but in order to really “get the goods” decided to do a little crowd-sourcing for this gal who was interested enough to contact me.  I pointed the Bat-Signal into the Facebook universe and in return received a quickly-growing thread of “advice to an intern” from fellow winemakers.

Do we have advice for her?  Do we ever.  The wine industry has a grand tradition of taking the up-and-coming generation under our wings and besides getting them wet and tired, perhaps teaching them a few things along the way.  It was hard to whittle the list down to 10 in order to keep this post manageable and I can see this one being the first of many.

One of my best Pinot Noir mentors, the late great Don Blackburn, had a sign on his office door that read “Winemaking Begins With People.”  It’s a mantra that rings as true for me today as the day I first read it while walking into a job interview.  He was a tough taskmaster and required prompt start times, spotless buckets and shining pruning shears from the intern team (yes, I got the job) but we had a great time and learned a lot too.

Without further ado, here are 10 bits of “advice to an intern,” direct from Winemakers who’ve been there:

Glenn Alexander, Sanglier Cellars

“Get the best, most comfortable pair of waterproof boots you can afford.”

 

Tom Collins, UC Davis Department of Viticulture & Enology

“Always have a change of clothing in your car because cold and wet is a hard way to drive home.”

 

Brooke Langelius, St. Supery:

“Bring lots of food for backup on long days!”

 

Marty Johnson, Eaton Hill Winery and Ruby Magdalena Vineyards:

“Beer.  Bring lots and lots of beer for sharing with everyone after cleanup.  We all know it takes a lot of good beer to make wine.”

 

Ed Kurtzman, August West Wines, Freeman Winery:

“Don’t make outside plans during Harvest that you can’t get out of.”

 

Amy J. Butler, Ranchero Cellars

“Ask questions!  The sorting table is a good place to entrap your Winemaker into teaching you stuff.”

 

Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery

“Get to know the cellar crew.  They can be some of the best teachers.”

 

Chris Kajani, Saintsbury Winery:

“Be early.  And preferably not hung over.”

 

Cynthia Cosco, Passaggio Wines

“Learn lots…have fun…make connections….safety first!”

 

Domenica Totty, Beaulieu Vineyard

“Have fun and make as many connections as you can – other interns, winemakers, anyone working harvest.
And, it’s ok to show up with a hangover… But you’d better be on time & work your butt off in spite of it!”

 

Alison Crowe is a winemaker based in Napa, California and fondly remembers her first harvests as an intern at Chalone Vineyard and Byington Winery & Vineyard.  She makes wine at Garnet Vineyards and can be reached at ancrowe@hotmail.com and on Twitter:  @alisoncrowewine .  She wishes the best of luck to all the new harvest interns out there- it’s a wild ride but welcome aboard!

 

 

 

Harvest 2014: It’s quiet out there. Too quiet.

Moisture-laden clouds have been haunting Northern California this past week, making tropical moisture and the potential for mildew a possible challenge for Harvest 2014.

Moisture-laden clouds have been haunting Northern California this past week, making tropical moisture and the potential for mildew a possible challenge for Harvest 2014.

The Scene:  A craggy-faced farmer straight out of Central Casting scratches his grizzled beard.  A scattering of clouds scuds across the horizon but down on the vineyard floor all is mid-afternoon heat.  No birdsong.  The leaves barely rustle in the rumored breeze of a Carneros afternoon.   “It’s quiet out there.  Too quiet.”

 

 

Cue the Spaghetti Western “wah-wah-wah” music because though the vineyards have been seemingly taking a siesta, they’re about to open up with all guns blazing.  With no frost to worry us this spring and a nice warm growing season with no heat spikes and no rain events (so far), Harvest 2014 is coiled and ready to strike.

 

Bunches are sizing up, red grapes have just about gone 100% through veraison and the crop size is looking healthy.  I don’t expect the giant crop we had in 2013 but it’s not going to be a pipsqueak either.  That means wineries (mine included) are scrambling to empty barrels, to create master blends and to bottle when possible in order to clear the decks.

 

Harvest 2014 will also be earlier than average and perhaps a few days earlier than 2013.   Looking at my first Brix (sugar) readings from certain blocks over the weekend, I was surprised to see one block of Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir in Carneros come in at 19.0.  In classic Carneros fashion, while Stanly Ranch is indeed cooled by stiff breezes and is moderated by the  influence of the San Pablo Bay, it still gets quite a lot of Napa Valley heat.  Additionally, Pinot Noir is an earlier-ripening red grape so it’s no surprise that Stanly is my bellwether “harvest indicator” vineyard.  Last year I started picking Stanly Pinot for Garnet Vineyards on September 3 and this year it looks like it might start on Labor Day weekend.

