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

Archives: The Winemaking Life

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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The Top 5 (non-liquid) Wine Things of 2016

Painter Penelope Moore and I about to collaborate (wine + oil painting) on a new work of art, one of my "Top 5 Cool (non-liquid) Wine Things of 2016

Painter Penelope Moore and I collaborate (wine + oil painting) on a new work of art.

Love it or hate it, 2016 brought us some very interesting things.  As a Winemaker, author, blogger and citizen of California “wine country” (I make vino from the Central Coast, and Napa and Sonoma Counties), it brought me into contact with some new friends, some new experiences and definitely some cool new things.

 

Many end-of-year posts are all about “Top X Wines of 2016”.  Here you will find no “Top Wines” as the best wines are the ones you best love to drink (mine is Champagne, by the way).  Below is simply a lovingly-collected compilation of treats, books, art and goodies from 2016 that are related to wine….and aren’t wine….which made me happy in 2016.

 

But First, Champagne

David White's But First, Champagne should be at the top of anyone's 2016 Must-Read list.

David White’s But First, Champagne should be at the top of anyone’s 2016 Must-Read list.

 

 

 

 

The title of David White’s new book about Champagne might as well be the first thing a dinner guest hears while walking through a winemaker’s door.  After a day of making Cabernet, the last think many of us want is a big glass of red. Except the drink being poured is as likely to be called “bubbles” since no winemaker would ever call domestic sparkling wine, no matter how renowned (vintage Schrammie, anyone?), “Champagne”.  That name is reserved for the French stuff alone.  That little factoid is one of the many in Mr. White’s book necessary for the newbie to know.  Rest assured, Champagne veterans will find plenty to capture their attention from the fascinating history of this renowned wine to the current producers and growers.  With sparkling wines and Champagne on a world-wide sales upswing, and with a paucity of good reads on this fascinating subject, But First, Champagne is a book whose time has come.  I predict White’s book will remain close at hand at my house for year-round reading and reference.  Because whether consumed in the shower (me, guilty) or whilst attending a shower, Champagne is always in season.

www.davidwhite.wine

 

McQuade’s Celtic Chutney

chutney2

McQuade’s Celtic Chutneys are one of my favorite things to pair with wine, cheese and a fresh baguette.

 

We do not eat enough chutney in the United States.  I was about to say, “around here” but in my kitchen, at least, we do approximate our annual chutney allocation because in 2016 I found the good stuff.  McQuade’s Celtic Chutney to be exact.  What’s Celtic about it you ask?  Well, it’s made by the delightful and delightfully very Scottish redhead, Alison McQuade, based around her Granny McQuade’s handwritten chutney recipes.  My favorite is the Fig & Ginger, which goes wonderfully with my Garnet Monterey Pinot Noir and Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam cheese.   Beyond the obvious cheese and wine pairing, I find myself dipping into a jar to serve with grilled pork chops or to dress up a simple sandwich.  McQuade’s Celtic Chutneys can be found in the Bay Area at the San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace and Cowgirl Creamery in addition to restaurants and fine retailers in the area and or by contacting Alison at  mcquadechutneys@gmail.com.

 

 

The One Glass

The One red and white wine glass. Designed by world-renowned Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson may be the last line of wine glasses you'll ever buy.

The One red and white wine glass. Designed by world-renowned Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson they may be the last wine glasses you’ll ever buy.

A few months ago I was tasting some amazing Sardinian wines at Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson’s house and halfway through the first flight a guest’s wayward elbow launched a glass off the counter top.  Granted, the glass did fall on a thin kilim carpet laid over the kitchen tile but as I witnessed a small  bounce instead of a big smash, I was immediately impressed. In my house that wine glass would’ve been toast.  That was my introduction to The One Glass, a line of fine wine stemware created by Andrea and her husband John.  Andrea had been approached by several stemware companies looking to partner with her on a custom glass but she never found a product she was willing to get behind nor did she subscribe to the notion that you needed a different glass for every type of wine. As a busy wine professional and equally busy parent, Andrea decided to create her own universal white and red wine glass.  They had to meet her exacting design criteria while being affordable and (gasp!) dishwasher safe.  Like Andrea says, “Wine and wine glasses should not be complicated.”  I could not agree more.  Buy The One at Amazon here.

www.andreawine.com

 

Dana Confection Co.’s Calissons

Dana Confection Co. makes traditional calissons by hand in creative natural flavors like Black Currant Jasmine and Melon Blossom.

