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

About to Get Crushed! Staring down the 2013 Tsunami

2013 ain't no day at the beach- there's a tsunami of grapes out there!

2013 ain’t no day at the beach- there’s a tsunami of grapes out there!

2013 will most likely be remembered, by those who pick grapes and make wine as the year we almost drowned.  Yes, quality is looking great, sure, I like the aromas on the first Stanly Ranch Pinot ferments but who has time for critic-baiting niceties when you’re staring down the throat of the beast, and the grape tsunami of 2013 is about to eat you and your cowering crush crew for breakfast?

This is the deal:  just about everything, especially in Napa and Sonoma Counties is ripening at once.  I’ve never seen such narrow brix spreads between such disparate varietals as Alexander Valley Merlot, Carneros Chardonnay and Russian River Pinot Noir in recent memory.  Garnet Vineyards makes wine in a little shared “garagiste” winery space off the square in Sonoma and, though we just make Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, our colleagues (a new definition for “co-fermenters”?) make many different “flavors”- Dry Creek Zin, Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc, Alexander Valley Cab…..and we are all in amazement at how quickly this harvest will thunder to completion.

Though the actual start of harvest for Garnet Vineyards was only a week ahead of normal (first week in September, rather than the second), the grapes that follow on our Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are ripening a good two weeks ahead of normal.

Great quality- problem is it's all getting ripe at once!  Tidal wave!!!

Great quality- problem is it’s all getting ripe at once! Tidal wave!!!

That means that my friends’ Alexander Valley Merlot is going to want to be picked right when the tanks are full of Russian River Pinot Noir fermentations…so it’s a good thing I press out warm (Pinot Noir doesn’t benefit from extended maceration like Cabernet does)and have the barrels ready to go to clear the fermentation tanks for what’s coming next. 2013 will certainly be one of the most condensed, fast and furious harvest I’ve ever experienced.

I grew up in Santa Barbara and worked for years at Santa Cruz’s Bonny Doon Vineyard where the interns and the winemaking team would sometimes make a dash to Cowell’s or to any number of our favorite surf spots  for a little dip. One of the first lessons of surfing is when you see a big wave forming and you want to get the next one, the last thing you do is retreat back to the shore.  It’s sure to crunch you up and roll you under the kelp like a load of dirty laundry.  You have to face the wave, power over it and pop safely over to the other side, to await your next set.    Though I don’t think a lot of surfing breaks will happen for anyone this year, here’s hoping we can take on the challenge and tame this tidal wave of grapes.  Take a deep breath.  It’s guaranteed to be a wild ride!


The first wave- Stanly Ranch Pinot into the hopper at Garnet Vineyards

The first wave- Stanly Ranch Pinot into the hopper at Garnet Vineyards










All photos copyright Alison Crowe and Chris Purdy Photography,

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