Like   many winemakers I’ve had my eye on this tropical weather pattern we’ve experienced in Northern California over the last week and am keeping my eyes peeled for mildew potential.  So far so good; the canopies have been opened up nicely, enough breeze has been blowing to keep things dry and I like what I’m seeing.

We still have a few weeks.  Go ahead, take that last day off before the grapes start flying.  Do the farmer’s market, catch up on those last projects around the house.  Enjoy the quiet of the vineyards on a summer morning while the 85 F weather sets up those sugars for a runaway gallop to the finish line.  Don’t worry about the eerie silence.  It’s about to get real loud real quick.

 

 

 

Alison Crowe lives in Napa and makes wine for Garnet Vineyards and other wineries and projects.

Twitter:  @alisoncrowewine

Copyright Alison Crowe 2014

Harvest 2014: What Winemakers are Really Worrying About

Wildfires? Drought? Fraudulently labeled loads of grapes? Winemakers have a lot to worry about going into this harvest season. We’ll be picking, crushing and pressing in a historical water shortage on top of two big back to back harvests, trying to fit it all into the cellar. In addition, it looks like the crop will be about two weeks earlier than average. That being said, let’s talk about the serious stuff. Below are the things winemakers are really worrying about going into Harvest 2014.

A winery can be like a mini-United Nations during harvest.  Sometimes negotiations are in order.

A winery can be like a mini-United Nations during harvest. Sometimes negotiations are in order.

Argentina. Chile. France:
No, it’s not the quarterfinals of the World Cup. These are the countries of origins of your winemaking interns for this harvest. Though the wine industry has a long and storied tradition of importing viticulture and enology students to help sample the vineyards and clean the barrels, it’s also part of the deal to house them, feed them and throw down a few yellow cards once in a while. Whether the interns will get along, if the Argentinians and Chileans will come to blows over the finer points of emapanada-making (no one from Mendoza would ever fry an empanada, gracias very much) or whether the French will scoff at the great coffee vs. yerba mate debate are all valid intern-management concerns. Thank goodness that by the time they all have to bunk together at the vineyard house the World Cup will be over.

 

 

Forget about the grapes- bringing in all the equipment before the grapes are ripe is the tough part.

Forget about the grapes- bringing in all the equipment before the grapes are ripe is the tough part.

Blunnies, Foss and Bucher:
I’ve got a winemaking buddy that is desperately trying to order a pair of special-width Blundstone work boots before the grapes start flying. The lab staff is worrying whether the Foss service rep will come by, the neighboring “garage winery” is tracking the international shipping container carrying a spare (and important!) Bucher press bladder and really hoping there won’t be a port strike holding up our barrel deliveries. We know where the grapes are. They won’t move until we say so. This time of year it’s all about making sure all the other stuff we need to make the wine, especially stuff that comes from overseas, gets to us on time.

 

Taqueria:  The Ultimate Harvest Food Group

Taqueria: The Ultimate Harvest Food Group

Luna, Esperanza, Texanita:
No, these are not new wine brands targeting Hispanic millennials but in fact are your primary source of sustenance. We all are checking whether our favorite mission-critical wine country taquerias and taco truck are a) still in business, b) still going to be opening up at 5:00 AM for breakfast service 7 days a week starting September 1 and c) are going to be permanently stationed in our parking lot due to high demand from the cellar crew. The taco truck’s tinny “La Cucaracha” horn might irk the first tasting room visitors rolling up during mid-morning break…but don’t give their raised eyebrows and sniffs of scorn a second thought.  Heck, invite them over.  How else will they ever learn that a super-grande breakfast burrito with extra chorizo  is indeed wine country cuisine at its finest?

 

 

It takes a lot of good beer to make good wine!

It takes a lot of good beer to make good wine!

Arrogant Bastard, Pliny and Rasputin:
When it’s 11:00 at night and everyone’s been going strong since 7:00 AM, we’re all crush pad philosophers. And one thing we never have to debate is that it takes a lot of good beer to make good wine. We all have our favorites. The 2012 crush crew in our Garnet Vineyards cellar pined for Pliny. Another buddy a few doors down our the 8th st. winery complex in Sonoma practically went through pallets of Pabst. When I was making estate Pinot Noir up in the Santa Cruz Mountains at Byington Winery we traded cases of our wine for the house-made beer of a swanky Los Gatos restaurant down the hill. Whether it’s the pony keg in the lab fridge or the bottles stashed in the break room, if it’s Harvest then there must be beer.

 

What are you thinking about as Harvest 2014 approaches? Leave me a comment!

 

Alison Crowe has slogged in cellars from Napa and Sonoma to Argentina and Santa Barbara.

This blog is a finalist for “Best New Wine Blog” in the 2014 Wine Blog Awards.  Gracias to my fellow honorees!