Wine Diamonds

Have you ever purchased a white wine and noticed crystals in the bottom of the bottle or a red wine that has crystals on the bottom of the cork?  Many consumers look at this as sediment, but it is not wine sediment.  It is potassium bitartrate.  A natural grape acid found in wines.  These crystals form when wine is chilled, and the acid molecules crystalize and fall out of solution.  If you have ever used cream of tartar in your kitchen, then you are familiar with these crystals.

These crystals are completely harmless and a generally a sign that the wine has not been over manipulated in the winery.  Most wines go through a process called cold stabilization that promotes this bitartrate crystallization in the winery in stainless steel tanks.  In order to do this the wine is chilled to 30 degrees F and left there for several weeks.  Once the crystals have formed, the wine is filtered off the crystals and prepared for bottling.  Another method to prevent crystallization involves using a blend of cellulose polymers added to the wine to prevent the crystallization.  These polymers disrupt the surface of the crystals preventing crystallization.

Many winemakers, including ours, skip this step, feeling that the process takes away from the delicate nuances and flavors.  In addition, there are some concerns on the environmental impact of chilling large tanks and volumes of wine for such a long period of time.  The chillers are energy hogs and pull a lot of power from the grid to keep tanks at 30 degrees.  Many of these wine tanks are outside and the chillers must work hard to combat the elements.

Winemakers are also generally against using too many additives in their wine.  Using the cellulose polymers is an acceptable way to stabilize white wine, but our winemaker just does not like adding outside products to our natural wines.  Our philosophy is to keep our wines as natural as possible.

So, if you get a bottle of wine with crystals in it, consider yourself lucky.  We like to call those wine diamonds.  This is generally a sign of a high-quality, low production wine that is sure to please.  The crystals are totally harmless.

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Bud Break In The Vineyards

Budbreak is the magical time of the year that marks the beginning of our growing season and beginning of the new vintage. Typically budbreak happens between mid-March and mid-April depending on how cold our winter has been and how much rain we have received. This year we experienced a cold early winter and then heavy rains from late winter into spring much like 2016. We’ve had warm spells in between the rain storms that have helped wake up the vines in the last weeks of March.

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Cabernet Franc Budbreak in Historic Flinn Vineyard

 

 

Although this joyous occasion marks the start of a new season we at Croze like to take a moment to reflect on the past growing seasons. Each growing season is different from the next and each season is a chance to sharpen our tools and take past lessons and apply them to this season. Each bottle of wine has a story to tell and that story always begins in the vineyard with budbreak.

What is budbreak? If you follow any wineries on social media you have no doubt seen pictures of opened buds in the vineyards. Budbreak is the first part of the growth cycle of the vine. As temperatures rise, generally above fifty degrees, and the days grow longer the tiny buds gather energy, swell and literally burst. The buds leaves open and begin to grow into shoots. These shoots can grow as fast as one inch per day.

Now that the first vines have begun to wake from their slumber reach, into your wine racks, grab a bottle and let’s toast to the 2019 vintage!

Meet Our Team – Bill

Bill Thompson is the owner and winemaker for Wandering Cellars and a partner with Croze and Smith Wooton.  After a very successful engineering career, Bill chased his dream and entered the wine industry.

Bill helps with all aspects of our business and splits time between Minnesota and the Napa Valley.

Favorite music to listen to at work?

Styx Radio on Pandora

What is your favorite wine from our companies?

Debut and Melange

What is your favorite wine outside of ours?

Barrel fermented and aged Chenin Blanc’s from South Africa

If you could share a meal with anyone, who would it be? What would you eat?

My mom’s I lost them when I was very young.  My parents told me I loved to hang out at their farm.  So, it would have to be farm fresh grilled vegetables, mashed farm grown potatoes slathered in real butter and garlic with a great steak from their farm raised cattle.

What is your favorite part of the wine industry?

Tasting our wines with new friends and family.

What is your favorite meal? What wine would you pair with it?

Pasta Carbonara with a barrel fermented Chardonnay. The creamy mouthfeel pairs great with the carbonara.

Who in the wine industry do you admire?

Pierre Seillan of Verite Wines. He is my inspiration to produce world-class wines true to the varietal.

Do you prefer aged wines or younger wines? Why?

I prefer an aged wine. I love the old earthy ground floor notes from a red blend or Cabernet Sauvignon.  With an aged white, I love the nutty aromas and flavors.

Weirdest/most interesting wine story?

