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

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Carry on, #NapaHarvest!

keep-calm-and-make-more-wineYes,  a 6.0-6.1 earthquake thrust many of us all out of bed this morning.  Yes, a few of our barrels are all higgledy-piggledy in cellars north, south east and west of the brick-and-mortar #bummersauce that is downtown Napa right now.  There is, however, a lot of good news in and around the Valley so keep you upper lips stiff because many wineries and Napa businesses will be open this week.

 

 

I took a tour of my wineries and vineyards today and was pleasantly surprised by the non-drama of it all.  For Garnet Vineyards not a drop spilled and for my other consulting projects things are looking good. Tanks standing, barrel stacks (miraculously) standing- it’s all hard to believe and somehow still seems so surreal. I am grateful we were so lucky.  There are many who weren’t.  Historical building facades are down, bottles and wine glasses in downtown businesses are broken on the floor and most seriously, some families are injured and their loved ones are still recovering.

 

Our 1898 Victorian house downtown is largely undamaged, our family is safe and I am grateful for all of the goodwill pouring in from all angles- we will be sure to do our best to pass it on to our neighbors here in Napa who are putting their houses, and in some cases their businesses and lives, back together.   This cool weather week gave the winemakers a little break in the ripening season, time to re-coup, regroup and make sure 2014 will be the awesome vintage it was meant to be.  Keep calm and carry on, Napa!

 

Keep up with me at @alisoncrowewine and email me at ancrowe@hotmail.com if you want to get in t0uch.   Love to all.

Girlandthegrape.com Finalist for Wine Blog Awards 2014-”Best New Wine Blog”!! Vote now!

Vote for AliDo you like winemaking, life and the dirt straight from a real winemaker?

 

If so, give girlandthegrape.com a big ol’ “Yes ma’am!” for “Best New Wine Blog” at the annual vote-fest at the Wine Blog Awards!

 

It only takes a few seconds.  Voting is only open until June 19 so do it before you crack open the Sunday vino and forget…..

 

Alison Crowe is the Winemaker at Garnet Vineyards  @GarnetVineyards facebook.com/GarnetVineyards

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

 

The” Wine Text Interview”-a new way to talk to the wine consumer

 

Wilfreds Ali Pen Shot

Garnet Winemaker Alison Crowe
photo credit Wilfred Wong

Usually a winemaker is accustomed to being interviewed by a writer (my chosen term for journalists, bloggers, etc.- see more on that debate via Tom Wark) in person or over the phone.   They ask questions, you think about your responses and then answer, and then you email photos and a bio.  Sometimes (and sometimes not) an article with your quotes (sometimes edited, sometimes not) appears, and it gets published in print and/or online.  In my experience, email interviews are rare because most writers I’ve talked with want to get a sense of immediacy in a piece and email gives the interviewee “too much time to think” and the results often end up sounding too scripted.

It’s rare to be able to participate in what seems to be a new and pioneering way of talking to wine folks and I was thrilled to take part in a “Wine Text Interview” at wineconsumer.com.  Lead by Creative Director Sean Piper, the interview via text I did yesterday was fast paced, unscripted (typos by me and all) and spontaneous.

Checking out our Diamond Ranch anti-erosion set up before my 1:30 "wine text interview"

Checking out our Diamond Ranch anti-erosion set up before my 1:30 “wine text interview”

We had arranged the time just the day before and I didn’t know exactly where in my day I would be at 1:30 when Sean texted me.  If I had a break in the rain I was going to go check out how some of our Carneros and Sonoma Coast vineyards were faring in the recent heavy rain (no cover crop + lots of sudden rain = possibly erosion issues) and then head over to the winery to check on how our 2013 Pinots in barrel were doing. Sean didn’t give me any idea as to what he would ask or what we would chat about; I kind of liked it that way.

usa

Miguel and Alison respond to Sean’s request to “share a picture with a bottle of wine in the hands of a consumer or someone who helps you make the wine”. Miguel is part of the crack team of cellar operatives who made our recent bottling possible!

I was just diving into the stacks at 1:30 and was able to send him some “action shots” of my tasting set-up when he asked the first question about where I was and what I was doing.  From there I was asked stock questions like to describe what I do at Garnet, which wines we make and their price points, etc. Then there were some very unexpected questions which made me think.  One,  “Share a picture of a bottle of your wine in the hands of a consumer or someone who helps you at the winery” threw me for a loop as I scrambled to grab a bottle of our 2012 Rodgers Creek Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, which we had just bottled yesterday, and snap a picture of Miguel and I.

