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

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Winemakers Love April Showers…. but Only Before May Flowers

Cloudy skies and rain this week don't pose a problem- it's OK for grapevines to have April Showers before May Flowers (grapevine bloom).

Cloudy skies and rain this week don’t pose a problem- it’s OK for grapevines to have April Showers as long as it comes before their May Flowers (grapevine bloom).

4/6/18, Napa CA

An early April “Pineapple Express” is upon us, having rushed into the North Bay as of last night, providing a steady rain through today, Friday, into Saturday.  I was tasting with a client yesterday and he asked, as we swirled our Pinot Noir glasses, “Isn’t this rain going to mess stuff up in the vineyards?”

 

My short answer was, “No, not really.”

 

The reality is that we’re still in need of precipitation in Northern California and, even though it might slow down work in the vineyard for a few days, we still need to replenish our water tables and top up ponds and reservoirs.  I chatted up our Senior Viticulturist, Rich Schaefers, this morning on the way to the office and he agrees with me; we need the rain and since the new clusters haven’t begun bloom yet in Napa and Sonoma, we’re not in any danger of losing developing fruit that way.

 

The danger comes when the rainclouds depart, leaving clear skies and frosty temps overnight.

The danger comes when the rainclouds depart, leaving clear skies and frosty temps overnight.

This has turned out to be a very warm storm, so we’re not going to be bulking up the snow pack (and in fact, may be melting some), which increases flooding hazards for downstream Sierra foothill communities.

 

The real danger for Northern California vineyards, however, lies not with flooding (so far) but with the frost that comes when the warm storm front moves through and is replaced by clear, cold nights.  Bud break started a few weeks ago and so tender young shoots and leaves are well pushed out and will continue to be vulnerable to frost damage until sometime in May when night time temperatures rise consistently above freezing.

So no, a few April showers aren’t going to worry me, because my “May Flowers” (grapevine bloom) aren’t on the horizon for another few weeks.  Rain during bloom can be a big problem because raindrops can prevent causing a dramatic reduction in crop and uneven set.

So far so good.  These cooler days have put a halt to what looked like a super-early budbreak last month, so in my estimation the start of HArvest 2018 is tracking more “normal”.  I expect to start harvesting Pinot Noir for rose wine the last week in August.  Harvest?  Did I just say that?  It’ll be here before we know it!

 

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 loves the green grass Springtime rains bring.  Special thanks to Senior Viticulturist Rich Schaefers for contributing his thoughts on this topic.

Twitter and Instagram:  @alisoncrowewine

 

 

For My SoCal Friends: Lessons I learned from the Wine Country Wildfires

Day 2 The "Burnt Toast BnB" Crew surviving- with masks on. L to Right, John Egerman, Alison Crowe, Sandy Crowe, Jennifer Crowe

The Wine Country Wildfire “Burnt Toast BnB” Crew surviving- with masks on. L to Right, John Egerman, Alison Crowe, my mom Sandy Crowe and sister Jennifer Crowe. Wearing our “N95” anti-smoke masks!

My parents were just up here in Napa helping Chris and I prepare to evacuate during the October Wine Country Wildfires and now they are facing a similar situation at home.  As the Thomas Fire creeps closer to Carpinteria, California, the idyllic little beach town where I grew up, my heart goes out to all my friends and family in the area.

There’s not much I can do from hundreds of miles away, besides post current fire maps on Facebook and try to be a communication bridge from afar.  However, I can at least compile a list of lessons and “to do’s” I learned during the Wine Country Wildfires of October 2017.

 

If you have to evacuate soon, like in the next few hours: 

-Make a list of “To Do’s” and “To Pack’s”.  Stress makes for forgetful minds and writing it down will add to your sanity and calm.

-Know your escape routes and keep posted on if and when they might get pinched off.  Have a backup escape plan (or two).

-Pre-arrange a rendezvous point out of the area post-evacuation in case you get separated on the drive away from your house (if you’re taking more than one vehicle).  That way you’ll know immediately if everyone made it out OK.

-If you haven’t already, sign up for local alert systems like Nixle.

-Turn on local radio channels.  We listened to Napa’s KVYN 99.3 a lot.

-Be wary of false or rumored information on social media.  Do verbal or messaging check ins with people to confirm information.

-Find all your animals immediately.  So many people got delayed chasing down scared cats or dogs.

-Evacuate little kids early if possible, as early as possible.  It will be far less traumatic for them watching from Grandma’s than seeing your scared faces and listening to the stressful grownup conversations.

-“Fireproof” safes are not.

-If you don’t have time to pack a suitcase, grab your dirty laundry basket.  At least it will be full of items you’ve recently worn (seasonal and will fit) and you can always visit a laundromat or wash clothes at a friend’s house.  (thanks for the tip, Julie Schreiber!)

-If you choose to wear a mask or respirator (highly recommended) make sure it’s labeled “NIOSH-Approved” or marked “N95” or “P100”.  Simple dust masks only trap large particles and the smaller smoke particles can still damage your lungs.

-Open your garage doors.  In the event of a power outage, it’s difficult to open electric garage doors.

-Pack essentials….and only the essentials.  Do the critical stuff first (passports, clothes, medicine, phones, chargers, batteries, food, water, pets and pet food) and then pack up some extra boxes later only if you have time (like your jewelry box, the wedding silver etc).  This is where a prioritized “To Do” list is important.

