Ah, La Belle France…..fine food, fashion, architecture and, of course, wine. Talk to any winemaker, however, and their favorite French export is likely to be French oak. Once just made into water-tight containers for storage and transport, French oak (along with a few other woods and nationalities, more on that later) has grown to become an integral part of the flavor and texture of many wines.
Not originally part of an ancient winemaking culture which relied on clay, stone or leather containers, wooden barrels have, over the centuries, made oak and wine a natural partnership. Oak’s capacity for bending and shaping, as well as its ubiquity in the forests of Northern Europe, ensured that as the wine trade grew in the Middle Ages, so did the use of oak barrels and casks in wine making. In modern times, as winemakers have built upon and adapted those ancient traditions, wood has become, for many winemakers and wine drinkers, almost a taken-for-granted wine ingredient. When wine comes in contact with oak it extracts flavor and aroma compounds as well as tannins from the wood, all of which can contribute to a wine’s complexity and longevity. The barrel’s structure as well as the porosity of the wood create a unique aging environment that allows the transfer of tiny amounts of oxygen to the wine over time.
There’s a reason we rely mostly on oak in wine making and not pine, orange or cottonwood trees. Oak is one of the few woods that can be cut, bent and crafted into a leak-proof container. It also imparts largely pleasant flavor and aroma compounds; it’s easy to like the vanilla, butterscotch and spice notes that well-toasted (more on that later too!) oak can bring to a wine. Are some wines over-oaked and some winemakers too heavy-handed in their employment of what some have called “Medieval Tupperware”? Absolutely. In my winemaking approach I never rely on a recipe. Wines heavier in natural tannin and color can “handle” a little more oak whereas a Pinot Noir generally calls for less. For me, wines like a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir Rose never see any oak at all. I let the intended wine style, and the wine itself, be my guide.
This June I was lucky enough to be invited to France by one of my barrel suppliers, Radoux, to witness first hand how one of our most beloved wine making tools gets from the forests of France into our cellars. From acorn to tree, from tree to barrel and from barrel to finished wine, I and three other winemakers traversed France and Spain on our quest to get to the heart of what wood brings to wine. We asked a million questions, drove what seemed about a million miles but also, as you might imagine, had a lot of fun. The next few posts will detail my journey through the Loire, Bordeaux, Rioja and the Ribera del Duero as I learned about the art of growing and working with French oak.
Alison Crowe lives in Napa and is the Winemaker for Garnet Vineyards and Picket Fence Vineyards in addition to sundry other bespoke wine projects. Girlandthegrape.com won “Best New Wine Blog” in the 2014 Wine Blog Awards. Alison is also the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book , loves a good French flea market and has a particular fondness for Champagne.
The annual Unified Wine & Grape Symposium is the largest wine trade show in the Western Hemisphere and for the last 23 years has attracted thousands of wine industry folks from around the world. It was started in 1995 by two non-profit groups, the American Society for Enology & Viticulture (ASEV) and the California Association of Winegrape Growers (CAWG) as a way for the industry to keep up to date on information and technology.
This January over 14,000 winemakers, executives, grape growers, vineyard workers, consultants, marketing professionals and suppliers converged on the Sacramento Convention Center in what some have described as “The City’s Biggest Party”. Whether one comes for work, pleasure or a little of both, the Unified Symposium is the premier event for education and networking in the U.S. wine industry.
I stopped a few folks in the hallways to ask what they got out of this year’s event and what Unified means for them. Here’s what they said:
Ray Johnson, Executive Director, Wine Business Institute, Sonoma State University
“It’s an opportunity to connect with the people who are making it happen in the wine industry.”
Tim McDonald, Chief Everything Officer, Wine Spoken Here Communications
“I have attended Unified from the start and this year was perhaps my favorite because of the outside-of-the box sessions! It started with a ‘bang’ when a wine journalist speaks about transparency and ingredient labeling. You have to be authentic and have to have a dialogue vs. a monologue with our consumers as well as empathy for them too. Learn, be inspired and most importantly, act! Plus I loved the berry to cannabis exploration… brilliant.”
Erica Moyer, Broker and Partner, Turrentine Brokerage
“Unified means being able to get together with friends, drink a little wine and eat good food. Everyone seems to let their hair down a little.”
Pete Opatz, Vice President Vineyard Operations, Silverado Investment Management Corporation
“Going to the general sessions to get the trends and information is great, but seeing everybody is just as important. Networking is right up there with content.”
