Archives: The Winemaking Life
“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.
“The reason we race isn’t so much to beat each other…but to be with each other.”
― Christopher McDougall,
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.
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?
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,
Alison Crowe is an award winning Winemaker, author and blogger and laces up her running shoes in and around Napa.
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.
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.
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 ,firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
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.
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.”
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 ,email@example.com.
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:
-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.
-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.
-So many vineyard ponds, so little time- this spring I will sample them all!
-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.
-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.
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?
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.
I will copyright my intellectual property: Alison Crowe 2015
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 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.
The other day I got an email from a reader who was about to embark on her first harvest as a winemaking intern. She wondered if I had any tips or advice for her. She had a good pair of boots but what else would she need? What should she be worried about or watch out for?
I had my own list but in order to really “get the goods” decided to do a little crowd-sourcing for this gal who was interested enough to contact me. I pointed the Bat-Signal into the Facebook universe and in return received a quickly-growing thread of “advice to an intern” from fellow winemakers.
Do we have advice for her? Do we ever. The wine industry has a grand tradition of taking the up-and-coming generation under our wings and besides getting them wet and tired, perhaps teaching them a few things along the way. It was hard to whittle the list down to 10 in order to keep this post manageable and I can see this one being the first of many.
One of my best Pinot Noir mentors, the late great Don Blackburn, had a sign on his office door that read “Winemaking Begins With People.” It’s a mantra that rings as true for me today as the day I first read it while walking into a job interview. He was a tough taskmaster and required prompt start times, spotless buckets and shining pruning shears from the intern team (yes, I got the job) but we had a great time and learned a lot too.
Without further ado, here are 10 bits of “advice to an intern,” direct from Winemakers who’ve been there:
Glenn Alexander, Sanglier Cellars:
“Get the best, most comfortable pair of waterproof boots you can afford.”
Tom Collins, UC Davis Department of Viticulture & Enology:
“Always have a change of clothing in your car because cold and wet is a hard way to drive home.”
Brooke Langelius, St. Supery:
“Bring lots of food for backup on long days!”
Marty Johnson, Eaton Hill Winery and Ruby Magdalena Vineyards:
“Beer. Bring lots and lots of beer for sharing with everyone after cleanup. We all know it takes a lot of good beer to make wine.”
“Don’t make outside plans during Harvest that you can’t get out of.”
Amy J. Butler, Ranchero Cellars:
“Ask questions! The sorting table is a good place to entrap your Winemaker into teaching you stuff.”
Elizabeth Vianna, Chimney Rock Winery:
“Get to know the cellar crew. They can be some of the best teachers.”
Chris Kajani, Saintsbury Winery:
“Be early. And preferably not hung over.”
Cynthia Cosco, Passaggio Wines:
“Learn lots…have fun…make connections….safety first!”
Domenica Totty, Beaulieu Vineyard:
“Have fun and make as many connections as you can – other interns, winemakers, anyone working harvest.
And, it’s ok to show up with a hangover… But you’d better be on time & work your butt off in spite of it!”
Alison Crowe is a winemaker based in Napa, California and fondly remembers her first harvests as an intern at Chalone Vineyard and Byington Winery & Vineyard. She makes wine at Garnet Vineyards and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @alisoncrowewine . She wishes the best of luck to all the new harvest interns out there- it’s a wild ride but welcome aboard!
Growing up in the sleepy little surf town of Carpinteria, just south of Santa Barbara , my first step on the path to becoming a winemaker had little to do with grapes, wine or my proximity to the now-famous “Sideways Country.” It began with gardens. I planted my first herb garden when I was about 11 years old because I was fascinated by the natural aromas that plants had: how they got in there, how they developed and why they smelled so wonderful to my curious nose.
As I got older, I began smelling not just the lavender and jasmine in my mother’s seaside flower beds but also the glasses of Santa Barbara County wines my parents passed around the table while dining al fresco with friends. As I learned about chemistry in high school I began to understand that some of the same exact components that create delicate aromas in a flower or citrus zest can also be naturally present in grape skins. When carefully tended by a skilled winemaker, these same perfumes can be captured and transferred from grapes into the finished wine.
This weekend in Santa Barbara County, in Buellton to be exact, hundreds of wine bloggers will descend upon this quiet corner of the Central Coast and for three days will taste, tweet and network during the annual Wine Bloggers Conference. Though wine will no doubt steal the aromatic show, via thousands of nose-in-glass selfies and group pictures with bottles, I would like to invite my fellow conference attendees to stop and smell something other than the Pinot.
The Central Coast has an amazing array of natural aromas to enjoy that, like its wines, are truly an expression of its “sense of place.” Below are some of my favorites from growing up in Santa Barbara County. From the hillside chaparral and the eucalyptus stands to the hedges of jasmine downtown or the salty-tar tang of the seaside, here is a collection of sensory souvenirs that can be just as intoxicating as the region’s fine wines.
Oranges and lemons have long been grown in Santa Barbara County and citrus groves dot the hillsides up and down the coast along Highway 101. If you can (safely) pull over on a back country lane or at a winery rancho, be sure to bury your nose in some of these zesty and unforgettable blossoms.
Not native to the Central Coast, eucalyptus trees were imported in the 1800’s primarily as windbreaks and as a source of wood. They quickly took root and their minty herbal smell, whether wafting through the wind or released from leaves crushed underfoot, is a Santa Barbara county scent signature.