-Be prepared for the power to go out at any time.

-Snap pictures of every room in your house and anything valuable in the yard or outbuildings for insurance purposes.

-Remember that vineyards, orchards and green space make great firebreaks.

– If you have well-irrigated fields, orchards, or  vineyards, consider moving cars, boats or RV’s into the middle if you can’t evacuate all of your vehicles.  This saved a lot of vehicles during the wine country fires.

-If it’s coming soon and there’s nothing you can do, turn on the irrigation.  Green lawns and plants will help keep fire away from the house.

-If you have a pool and a pump, you’ve got a great source of water to irrigate your roof and property.

-Turn off your gas when you leave.

 

If you think you might have to evacuate in the next day or two: 

-Prepare as early as possible.

-Pack an “immediate” go bag and keep it by your front door.

-Take out cash, preferably in smaller bills, and keep some in your cars and in your “go” bag.

-Fill all vehicle gas tanks.

-Park your vehicles with the nose pointed out.

-Put a flashlight in all vehicles in case you have to evacuate at night.

-Know how to open your garage doors in the absence of electricity.  Normally there is a hand-pull mechanism.  I’m constantly surprised at the number of times I heard that people had delays getting out because they couldn’t get their garage doors open.

-Sleep with shoes beside your bed in case you have to get out fast in the middle of the night.

-Keep a flashlight with fresh batteries by your bed.

-Save key electronic documents to the cloud in case you don’t have time to pack your computer.

-Move all woodpiles, wooden patio furniture or other moveable burnables away from the house.

-Be careful and watch for announcements- you may have to boil your water if power goes down and water treatment plants are not able to operate.

-Clean out your gutters

-Put sprinklers on your roof.

-If you have a pool, go and find a “Billy Pump” water pump like this if you don’t have one already.  Get one soon; they’ll go fast at Home Depot and Wal Mart.

-Get out your earthquake/disaster kit, go through it, make sure your supplies are fresh and current.  Shop for items you need to replace.

-If you have time, pack up some sentimental boxes of things you know you’d miss if your house burned down.  We packed original artwork, kids art projects, antiques and other irreplaceable family heirlooms.

 

If you don’t think you have to evacuate but are dealing with severe smoke in the area: 

-Be a good neighbor and open your home to evacuees.  We did and John (see picture above) was a tremendous help during the two weeks of fires here in Napa.

-If you have the space, offer up your driveway or property for boat or RV storage for evacuees.

-Volunteer at the Red Cross, Salvation Army or shelter.

-Buy air filters and masks as early as you can; they will quickly run out at area stores.  Have out of town friends bring them if they come to help, order them from Amazon if you can still get delivery to your house.

-Keep windows closed.

-Invest in a portable USB battery so you can charge your phone if the power goes out.

-You may think the fire won’t come your way; act like it will.

 

Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners in Napa, California and grew up in Carpinteria, California.  She is the winemaker for Garnet Vineyards and Picket Fence Vineyards in addition to other brands and projects.  She can be reached at ancrowe@hotmail.com.  Twitter and Instagram:  @alisoncrowewine

 

 

 

Give a Happy Thanksgiving to Wine Country Fire Survivors

Thanksgiving plateIt’s been exactly a month since the Wine Country/North Bay Wildfires were raging at their height across much of Northern California.  Since then, Harvest has ended, the air has cleared, schools and roads are open once again and life is slowly (very slowly) returning to “normal” for most families.

 

For some, however, “normal” won’t happen anytime soon.  As I make my own lists for organizing my family’s Thanksgiving in Napa, I couldn’t help but round up another one:  a list of organizations to which you can donate your money, time or wine in order to help someone affected by the fires.  Let’s help everyone to have a happier Thanksgiving.

 

Sonoma Family MealSonoma Family Meal: They Need Monetary Donations

Sonoma Family Meal is a grass-roots organization that sprung up during the fires, bringing together a coalition of chefs, hospitality, and culinary workers who desperately wanted to help those in need.  Since October 15, Sonoma Family Meal has prepared and distributed over 50,000 meals to North Bay Area residents free of charge.  A number of my good friends in the “cheffing” community are involved in this important and effective project.  They need your financial help to put Thanksgiving on the table for needy local families.  Click here to donate.

 

RedwoodRedwood Gospel Mission Great Thanksgiving Banquet: Donate and Volunteer

The Redwood Gospel Mission is holding a giant, free Thanksgiving dinner at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa on Weds Nov 22 11 AM-7:00 PM.  there will also be free haircuts, showers, a bouncy house and all-around family community.  You can volunteer your time, donate or, if you are a fire victim, register to receive a free turkey and family food box at the above link.

 

CANVCommunity Action of Napa Valley/Napa Food Bank: Donate

CANV/Napa Food Bank is Napa Valley’s main food bank organization and they are always in need of extra funds during the busy holiday season.  By clicking the link above you can put your money towards the food bank or “where it is needed most”.

 

 

CommunitySonoma Community Center Free Thanksgiving Dinner:  Volunteer your time

The Sonoma Community Center will host its annual Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, Nov 23 and this year they expect more people than ever to come.  Please consider volunteering your time to help serve.  This year’s dinner is brought to you by the Rotary of Sonoma Valley, cheesemaker Gary Edwards, and chef Daniel Quijada.