Chris Younger, Vino Farms
“We come to see the technology on the exhibit floor and in the sessions. The State of the Industry talk is great- it’s interesting to see a wide perspective.”
Brant Burgiss, Winemaker, Thistle Meadow Winery, North Carolina
“I come for the lectures and to see the vendors. I wish there were more lectures in fact! Coming all the way from North Carolina was totally worth it.”
Steve Burch, Regional Sales Manager, Tonnellerie Radoux
“I look forward to the Unified Symposium every year to both catch up on emerging technology in the wine industry and catch up with relationships built over 20 years in the business.”
Learn, Act and Be Inspired
Part alumni reunion, part deep-dive into technology and trends, it’s our annual industry get-together and learning opportunity. On Thursday morning, Amy Hoopes, President of Wente Vineyards lead a TED-style panel called “Adapt or go Extinct”. “Let’s be curious and engage in that which is outside our own silos,” she said. “We need to learn, be inspired and act.”
The most important thing we can do after Unified is to act on what we’ve learned. Follow up with that supplier who could really impact your business in a positive way. Jot down some ideas that inspired you. Write a thank-you note to someone who gave you some great coaching over coffee and shake the hand of a young first-timer. You never know who you might teach and inspire, or what you might learn to move your business forward.
Did you attend the 2017 Unified? Please tell us what Unified means to you by filling out our attendee survey form and session surveys:
A big thanks to the staff and volunteers that make Unified Symposium possible- from the Sacramento Convention Center workers to the CAWG and ASEV boards to the Unified Symposium Program Committee and beyond.
Alison Crowe is an award-winning consulting winemaker and author based in the Napa Valley. She is a member of the Program Committee for the Unified Wine & Grape Symposium.
Her wines (among many other wine projects):
Her book: The Winemaker’s Answer Book
UW&GS and the UW&GS Logo are licensed trademarks of Unified Wine & Grape Symposium LLC
Friends and colleagues around the world have seen pictures of a very wet wine country in the media and many have contacted me wondering what the impact of all of these storms will be on grapevines.
Here’s what I posted on Facebook on Tuesday, January 11th after the first big storm (about 4.5 inches in 72 hours at our house in Napa) rolled through the area:
“Question: What do the recent rains mean for Napa and Sonoma grapes? I’ve seen pictures of flooded vineyards on the news and online.
Answer: Grapevines can tolerate flooding/”wet feet” for around 20 days. In fact, the French once used vineyard flooding to control the Phylloxera root pest. The recent Napa/Sonoma rains were acute (and did produce some “clickable” photos) but short lived. The few affected Napa valley floor vineyards I’ve seen this morning are draining out. Like everywhere else, the ground is saturated so you can bet everyone is going to be keeping an eye on trees, slopes and vineyard architecture (posts, trellises) to make sure we don’t have negative effects due to erosion and downed trees. I’m thrilled our vineyard reservoirs are full and that water tables are getting replenished- it bodes very well for the 2017 harvest.”
We are now facing another series of storm cells lined up off the Pacific Coast. It started with yesterday’s (Wednesday, 1/18/17) wet and windy day and isn’t supposed to stop coming until this coming Monday. The forecast is for around five inches to find its way into Napa and Sonoma Counties in as many days.
I predict that, once again, the news folks will be out snapping photos and shooting videos for their nightly newscasts. Once again, we’ll be sharing our soggy vineyard pictures on Instagram and reacting with the Facebook “Wow!” button when we see the Conn Dam spillway back in action.
For water-starved Northern Californians, I have to admit it’s been pretty fun to be able to finally see creeks rise and reservoirs get full-to-bursting, even though of course we don’t want anyone to get hurt or suffer serious property damage. The truth is, there will always be the low-lying areas (like poor Guerneville on the Russian River) that get waterlogged for a period of time. We will always have those corners of our vineyards that get “wet feet” and dry out later than everywhere else.
Even if pruning has to be delayed a little bit in some places, there is still time to get the work done before bud-break in early March. After years of drought and parched vines struggling under super-dry conditions, I’m happy to see this season’s turn-around. Because these acute periods of rain so far have been followed by at least a few days to dry out (we have at least six sunny days forecast starting Tuesday), many of us in the wine business have been saying, “Hey, we’ll take it!” I’ll even take a few vineyard blocks with wet feet because, after all, that’s what’s “normal” for this time of year in Northern California. For once, in an industry that increasingly values the rare and extreme, normal feels pretty good.
Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker, blogger and author who lives in the Napa Valley.
