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

Winemaking Begins With People

Winemaking Begins With People

checking the grapes

You can’t “make wine by the numbers,” it takes a skilled person to assess ripeness


The old saw goes, “Great wines begin in the vineyard.”  I beg to differ.  “Don Blackburn, one of California’s best crafters of Pinot Noir, used to have a sign posted on his office door that read, “Winemaking Begins With People.” His point was that no matter how expensive the barrel, talented the winemaker or mind-bogglingly stellar the fruit, all could be ruined by one too short tank wash cycle or one lab tech who didn’t bother to re-check that weird VA (volatile acidity). He also meant that great wines are a team effort, made great by many small acts, expertly done. Only people can do that.”


I wrote those words in an article in Wine Business Monthly back in 2006, and they still resonate for me today.  When I’m walking through the vine rows at Stanly Ranch in Carneros, impressed at how great of a suckering job the crew did on the Pinot Noir it’s a reminder of the hard work it took to get such a job done.

Assistant Winemaker, Barbara Ignatowski

Assistant Winemaker, Barbara Ignatowski

When I unscrew a bottle of Garnet Monterey Pinot Noir I am humbled that even though I may have the title “Winemaker” and get a lot of the credit in the public eye, it took a group effort to get the wine in that bottle, from the cellar intern pressure washing the floors to Garnet’s Assistant Winemaker Barbara making sure that the screw-capper was working just right.


Especially when I pour at events and get to chat face to face with people enjoying my wines, “Winemaking Begins With People” takes center stage and remains one of the best parts of being in the wine business.

Serenity Pics 002

Pumping over estate Pinot Noir at Byington Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains, where I worked with Don Blackburn

Though I last worked with Don as a cellar intern in 1998 learning how to make estate-grown Pinot Noir, I find myself remembering his famous office-door quote all the time and am so glad we remained good friends as I advanced in my own career.


Don is unfortunately no longer with us; we lost him far too early at age 54, in 2009, after a yearlong battle with cancer.

Actually, let me rephrase that.


Don Blackburn

As long as winemaking continues being a team sport, and one where competitors even cheer each other on from the sidelines, Don Blackburn and his truism “Winemaking Begins With People” will indeed still be with us.




About the author

Leave a Reply