 

 

 

ChefsgivingChefsGiving: Help house the displaced by eating, drinking and celebrating

We sure know how to wine and dine in Northern California and with ChefsGiving, everyone in the Bay Area now has the ability to do good while enjoying a good meal.  Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn is behind this week of special tasting menus at Bay Area restaurants and a Nov 19 gala fundraiser in San Francisco.  ChefsGiving’s goal is to raise money to help find temporary and permanent housing for fire victims.  “ChefsGiving Week” is Nov 13-19 and on Nov 19th join local chefs at the San Francisco Ferry Building for the final Chefsgiving benefit gala.  Click on the above link to find a Chefsgiving event near you.

 

 

 

ComfortComfortDrinks.net: Donate wine, beer, non-alcoholic beverages

It’s the little things…. to some out of the area it might seem trivial, but beverages are really (really!) important to so many of us in Wine Country.  We work and live in the drinks business and for so many folks, a key piece of getting “back to normal” is getting to enjoy a glass of something at the end of a long day.  Along with their homes, many folks also lost personal collections of precious local vintages. So many displaced people now don’t have the time, money or brain-space to  engage in those little acts of self-care like sharing a bottle of wine with family at dinner or making a special juice drink for their kids at Thanksgiving.  Hence, “Comfort Drinks”, a brainchild of Sonoma-based freelance writer and community leader Sarah Stierch.  By “Bringing bottles of joy to disaster victims”, Comfort Drinks links up fire survivors who have lost their homes with donations of wine, beer, non-alcoholic drinks and glasses, bar ware etc..  Email comfortdrinks@gmail.com or click on the link in the header above to make a donation.

 

Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking and a Partner at Plata Wine Partners in Napa and the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards and Picket Fence Vineyards.  She is thankful this holiday season that her house and family survived the North Bay Wildfires intact and encourages everyone to give what and how they can this Thanksgiving.

Twitter/Instagram:  @alisoncrowewine

Mixed Feelings Alert: After the fires, Napa will largely be fine- it’s Sonoma that’s hurting

Though taken from the Napa side, this is looking west at the Nuns Fire raging largely in Sonoma County. Taken at Hwy 29 at Oak Knoll Ave on 10/10/17.

Though taken from the Napa side, this is looking west at the Nuns Fire raging largely in Sonoma County. Taken at Hwy 29 at Oak Knoll Ave on 10/10/17.

I originally posted the following on Facebook ten days ago, on 10/19/17 after reading an account of one Sonoma County resident’s evacuation during the first week of the fires.  Virginie Boone, Contributing Editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine, lived through the Nuns/Oakmont Fire complex and her retelling of her family’s flight and, luckily, escape from the flames really brought home to me what was happening “over the hill” in Sonoma.

Though I live and have my office in the city of Napa, I work with a large number of vineyards and a small clutch of custom-crush wineries for my Garnet Vineyards and Picket Fence Vineyards brands in Sonoma.  Virginie’s harrowing tale of her experiences on the normally-bucolic Hwy 12 corridor near Kenwood left me in tears.  It also left me with a host of other feelings.

Hence, my original post below, typed on my iPhone, in the dark, but from the safety of my own home in Napa:
“Mixed feelings alert. Am I the only one that feels that, in the national and international news at least, “Napa” has seemed to get more of the attention than our neighboring counties during the North Bay firestorms? It’s probably in part because fewer people and reporters know where Santa Rosa, Kenwood, or Redwood Valley are. It’s also partly due to the fact that Napa got on the international marketing bandwagon back in the 1950’s and has been drumming it hard since then. What I would like my friends around the country and the world to know is that the wildfires in Napa county, where I live, were largely confined to the hills around the valley floor.

Sonoma County, however, suffered more fatalities and more structure loss and as many workers live in Sonoma and commute to Napa to work in the hospitality industry, I would wager more Sonoma County residents are going to be hurting for longer to get their lives back together.

Yes, more vineyards and wineries logged damage in Napa County and we also had tragic fatalities and harrowing tales of escape. I would never diminish anyone’s loss. A singed vineyard (I have two) and a burned winery outbuilding, however, are easy to report. Not so easy to count are the thousands of homeless and displaced, the bartender who lives on tips who hasn’t worked in 10 days, the undocumented vineyard worker who doesn’t know where to go or the housekeeper whose key clients are now also homeless.

I read Virginie Boone’s account of her family’s flight during the fire in the Kenwood area and, especially after witnessing the Sonoma-side destruction personally this week, realized the hurt and damage in Sonoma will run deeper, and probably for longer, than in many other places.

I had mixed feelings listening to the radio yesterday as some of my fellow Napa county members chimed in about their wineries being open for business while so many people, especially on the Sonoma side of the mountains, were still evacuated and the fires were still burning out of control. I understand that tourism is our life blood and we need to get the message out that restaurants, hotels and wineries are still standing and, indeed, are or will be open for business. It just felt like it was too soon to indulge in self-promotion.

I hope we can all find ways to continue to help each other across county lines in ways that I witnessed during this firestorm. Winemakers from Mendocino to Lodi to Carneros offered each other crush space in the face of power outages, friends opened their homes to each other and vineyard managers combing the hills of all affected counties kept us informed via social media as they kept their wary eyes on the skies. We all want to find ways to donate our time and our money as we claw our way through to recovery.