Meeting Jess Jackson of Kendall Jackson wines at a Verite wine event many years ago. He was a humble man and very easy to talk to.

What is your fondest wine memory?

Chris and I were sitting outside of a restaurant now called PF8 Nitro Ice Cream Lab in Yountville. We were having breakfast, I recall Chris saying she was not ready to fly back that day.  At that moment I said let’s stay another day.  I did not even get the words out and she said yes.  A quick call to Delta and we enjoyed another day in Napa.

Meet the Team pt 2

Daniel Benton is the vintner behind all the brands in our family of wines.  He runs the wine production and vineyard operations for us and is our in-house chef and proud father.

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Daniel Benton, Vintner

Favorite music to listen to at work?

It depends on the day and the task. If we are bottling I love to listen to Reggae.  It gets all the staff and the wines in the right mood for a tough day.  When I am blending or analyzing wine, I like Jazz.  It seems to set the mood and keep me focused on the delicate nuances of the wines.  Vineyard work must be Americana or country music.  I definitely tailor the music to the day.

What is your favorite wine from our companies?

That is a hard question. I get asked it all the time.  It really depends on the situation, the company and the meal in front of me.  I usually just answer with the one that is currently in my glass.

What is your favorite wine outside of ours?

I have a lot. I really enjoy supporting our colleagues and friends in the industry.  I lean towards Napa wines, but like a lot of other California wines as well.  I also love great Burgundy.  I don’t think I can choose just one. 

If you could share a meal with anyone, who would it be? What would you eat?

This is a question I have thought about many times. I am lucky that I get have dinner with my favorite people each and every night (Kara and Callan).  But if I had to choose someone from the wine and food industry I would say Thomas Keller.  I have been lucky enough to eat in many of his restaurants and I have a deep appreciation for his philosophy on food and service.   I have walked the French Laundry gardens and watched the dedication his team has to the basic ingredients.

What is your favorite part of the wine industry?

The people. Hands down.  I have met some of the best people through this industry.  Wine has a way of bringing like-minded people together. 

What is your favorite meal? What wine would you pair with it?

I love classic recipes.  I would have to say a beautifully marbled prime ribeye steak with Croze Vintners Reserve is my favorite.  We have a couple great purveyors of beef here and when I want to celebrate I go crazy.  You should see the tomahawk ribeye’s we get from 5-dot

Who in the wine industry do you admire?

Well I have to say that we have been luck to call some of the greatest people in this industry our friends. I admire all the small vintners who have taken a chance to chase their passion.  This is a very competitive industry with an infinite number of wines and brands from all over the world.  It is intimidating and having the courage to accept the risk and chase a dream is sign of strong conviction.  I know that is not an actual answer, but I don’t want to name specific mentors and friends.

Do you prefer aged wines or younger wines? Why?

It depends on the wine. A well-made wine is great with a decade of bottle age on it.  However, not all wines age well.  Knowing the difference is key.  I always get asked if our wines can be aged and I usually respond with a question.  Do you like the flavor profile of aged wines?  As a wine ages it shifts from fruit forward to more earthy flavors.  There is less brightness and more complexity.  I love to age our wines.  I would say I am right in the middle.  I love wines with 8-12 years in the cellar. 

Weirdest/most interesting wine story?

Man, there are a lot.  I believe I will pass on this one so I do not incriminate myself or any of my colleagues.

What is your fondest wine memory?

My first trip to Napa. It was my wife and I’s first anniversary.  That is when we fell in love with this place together.  We knew we wanted to be a part of this and worked to find a way to make it happen.  We visited some iconic wineries and came home with a lot of great stories, memories and wine!

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Near Perfect Harvest

2018 has been a magical year in the Napa Valley.  The weather has been near perfect, allowing for a substantial fruit set and long hang-time.  After several challenging vintages defined by drought and wildfires, Mother Nature rewarded the perseverance of Napa Valley wineries with a near perfect growing season.

This season started after adequate winter rains filled reservoirs and replenished ground water.  The vines came to life in early spring and the weather was conducive to a large fruit set.  The temperatures were moderate with no rain and minimal wind.  This all resulted in a picture perfect bloom and set.  The summer temperatures remained steady with minimal heat spikes allowing for a slow even fruit development.

This year veraison was extended with moderate temperatures allowing for a slow and steady development of fruit maturity.   As the fruit approached harvest, the mild weather continued and thick skinned red grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, had ample hang-time to allow secondary flavors to develop.