Love it or hate it, 2016 brought us some very interesting things. As a Winemaker, author, blogger and citizen of California “wine country” (I make vino from the Central Coast, and Napa and Sonoma Counties), it brought me into contact with some new friends, some new experiences and definitely some cool new things.
Many end-of-year posts are all about “Top X Wines of 2016”. Here you will find no “Top Wines” as the best wines are the ones you best love to drink (mine is Champagne, by the way). Below is simply a lovingly-collected compilation of treats, books, art and goodies from 2016 that are related to wine….and aren’t wine….which made me happy in 2016.
But First, Champagne
The title of David White’s new book about Champagne might as well be the first thing a dinner guest hears while walking through a winemaker’s door. After a day of making Cabernet, the last think many of us want is a big glass of red. Except the drink being poured is as likely to be called “bubbles” since no winemaker would ever call domestic sparkling wine, no matter how renowned (vintage Schrammie, anyone?), “Champagne”. That name is reserved for the French stuff alone. That little factoid is one of the many in Mr. White’s book necessary for the newbie to know. Rest assured, Champagne veterans will find plenty to capture their attention from the fascinating history of this renowned wine to the current producers and growers. With sparkling wines and Champagne on a world-wide sales upswing, and with a paucity of good reads on this fascinating subject, But First, Champagne is a book whose time has come. I predict White’s book will remain close at hand at my house for year-round reading and reference. Because whether consumed in the shower (me, guilty) or whilst attending a shower, Champagne is always in season.
McQuade’s Celtic Chutney
We do not eat enough chutney in the United States. I was about to say, “around here” but in my kitchen, at least, we do approximate our annual chutney allocation because in 2016 I found the good stuff. McQuade’s Celtic Chutney to be exact. What’s Celtic about it you ask? Well, it’s made by the delightful and delightfully very Scottish redhead, Alison McQuade, based around her Granny McQuade’s handwritten chutney recipes. My favorite is the Fig & Ginger, which goes wonderfully with my Garnet Monterey Pinot Noir and Cowgirl Creamery’s Mt. Tam cheese. Beyond the obvious cheese and wine pairing, I find myself dipping into a jar to serve with grilled pork chops or to dress up a simple sandwich. McQuade’s Celtic Chutneys can be found in the Bay Area at the San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace and Cowgirl Creamery in addition to restaurants and fine retailers in the area and or by contacting Alison at email@example.com.
The One Glass
A few months ago I was tasting some amazing Sardinian wines at Master Sommelier Andrea Robinson’s house and halfway through the first flight a guest’s wayward elbow launched a glass off the counter top. Granted, the glass did fall on a thin kilim carpet laid over the kitchen tile but as I witnessed a small bounce instead of a big smash, I was immediately impressed. In my house that wine glass would’ve been toast. That was my introduction to The One Glass, a line of fine wine stemware created by Andrea and her husband John. Andrea had been approached by several stemware companies looking to partner with her on a custom glass but she never found a product she was willing to get behind nor did she subscribe to the notion that you needed a different glass for every type of wine. As a busy wine professional and equally busy parent, Andrea decided to create her own universal white and red wine glass. They had to meet her exacting design criteria while being affordable and (gasp!) dishwasher safe. Like Andrea says, “Wine and wine glasses should not be complicated.” I could not agree more. Buy The One at Amazon here.
Dana Confection Co.’s Calissons
Calissons are a traditional French sweet with a somewhat mysterious history. Essentially a layer of crisp royal icing atop a paste of fruit (often melon) and almonds, no one exactly knows when they were first made or how they got their name. I enjoyed them on a trip to the area around Aix-en-Provence a few years ago but up until recently hadn’t seen them since. Happily, in 2012, confectioner Rachel Dana discovered calissons while visiting the South of France and returned to her atelier in Brooklyn to perfect a domestic recipe for her fruit-based concoctions. I love how the crunchiness of the icing gives way to a toothsome chewiness of bright fruit and almond paste. Dana’s Black Currant Jasmine calisson has a dark-fruited depth of flavor lightened by a jasmine green tea-like freshness. Not too sweet and intriguingly flavored (including Melon Blossom and Rhubarb Lavendar), Dana Confection Co’s calissons would be an elegant and unique part of a wine and cheese tasting or after-dinner cheese and fruit plate.