As we do this, I can’t help but reflect that the fires in Napa County largely chewed through forest and hillside acres and are now largely out. The fires in Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino County really ravaged neighborhoods and ripped apart the lives of so many people I know…and so many people I don’t. #707strong #winecountryfires #redwoodvalleyfire #sulphurfire”-Originally posted 10/19/17

In the last ten days we’ve learned the following sobering facts:   Napa County had about 500 structures burned.  Sonoma County had well over 5,000.  The City of Santa Rosa alone lost over 5% of its housing stock with occupancy rates hovering around 1%.  Think of what that 5% loss just did.

If you would like to donate your time or money to assist in the recovery effort, please click here to find out how:

North Bay Fires Donation List

The above list began as a Facebook post, grew to a Google doc and is now a stand alone website thanks to the tireless organizational efforts of freelance writer, Sarah Stierch, of Sonoma.

 

Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Napa-based Plata Wine Partners and makes Garnet Vineyards, Picket Fence Vineyards, Back From the Dead Red and many other branded and bespoke wine projects.

Email:  ancrowe@hotmail.com

Instagram and Twitter:  @alisoncrowewine

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Home Grown: Wine Country Folks Share Local Holiday Gift Faves

gifts I know a lot of winemakers (takes one to know one, I guess).  I also know a lot of non wine biz folks which is one of the best parts about living in Napa Valley’s largest city.    Winemakers or not, what we all have in common is that we live in “Wine Country.” We also are particularly enthusiastic about the wonderful food, crafts and gifts grown, produced and designed right here in Napa and Sonoma Counties.

Below are some of our favorite locally-made holiday gift ideas from friends and neighbors we know and love. The good news is that you don’t have to live in wine country to enjoy their wares. Happy gift-giving, one and all, wherever you may call home!

(Important note:  NO freebies, samples or anything of value was received from any of the below businesses- these are my real favorite local gift picks so this is not paid content)

 

Steve Sando getting a look in on some of his famous beans.

Steve Sando getting a look in on some of his famous beans.

Heirloom Beans (and other goodies) From Rancho Gordo New World Specialty Foods

Beans? Yes, beans. If you’ve only ever eaten dessicated supermarket beans of questionable shelf life, prepare your taste buds for a treat. I’ve been a loyal customer of Steve Sando’s Rancho Gordo ever since we moved to Napa and his beans never fail to remind me of home, be that Napa or where I grew up in Santa Barbara County. My grandma always seemed to have a pot of pinto beans simmering on the stove and today they are still a key wintertime comfort food at our house.  Steve is a true American bean pioneer. His personal search for awesome dried beans (and more) lead him years ago to try growing his own and then to supporting small-volume Northern California and US farmers. Perhaps his most intriguing work is with the Rancho Gordo Xoxoc Project, a partnership with small Mexican farmers, which fosters the production of their indigenous foods like heirloom corn, prickly pears and of course, ancient varieties of beans. From beans to hand-made tortillas to spices and the odd vintage movie poster or three, Rancho Gordo is a wine country institution with global reach.

 

Olive and Poppy- I love the rings and bracelet made from pieces of wine barrels.

Olive and Poppy- I love the rings and bracelets made from oak barrels.

Jewelry and Thoughtful, Creative Gifts From Olive and Poppy

Several of my friends recommended I check out the super-cute creations of this dynamic Napa duo. I was immediately smitten with this cute-as-a-button wine barrel ring (see picture left). And since my next homesteading fantasy is to have a couple of beehives on our property down by the creek, I’ve found myself lusting after their honeycomb ring. Necklaces, scarves, tea towels, earrings….even cuff links for the man on your list. A lovingly-designed collection of well-curated pieces.

 

Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc from Napa's Oro Puro Vineyards is a rare handmade treat.

Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc from Napa’s Oro Puro Vineyards is a rare handmade treat.

Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc From Oro Puro Vineyards

Making true late-harvest botrytized white wine is a difficult feat in perfect-climate California. Most vintages, however, Deb and Jonathan Goldman manage to make it happen in their Sauvignon Blanc vineyard off of Silverado Trail just north of Napa. I love serving this wine with desserts, of course, but it is also amazing with cheese or dribbled on a summertime fresh salad of melons and mint. Order directly from co-owner Deb Freed Goldman for the goods. You’ll be so happy you did.

 

Candles from NapaScents make great hostess gifts.

Candles from NapaScents make great hostess gifts.

Soy candles from Napa Scents

Looking for something small but luxurious (and good for you and your home)?  These delightfully scented soy-based candles by local writer, blogger and personal fitness coach (yes, this mom does it all) Kristin Ranuio are a special treat. Soy wax, cotton wick, lovely array of scents, lots of sizes and even my favorite, the travel tin.

Free delivery for local orders over $50. Email: info@napascents.com, phone 707-299-0524.

 

 

Panettone, Truffles, Cheese etc., from Cheesemonger Doralice Handal

Doralice Handal knows how to throw down a cheese platter, as well as how to source hard-to-find Perigord truffles and exotic panettone flavors.

Doralice Handal knows how to throw down a cheese platter, as well as how to source hard-to-find Perigord truffles and exotic panettone flavors.