Dana Confection Co. makes traditional calissons by hand in creative natural flavors like Black Currant Jasmine and Melon Blossom.

Calissons are a traditional French sweet with a somewhat mysterious history.  Essentially a layer of crisp royal icing atop a paste of fruit (often melon) and almonds, no one exactly knows when they were first made or how they got their name.  I enjoyed them on a trip to the area around Aix-en-Provence a few years ago but up until recently hadn’t seen them since. Happily, in 2012, confectioner Rachel Dana discovered calissons while visiting the South of France and returned to her atelier in Brooklyn to perfect a domestic recipe for her fruit-based concoctions.  I love how the crunchiness of the icing gives way to a toothsome chewiness of bright fruit and almond paste.  Dana’s Black Currant Jasmine calisson has a dark-fruited depth of flavor lightened by a jasmine green tea-like freshness.  Not too sweet and intriguingly flavored (including Melon Blossom and Rhubarb Lavendar), Dana Confection Co’s calissons would be an elegant and unique part of a wine and cheese tasting or after-dinner cheese and fruit plate.

www.danaconfections.com

 

Penelope Moore’s Palette of the Palate Artwork

Painter Penelope Moore captures the flavors of Garnet Vineyards Pinot Noir, among other wines, in visual form in her "Palette of the Palate" work.

Painter Penelope Moore captures the flavors of Garnet Vineyards Pinot Noir, among other wines, in visual form in her “Palette of the Palate” work.

Winemaker Dinner where I get up and introduce a flight of my wines paired with the chef’s selections?  Ho hum.  Winemaker Dinner where an artist is painting a live interpretation of my wine on a huge canvas in front of the guests?  Now that’s a cool wine country experience.  Art and wine are oft-linked and glibly paired but as artist Penelope Moore and I discovered, both winemaking and oil painting do have a lot in common.  Using a given media (me: grapes, her: colored oils) we each use our skills and artistry to transform our raw material into a new creation.  I listen to the grapes and guide them to be the wine they were meant to become.  Penelope tasted my wine, in this case my Garnet Vineyards Rodgers Creek Pinot Noir, analyzed its aromas and flavors and then let them guide her color and layering choices to create an interpretation of the wine in oils.   Visit her website for a look at her visual interpretations of wine as well as her larger body of other beautiful and creative work.

www.penelopepaintings.com

 

These were my Top 5 (non-liquid) Wine Things of 2016.  Here’s to you and yours as we turn the page on one year and look forward to the next.  Cheers!

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

Her wine: www.garnetvineyards.com (among other projects)

Her book: The Winemaker’s Answer Book

Her contact info:  ancrowe@hotmail.com @alisoncrowewine

Sample reviews: Please email me at ancrowe@hotmail.com for sample submission or informational reviews.  I don’t do a ton of product reviews as this is largely an educational and personal wine blog (and my day job is being a winemaker) but if I take a fancy to your stuff like that of the folks above, I may talk about it!

2013 Garnet Vineyards Rodgers Creek Pinot Noir interpreted as an oil painting by artist Penelope Moore

2013 Garnet Vineyards Rodgers Creek Pinot Noir interpreted as an oil painting by artist Penelope Moore

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5 Things You Didn’t Know (or forgot) About Mentoring

Mentor

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill

Tomorrow I’m honored to be a member of a panel discussion on wine making and mentoring as part of the Women of the Vine 2016 Symposium.  This sold-out gathering of wine industry professionals is an opportunity to learn from our peers and to share our experiences, very much like a traditional mentoring arrangement.  As I prepared for our conversation (which our moderator, Guy Stout of Glazer’s, insists will be a power-point free zone), I jotted down some thoughts. I realized that, especially in the wine business, and especially in my slightly unorthodox way of being a “Winemaker” (read: consulting winemaker developing multiple brands), my experience with mentoring others has been anything but traditional.