Penelope Moore’s Palette of the Palate Artwork
Winemaker Dinner where I get up and introduce a flight of my wines paired with the chef’s selections? Ho hum. Winemaker Dinner where an artist is painting a live interpretation of my wine on a huge canvas in front of the guests? Now that’s a cool wine country experience. Art and wine are oft-linked and glibly paired but as artist Penelope Moore and I discovered, both winemaking and oil painting do have a lot in common. Using a given media (me: grapes, her: colored oils) we each use our skills and artistry to transform our raw material into a new creation. I listen to the grapes and guide them to be the wine they were meant to become. Penelope tasted my wine, in this case my Garnet Vineyards Rodgers Creek Pinot Noir, analyzed its aromas and flavors and then let them guide her color and layering choices to create an interpretation of the wine in oils. Visit her website for a look at her visual interpretations of wine as well as her larger body of other beautiful and creative work.
These were my Top 5 (non-liquid) Wine Things of 2016. Here’s to you and yours as we turn the page on one year and look forward to the next. Cheers!
Alison Crowe is an award-winning winemaker, author and blogger and lives in Napa.
Her wine: www.garnetvineyards.com (among other projects)
Her book: The Winemaker’s Answer Book
Her contact info: firstname.lastname@example.org @alisoncrowewine
Sample reviews: Please email me at email@example.com for sample submission or informational reviews. I don’t do a ton of product reviews as this is largely an educational and personal wine blog (and my day job is being a winemaker) but if I take a fancy to your stuff like that of the folks above, I may talk about it!
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)
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.
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 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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 707-299-0524.
Panettone, Truffles, Cheese etc., from Cheesemonger Doralice Handal
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!
email@example.com Instagram: labodeguera
Wine Barrel Furniture and Home Goods from Buddha Barrels
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: firstname.lastname@example.org @alisoncrowewine
All pictures above used with permission
-“How many months of barrel age?”
-“Is this Chardonnay ML complete?”
-“Is this 100% Pinot?”
-“What’s the blend here?”
The problem is that the above, which get so much of the focus of sommeliers, wine critics and the public alike, are all a lot less important than one little thing: when the grapes were picked.
As the rain pours down here in Napa (the second…or is it the third storm this October?) this is what is on the top of my mind regarding the end of Harvest 2016, and regarding quality winemaking in general. I heard tales of some of our Napa Cab buyers wanting to hang their grapes not just through the first little rain we had at the beginning of October, but through the subsequent, much more significant event that brought almost an inch and a half mid-month.
You see, most Cabernet (and other loose-bunched varieties like Merlot) can generally ride out a little rain (say, less than 0.5 inch) with no problems, as long as it warms up afterwards. Let your clusters sit out through more precipitation than that, however, and the berries can take up too much water, become diluted, breed rot and generally become tasteless mush.
As grapes ripen, sugar levels increase, puckery tannins lose their harshness, and green notes (hopefully) go away. Naturally-present compounds like amino acids and other nutrients critical for yeast growth and healthy fermentations can start to decline while desirable “mature” flavor components are generally on the rise.
“Hangtime” doesn’t necessarily mean ripening time, however. Time on the vine, in the face of cold weather or a canopy that’s shutting down with late-season senescence, doesn’t equate to real metabolic change within the grapevine or the grapes. With a blind devotion to a certain amount of “hang time” in heat or dry weather, you’re only making raisins, not healthy grapes for delicious wine. After two rainstorms, you’re toast, and definitely not of the tasty medium-plus barrelhead variety.
Choosing the perfect moment to pick is perhaps more of an art than a science. We can use numbers (Brix, acidity, even phenolic data) as guidelines but the decision itself is a balance of a multitude of factors. Sometimes nature gets in the way (2008 heat spike anyone?) or the wineries just get so plugged up there are no empty tanks (remember 2005?). This year, the right call was to bring in your grapes before that second rainstorm.
I realize that the pick date is much, much harder for anyone else besides the winemaker and grower to put into proper context. Each vintage, from AVA to AVA and often vineyard to vineyard, has its nuances. In a sea of wines, it’s understandably difficult for consumers and the media to recognize the importance of picking Cabernet in Oakville on October 6 rather than October 16 2016. Memorizing “18 months in French Oak” from a wine fact sheet is definitely an easier factoid to hold onto.
The importance of the pick date is one of the reasons I always say that once the grapes are picked, the path to wine is already laid before you. Once you’ve committed to picking your Grenache at 22.5 Brix you’d better be making a rose because it’s never going to lend much to a full-bodied GSM blend. Even if you picked your Oakville Cab on October 12 at 24.7 Brix it’s still going to be a better wine than one getting whipped around on a shut-down canopy after an inch and a half of rain.