Call on Cheesemonger Extraordinaire Doralice Handal to help you find your favorite holiday goodies over the phone or email. She’s my go-to source for vintage chocolates, rare European vinegar, crazy-big panettone, black or white truffles (not the chocolate kind) and of course, cheese. You’re sure to find a cheese to please….ask Doralice for something to go with the aforementioned Oro Puro. Last day to place orders for delivery the week of Dec 15 is on December 12. Keep her info handy year-round….she’s one of our top secret sources for all things delish in Wine Country!

sharpandnutty@gmail.com  Instagram:  labodeguera

 

 

Wine Barrel Furniture and Home Goods from Buddha Barrels

I need about five of these Buddha Barrel spice racks in my kitchen....

I need about five of these Buddha Barrel spice racks in my kitchen….

I have so many favorite things on our friend Gwendolyn Larson’s online storefront it’s hard to focus. The pet bed! The pot rack! The magnetic spice rack! You can tell I’m excited about these hand-made home goods. This is the real wine-country wine barrel deal, folks. No mangy whiskey half-barrels mass-produced into things you can find in shopping malls. Buddha Barrels sources fine wine-soaked oak barrels from our neighboring wineries and lovingly realizes their functional and attractive designs right here in Napa.

 

 

Napa Valley Give Guide and Oakland Warehouse Fire Victim’s Fund

Tis the season to help those in need. We were so saddened by the recent warehouse fire tragedy in Oakland that I wanted to mention this new victim’s fund here. Funds go to pay medical and funeral expenses of survivors and victims. In addition, the Napa Valley Give Guide is your one-stop shop for giving. Choose your charity (Big Brothers Big Sisters?  Friends of the Napa River?  Sunrise Horse Rescue?) and make it happen for our community.

 

Enjoy this season of giving, my best holiday wishes to you and yours!

 

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

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

Her book: The Winemaker’s Answer Book

Her contact info:  ancrowe@hotmail.com @alisoncrowewine

All pictures above used with permission

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Girl and the Grape- 3 Years as a Blog, Many More as a Love Affair

Hug a Grape! I became curious about exactly how that grapefruit smell got into a glass of my parents' Chenin Blanc when I was 10.

Hug a Grape! I became curious about exactly how that grapefruit smell got into a glass of my parents’ Chenin Blanc when I was 10.

“You’re so lucky that you decided early on that you wanted to be a winemaker.”

I get that a lot, from friends who know me well in addition to strangers who always seem to be somewhat surprised to see a young woman pouring her wine across the tasting table.

I suppose I was lucky.  I entered UC Davis at least 85% sure that I wanted to be a winemaker but knew enough about agriculture (it’s not a glamorous life, friends) to know I should work a Harvest before I fully committed.  I squished my first grape at Monterey County’s Chalone Vineyard as a teenager and, sticky hands and bee stings and late nights not withstanding, fell in love forever.

Few know that my love affair with grapes and wine started even earlier than that.

Growing up in a little beach town just south of Santa Barbara, my folks and their friends were into the burgeoning Santa Ynez Valley wine scene.  My sister and I were exposed to most of the local tasting rooms and at weekend dinner parties we saw on the table and, most importantly, got to smell in the glass the produce of our neighbor wineries over the hill.

I’ll never forget my first real “wine” memory.  My best friend’s dad handed me his glass of Daniel Gehrs Chenin Blanc to smell and my first thought, beyond the visual beauty of the grassy-gold liquid shimmering in the glass was, “Wait- how did they get that grapefruit in there?”  I knew enough about wine to know Chenin Blanc was a kind of grape and I had no idea what kind of crazy magic could transform the juice of one fruit into something that smelled completely like another.

In my junior high chemistry class I was just beginning to understand that many plants have aroma compounds to attract pollinators and, as it happens, curious noses.  The roses, lavender and lemon verbena I loved so much in my herb garden smelled that way because they had volatile (i.e. smell-able) chemical compounds in the petals which wafted their way up to my nose, over the olfactory bulb and in turn triggered pleasurable sensations in my brain.  Sniff…..aaahhhh…..

 

So here’s to three years as a wine blog and many more years as the Girl and the Grape, connecting the sensory dots between plants and pleasure.  I love what I do, from the product to the places to the people.  Many thanks to all of you who have been loyal readers and welcome to those of you who are new here.  I’ll continue to write about “Winemaking, Life and ‘the Dirt'” and share a little about what makes wine and winemaking so fabulous, frustrating and at the end of the day, fascinating.   I guess I just can’t stop chasing that crazy magic.

 

Alison Crowe is a Napa-based winemaker (garnetvineyards.com, popcorncellars.com, picketfencevineyards.com) author and blogger.  She published The WineMaker’s Answer Book in 2007 and in 2014 won “Best New Wine Blog” at the Wine Blog Awards.  She and her husband, photographer and wine educator, Chris Purdy, live on a small piece of property just west of downtown where they take care of four (going on five) doves, one rabbit, one dog, two cats, and grow herbs, vegetables, hops and two little boys.

 

 

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Mother Nature Always Bats Last- Harvest 2015 Update

checking the grapesToday I had a great catch-up conversation with friend and colleague Craig Root, a 30-year winery tasting room and hospitality veteran.  Though not a winemaker or grower, Craig has “been there done that” in Sonoma and Napa Valleys for many years and of course has seen many harvests come and go.

