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

Archives: The Winemaking Life

Unified Symposium Preview- What’s cool, new and different in 2019


May 2018

“Winemaking Begins With People”….and we’ll see some of our favorite folks this coming week at the 2019 Unified Wine & Grape Symposium

Some of you have heard me say before that no, wine doesn’t begin with grapes, it begins with people.  And you can see some of your favorite industry peeps, and meet some new friends and colleagues, at the 2019 Unified Symposium, the Western Hemisphere’s largest grape and wine trade show, in Sacramento this week.  What am I excited about, besides getting to see so many of my fabulous, vinous tribe?


Lunchtime Keynote- Listening to and Learning From….the Spirits Industry!(?)

Talk about something new, this year’s lunchtime keynote will not be yet another wine industry luminary but rather Master Distiller Lance Winters from St. George Spirits, one of the most successful artisan distilleries in the country if not the world.  So why are we listening to a guy who makes booze and not wine?  Among many other reasons, because Lance and his team have always been way out ahead of trends, consumer needs and customer desires when it comes to alcoholic beverages.  St. George is also always spot on with their ingredient-sourcing, packaging and marketing not to mention overall product deliciousness.  Listen and learn…..

Tuesday Jan 29, 11:30-1:30, Sheraton Grand Nave Ballroom, priced separately and includes plated lunch and wine


New Exhibit Hall Floor Tour-Marketing Focus

One of the cool “underground” experiences that Unified offers are themed exhibit-hall tours so you can get a curated edit in a short amount of time without having to wade through miles of booths.  In addition to the regular winemaking and viticulture tours, this year they are also offering a Marketing Tour, focusing on the marketing, sales, and PR services available to the wine industry.  As we all know (or should know) it’s harder to sell good wine than it is to make it and as consumers are increasingly in demand of transparency, authenticity and quality experiences, every successful brand needs a stable of marketing and sales professionals on their side.

Wednesday Jan 30, 3:00-4:00 PM, meet in Sacramento Convention Center Room 203


UWGS_Logo_RGB_SM-Use (002)Disruptive Development Panels- Custom is Key

Have a great brand idea but don’t have the juice to fill it?  Have some amazing wines in your cellar but are looking beyond your winery’s brands in order to move it to the right customer?  Wednesday’s “Alternative Routes to the Retail Market” will focus on how to make private, control and custom projects work for you.  Of a similar vein but applicable to almost any winery or brand, “Outsourcing Success Stories: Leveraging Custom Crush and Processing Services for Growth and Profitability” speaks to brand pivots, SKU re-alignments and strategic growth. Disclaimer- I’m the moderator (I bring over 10 years experience in custom winemaking) and my expert panelists and I will lead you through the legal and practical why’s and how’s while showing you the pitfalls to avoid in the custom crush world.

“Alternative Routes to the Retail Market” Wednesday Jan 30, 1:30-3:30, Hyatt Regency Ballroom C

“Outsourcing Success Stories” Thursday Jan 31, 1:15-3:15 Sacramento Convetion Center Room 202
PinotFSMA- The Annual Update

Hey, it may not be sexy but compliance, QC and food safety are a critical part of what we’re all about in the wine industry.  “Do not pass go, do not collect $200”… know the drill.  The FSMA (FDA Food Safety Modernization Act) legal and practical update has become a critical annual informational download and this year’s panel, led by Paul Huckaba of Bronco Wine Company and including Charles Breen, who is perhaps the most experienced FSMA consultant in the country, should be required attendance for small and large winery leaders alike.

Wednesday Jan 30, 1:00-2:15, Sacramento Convention Center Room 204


Want to explore even more about this year’s program?  Check out this video intro and interview with Dr. Nichola Hall and Dr. Tom Collins, the Program Committee Vice Chair and Chair, respectively.

It’s impossible to see or do it all at Unified but hopefully the above gives you a sneak peek into what I’m thinking about as I pack my bag and wrap up work at the winery this weekend.   Grab a copy of the schedule, get ready to party and I’ll see you, and all my other favorite Winemaking people, in Sacramento in a couple of days!


Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners, a supplier of coastal California AVA-driven wines.  All of her wines are sourced from her company’s 100% sustainably-certified vineyards and clients include national brands, restaurants and retailers. Wines include Garnet Vineyards, Picket Fence Vineyards, Verada Wines and Buttercream Chardonnay and Back From the Dead Red.  She has served on the Unified Symposium Program Committee since 2013.

Twitter and Instagram:  @alisoncrowewine

The Winemaker’s Take: Mild 2018 Harvest Promises Old School Elegance


Velvety-soft Napa Cabernet berries ripening slowly in the mild October sun.

Velvety-soft Napa Cabernet berries ripening slowly in the mild October sun.












A year ago today I was frantically driving around Napa’s Rutherford and Oakville back roads, dodging Police barricades and sneaking around road blocks to check on the last of my Napa Cabernet.  95% of my harvest was in the barn but I still had to get the last bit in as power outages and mandatory evacuations from the Tubbs, Atlas, Nunn’s  and Partrick fires threw all plans into disarray.  As a complete contrast, this year on October 9 I have yet to harvest a single Cabernet berry statewide.



It's what makes a Subaru a Subaru....cooperage gets a lift.

It’s what makes a Subaru a Subaru….cooperage gets a lift.

And I’m not panicking.  So far, 2018 is mirroring all the best parts about the 2010 vintage (cooler measured growing season, robust acidities, great freshness and fruit tone) with none of the bad bits (early frost burns, an early fall heat spike that caused raisining in the Pinot Noir).  Though the cool weather in June meant an extended veraison and a subsequent extension of ripening, all my Napa and Sonoma County Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes are now harvested.  I’m still combing through Monterey County for my Garnet Vineyards and Verada Pinots, but the moderate brixes, higher acidities and refined tannins are proving that even this late in the Pinot game, the grapes are not overripe and are coming in just to my taste- perfectly balanced.

Huey enjoyed walking the Carneros Hills scouting out the last Pinots.

Huey enjoyed walking the Carneros Hills scouting out the last Pinots.

What does all this mean for the coastal California 2018 Vintage writ large?  If our annual Fall rains can hold off until all the fruit is picked this could be one of my very favorite vintages of all time and dare I predict, a darling-to-be of the cognoscenti.  The 2018 wines, both early Pinots and later Cabs, will be fruity, brightly colored, approachable in youth but very age-worthy.  Though I wasn’t around to witness them, I’ve heard the term “old school” bandied about by industry veterans, indicating that 2018 could hearken back to the moderately-boozy yet character-rich vintages from the 1980’s.

Falling acorns are a sign of the impending Cabernet Harvest.

Falling acorns are a sign of the impending Cabernet Harvest.













The acorns are ripe and falling off the trees, the Halloween decorations have started to come out around our west-Napa neighborhood and we’re all grateful to be here a year after the 2017 Wine Country Fires menaced our paradise.  Maybe it’s no wonder I’m having some nostalgic Fall feelings in light of what we endured a year ago.   As I walk our blocks from Napa to Sonoma to Paso Robles, rolling soft, round Cabernet berries between my fingers, the blues seem more brilliant, the leaves underfoot more vibrantly yellow.  This year I suspect I’m not alone in embracing a comforting slide into what is turning out to be a stately and elegant “old school” Harvest.










Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Napa-based Plata Wine Partners and sources her wines exclusively from her company’s own sustainably-farmed Napa, Sonoma and Central Coast vineyards. She makes Picket Fence Vineyards, Garnet Vineyards and Verada Wines, among other bespoke wine brands and projects.  @alisoncrowewine

The Most Important Step in Winemaking That Nobody Talks About

The finished product- 2016 Picket Fence Russian River Pinot Noir

The finished product- bottled and ready to share

Harvest:  Sunlit vines, sweeping vistas and artisans working around the clock picking and crushing grapes.  Blending the final cuvée:  the master Winemaker contemplates a sparkling array of nectar-filled glasses, carefully selecting the perfect blend.   All highly Instagramable, all part of winery marketing campaigns and part of the public’s notion of how wine comes to be.  What doesn’t get the “likes” and “shares” not because it’s not important but because it’s usually not talked about as much?  Bottling.