 

You can see the entire interview here.  It was a fun experience.  The “Wine Text Interview” retains the immediacy and spontaneity of a verbal interview and combines it with images and immediate share-ability.  It’s a little hard to get a full screen  view on the Facebook platform, so you have to click on Sean’s link on wineconsumer.com to read the whole story, but it’s a fun little narrative.

 

I think he’s the only one doing this format, and I look forward to more “Wine Text Interviews” from Sean and the Wineconsumer.com team.  I encourage my winemaking colleagues to participate in the game!

 

 

Alison Crowe is the Winemaker at Garnet Vineyards.  www.garnetvineyards.com @GarnetVineyards

copyright Alison Crowe 2013

Girl and The Grape: Top Blog Posts of 2013

Girl and the Grape hoists a glass of bubbles to all those who have visited and shared in  my first year of existence!  Happy 2014 everyone!

Girl and the Grape hoists a glass of bubbles to all those who have visited and shared in my first year of existence! Happy 2014 everyone!

Well, it’s almost January.  The stockings are down, the wrapping paper has been recycled and thank goodness that last stale bit of fruit cake has long been tossed out.  That means it’s time to break out the local bubbly (with a big plug for the Domaine Carneros wine club!) and have a nice think back on my first year as an official “Wine Blog” (or something  like that).

Many of you know that I’m a winemaker but also like to write.  I published The WineMaker’s Answer Book in 2007, write the long-standing “Wine Wizard” column for WineMaker Magazine and pen the occasional column for trade publications.  Basically, I just like to share about the wild and wacky but ever-fascinating world of winemaking, from a practitioner’s point of view.

I cover the "red wine headach" and sulfite issue in The WineMaker's Answer Book

I published a handy winemaking Q&A book in 2007

I started Girl and the Grape as a way for folks to peek under the hood a little bit, to see what I was up to and what I was thinking about during the wine making year.  The last thing I wanted to do was start another yawn-inducing “pretty winery picture” blog, indifferently updated once a quarter by the Marketing Intern.  Because I don’t have one of those (or even a “Marketing Department” per se) what you get at girlandthegrape.com is unfined and unfiltered, sometimes about current winemaking issues, sometimes about my vineyard dog Kona, but always about real things that real winemakers (or at least this real winemaker) think about.  The tagline “Winemaking, Life, the Dirt”  pretty much sums it up.

So according to those techno-geeky bloggy things like Google Analytics, as well as, more importantly, feedback from my winemaker friends and the bartenders at Oxbow, below are the five most popular blog posts from girlandthegrape.com.  Since I only started the blog in June, I’ve been so excited to welcome the hundreds (and then thousands) of visits and social media shares over the last six months.

Cheers to you all- I have so enjoyed sharing “Winemaking, life and the dirt” with you this year from the vineyards and look forward to a wonderful 2014!

 

1.  No Hangover Wine

-I dismantle, with the help of two professors from UC Davis, a questionable article which erroneously asserts that so-called “natural wine” can’t get you drunk.

2.  Vineyard Dogs

-A shout-out to my own Australian Shepherd Kona, as well as as a tribute to all great vineyard dogs out there.  (*warm fuzzies alert!*)

3.  Winemaker Confession:  I Don’t Wash My Grapes

-I spill it, sorry fellow winemakers.  We pick ‘em and we squish ‘em.  That’s non-interventionist, water-conserving all-natural winemaking.

4.  Winemaking Begins With People

-I share my most important winemaking truism,  and pay loving tribute to one of my Pinot Noir mentors, the late, great winemaker Don Blackburn.

5.  How Not to See Stars (the wrong way)

-I humbly submit tips and techniques for surviving a large public wine tasting event as I prepared for the Napa Valley Film Festival 2013.

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I wish you and yours a Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winemaker Confession: I Don’t Wash my Grapes (but neither does anyone else I know)

Sorting Syrah

Hands-on. Grapes the world over go from picking bin to fermenting bin with no washing step involved.