 

He asked me how Harvest 2015 was going and I filled him on what I’ve been experiencing in Napa, Sonoma and on the Central Coast as I pull in grapes for Garnet Vineyards, Picket Fence Vineyards, my Buccaneer, Longhand projects and many others.  “Well,” he said.  “Mother Nature always bats last.”

Indeed she does.

Rodgers Creek Vineyard, high up on a cold ridge in the Petaluma Gap, Sonoma Coast appellation, always is the last Pinot Noir Garnet Vineyards picks- and is tracking perhaps 3-5 days earlier this year

Rodgers Creek Vineyard, high up on a cold ridge in the Petaluma Gap, Sonoma Coast appellation, always is the last Pinot Noir I pick.

Line drive?  Surprise pop fly?  Strike out?  Here’s what Mother Nature is swinging at us as Harvest 2015 really starts to get underway:

-Yields are down:  After three cosy and ample harvests (’12, ’13 and ’14) 2015 is a bit on the lean side tonnage-wise.  Many of us will admit that, as with the stock market, it was time for a correction. However- if you’re planning on getting 8 barrels-full of Rodgers Creek Pinot Noir and only come up with enough grapes for 5, that’s a little tough.

-Yields are unpredictable:  So far, North Coast Chardonnay seems to be in “average” yields and since I haven’t harvested Napa Cabernet yet can’t speak to these later-ripening varietals.  Sauvignon Blanc from Napa was about 20% down from predicted yield for me.  Pinot Noir seems to vary by vineyard and even by vineyard block.

Bins

Bins of Stanly Ranch Pinot Noir lined up ready to be fermented.

-Hurry up and wait:  It’s like bases loaded, a hit into McCovey Cove to end the first inning and then….crickets.   I’ve pulled in the “early bird” blocks like Block 17 Pinot Noir at Stanly Ranch (Napa Carneros) and Sauvingnon Blanc from Alexander Valley and now, like many of my colleagues, am waiting for the next wave of grapes to ripen.  It was an historically early harvest for most of us across the state, still and sparkling wine producers alike, and a heat spike last week got a lot of winemakers a little antsy.  We then had about a week of cool weather that slowed everything down again.  We’ve been enjoying a few warm days now but it’s slated to cool off again this weekend.  I’ve heard rumors of precipitation but it seems to be just that- rumors for those of us south of Eureka.

Chardonny, which I usually pick about halfway through the Pinot harvest, is later than expected this year.

Sauvignon Blanc is all picked- and yields are down about 20%.

-Lower Brixes with respect to other signs of ripeness:  Could 2015 be a “lower alcohol year” and shift some winery’s styles back into what some would call “Classic Old School” California?  Craig, and many of my best sources for wine industry stories, love to regale us young whippersnapper winemakers with tales of lower-alcohol Cabs from the 1970’s and 1980’s that tasted like a dream, aged beautifully and didn’t get you hammered after two glasses.  So far, I’m seeing that I don’t need to wait for something to get to 25 Brix to taste ripe.  Acids are dropping out quickly, seeds are browning well, and flavors are “popping” – all at moderate Brixes.

Who’s up next?  Pinch hitter?  Stay tuned…..After all, Willie McCovey was one of the best. But don’t ever forget that, like Craig says, Mother Nature always bats last.

 

 

Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners and harvests from all over the North and Central Coasts for her winemaking projects and brands.  She lives in Napa.  ancrowe@hotmail.com  @alisoncrowewine

Go Giants!

Harvest Timing Likely Saved Lives, Property During 2014 Napa Earthquake

Our kitchen clock stopped at 3:20 AM on August 24 2014.  The battery was shaken loose by the 6.0 quake.

The clock stopped at 3:20 AM. The battery was shaken loose by the 6.0 quake.

Harvest happens- and so do earthquakes.

An historically early 2015 harvest is what is rocking the winemaking world in Napa right now.    A year ago, however, the early morning rumblings weren’t the sound of grape trucks heading from the field to the winery.

At 3:20 in the morning, after 15 seconds of shaking at 6.0 magnitude, most of Napa County was without power.   Barrels toppled from metal racks, bottles launched off shelves and even stainless steel tanks full of wine lurched from their concrete pedestals.  Heavy stonework showered down onto cellar floors, old stonework facades unpeeled onto crush pads and wineglasses mingled with reagent bottles and measuring cylinders in slippery shards on laboratory floors.

I lost about 100 bottles in our sample store room.

I lost about 100 bottles in our sample store room.

Luckily, most wineries quickly cleaned up the mess and got on with the business of prepping for the Harvest to come.  Most lucky indeed was the fact that most of us- winemakers,lab staff, cellar hands and vineyard crew-were largely home in bed when the quake hit.

Olive oil slides out from under the door of an olive oil shop downtown Napa.

Olive oil slides out from under the door of an olive oil shop downtown Napa.

“It could’ve been so much worse” is always tiresome to hear.  Tell that to my neighbors down the street who were red tagged, or the owners of Sala Salon, Vintner’s Collective or Napkins restaurant, who had their businesses (among many others) badly impacted by the quake.  The semi-morbid reality is however, had Harvest 2014 been as early as this year, many more of us would’ve been in harm’s way.

