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

Archives: The Winemaking Life

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 

Advice to an Intern: 10 things Winemakers want you to know

 

A winery during crush is a wet, cold, slippery and sometimes dangerous place.  Winemakers share their tips for getting through Harvest.

A winery during crush is a wet, cold, slippery and sometimes dangerous place. Winemakers share their tips for getting through Harvest.

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.”

 

Ed Kurtzman, August West Wines, Freeman Winery:

“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 ancrowe@hotmail.com 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!

 

 

 

Scents of Place: Terroir Grows Beyond Grapes in Santa Barbara County

 

jasmineGrowing 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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Photo: Frank Crowe

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.

 

orange blossom

Citrus Blossoms

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eucalptus

Eucalyptus Groves

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.

 

 

 

Beer

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.

 

 

 

 

fire-376575_1280

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.

 

Rincon

Photo: Frank Crowe

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

Garnet Vineyards:  @GarnetVineyards  www.garnetvineyards.com 

 

Harvest 2014: What Winemakers are Really Worrying About

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.

A winery can be like a mini-United Nations during harvest.  Sometimes negotiations are in order.

A winery can be like a mini-United Nations during harvest. Sometimes negotiations are in order.

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.

 

 

Forget about the grapes- bringing in all the equipment before the grapes are ripe is the tough part.

Forget about the grapes- bringing in all the equipment before the grapes are ripe is the tough part.

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.

 

Taqueria:  The Ultimate Harvest Food Group

Taqueria: The Ultimate Harvest Food Group

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?

 

 

It takes a lot of good beer to make good wine!

It takes a lot of good beer to make good wine!

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!

 

 

Vintage Shrubs: A Winemaker’s DIY Summer Sipper

Shrubs are vinegar and fruit syrups that, when mixed with sparkling water, create an interesting- and historical- drink option for summer sipping.

Shrubs are vinegar and fruit syrups that, when mixed with sparkling water, create an interesting- and historical- drink option for summer sipping.

As I prepared to host a casual backyard barbecue at our place in Napa a few weeks ago, I realized I was tired of my go-to non-alcoholic drinks.  Sparkling water.  Yawn.  Sparkling water with juice and a twist.  Double yawn.

And then I  remembered a conversation I’d had with Matt Kettmann of the Santa Barbara Independent and now new Central Coast Wine Guy (not his official title) for Wine Enthusiast.  We had met for lunch at Finch & Fork in downtown Santa Barbara a couple of months ago when I was home for vacation.  Refreshingly, rather than the usual winemaker-wine writer shop talk (“How’s harvest looking?” “This wine has 30% new oak.”) we found ourselves chatting about home winemaking, Santa Barbara’s exploding tasting room scene and….shrubs.

No, these shrubs are not the kind you prune or the kind you bring The Knights who say “Ni!” but the kind you drink. Stemming from the Arabic word sharāb, which means “to drink,” shrubs have their origin in the Middle Ages as an herbal medicinal beverage and then emerged into seventeenth century Europe as a concentrated syrup made of vinegar, water and sugar.  As a lover of food and drink history I have long enjoyed researching recipes from such sources as Jane Austen’s family “receipt book” and Victorian housekeeping manuals. Over the years I’ve come across recipes for sundry shrubs and “cordials” in these antique cookery books.  The concept is easy to understand from an historical householder’s point of view. Submerging ripe summer fruit in a solution of vinegar and sugar helped preserve part of an abundant (and quickly-spoiling) harvest while creating a tart, fruit-flavored liquid as the fruit macerated in vinegar over time.  In an era before commercial sodas and prepared cocktails, mixing 1-2 oz. of this “drinking vinegar” with about a cup of cold or sparkling water (which was increasingly available in the eighteenth century) created a refreshing, flavorful drink.

2013-04-22 16.57.23

Mint makes the perfect aromatic garnish for iced fruit shrubs.

Today, shrubs are enjoying a renaissance in trendy restaurants and bars (especially, it seems, in produce-rich wine country) but you don’t have to travel to someone else’s watering hole to enjoy these handcrafted sippers.  I started experimenting with shrubs in my kitchen because I was looking for interesting (but low-calorie, natural and non-alcoholic) beverages to enjoy with my family and guests.   What I’ve found is that making a fresh fruit shrub is cheap, easy and delicious.  They can be thrown together from ingredients and with equipment you probably already have on hand.

Below is a “Pick-a-Fruit” shrub recipe that I’ve developed based on historical techniques to utilize whatever fruit you can rustle up at the farmer’s market or in your backyard.  Call it the “Choose-Your-Own Adventure” of DIY beverage-making.  I started with wine-based vinegar (naturally) but don’t be afraid to branch out into other interesting vinegars (I even experimented with a banana vinegar sold by Rancho Gordo!).   Beware of balsamic vinegars and their ilk since they will mask the pure fruit flavor and of course can be quite expensive.  Use organic produce if possible and don’t be afraid to tweak the amounts given. The key thing is for the fruit to be completely submerged in the vinegar during the week’s maceration time.