This last week there was a major internet flap when mom and blogger Claire Gross posted a blog on Babble.com that she bathed her three-month-old son Charlie maybe once every week or so.  “Yep, total confession time,” Claire writes.   ” I really don’t bathe my baby.”  This blog post prompted an online firestorm of negativity wherein parents around the globe heaped on criticism upon criticism, accusing her of neglecting her child at worst and losing valuable maternal  bonding time at best. In further media interviews after the story went viral Ms. Gross has revealed her pediatrician advised her that her second child’s delicate skin was drying out too much due to daily bathing so she scaled it down a notch and found a happy balance that worked for them.

So yes, total confession time.  I really don’t wash my grapes.  And well, neither does any winemaker I know or have worked with in the decade and a half I’ve been making wine.   This sometimes comes as a surprise to a public accustomed to salad spinners, special vegetable-washing soap and double and triple-washed and cellophane-bagged spinach in the supermarket.  On numerous occasions giving winery tours, I’ll grab a handful of grapes from the picking bins as my group of visitors watches the grapes poised over the destemmer.  I’ll pop a delicious Pinot Noir berry in my mouth and offer the cluster around, only to hear, “Oh…..don’t you wash them first?”

checking the grapes

Many winemakers feel the naturally-present yeast and bacteria cells from the vineyard are critical to their winemaking

Nope.  We don’t.

 

Nowhere in my winemaking education, formal or on-the-job, across the state of California and over two continents, was I shown that washing grapes before fermentation was necessary.

The reality is that “No human pathogen can survive in wine,” as one of my favorite UC Davis professors, Dr. Linda Bisson used to tell us in the first-year winemaking class.  Because of the high acidity (low pH) and high alcohol levels in a typical wine, no bacteria or virus that could infect a person (like a cold or flu bug, or even worse) can survive in that environment.  This is part of the reason why, for the ancient Romans, Greeks and many other societies, wine was used to help treat wounds and was considered a medicine.  Even though wine microbes like Lactobacilli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae are happy in that kind of harsh environment, bugs that live in the human body are not.

Winemakers also know what was sprayed (or in most cases, not sprayed, as grapes are a low-input crop compared to others) in the vineyard during the growing year.  In fact, residual fungicides or other chemicals disrupt a healthy fermentation, which is why winegrape growers are more limited than other fruit and vegetable growers in what they may use in a vineyard and why we ask our growers (or do it ourselves, if we are the grower) to provide meticulous records of anything applied.

Malbec in Argentina, hangin' in the breeze, collecting natural vineyard microbial flora

Malbec in Argentina, hangin’ in the breeze, collecting natural vineyard microbial flora

Are there sometimes mites, dust and bugs from the vineyard?  Sure.  Once I even spent an hour rescuing a dozen little green frogs from a bin of grapes as they went across the sorting table (no idea how they got there, must have been hanging out on the vine for some reason).  But most importantly, there are also valuable indigenous yeast and bacteria cells that can help contribute to a healthy and more interesting fermentation and eventually, wine. From Bordeaux to Burgundy, Modesto to Mendocino, grapes get picked, come into the winery, get crushed and become wine, without a grape-washing step involved*.

I really never gave it much thought before, but I suppose we could add grape-washing to our litany of winemaking steps.  Some might welcome it as a way to make squeaky-clean wine that they could market as “Triple Washed!”  Some would no doubt decry it as yet one more unnatural and non-traditional winemaking “intervention”.   It would undoubtedly be a waste of precious water and depending on residual levels, might dilute the wine.  Every day we are learning more and more about the microbial world within and around us and its valuable contribution to our health and well-being.  Why wash off microbes that might be beneficial in fermentation, or at least benign?  The dust that comes in on the grapes settles down to the bottom of the fermenter and gets racked off and left behind anyway.

Bryce Smilie

Baby Bryce, bathed once a week, happy to be part of the “Great Unwashed”.

To side with Claire Gross, I really don’t bathe my baby much either (Bryce is now almost eight months old).  He has dry skin and as per his pediatrician we find a once-a-week dunk works just fine for us, thanks very much. So here’s to the great unwashed!  Winemaking, like parenting, is an ancient, and yes sometimes dirty, art.

 

*If someone does wash their grapes first, contact me!  I’d be curious to do a follow-up blog post!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alison loves answering questions about the weird in wine and published the WineMaker’s Answer Book in 2007.  Interact with us at Garnetvineyards.com @GarnetVineyards and on Facebook!