Here are some things that I realized I didn’t know- or had forgotten- about mentoring.

-It doesn’t have to be with someone “younger”

In the wine business, many people are coming at it as a second or even third career.  When I was a teenager just starting the UC Davis Viticulture & Enology program I was surprised (and in fact a little intimidated) to be on the lab bench next to forty-somethings who had already had success as chefs or teachers or financiers.  Today, I field calls, emails and Facebook messages from folks in their sixties as well as recent college graduates.  Mentoring happens in many age brackets.

-It doesn’t have to happen within your specific industry or area

I’m a winemaker so it’s natural to think about mentoring in term of developing an Enologist or training harvest interns.  In fact, the kind of mentoring I have done the most of is cross-disciplinary within the wine industry.  Perhaps it’s because I am also an author and got my MBA at UC Davis with a lot of non-wine folks, I am contacted by journalists, food industry folks, marketing professionals and social media mavens as well as aspiring winemakers.  They all have great questions and our conversations are rich and hopefully as satisfying for them as they are for me.

-It doesn’t have to happen on the job

One of my most rewarding mentoring experiences happens on the weekends.  A grad school friend of mine (who is in wine sales) and a neighbor (who, along with her husband are wine industry finance professionals) often meet on Saturday mornings to hike and walk in local parks and vineyards.  We talk about our personal lives, of course, but have made some valuable professional inroads in between the vineyard rows.  Just by doing something enjoyable (exercising out in nature) we’ve found another opportunity to grow together in our own co-mentoring group.

-It doesn’t have to be a lot of work

If you find interacting with others enjoyable, folding mentoring activities into your professional and personal life isn’t hard at all.  Respond to that unsolicited email, invite someone to have a phone conversation and volunteer for a cause you find appealing, whether it’s related to your industry or not.  Chances are, in a few months, you’ll naturally find you’ve positively impacted someone’s life.

-It works both ways

You don’t have to be someone’s boss to be a mentor, nor is mentoring a one way street.  Like my weekend workout group has proven to me, it’s practically assured you’ll learn plenty when someone seeks you out.  Working through issues and challenges with someone else in an empathetic way puts you “in someone else’s shoes” by default and again, by default, your own perspective is changed.  When I’m working with someone else I end up better defining my own personal and professional truths.  By listening to others you then learn to better listen to yourself.

 

Tips for mentoring.

-Ask them a lot of questions- oftentimes others are afraid to ask you.

-As an employer, find ways to offer leadership and growth possibilities to all employees.

-Be “findable” (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram etc.) and people will seek you out.

-Help people uncover their intrinsic vs extrinsic motivators.  A healthy combination of both is the key to career happiness and sustainability.

 

Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners and makes wine for Garnet Vineyards, Back From the Dead Red wines and Picket Fence Vineyards among others.  She is the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book, the winner of “Best New Wine Blog” in 2014 and lives in Napa, California.

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

Carneros is Throwing a Birthday Party, and You’re Invited

Girl and the Grape(s) at Stanly Ranch in Carneros.  A special place for Pinot, Chardonnay, sparkling and more!

Girl and the Grape(s) at Stanly Ranch in Carneros. A special place for Pinot, Chardonnay, sparkling and more!

The Carneros Wine Alliance is turning 30, we’re throwing a party and you’re invited!