Fresh strawberries and red wine vinegar are a delightful combination.

Fresh strawberries and red wine vinegar are a delightful combination.

The level of sweetness is up to you.  Some of the old recipes call for a 1:1 ratio of fruit, vinegar and sugar but as I prefer my drinks drier (my friends know I prefer “ultra-brut” sparkling wine and bone-dry Chardonnay) don’t be afraid to add more sugar if that’s to your taste.  Grab some herbs from your garden or window box to garnish the finished product, serve with cute straws over ice and there you have it!  Shrubs are the perfect potable project for lazy summer weekends and will reward your senses (and your sense of DIY accomplishment) all season long.

 

 

 

Girl and the Grape’s Vintage “Pick-A-Fruit Shrub” Recipe

A “drinking vinegar” syrup to dilute with water or sparkling water for flavorful summer sipping. This versatile recipe is inspired by many I’ve read in Victorian and Georgian cookery books, including Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management and Jane Austen’s family’s recipe collection.

Yield:  Makes about 1/2 cup of concentrated syrup, which will provide 4-6 drinks depending on desired strength.

Note:  This recipe can be easily doubled, but the 8 oz jar size allows you to experiment with multiple flavors in small batches

 

Equipment:

-8 oz glass canning jar with screw-on lid

-Fine mesh strainer

-1-cup liquid measuring cup (with pour spout)

 

Wildcrafted blackberries from the creeks in our vineyards lend their rich color and flavor to summer drinks.

Wildcrafted blackberries from the creeks in our vineyards lend their rich color and flavor to summer drinks.

Choose your vinegar (about ¾ cup, or enough to cover fruit):

-Champagne vinegar

-White wine vinegar

-Red wine vinegar

(Note- strong, sweet or otherwise flavored vinegars are quite potent and do not let the fruit flavors shine through.  Other “lighter” vinegars like rice wine vinegar, white balsamic vinegars or even apple cider vinegars can also be used.  I experimented with Steve Sando’s Rancho Gordo Banana vinegar to great success.  I would not use anything too robust like Balsamic, however.)

Shrubs can be diluted to taste.  I prefer a less-sweet drink with more sparkling water.

Shrubs can be diluted to taste. I prefer a less-sweet drink with more sparkling water.

Choose your sweetener:

-1/4 cup sugar

-1/4 cup sugar and 2 tbs honey

-1/3 C agave nectar

Note:  Agave nectar is not “period” but since it’s so popular right now I wanted to include alternatives

Choose your fruit: 

½ C of any of the below fresh fruit:

-Strawberries (washed, hulled and sliced)

-Apricots (washed, pitted and sliced)

-Plums (washed, pitted and sliced)

-Blueberries (washed and slightly crushed)

-Blackberries (washed and slightly crushed)

 

Suggested flavor combinations: 

-Strawberries:  red wine vinegar

-Apricots:  Champagne vinegar

-Plums:  White wine vinegar

-Blueberries:  ½ red wine and ½ Champagne vinegar

-Blackberries:  ½ red wine and 1/2 white wine vinegar

Pick herbs and flowers from your garden to garnish your glasses.

Pick herbs and flowers from your garden to garnish your glasses.

In-glass accents:

When serving, try cucumber slices, mint sprigs, basil sprigs, lavender stalks or citrus peel as garnishes for extra aroma, flavor and visual appeal.

Method:

Cover the prepared fruit and sweetener with your vinegar of choice.  Shake well to combine and dissolve any sugar crystals.  Shake twice a day for two weeks, keeping jar in a dark, cool place.  Strain contents into measuring cup, gently pressing down on fruit to extract liquid.  Pour into clean jar and label with contents and date.

To Serve: 

Combine 1-2 oz of the shrub syrup with about 1 C cold still or sparkling water, to taste.  It is also historically accurate to include a 1/2 oz of rum or an ounce of red or white wine.  Garnish as desired.  Cucumber and mint are two of my favorites.

 

Fresh apricots waiting to be washed and sliced.

Fresh apricots waiting to be washed and sliced.

 

Alison Crowe is a Winemaker and lives in an old Victorian house in downtown Napa with her husband and two small boys.   Twitter:  @alisoncrowewine  girlandthegrape.com is a finalist for “Best New Wine Blog” in the 2014 Wine Blogger Awards! 

 

 

Really? 3 Surprising Things About Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir at Garnet Vineyards' Rodgers Creek in the Petaluma Gap.

Pinot Noir at Garnet Vineyards’ Rodgers Creek in the Petaluma Gap.