In late August 2014 only  a handful of wineries were in such full Harvest swing as to be working a night shift.  The sparkling wine harvest typically starts at least two-three weeks earlier than other wineries because they seek grapes at lower sugars and higher acids for their Champagne-like fizzy wines.  I knew that my buddies at Mumm and Domaine Chandon had been picking for about a week or so but most of us who do Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Carneros or Sauvignon Blanc from Napa (typically the earliest grapes to get going) hadn’t scheduled our picks yet.  We were still prepping tanks, cleaning barrels and letting our crews get some precious sleep before the 12 hour days and the midnight pumpover shifts started.

Post-Quake cellar selfie- I'm smiling because our barrels largely came through unscathed.

Cellar selfie- I’m smiling because our barrels largely came through unscathed.

It was chilling, in the early morning hours of August 24, 2014, to drive around to the local wineries where I make my wine (one practically over the epicenter) and to realize how lucky we were that the quake happened in the dead of night and that Harvest 2014 wasn’t earlier than it was.  All of our wineries had been shut up tight, and amazingly, the damage report was only three broken barrels, broken bottles in the store room and some random drops of wine which had slopped over a full tank top onto the cellar floor.  Later that day I dropped by a friend’s winery in Carneros and was distressed to witness both his shellshocked face and the terrible state of his barrel room.  Had Harvest 2014 started earlier, there would’ve been much more new wine in barrel and the possibility of much higher property loss.

This is not to say that we “got off easy” from the Quake, nor that it was a complete disaster.  The damage was very uneven, varying from winery to winery and neighborhood to neighborhood. My old Victorian house in downtown Napa, one of the hardest-hit areas, got off lightly with cracked plaster and broken wine glasses while three houses in our neighborhood came off their foundations and practically came down.

One of the worst casualties- the top floor of the building at the corner of Main and Third St. in downtown Napa.  Repairs are still being made today, but Napkins and Carpe Diem, two restaurants below, are now open for business.

One of the worst casualties- the top floor of the building at the corner of Main and Third St. in downtown Napa. Repairs are still being made today, but Napkins and Carpe Diem, two restaurants below, are now open for business.

I was relieved when I heard later in the day that the night crew up at Mumm (still a small number because of how early Harvest started) all got out safely when the shaking hit.  Facebook feeds, text messages and emails helped keep us in touch as the days wore into weeks as we cleaned up, took stock and moved forward towards recovery.

According to what I’ve heard and read lately, it’s been quite a recovery.  The #NapaStrong Comeback video, created six days after the quake by Evan Kilkus, told the Bay Area and the world that we were open for business while local vintner’s groups and wineries communicated the same “Come Visit Napa” message they do every harvest.  A recovering national economy has no doubt helped, but from what I understand most businesses are back on their feet and wineries welcomed record numbers of guests in the last year.

After we cleaned up we still managed to carry on in Napa style- BBQ on the back deck and, of course, wine on the table.

After we cleaned up we still managed to carry on in Napa style- BBQ on the back deck and, of course, wine on the table.

One of the best things to come out of the earthquake was the amazing sense of community, togetherness and sharing we felt then and still feel today.  Neighbors dropped everything to help neighbors, benefit concerts and dinners were hastily arranged, and the Napa Valley Vintners started a community assistance fund with $10 Million in seed money.  On Monday, August 24 2015, Napa is planning an anniversary event of remembrance and togetherness-“Napa Strong 6.0/365”- at Veterans Park from 3:20 PM-6:00 PM.  Music, speakers and disaster preparedness booths and presentations will be featured, all in view of many of the damaged buildings on Main Street still swathed in scaffolding.

Those of us in the full swing of the early 2015 Harvest will read about it in the paper on Tuesday and continue to be glad we weren’t crushing-yet- a year ago.

 

Postcard created by "Roost Napa" owner Patricia Trimble- a photograph of their boarded-up front window downtown.  Available for $1 at theroostnapa.com.

Postcard created by “Roost” Patricia Trimble- a photograph of their boarded-up front window.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comeback Video by Evan Kilkus, produced 6 days after the quake.

“Community

Friendship

Neighbors

Appreciation of History and Heritage”

Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners based in Napa, author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book and award-winning blogger and winemaker.  This is her 11th harvest in Napa.

ancrowe@hotmail.com  @alisoncrowewine

A Local’s Tips for Buying Napa Real Estate

 

 

We just bought property in Napa- and are selling this downtown Victorian at 2020 Brown St.

We just bought property in Napa- and are selling our downtown Victorian at 2020 Brown St.

My husband and I are lucky enough to have just bought a little piece of Napa acreage and are currently selling our downtown 1898 Victorian. Though our new “dream home” is a little boy’s heaven of redwood trees bordered by a creek with tadpoles, many people dream of having a Napa Valley hideaway that might include vineyards, historic features or a shed for making a little homemade Cabernet Sauvignon. Though we’re not real estate professionals (and we recommend you hire one of those too by the way) we still thought we should pass on some of the layperson’s tips and knowledge we picked up along the way buying our first and now second Napa home. Interest rates are at historic lows and though prices are definitely on the rise in Napa, it’s still a great time to get into the market.

Get online

Most real estate searches, especially if you live in the area, start out online. Sites like Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow are good places to start as most realtors are listing their properties there. Sotheby’s and Coldwell are two of the major firms with a lots of local listings. Surprisingly, I didn’t find the online search portal of the Napa Valley Register (our local newspaper) very helpful or easy to navigate…..but most realtors market their properties correctly and get them onto a multitude of websites like these listed by Bankrate.com as being the best online home search sites.