Back when I was a college student at UC Davis, the Carneros AVA held a special place in my heart, for a lot of reasons.  It was the closest serious wine region (about 45 minutes) to campus.  Though known for great Pinot and Chardonnay its tasting rooms produced amazing sparkling wines as well as structured and soulful Merlots, Cab Francs and Syrahs.  More than a few of us worked Harvest seasons as interns, shuttling back and forth between long shifts on the crush pad and our crash pads in Davis.

Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir is tracking 7days earlier than average

The wide open spaces of Carneros, where the grapes are influenced by the wind and water of the San Francisco Bay.

Characterized perhaps more by what it was not (touristy, expensive, pretentious) than what it was (authentically California, laid back and “cool” in more way than one), Carneros became a favorite secret spot for many.  Founded in 1983, Carneros was one of California’s first American Viticultural Areas.

Today I’m proud to say I’m on the Carneros Wine Alliance Board, serving this special, quirky, quality AVA with my time, my wine and #CarnerosLove.

A gorgeous day in Carneros.  Peaceful and rural, Carneros maintains an old California agricultural charm.

A gorgeous day in Carneros. Peaceful and rural, Carneros maintains an old California agricultural charm.

Come join us this Saturday, July 25 at 3:30 at the diRosa, a beautiful property housing an extensive collection of Bay Area art.  Alongside beautiful sculpture, installations and other artworks we will be sipping art of a more liquid kind from 20 of my fellow Carneros wineries.  Food will be provided by Stag Dining, wine and food pairing by Fine and Rare, while live music by the Max Bonick Trio and a magnum raffle will be sure to keep things hopping.

Tickets are still available– join me this weekend for a Birthday Bash to remember!

Click here to buy tickets, hang out, and see why I love Carneros.

 

 

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, including Carneros, for her clients’ projects.  Girl and the Grape won “Best New Wine Blog” in 2014.  She serves on the Carneros Wine Alliance Board and can be reached at LinkedIn, @alisoncrowewine ,ancrowe@hotmail.com.

 

 

 

Want Farm-To-Table? Look No Further Than 4-H

Alexa and her Duroc hog, Bessy, at the Napa Town & Country Fair (photo:  Lisa Adams-Walter)

Alexa and her Duroc hog, Bessy at the Napa Town & Country Fair

Sometimes girlandthegrape.com isn’t only about wine and winemaking.  Sometimes it’s about living (and yes, eating) in “Wine Country”.  Wherever you live and eat, and whether for environmental, ethical or health reasons many of us are asking more questions about how food gets to our table.   It’s not yawn-inducing hipster foodie fetishism; it’s about how the choices we make every day affect our bodies, our communities and our world.

For the last couple of years I’ve been searching for a better way to get quality food on  my family’s table.

 

I wasn’t about to pay the outrageous prices charged at Napa’s boutique charcuterie shops ($13.00/lb for pork chops?) or at the farmer’s market ($9 for a dozen eggs, are you kidding me?).

 

So we started growing our own tomatoes and I found a regular source of backyard-raised eggs on Craigslist.com (I literally slip $5 under the door mat for a dozen).  We look for organic or hormone-free chicken and pork as well as grass-fed beef at the supermarket.  Yes, we find ourselves spending a little more on meat but overall we consume less quantity and more quality (luckily the kids love tofu).

 

The 4-H Meat Solution- as local and humane as you can get

For the last two summers, however, I’ve been stocking up our freezer (and those of friends and family) with what I believe to be the ultimate source of humanely raised, amazing-quality, farm-to-table meat:  your friendly neighborhood 4-H club.

Alexa taking "Bessy" for a walk.  Exercising your animal is a key part of raising healthy meat.

Alexa taking “Bessy” for a walk. Exercising your animal is a key part of raising healthy meat.

For those not in the know, 4-H is  national youth-development and mentoring organization with over 6 million members.  Kids can participate in a wide array of activities and projects in areas including business, science, health, agriculture and handcrafts.  In rural/urban Napa County where I live, many 4-H members choose to raise animals as pets or for market as part of their annual project.  Rabbits, chickens, goats, hogs and even dairy cows and horses are shown off every summer at the Napa Town & Country Fair and competition for “Grand Champion”and showmanship ribbons are fierce.