Hops and Malted Barley
Our home-grown beer isn’t as world-famous as our wine, but Firestone-Walker Brewing Company and Carpinteria’s own Island Brewing Company are starting to change that. Interestingly, the Wine Bloggers Conference home base, the Santa Ynez Valley Marriott, is just steps away from the Firestone-Walker Brewery so this is one Santa Barbara scent that, depending upon the time of day and the batch brewing at the moment, my fellow bloggers should be able to enjoy.
Oak Wood Fired BBQ
Dating back to the simple culinary days of the Spanish Californios and the Mexican rancheros, Central Coast (sometimes called “Santa Maria Style”) BBQ is unique in the United States. No sticky-sweet barbecue sauce is allowed. The only fuel employed is local coastal live oak. Salt, and sometimes pepper and garlic powder are the only seasonings. Sound boring? Smell for yourself.
Salty, Tarry Fog
Author Rex Pickett probably had booze rather than geography in mind when he came up with the book and movie title “Sideways,” but I’ve got my own more local explanation. Santa Barbara County’s coastline is unique in that it runs in an east-west direction as opposed to the traditional north-south orientation like the rest of the state. This “sideways” effect creates east-west valleys that reach from the ocean into the warm interior, enabling cooling fogs to roll into the vineyards during the evenings. Fortunately, for winemakers and wine lovers, this helps create ideal conditions for producing great Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Syrah and other fog-loving varietals. Watch your step though; The beaches of the Central Coast sometimes harbor bits of tar, products of a naturally occurring petroleum seepage just offshore. If you’re at a winery close enough to the ocean sometimes this fog brings a little bit of a salty, tarry tang to the air with it….but I recommend actually getting to the beach if you can. Luckily Gaviota State Beach is just a few miles down Highway 101 south of Buellton.
Though she lives in Napa today, Alison Crowe is a Napa-based consulting winemaker and a native of Santa Barbara County. She is excited to attend her first Wine Bloggers Conference this weekend as a Wine Blog Awards finalist for “Best New Wine Blog” and to meet up with old friends and new.
Copyright Alison Crowe 2014
Wildfires? Drought? Fraudulently labeled loads of grapes? Winemakers have a lot to worry about going into this harvest season. We’ll be picking, crushing and pressing in a historical water shortage on top of two big back to back harvests, trying to fit it all into the cellar. In addition, it looks like the crop will be about two weeks earlier than average. That being said, let’s talk about the serious stuff. Below are the things winemakers are really worrying about going into Harvest 2014.
Argentina. Chile. France:
No, it’s not the quarterfinals of the World Cup. These are the countries of origins of your winemaking interns for this harvest. Though the wine industry has a long and storied tradition of importing viticulture and enology students to help sample the vineyards and clean the barrels, it’s also part of the deal to house them, feed them and throw down a few yellow cards once in a while. Whether the interns will get along, if the Argentinians and Chileans will come to blows over the finer points of emapanada-making (no one from Mendoza would ever fry an empanada, gracias very much) or whether the French will scoff at the great coffee vs. yerba mate debate are all valid intern-management concerns. Thank goodness that by the time they all have to bunk together at the vineyard house the World Cup will be over.
Blunnies, Foss and Bucher:
I’ve got a winemaking buddy that is desperately trying to order a pair of special-width Blundstone work boots before the grapes start flying. The lab staff is worrying whether the Foss service rep will come by, the neighboring “garage winery” is tracking the international shipping container carrying a spare (and important!) Bucher press bladder and really hoping there won’t be a port strike holding up our barrel deliveries. We know where the grapes are. They won’t move until we say so. This time of year it’s all about making sure all the other stuff we need to make the wine, especially stuff that comes from overseas, gets to us on time.
Luna, Esperanza, Texanita:
No, these are not new wine brands targeting Hispanic millennials but in fact are your primary source of sustenance. We all are checking whether our favorite mission-critical wine country taquerias and taco truck are a) still in business, b) still going to be opening up at 5:00 AM for breakfast service 7 days a week starting September 1 and c) are going to be permanently stationed in our parking lot due to high demand from the cellar crew. The taco truck’s tinny “La Cucaracha” horn might irk the first tasting room visitors rolling up during mid-morning break…but don’t give their raised eyebrows and sniffs of scorn a second thought. Heck, invite them over. How else will they ever learn that a super-grande breakfast burrito with extra chorizo is indeed wine country cuisine at its finest?
Arrogant Bastard, Pliny and Rasputin:
When it’s 11:00 at night and everyone’s been going strong since 7:00 AM, we’re all crush pad philosophers. And one thing we never have to debate is that it takes a lot of good beer to make good wine. We all have our favorites. The 2012 crush crew in our Garnet Vineyards cellar pined for Pliny. Another buddy a few doors down our the 8th st. winery complex in Sonoma practically went through pallets of Pabst. When I was making estate Pinot Noir up in the Santa Cruz Mountains at Byington Winery we traded cases of our wine for the house-made beer of a swanky Los Gatos restaurant down the hill. Whether it’s the pony keg in the lab fridge or the bottles stashed in the break room, if it’s Harvest then there must be beer.
What are you thinking about as Harvest 2014 approaches? Leave me a comment!
Alison Crowe has slogged in cellars from Napa and Sonoma to Argentina and Santa Barbara.
This blog is a finalist for “Best New Wine Blog” in the 2014 Wine Blog Awards. Gracias to my fellow honorees!