Pinot Noir has quite a reputation.  Often known as the “Heartbreak Grape” and lovingly discussed, dissected and degustated (is that even a word?) by rabid Pinotphiles, Pinot Noir was being talked about in the wine world well before the movie Sideways thrust it onto an international stage.  Ten years after Miles and friends brought the joys of Pinot to a wider audience , the tidal wave of Pinot Noir shows no signs of slowing down and I couldn’t be more thrilled.  I grew up in Santa Barbara County, spent my first harvest making estate-grown Pinot Noir at the unique  Chalone Vineyard and now make Pinot Noir at Garnet Vineyards.  As a dyed-in-the-wool (or in the hair, during harvest) Pinot freak, I wanted to share with you some quirky factoids and some common misconceptions about my favorite grape.

 

 

Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir in Carneros often bucks "heartbreak" reputation because its relatively open clusters tend to ripen early which means an earlier harvest before fall rains and rot have an effect.

Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir in Carneros often bucks “heartbreak” reputation because its relatively open clusters tend to ripen early which means an earlier harvest before fall rains and rot have an effect.

Pinot Noir Isn’t Always “The Heartbreak Grape”

Is Pinot Noir called “The Heartbreak Grape” because it’s so tough to make or because it’s so tough to shell out the ducats for that first growth Burgundy?  Seriously, the “tough to deal with” label has been stuck to Pinot Noir throughout the years perhaps because it’s generally a thin-skinned, tightly-clustered varietal which means it’s  susceptible to rot and fungus.  Given that Pinot Noir does best in cool, moist climates (like the Russian River, Carneros, Monterey County and Garnet Vineyard’s Rodgers Creek Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap), it’s logical to see how, especially in wet years, Pinot Noir can get a reputation for being sensitive.  The flip side of this dismal-sounding coin is that Pinot Noir is an early-ripening variety, which means that it tends to get picked before late-season storms can rain on the tasty wine parade. The good news is that not every clone is the same and some have looser, less rot-prone clusters.   Even though both 2007 and 2011 were relatively wet years, I found that Garnet’s vineyards pulled through just fine and were happily fermenting away when things were getting ugly out there.  Fortunately I also tend to find that Pinot Noir (unlike some red grapes) behaves very well in the cellar and benefits from minimalist winemaking.  No heartbreak there.  Like Rafael Nadal’s relaxed but devastatingly effective two-handed backhand (OK, I’ve been watching the French Open), Pinot doesn’t like to be muscled around with theatrics but to be played through with authoritative restraint.   Though Pinot Noir does take a little extra care and feeding in the vineyard, in the winery I find it responds very well to a classic “hands off” regimen of time-honored simplicity:  destem, ferment, press, and age.  Game, set, match.

 

One of these things is not like the other....

One of these things is not like the other….

Pinot Noir has a Large Extended Family

Ever heard of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier or Pinot Grigio?  The definitive study has yet to be done on who exactly gave rise to who and when, but what is certain is that the Pinot genome is very mutable and very mutatable.  Pinot Noir, with its long (some say over 2,000 years) history in production and suspected gene transposition properties, can spontaneously create different clones and even “offspring” that are deemed different enough to be classified as different varieties entirely.   Though mutations tend to take years to happen, discover and classify, there are over one hundred different clones of Pinot Noir identified in the winemaking world today.  Myself, I like the blending complexity that the different clones planted in different soils and vineyards offer me.  It’s pretty cool to be able to create a wine like our Sonoma Coast Pinot from the minerality of Rodgers Creek Vineyard’s 777 clone and balance that with some sweet fruits from Russian River’s Pommard clone.    Are these genetic shenanigans a good thing or a bad thing….?  If you like variety and a little unpredictability in your life, it’s great and couldn’t be more fun.  I think Pinot drinkers (and Pinot winemakers), who tend to be a curious, quirky bunch anyway, would agree!

 

Feel free to jazz up my basic guacamole with salsa, more limes and even hot sauce!

Pinot Noir, especially those that are fruit-forward and have some good acid, can even pair with rich and spicy Mexican food.

Pinot Noir is the Most Versatile Food Wine

There, I said it.  Some would say it’s bubbles, some would say it’s the darling-of-the moment, dry rosé, but I plant my food-friendly flag permanently in the world of Pinot Noir.  Pinot Noir can be made in so many styles (hey, even Champagne and pink wine!), from light and fruity to dense, dark and brooding.  Salmon is an obvious fish pairing but give blackened catfish, mussels or halibut a try too.  And Yes of course it goes with poultry,  cheese, pork, roast veggies and many Asian-influenced dishes. Try a higher acid-lower alcohol cuvee to cut through something spicy and fatty like smoked duck tacos.  Heck, I even challenge you to pair a robust Petaluma Gap Pinot Noir (like our Rodgers Creek single vineyard designate), whose uncharacteristically thick skins yields a higher tannin profile, with a steak and see what I mean.  Chewy, rich Pinot to stand up to beef?  Yup.   Pinot:  It’s what’s for dinner.

 

Alison Crowe is the Winemaker at Garnet Vineyards and loves all things Pinot.  Check out the Garnet website at www.garnetvineyards.com and keep up with her on Facebook, facebook.com/GarnetVineyards and on Twitter, @GarnetVineyards.

 

Copyright Alison Crowe 2014