 

To Market, to Market……

I know, it sounds a little weird and involved.  Certainly, buying an animal from a live auction is an experience in and of itself and does take a little practice to get used to.  Luckily, I had done 4-H as a kid myself and had raised lambs for market so knew a bit about “how to do it”.  And this year, since I couldn’t be at the auction for the whole day, I had a friend (a mom whose daughter was at the fair showing rabbits and goats) kindly volunteer to do the final bidding for me.

Alexa strides confidently into the auction ring.

Alexa strides confidently into the auction ring (Bessy is just out of sight in front of her).

After the bidding was done, we were excited to have purchased Bessy, a pure-bred Duroc hog, from Alexa Butts, an 18 year old Napa 4-H member who has raised hogs for auction for the last three years.  Yes, paying $5.00-$8.00 a pound for an entire animal that can weigh over 200 pounds is a big upfront investment.  If you get together friends and family, however, you can form your own kind of “buying club” and make it affordable for everyone.

It’s About More Than The Meat…..

One of the best parts about buying an animal directly from a 4-H member is that you can get to know who raised your animal as well as how.  Alexa told me all about her experience in 4-H this year.  She bought two pigs (one a Duroc, Bessy, and the other a “Cross”) from a specific breeder, after much research.  “Durocs,” she says, “are considered one of the tastier market hogs.” She described some of the work involved.  “You have to feed them, bathe them (on occasion), clean their pen and most importantly practice showmanship,” which prepares you and your animal for final judging in the ring.

 

As Fair-season approached, she switched up the composition of their feeding routine and even included “an apple a day and the occasional sugar cube as a sweet treat.” She admits that as auction time draws near  “It is hard to say goodbye.”  The last two years she has gotten a henna tattoo at the fair with her initials and those of her pigs (this year it was “B&B” for Buddy and Bessy). “It is my small way of saying goodbye and as the tattoo fades so does my sadness, because by the time it is gone I know I need to let go.”

 

Alexa admits, "It is hard to say goodbye" but she knows going in that these pigs are for market.

Alexa admits, “It is hard to say goodbye” but she knows going in that these pigs are for market.

In addition to getting some very tasty meat, by supporting 4-H animals you’re directly supporting their owners.   “I will be attending Purdue University in the fall studying Animal Science, Pre-Veterinary,”  Alexa says, and the money she earns buying, raising and finally auctioning her 4-H animals will help her along the way.  The long hours caring for animals, the research and the hard work involved provide their own lessons.    “Overall, 4-H has taught me responsibility and respect for where our food comes from, and the care that goes into producing it.”

 

Eating meat, not to mention eating meat that you’ve actually met, isn’t for everybody.   Animals raised for food consume a large percentage of the world’s resources and yes, we should all be eating a lot more plants.  Animal or vegetable, however, there’s something very special about closing the circle between what’s on your plate, where it came from and what it took to get it there.  Teaching my two young sons about where our food comes from, whether from a row-crop farmer in the Salinas Valley, our own garden or literally from “a girl next door”, is a valuable lesson in and of itself.  Thanks, Alexa, for all your hard work and thank you, Napa 4-H!

 

 

 

 

 

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 and is an alumna of the Carpinteria Valley 4-H Club.  Girl and the Grape won “Best New Wine Blog” in 2014.  Reach her at LinkedIn, @alisoncrowewine ,ancrowe@hotmail.com.

 

Photo credits:  Tia Butts and Lisa Adams-Walter.  Thanks to Lisa for the winning bid!

“I will not worry the sheep”: A Vineyard Dog’s New Year’s Resolutions

Hi Everyone!  I’m Kona the Vineyard Dog and my human is Alison Crowe, a winemaker and the person who usually posts about “winemaking, life, the dirt” at GirlandtheGrape.com.  Last time she wrote about some winemaker New Year’s Resolutions.  Silly winemakers.  It’s my turn now!  Here are my Vineyard Dog’s New Year’s Resolutions for 2015:

Who you lookin at?  Vineyard Dogs can get in on the New Year's Resolutions game too!

