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.

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!


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!



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

fire winery      fire vineyard


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.




High Temperature Impact on Vineyards

The 2017 growing season is well underway in the Napa Valley.  We constantly remind ourselves and our vineyard clients that no matter how good you are, or what you think you have control over, Mother Nature is ultimately in charge of our livelihood.  2017 has certainly started out with Mother Nature poking us.  From an early bud break to below average temperatures, unusual spring rain, hail, and now a major heat spike,  we are reminded that we are actually farmers.  Here at CROZE we have received a lot of emails from customers asking about the current high temperatures and the effect on the vineyards.

Temperature is generally the most important aspect of fine wine growing.  The grapevine’s metabolic processes are dependent on specific temperature ranges.  Over the last week, Napa has been unusually hot.  The temperature has soared into the 100’s.  While this is certainly not a normal weather pattern for this part of the year, it is not necessarily harmful to the grapevines.  High temperatures effect vineyards differently depending on when they occur and the stage of vine development.  Currently, we are through with fruit set and are in stage of grape growth where the cells in the berries are dividing and increasing the quantity of cells within the grape.  Excessive heat during this stage of development can reduce cell division and elongation.  This can result in smaller berries and lower vineyard yields.  It is hard to say if this will have an adverse effect on final grape quality, but generally it does not.  In fact, depending on the rest of the growing season, it could have a positive effect and create smaller more intensely flavored berries.  That will greatly depend on Mother Nature’s plan for the rest of our 2017 growing season.

Heat during the period of ripening called “veraison” can impact the fruit by limiting grape pigmentation and sugar accumulation.  This stage of grape development is still a month away right now.  If excessive heat persists into the final stages of ripening and harvest, the fruit can shrivel and dehydrate.  The damage can be extensive or can be limited to just sun exposed clusters and berries.

Fine wine is an agricultural product and we strongly believe that the key to producing great wine starts in the vineyard.  Our team spends an enormous amount of time in our vineyards and partner vineyards in order to create the style of wines that you have come to recognize as CROZE & Smith Wooton.


Wine and Cigars

Two of my favorite vices!   However, often fervent cigar aficionados avoid fine wine with their cigars.  As I travel around the US selling wine, I almost always find a local cigar shop to visit.  I frequently talk to the patrons conducting research on their favorite beverage to pair with their cigar.  The usual response is Scotch Whisky, American Bourbon, Port, or fine French Cognac.   I always try to influence the crowd to try fine wine.

There are many responses as to why some smokers prefer not to pair cigars and wine.  Usually it has to do with what can be dominating flavors in the cigar muting the flavor of the wine or the combination of bitterness that both cigars and red wine possess.   In both cases, I think they just have not had the right wine paired with the right cigar.

Truthfully, the proper pairing can be absolutely amazing.  The earthy tobacco notes of a good smoke can accentuate the same earth tones in a fine wine.  In addition, a properly aged red wine generally shows hints of cedar and spice similar to a great cigar.

The key to enjoying this play on flavors is finding someone knowledgeable enough on both wine and cigars to help put the right cigar in your hand for the wine you are enjoying.  I can tell you on my end that you can always find someone with the proper knowledge of one or the other.  Finding that rare aficionado of both smoke and wine is a bit more of a challenge.

I have had the good fortune of knowing a couple such professionals and always look forward to their recommendations.  Below are some of my favorite cigars to enjoy with our wines.  Yes, the wine selections are biased, but hey this is a winery blog!

Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc paired with My Father “The Judge”

This combination highlights the cedar and leather component to both the wine and the cigar.  The cigar is box pressed so it has a very slow even burn.  The smoke shows an earthiness that is perfect for Cabernet Franc.  This wine is a single vineyard CF that always displays a unique combination of floral perfume on the nose and rich earth on the palate.  The finish is smooth and reminiscent of cedar and tobacco.

Croze Cabernet Sauvignon paired with Olivia Serie ‘V’ Melania

OK, so this is a pairing that could change your life!   Make sure you have a solid 2 hours to enjoy the complexity of the wine and the cigar.  I also recommend a great playlist that will help you relax and take in all the glory.  Croze Cabernet Sauvignon is a deeply complex wine that showcases balance and elegance.  That same elegance is evident in the Melania.  Both showcase earth, espresso, and underlying spice.   The ‘V’ finishes with a touch of sweetness that is perfect with the acidity of the Cabernet Sauvignon.

Smith Wooton Mélange paired with Ashton Sun Grown

This is another interesting combination.  The Ashton Sun Grown cigars have a pronounced Graham Cracker note along with course black pepper spice.  The sheer richness of the Melange can handle the spice and slight sweetness of the cigar.  Melange is a dense wine that is a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot.  The Merlot gives the wine an unctuous that highlights the creaminess of the Ashton.

If you are a cigar smoker, I urge you to try a well made fine wine with your next smoke.  The pairing can be ethereal.  For those who need help matching the right wine and cigar, I recommend the following:

The Pipe and Pint – Larry and Pete are the best in the business.  Great selection of cigars and wines, plus decades of knowledge.

Napa Cigars – Eric is fantastic and can offer great recommendations.  Wines served by the glass and a great selection of cigars.