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

Archives: Harvest 2015

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!

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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

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

“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