Whatchoo lookin at? Vineyard Dogs can get in on the New Year’s Resolutions game too!

 

 

 

-I will take up Frenchie on his offer to do lunch at his pad at Raymond.  We winery dogs don’t get together nearly enough.

 

-I will not worry the sheep.

 

-I resolve to mentor a younger generation.  Even though she’s 6 and has mad bung-chasing skills, I  believe Chimney Rock’s  Raven can learn from my grape tasting abilities.

 

Ahhh....I think this Chardonnay is "juste a point!"

Ahhh….I think this Chardonnay is “juste a point!”

-Star Thistles.  Nuff said.

 

-I will only allow my Winemaker to patronize establishments that have water bowls outside (and might even dispense treats). Vintage Sweet Shoppe, Fratti Gelato, Gott’s Roadside in St. Helena.

 

The weather forecast is looking great- let's let it hang!

Vineyard irrigation source? Nah- that’s my personal swimming pool!

-So many vineyard ponds, so little time- this spring I will sample them all!

 

-I endeavor to give mad doggy props to my fellow dog-friendly wineries- Chimney Rock, Honig, Pine Ridge, Hawley winery, Thumbprint Cellars, Raymond Vineyards, Selby Winery, Bennessere Vineyards….

 

-I will refrain from chewing bungs.  (Doink!  There goes another one!)

 

-I will donate a case of my Winemaker’s best to NorCal Ausssie Rescue.

 

UCD opening and Kona Vynd 011

You get shotgun! This time I’m driving!

-I will finally learn how to work that kobby thing between the two seats.

 

 

 

 

Kona the Vineyard Dog, at 15, has had a long run and is still a crazy girl.  Chris and I rescued her at age 8 from NorCal Aussie Rescue and she has kept me company on the road,  in the field and around the house.   God bless the Vineyard Dogs!

 

 

 

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.  Girlandthegrape.com won “Best New Wine Blog” in the 2014 Wine Blog Awards.  When she has time, she plays tennis, cooks for friends and family, writes the occasional wine article and loves her vineyard dog.

contact:  ancrowe@hotmail.com  Twitter:  @alisoncrowewine  LinkedIn:  Alison Crowe 

 

New Year’s Resolutions for Winemakers

Garnet Harvest 2011 015

Are you a Winemaker or know someone who is? Is your local vintner wavering between between French or Hungarian oak, biodynamic or “natural” wine, ml or non-ML complete Viognier, Blue Bottle or Ritual Roasters and are otherwise in resolute need of some New Year’s resolutions to resolve?  Girl and the Grape is here to help.  Read on, friends of self-development, personal goal achievement and guilty wine app-downloading and peruse what will undoubtedly become the Top Winemaker Resolutions of 2015:

 

-I will not write inane back label copy.

-I will not let my marketing department write inane back label copy.

-I will refrain from swirling my latte.

-I will swallow my initial self-disgust at writing a tasting note that calls out “nuances of brioche”….because that’s exactly what it is.

-I will not get pissy when a wine blogger calls my” nuances of brioche” their “nuances of toast.”

-I will learn to love my distributors, wholesalers and sales reps.

-I will send my distributors, wholesalers and sales reps daily emoji stickers of smiley faces.

-I will not fire the intern for replacing the breakroom Blue Bottle whole bean with Starbucks from Safeway.

-I will fire the intern for replacing the breakroom four pack of Pliny with a six pack of Sam Adams.

-I will not take 3 star Delectable reviews personally.

-I will Instagram more pictures of the vineyard dog.

-I will refrain from three-burrito days and remember that taco trucks now come in other flavors.

-I will cultivate my “Happy Winemaker Face” when asked (again) when is it that I add the raspberry flavor to my wine.

