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

Archives: Real Haunted Wine Country

Ghoulishly Short 2015 Grape Harvest Explained









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!









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.


Real Haunted Wine Country: Grass Valley Tasting Room has Musical Ghost

abandones-house-177105_1280Last week we heard the tale of a World War II resistance fighter whose ghost still haunts the site of his captivity in Nuits St. Georges, Burgundy.  This time, I’ve got a  “Real Haunted Wine Country” tale from California that comes to us from a friend and fellow UC Davis alum, Winemaker Steve Burch.  Steve now lives and works here Napa but back when we were new winemaking graduates, he set up shop in the notoriously haunted Gold Rush town of Grass Valley and had some experiences he couldn’t explain away.

Here is Steve’s Haunted Wine Country story:  “I used to have a winery and tasting room in the gold rush town of Grass Valley in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains.   The tasting room was in a retail storefront in a 2 story building in down town that was built in 1851. The street level had always been retail, however the upstairs had been a meeting hall and city offices at times but had been condemned from occupation decades ago because it was not up to fire code.

Having been around for over 150 years, the building certainly picked up its share of energy. There were a few incidences of paranormal activity that had been related to me by the previous tenants and one that I experienced directly.

When I moved into the space, the woman that was moving out, told me that the building was haunted. She made sure to tell me “don’t close the door to the store room”. If you do, the resident ghost will not be happy and he/she will knock merchandise off the shelves and break things. She had found this out the hard way.   There were also the strange noises. There were times you could hear people talking when no one was around. Or you could hear music with no apparent origin. Not being a “Believer” I chalked this up to localized hysteria and vowed to keep the storeroom door open just in case I was the one afflicted with the hysteria.

Other tenants had stories of items being moved, doors closing and at least one irate customer demanding to know “how the clerk opened this drawer next to her from over there behind the counter!” There was no explanation. She left in a huff.

warehouse-52732_1280One night, late, after a street festival, I was alone doing paperwork and wrapping up from the day. I noticed faint music as I sat in the quiet tasting room. I ignored it at first thinking someone must still be partying on the street or in a neighboring store. Then I happened to look at a clock. It was well after midnight. I walked to the front of the store and the music faded a bit. OK, that’s odd, I thought. I looked out the front door then walked out side. No one. Not a sole. Not a light on. Completely silent. I went back to my desk and listened hard. I could here piano music. OLD piano music. I later found out the room upstairs had, for some time, been the local dance hall and was referred to as “the music room”.

Lastly, the most baffling incident was described by the owner of the store next door. There were 3 retail establishments at street level, my tasting room, an antique store and a jewelry broker. The antique-store owner, I will call him Rich… because that is his name, was the caretaker of the building for the absentee landlord. One particular winter there was a lot of rain exposing the fact that the roof had several leaks. A storm rolled in late one evening and not wanting to deal with a lot of soaked merchandise the next day, Rich took a proactive approach… mostly because he was the only person with a key to the upstairs where an effective defense of the drenching could be mounted. He and his partner, I’ll call him Jim, again, because that’s his name, gathered sheets of plastic, buckets, ladders and staplers with the idea of stapling the plastic to the ceiling and funneling water from the ceiling to the buckets on the floor for emptying later. The rain had begun by this point and by the time they were finished with their diversion efforts, they realized they were fighting a losing battle. It had only been an hour and the bucket were already half full! Defeated, they went home for the night resigned to mopping up in the morning. Early the next day, mops in hand, they went back to the building. Now, remember, Rich was the only person with a key to the upstairs and, it had rained for several hours after they left for the night. When they walked up the stairs to survey the damage, they discovered empty buckets and dry floors. Apparently our resident ghost did not like to be soggy.”


Many thanks to Steve Burch for sharing his story with me!


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.  When she has time, she plays tennis, cooks for friends and family, writes the occasional wine article and loves to hear the odd ghost story.

contact:  Twitter:  @alisoncrowewine  LinkedIn:  Alison Crowe 


Real Haunted Wine Country: a Ghostly Encounter in Burgundy

stairs-205718_1280  There’s something magical and perhaps slightly moribund about the end of the Harvest season in wine country.  One or two forgotten grape clusters still cling, with mummified grip,  to the dessicated vines and the yellow and brown leaves crunch underfoot on the vineyard floor as they slowly rot into next year’s compost.    Wintry winds whistle around the corners of wineries and we look up at the grey stones and lichen-encrusted oak trees and wonder if they don’t have their own ghost stories to tell.  Below is a true “Wine Country” ghost story as told to me by my friend John Corcoran who lives just over the county line in Sonoma.  John is a well-traveled and well known figure in the wine business who graciously accepted my invitation to re-tell a personal ghostly encounter here on my wine blog.   Who doesn’t love a good ghost story?  It’s especially intriguing when it happened to someone you know.


John’s Burgundian Ghost Story:  “In 1981 I was living in an apartment in the attic of the wine merchant Labouré-Roi in Nuits-Saint-Georges. It was a dark, cold rainy fall night, just after harvest. The wind was making the doors and windows shake and the floorboards creak. I heard a clink, clink, clink sound on the long stairway leading up to my bedroom. Suddenly the door shook like the door in Disney’s Haunted Mansion. I jumped up and opened the door and was greeted by a chill. A chill that made me shudder. I turned around to see the faint image of a man in chains walk across the room and disappear through the wall.

The next morning, I shared my story with the gérant. Jean Louis shrugged and told me that I had just seen the resident ghost. A French resistance fighter who the Gestapo had captured and kept captive in the cellar of the winery towards the end of WW II. The man had tried to escape before, so he was chained to the wall. He managed over several days to work himself free and headed up the back staircase to the attic. The wall that he seemed to walk through was, at the time, a door to the attached inn.The inn had served as housing for Gestapo officers occupying the region, which had been a center of the French Resistance. He walked in on a group having a late dinner. He was shot and killed on the same date that 36 years later he walked through my bedroom. An act that he repeated on the anniversary of his escape attempt and death.

Yes, history has a way of repeating itself, even the history of a courageous man who gave his life for the chance of freedom. A history kept alive each year in early October, in an old chateau in the middle of a small French wine town.”

Stay tuned for a more local edition of Real Haunted Wine Country:  a Grass Valley Tasting Room Ghost


Many thanks to John Corcoran of Balance Beam Partners.


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.  When she has time, she plays tennis, cooks for friends and family, writes the occasional wine article and loves to hear the odd ghost story.

contact:  Twitter:  @alisoncrowewine  LinkedIn:  Alison Crowe