The Victorian we're selling at 2020 Brown captivated us immediately as we sheltered from a rainstorm back in 2006.  We found it riding our bikes in the neighborhood.

The Victorian we’re selling at 2020 Brown captivated us immediately as we sheltered from a rainstorm back in 2006. We found it riding our bikes in the neighborhood.

Get on a bike

When Chris and I bought our Victorian in downtown Napa in 2006, we were already renters in the area. We knew that we wanted whatever we bought to be within walking distance of the corner of First and Main streets- the nexus of the developing Oxbow district and the very heart of downtown. So from that point we drew a 1 mile radius and got on our bikes. After finding two open houses we took shelter from a freak rainfall on the porch of a third- and fell in love with the porch, the hardwood floors, high ceilings and the neighborhood. Biking through neighborhoods rather than driving allows you to go at a slower pace and to get a better sense of the area and people around your new potential home. Don’t wear earbuds and you’ll get an idea of how many birds are chirping in the trees…and if your potential neighbors have a loud, barky dog. As the years have gone by and downtown Napa has burgeoned into the culinary, wine and community-focused center it is today, we recommend this approach to shoppers looking to live within walking distance of this amazing place.

Get in a hot air balloon

It’s hard for anyone, even locals, to get the lay of the land around Napa from street level. When I took Chris for a hot air balloon ride for his 40th birthday last year, we realized we’d found a whole new way of assessing an area. Getting up in the air and leaving the limitations of roads, parks and yes, private property lines, gives you an unbeatable perspective on how near- or very far- certain features are. We never would’ve guessed that our new property, which with the trees and creek feels miles away from anywhere, is actually almost as close to downtown as our old place. Of course I suppose you could also try Google Earth, but it’s nowhere nearly as fun. No matter your method, getting “above it all” is an entirely new way to gain valuable perspective.

Get a Newspaper

You’re going to laugh that we actually found our new place from a newspaper ad. Chris and I have been keeping our ears and eyes open for places on the outskirts of town with some property (so our two and four year old could have ample “free range” space to run around). In the meantime, my sister has been toying with an idea of buying a place in Napa with two units- one for her to rent out and one for her to come up for the weekends from San Francisco. We were together one weekend and bought a Sunday issue of the Register, which contains a special real estate section. We were just scanning the listings when a photo of tall redwoods and wide-open spaces grabbed both of us. We immediately were intrigued by the rest of the listing and even though, at a 2 bedroom/2 bath it was smaller than I was looking for, we went to the open house anyway….and ended up closing escrow on it yesterday. Had I been searching online I might have missed this one because I was only searching for three bedrooms and above. Which brings me to my last tip…….

From Creek

We would’ve missed out on our new place if we’d only been searching onine for 3+ bedrooms. By looking at smaller houses we were able to find our dream property….with ample room to add on a master suite!

Get outside the “brackets”

Though the online search results for a given area code can seem huge, in Napa it often pays to search both above and below your price and bed/bath combo brackets. Sometimes larger bedroom/bath houses than you think you can afford have been on the market for a long time and have dropped in price. Or you could find a smaller square footage house that you could easily add on to with the money you’d save on the purchase price. Similarly, there are a surprising number of houses in Napa with “in-law units” and even sheds or shops that will not count as bedrooms or taxable square footage but that would count as valuable useable lifestyle and/or living space for you. We found our new paradise by being willing to look outside of our ideal search brackets, and being willing to plan on putting on a new master suite.

 

Get it? Got it? Great- and good luck!

 

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.  She is selling the downtown Napa Victorian where this blog got its start- contact Jocelyne Monello at 707-224-8281 for a showing!  The advice above is based on Alison’s personal experience and in no way is meant to replace the advice of a professional agent or real estate lawyer.

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

What Happens at Unified Stays at Unified- except your feedback.

UnifiedI won’t say who danced on the tables at the Ciatti party or who closed down the bar at the Sheraton last night.  As they say, what happens at the Unified Symposium, the largest annual gathering of the wine industry in the western hemisphere, stays at Unified.

 

Except your feedback.  We need it to learn which were the best sessions, to address any challenges that attendees may have had and most importantly to keep improving this very special and business-critical annual gathering.

 

I’m on the Unified Symposium Program Committee and we are tasked each year with choosing the topics, the panels and the speakers who will address our industry .  It’s a fiddly challenge because we’re peering into our crystal balls in June trying to figure out what the hot topics will be come January of the following year.  The themes and panel ideas have to be vetted, speakers, especially those coming from other countries, have to be invited early and of course the suppliers, the venue and all of the logistics have to be worked out.  It’s a year long process.

 

If you attended the Unified Symposium this year I ask that you please give us your feedback for the sessions you attended as well as the overall conference.  It’s only through your conversation with us, the organizers, that we can keep making this gathering of our peers the wonderful annual educational venue, trade show and yes, party, that it is.

 

Please fill out the survey here:

2015 Unified Symposium Session Surveys and Feedback Forms

Now go back to dancing on those tables.

 

 

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.  She is a member of the Unified Symposium Program Committee which helps choose the Symposium’s speakers and panels  each year.

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