-I will refrain from posting too many pictures of my new barrels on Facebook.

-I will install one more raptor box up by the wellhouse on top of block 15 and stop the vineyard sheep herd from chewing on the irrigation lines.

-I will finally get that last damn gopher.

-I will drink less coffee.

-I will drink more Champagne.

 

Got more?  What are your Winemaker Resolutions for 2015?

@ancrowe@hotmail.com  @alisoncrowewine

 

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.  Girlandthegrape.com won “Best New Wine Blog” in the 2014 Wine Blog Awards.  When she has time, she plays tennis, cooks for friends and family, writes the occasional wine article and cultivates a healthy sense of humility and humor.

contact:  ancrowe@hotmail.com  Twitter:  @alisoncrowewine  LinkedIn:  Alison Crowe 

I will copyright my intellectual property:  Alison Crowe 2015

 

 

 

 

The Sky is Falling? Wine Country Wants More of This Wet Stuff

wet feet

Who’s afraid of wet feet? Grapevines are resilient plants and can handle standing water for weeks at a time. The recent rains in Northern California have had a positive effect on local reservoirs and water tables.

 

For the last couple of weeks I’ve had a lot of friends express their concern about the recent Northern California storms.  Alarmed about images they’ve seen on the news of vineyards up to their elbows in water, they query, “On top of the earthquake, now you’ve got to deal with flooded vineyards?  Can’t you guys in Napa ever catch a break?”

 

 

What they don’t know is that this December rain is just the break- the break in the historical drought- that we’ve been looking for.

This Harvest many of us were in a state of quiet panic.  One more dry winter and ponds and reservoirs wouldn’t have enough water for frost protection during bud break.  There would be precious little natural water in the ground for the vines to sip and many would go thirsty as the heat of summer parched developing leaves and clusters.  In a Harvest heat spike, crop-saving water wouldn’t be available from wells or vineyard ponds to prevent grapes from turning to raisins on the vine.  In short, without rain this winter we would be facing  a very dire situation.  Winter 2015 would be make or break.

It looks like (fingers crossed), in the short term at least, we are getting just what we need.  Many areas in Northern California are close to average rainfall totals for this time of year and it’s only December.  The overall picture of the drought Statewide is improving, especially in areas north of Santa Barbara County.  Recent reports show the likelihood of the next three months being nice and wet.

We're keeping an eye on rushing creeks and on erosion-prone slopes but so far everything is holding out- and holding on- well.

We’re keeping an eye on rushing creeks and on erosion-prone slopes but so far everything is holding out- and holding on- well.

We are not, however, out of this historic drought yet.  If we don’t get enough water frozen into our Sierra Nevada snowpack “reservoir”,  it’s possible that a wet 2015 will simply kick the can down the road and we’ll be quietly panicking again come the 2015 Harvest season. These storms need to deposit quite a bit of snow in the Sierra as well as significant precipitation in Monterey, San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Counties to make me feel better about my vineyards on the Central Coast.

In the meantime, don’t worry about my little grapes getting wet up in Napa. As fellow Nap-kin Dan Berger recently explained, vines can survive “wet feet”, even for an extended period of time.  Sure, the rain has caused and is causing small amounts of localized flooding and the odd new grapevine replant or two will end up in a culvert. We’re continuing to watch pockets of erosion-prone slopes and are taking care not to run the tractors into the mud bogs.

Wet vines?  John Deere up to his axles in mud?  So much water in our ponds that the reservoirs spill over? All of my wine making and grape growing buddies and I, North and South, near and far, have just two words on our minds and on the tips of our tongues:  “Bring it”.

 

 

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.  Started in 2013, www.girlandthegrape.com won “Best New Wine Blog” in the 2014 Wine Blog Awards.  When she has time, she plays tennis, cooks for friends and family, writes the occasional wine article and does a daily rain dance.

contact:  ancrowe@hotmail.com  Twitter:  @alisoncrowewine  LinkedIn:  Alison Crowe