I’m thinking about bottling a lot these days for a couple of reasons.  One, I’m in the thick of the pre-Harvest bottling season where we package up our “early to bottle” wines (read:  Chardonnay and Pinot Noir lots which need less than a year of aging) before the grapes start flying and two, I’m breaking in a new state-of-the-art custom bottling facility in Napa, Infinity Bottling.  Being the first bottling client across the line isn’t without its challenges but it’s been truly exciting to watch all that shiny stainless steel come over from Italy, be assembled and breathed into life by an expert team of handlers.  Disclosure:  the President and GM, Jessica Tuteur, used to by our Operations Manager at Plata Wine Partners before she decided to open her own bottling facility and I’ve worked with most of her QC (Quality Control) and technical team at other wineries over the years.

2016 Longhand Alexander Valley Cabernet heading down the conveyor towards the labeller at Infinity Bottling.

2016 Longhand Alexander Valley Cabernet heading down the conveyor towards the labeller at Infinity Bottling.

See what I did there?  In the preceding paragraph I threw out some technospeak, industrial-sounding terms and a couple of acronyms.  Not exactly the stuff winery marketing campaigns are made of.  Aside from Jordan Winery’s brilliant bottling line “Despacito”  parody video, bottling is hardly glamorous enough to merit major content dollars.

That’s a pity because of the important part bottling plays in everyone’s final experience of that wine.  Perhaps because I’ve spent an intensive last two weeks in a “Laverne & Shirley”-esque world of boxes, bottles and conveyor belts watching hundreds of bottles fly past my eyes, I’ve had a lot of time to think about bottling’s role in the winemaking and, eventually, in the wine-enjoying process.

Finished boxes of 2016 Longhand Alexander Valley Cabernet, ready to be loaded onto pallets and shipped out to stores.

Finished boxes of 2016 Longhand Alexander Valley Cabernet, ready to be loaded onto pallets and shipped out to stores.

Why is bottling so important? 

-It’s the last time for the winemaker to touch the wine, to really get it right or get it horribly wrong.

If you’re not bottling with the right crew at the right facility, it *can* go horribly wrong.  From poor sanitation to a wrinkled label to a slightly out-of-round batch of bottles from the glass company, there are a million places a bottling run can go (literally) pear-shaped in an instant.

-It can be as tough, if not tougher, than Harvest.  At Harvest there’s sometimes a rogueish devil-may-care attitude that prevails because of the chaos and time crush of the moment.  In contrast, bottling is about a measured precision and about each machine, each packaging component (bottle, cork, capsule, label, box) working in concert within millimeters of spec.  Throw in multiple packaging changes, different wine types and tight to-market timelines and you can get an idea of the pressure and stakes involved.  Try to align all the moving parts of Harvest and sometimes, with a lick and a promise, you’ll get away with one less pumpover among hundreds or a few imperfect clusters making their way into a 5-ton fermentor.  Fail to align all the moving parts at bottling and you’re courting disaster.

-It’s the winemaker’s last chance to say goodbye and Godspeed before launching their creation out into the world.  One of my favorite parts about being a winemaker is the thought of my wines making someone’s day brighter or dinner better.  Bottling may not be the most glamorous or photogenic part of the winemaking process but it’s a rite every wine must go through and one that is full of potential potholes and pitfalls. Getting it right is stressful and most winemakers cite bottling as their least favorite part of the whole process.  It’s not always fun, it’s often maddening and bottling correctly certainly isn’t something we win big accolades from customers or critics for.  Bottling is perhaps the most important but also most under the radar part of the winemaking process.  So here’s to bottling (or kegging, or canning, these days).  It’s a necessary step of the process and one that deserves a little bit more love, attention and kudos from the rest of the wider world.


Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners, a luxury and ultra-premium custom wine company based in Napa, responsible for such brands as Garnet Vineyards, Picket Fence Vineyards, and Verada Wines among many others.  Up until the brands were recently sold to Vintage Wine Estates, Plata was responsible for Layer Cake and Cherry Pie wines.    @alisoncrowewine

#bedavidstevens- The Wine Industry Remembers and Celebrates a Beloved Colleague

This is how I'll always remember David Stevens- at a wine competition judging table, laughing. Photo credit Mike Dunne

This is how I’ll always remember David Stevens- at a wine competition judging table, laughing. Photo credit Mike Dunne

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.

Andrew Waterhouse- A gentleman and a scholar. I am greatly saddened to hear this news. We will miss him!

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…

Edward Schulz- We had good years and many good meals together. Carneros, Paso, Temecula. Barrels brought us together. Death takes us apart, dang it.
Ira Kreft- So sorry to hear about it- what a loss. I always appreciated his knowledge, insight and humor. My notes contain a number of winemaking rules of thumb and insights that he provided me.
Ernie Farinias- Very shocking to hear David’s gone. Have great memories of David at Davis.

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, Dave Stevens. Photo Credit, Mike Swan

L-R Mike Swan, Jason Wimp, Dave Bridgeman and David Stevens, holding a big ling cod haul in Alaska, 2016. Photo Credit, Mike Swan

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.

Danusia Scout Szumowski- Dave was one of my teachers at the UC Davis OIV wine marketing program. I remember him fondly – and remember last time I saw him – always a smile, an introduction to “someone you should really meet” – and endless enthusiasm for a love of all things wine. Thank you, David, for sharing your knowledge and passion with us. You will be missed.
Amy J. Butler-David was a compendium of wine knowledge. He had digested all of the literature…you could look it up or you could just call Dave. He had an opinion (backed by research) on all the new wine technologies, so many smarts. I’ll miss that but I’ll miss also the music fan (always turning me on to new bands), the sports fan (a 20+ year Oakland A’s season ticket holder), the proud dad, and my friend.
Neeraj Singh- I am terribly sorry for our loss. David was someone who took me under his wing from my first day at the OIV program. His positive impact in my life goes beyond words at this moment. I will very much miss his enthusiasm and energy.
Rosie Lopez Holland- He was a wonderful man and will be remembered for his humor and kindness. Over the rainbow 🌈 my friend.
Raeanne Passantino- I am going to miss David so much! He was a great friend and spectacular human being. I feel so very blessed to have spent two of the opening weekend A’s games with him this month. There are no words to express how much he will be missed by Section 216. RIP dear friend.
Ever the educator, here's Dave Stevens "judging" an ad hoc "First Annual Glacier Bay Wine Competition" in 2016. Sweepstakes winner was the Williams Selyem. Photo Credit Mike Swan

Ever the educator, here’s Dave Stevens “judging” an ad hoc “First Annual Glacier Bay Wine Competition” in 2016. Sweepstakes winner was the Williams Selyem. Photo Credit Mike Swan

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:

Napa and Sonoma’s Early and Frosty Bud Break….and its Silver Lining

It looks scary, but purposefully-sprinkled frozen water actually protects baby grape buds, as long as the temperatures don't get too much below freezing.

It looks scary, but purposefully-sprinkled frozen water actually protects baby grape buds, as long as the temperatures don’t get too much below freezing. Here, one of our Carneros Chardonnay vines hangs tough.

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.


Protective ice shielding new buds in Carneros on the frosty morning of February 19th.

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.


An early bud break’s silver lining? As long as you can protect against most frost, it’s better for wine quality to get ready to Harvest a few weeks early than to be “rained out” by storms in October and November.

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.

Twitter and Instagram:  @alisoncrowewine



Carneros Wine Alliance Hosting Bean-Bag-Toss Tournament and Tasting to Benefit Local Fire Department


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












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. 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












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.


McQuade’s Celtic Chutney


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



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.


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.


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.


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: (among other projects)

Her book: The Winemaker’s Answer Book

Her contact info: @alisoncrowewine

Sample reviews: Please email me at 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





























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


“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.  @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.