So no, it’s not the fancy oak barrel, it’s not the soupçon of Rousanne you co-fermented your Syrah with, it’s not that 3% of whole cluster Pinot Noir in your open-top tank, no matter what your marketing department wants you to put on the website. It’s something much more personal and something that should be closer to your heart and soul: your wine’s birthday.
Once you pick, the path to wine is already laid out before you, immutable, unchangeable and excitingly full of possibilities. The wine is already telling you what it wants to be and needs to be. Your job is to pay attention and let it have its voice.
Alison Crowe is an award-winning Winemaker, blogger and author and lives in Napa. She holds an MBA as well as degrees in Viticulture and Enology and Spanish from UC Davis.
“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.
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Winston Churchill
Tomorrow I’m honored to be a member of a panel discussion on wine making and mentoring as part of the Women of the Vine 2016 Symposium. This sold-out gathering of wine industry professionals is an opportunity to learn from our peers and to share our experiences, very much like a traditional mentoring arrangement. As I prepared for our conversation (which our moderator, Guy Stout of Glazer’s, insists will be a power-point free zone), I jotted down some thoughts. I realized that, especially in the wine business, and especially in my slightly unorthodox way of being a “Winemaker” (read: consulting winemaker developing multiple brands), my experience with mentoring others has been anything but traditional.
Here are some things that I realized I didn’t know- or had forgotten- about mentoring.
-It doesn’t have to be with someone “younger”
In the wine business, many people are coming at it as a second or even third career. When I was a teenager just starting the UC Davis Viticulture & Enology program I was surprised (and in fact a little intimidated) to be on the lab bench next to forty-somethings who had already had success as chefs or teachers or financiers. Today, I field calls, emails and Facebook messages from folks in their sixties as well as recent college graduates. Mentoring happens in many age brackets.
-It doesn’t have to happen within your specific industry or area
I’m a winemaker so it’s natural to think about mentoring in term of developing an Enologist or training harvest interns. In fact, the kind of mentoring I have done the most of is cross-disciplinary within the wine industry. Perhaps it’s because I am also an author and got my MBA at UC Davis with a lot of non-wine folks, I am contacted by journalists, food industry folks, marketing professionals and social media mavens as well as aspiring winemakers. They all have great questions and our conversations are rich and hopefully as satisfying for them as they are for me.
-It doesn’t have to happen on the job
One of my most rewarding mentoring experiences happens on the weekends. A grad school friend of mine (who is in wine sales) and a neighbor (who, along with her husband are wine industry finance professionals) often meet on Saturday mornings to hike and walk in local parks and vineyards. We talk about our personal lives, of course, but have made some valuable professional inroads in between the vineyard rows. Just by doing something enjoyable (exercising out in nature) we’ve found another opportunity to grow together in our own co-mentoring group.
-It doesn’t have to be a lot of work
If you find interacting with others enjoyable, folding mentoring activities into your professional and personal life isn’t hard at all. Respond to that unsolicited email, invite someone to have a phone conversation and volunteer for a cause you find appealing, whether it’s related to your industry or not. Chances are, in a few months, you’ll naturally find you’ve positively impacted someone’s life.
-It works both ways
You don’t have to be someone’s boss to be a mentor, nor is mentoring a one way street. Like my weekend workout group has proven to me, it’s practically assured you’ll learn plenty when someone seeks you out. Working through issues and challenges with someone else in an empathetic way puts you “in someone else’s shoes” by default and again, by default, your own perspective is changed. When I’m working with someone else I end up better defining my own personal and professional truths. By listening to others you then learn to better listen to yourself.
Tips for mentoring.
-Ask them a lot of questions- oftentimes others are afraid to ask you.
-As an employer, find ways to offer leadership and growth possibilities to all employees.
-Be “findable” (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram etc.) and people will seek you out.
-Help people uncover their intrinsic vs extrinsic motivators. A healthy combination of both is the key to career happiness and sustainability.
Alison Crowe is the Director of Winemaking for Plata Wine Partners and makes wine for Garnet Vineyards, Back From the Dead Red wines and Picket Fence Vineyards among others. She is the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book, the winner of “Best New Wine Blog” in 2014 and lives in Napa, California.
It’s hard to believe I’m talking about Harvest 2016 already. It makes sense, though, because every vintage is always just a certain number of months away from picking, no matter what time the year. Indeed, every season of the year, and the weather conditions therein, ultimately decide the size and quality of grape crop we have and the kind of wine we will make.