The excitement surrounding the 2018 harvest is evident as I talk to colleagues.  This is a banner year for the Napa Valley and we are all very fortunate for such fantastic weather conditions after several challenging vintages.  Be on the lookout for these wines when they are released in the years to come.  This may very well be one of the greatest vintages in Napa history!

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Napa Fires

The wine country region of Northern California has been fighting wild fires since Sunday evening.  The total devastation is not yet know, as the fires are still raging and barely contained.  There are stories emerging of thousands of homes destroyed and a number of family wineries burned to the ground.  As is normally the case with the Napa Valley, there are also stories of neighbors pulling together to save each others property.  The wine industry is a close knit bunch who have a history of pulling together during times of need.

In fact, the wine industry as a whole is one of the most charitable industries in the nation.  Through our associations we raise millions of dollars for charities, both local and national.  In addition, our individual wineries support a tremendous number of causes across the country.  We fly to local markets to support our distributors charity events and take part in local restaurant and wine shop auctions and gala’s.  We give our time, money, and wine donations to help support those who we have business relationships with.  Many wineries bottle significant quantities of large format wines specifically to donate to charity events.  Even as a very small producer, we travel 6-8 times a year just to support charity events.

Now the tides have turned.  We are the ones in need.  Families are displaced, lives lost, businesses and dreams have gone up in the smoke that has swallowed the valley.  Yet, there is always an air of positive energy as we rush to aid our neighbors.  We have been inundated with emails and calls from customers, partners, and accounts asking what they can do to help.  While the extent of the damage is not know at this time, one thing that can help is to support Napa Valley by purchasing wines.   Distribution partners can push sales for those wineries affected to keep cash flow going so wineries can continue to support employees and each other as they battle through uncertain times.

While the wineries themselves may have damage, their inventory is normally stored offsite at a storage facility or consolidator.  Distributors have access to wines and can rally their teams to help push sales.  Local wine shops can have special Napa or Sonoma themed tastings and events.   And when you are out to dinner, consider ordering a bottle to support a family winery affected by this disaster.  It may seem like a small gesture, but it will help as these families begin to piece their lives back together.

Napa Valley Community Foundation

Media Update

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Wine Bottling Day

Nothing brings out the OCD in a winemaker quite like bottling.  Think about it; you have spent a tremendous amount of time harvesting, fermenting, and aging your wine.  You were there on the day it was born.  In the vineyard you watched it grow and develop wondering what it would one day become.  On harvest day your pride swells as you finally get to bring your fruit into the winery and begin your hands-on approach to helping guide your fruit to a world class wine.  You have spent countless hours monitoring, analyzing, and tasting your creation.  In the case of red wines, years have passed as you have raised your once young, bold and defiant wine into the elegant and distinguished specimen that it is today.  You have guided it through the “awkward” years and helped it mature.  Bottling is the time where you take all that hard work and long hours and prepare to present it to the world.

Bottling is also the point in which a multitude of things can go wrong.  This is the last time you will have any control over the living, breathing product that will soon go out to represent your craft and your family.

Leading up to bottling day there are a tremendous amount of logistics and operational challenges.  Bottles have to be ordered in the proper quantity and arranged to be delivered on time.  Labels have to be designed, approved, printed and checked for accuracy and quality.  Corks and capsules have to be estimated and ordered.  Case labels, tape, shrink wrap, pallets, all have to be ordered and delivered.  Labor has to be organized and scheduled.  There are a host of winery specific items that all have to be ordered like nitrogen to sparge the empty glass prior to it being filled and filters if you filter your wine.

Your mechanic has to inspect the bottling line to make sure it is in proper working order and with several thousand moving pieces, you can be sure there will be parts to order or simple repairs to be made.  The entire line has to be completely sanitized prior to running any wine through in order to minimize any microbial contamination.

Rarely does everything come together perfectly.  There are almost always curve balls or contingency plans put in place.  After a long day, or several days of bottling you sample the product to determine the effect of bottling on your creation.  Most often there is a time period where the wine is disjointed and “beat up” from the bottling action (bottle shock).  This is another point in the cycle of production where the winemaker can only wait and see how the wine will respond.

The waiting can be cruel and the wines can be stubborn, but once the wine pulls back together, the results are magical.  In this profession there are a lot of circumstances that are out of our control.  However, solid wine-making techniques and experience usually result in a good end product.   The never ending cycle provides constant challenges and stimulation.  That is what keeps us doing what we do.