I wasn’t the first one to bring up Harvest 2016; I had my head stuck in a bottling line, putting the cork in my first Garnet Vineyards Stanly Ranch single vineyard Pinot Noir when I fielded a call from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Their reporter told me he had just been talking to someone who had active budbreak showing at 25% in the Russian River. He wanted to know what I was seeing in our vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, and Carneros.
As I stood outside Garnet Vineyards’ winery off of 8th St. East in Sonoma, sheltering from gusty bouts of a rare February drizzle, I laughed and said, “Not much.” The only active green growth I’d been enjoying in my vineyards was this year’s ample, well-watered cover crops. January’s rainfall and February’s recent three-week warm spell really got the mustard going and from Rutherford to Carneros, the Napa Valley has been one beautiful carpet of yellow and green lushness.
Not that I haven’t heard rumors of the odd teeny leaf peeping out here and there. One of my co-workers had just emailed around a fuzzy bud of Chardonnay (one of the earlier-ripening varieties) which looked like a pale green cotton ball about to unfurl into a tender leaf. But 25%? I wasn’t buying it last week and after touring through the Pinot Noir (always my first starter) in the Petaluma Gap and Carneros AVA’s this weekend I’m still not buying 25% in the active bud break/leafing stage. You can find a few pushing buds here and there in the very warmest areas, in pockets, but it’s not widespread…yet.
It’s about to get crazy, however, because we’ve got at least another week of mild weather with highs in the mid-70’s here in Napa coming up. There’s no rain on the horizon for at least another ten days. If the leaves get all warm and fuzzy and fat and happy and then a cold snap burns developing buds or a big rainstorm reduces flower fertility during an unseasonably early bloom, it could spell trouble for the 2016 grape crop. However, a colder January than we experienced in 2015 is keeping budbreak more on the normal side for most vineyards as far as I can tell.
Everyone is in agreement that California needs more water (especially our parched neighbors on the Central Coast) but as a “drought year” like 2015 showed us, it all depends on when we get it. I would welcome it after bud break and before bloom- and maybe with a little luck on our side we’ll have a “Miracle March” to help pull us away from drought conditions. So far it seems, from our initial bud analysis, that crop yield is at least starting in a “normal” place. What we end up taking off the vine, in quality as well as quantity, depends on how much frost we get during the next month and how much disruption storms bring during the bloom and set season. We are in early days yet, everyone. Cross your fingers for another nice Napa and Sonoma County harvest.
Alison Crowe is a Napa-based consulting winemaker (Vindie Wines, Back From the Dead Red Wine), author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book, and is at the helm of Garnet Vineyards and Picket Fence Vineyards.
All over California, Harvest 2015 was a spooky one. Rumors of Sauvignon Blanc mysteriously vanishing were rife. Grapes were disappearing left and right. Winemakers tried to blame the viticulturists for poor crop estimates. Viticulturists tried to blame the weather. This, however, is the real story behind what happened……
In days of yore the Harvest lore
Was all ‘bout tons redundant
Ample flows, wines white and rose
Cheered us with yields abundant
Alas, ’15, with yields obscene
Doth make me scratch my head
Could it be our Cab and PV
Were pillaged by zombies instead?
One harvest night in full moonlight
A zombie horde I spied
In lieu of brains & bloody remains
With bloody paws & dripping maws
They gobbled with wild delight,
And so instead the crazed undead
Left nary a berry in sight!
Oh what a pick and such a trick
This grape massacre unforeseen.
Though ‘tis delish and you I wish
A most Happy Halloween!
Zombies ate my grapes. For real. OK, maybe only in Paso…..
There indeed was a “perfect storm” of causes all over Coastal California: long-term drought effects, extended bloom, poor set due to weather, sporadic frost damage, the odd freak summer rainstorm during bloom… but the great news is that what we have is looking great. 2015 is set to be a distinctive and delicious year. Small berries, great color on the Bordeaux varietals, concentrated flavors and extremely fruity wines all are making me grateful that one bad trick has provided many treats this Harvest!
Alison Crowe is a Napa-based winemaker with projects that include Garnet Vineyards, Picket Fence Vineyards, and Back From the Dead Red. She works with grapes from Napa, Russian River, Carneros and the Central Coast so saw a wide range of yields in 2005. She is an award-winning blogger and winemaker and is the author of The Winemaker’s Answer Book.