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.


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.

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!


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 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.


5 Spring Food & Wine Pairings!

Spring has arrived and here are 5 of our favorite Spring food and wine pairings. There is nothing better than grilled meats, fresh garden vegetables and wine to make that spring day perfect!

  1. Smoked Trout and Croze Viognier-One of our favorite spring activities is dropping a line in the water and pulling in a fresh trout, if that isn’t your thing head over and ask your fish monger they will even pre-fillet it upon request. The richness of the barrel aged Viognier and its natural floral aromas and fresh citrus character will balance out the smoke and rich tender fish. Serve with a fresh tomato, basil & mozzarella salad.                   hotsmokedtrout-300x200
  2. Sea Bass and Croze Chardonnay-Fresh sea bass and a chardonnay that exhibits fresh fruit and acid qualities are a fantastic spring match. Our chardonnay is barrel fermented with no malolactic fermentation leading to a wine that shows bright fruit and acidity that adds to the fish while cutting through the fattiness. We like to use a simple preparation for the fish of olive oil, garlic and fresh parsley as these ingredients will meld with the chardonnay. The goal of the pairing is to bring out flavors that complement each other and here we are focused on freshness.                                                                                              Chard13
  3. Wild Mushroom and Burrata Cheese Bruschetta and Smith Wooton Pinot Noir-Burrata cheese has an amazing flavor and great texture that works well on crusty bread and when mixed with the flavorful mushrooms just melts in your mouth. We like to pair this entertaining dish with Pinot Noir as the earthiness of the Pinot Noir compliments the wild mushrooms flavor as well as the richness of the burrata cheese.      Mushroom-Bruschetta-2
  4. Lamb Kabobs and Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc– I think there is something special about pairing Cabernet Franc with lamb especially if the lamb has a drizzle of olive oil and a pepper component in the dish. We will leave the lamb marinade up to you as long as you have red pepper on your kabob. The Cabernet Francs characteristics of pepper, mint and slight spices make the wine a perfect complement to the lambs  succulent flavors and natural richness. We prefer to grill the lamb as this brings a heightened smoky flavor from the lamb into the wine. We like to serve the lamb kabobs on a bed of couscous.            lamb kabobs
  5. Seared Duck breast with Huckleberry Sauce and Croze Cabernet Sauvignon-Don’t be afraid of the reputation of duck being a tricky dish to handle, this may be the most wine friendly meat. Two main points to pairing duck 1.Duck needs a wine with a bit of acidity to counter the richness of the meat 2. Duck has a gamey quality that needs an earthy wine to act as a counterbalance. If you use a fruit sauce such as huckleberry you need a complex wine that balances fruit, earth and acidity. The Croze Cabernet Sauvignon medium body and elegance will not overpower the duck while the dark fruit will compliment the sauce accompaniment.                                                                                                                                                                      Croze Cab 2014                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Cheers & Bon Appetit!

Traveling To Napa Valley!

Planning a trip to Napa Valley can be a daunting task with so many great wineries to visit, fantastic restaurants to choose from and taking in all of the beautiful sights the Napa Valley has to offer. Living and working in Napa Valley has its advantages besides being one of the most beautiful places in the world to live, we have learned how to navigate our day and way through the Valley. We will give you some tips to take the stress out of your planning and enjoying your vacation in Napa.

1. Pick the wineries you want to visit. We always recommend one of the historic wineries of the Napa Valley as a starting point. This gives you an overview of the history of the Valley and great prospective on its growth. 2016 is a great year to visit Napa Valley as we are celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the  Judgement of Paris. Pick a couple of small producers, think ten thousand cases or less, as your next visits. These small family producers are the heart and soul of Napa Valley. Lastly we recommend a tasting room with a picnic spot. The goal of your vacation is to relax and nothing is more relaxing than wine, cheese and a view!

2. Pick the restaurants where you want to eat. Eating at the restaurants in Napa Valley can be very expensive and one meal could blow your budget for the day, so we recommend viewing online menus if possible. If a restaurant is out of your budget for dinner, see if they serve lunch as a viable option. If your bucket list restaurant doesn’t fit your budget don’t fret there are many excellent choices at every price range. Lastly, plan for lunch. With all of the wine you will be tasting you will need food to get you through the day and into the night.

3. Plan your activities away from wine & food. There are too many beautiful sights to be inside at a tasting room or even one of the many beautiful dining rooms all of the time. Pick one or two outdoor activities; hot air ballooning, river kayaking, hiking or bike riding through the valley are all on the top of the list and a few will help you burn some calories!

4. Plan your route. The most important tip we can give you is plan your route for each day. The goal of your vacation in Napa is to relax and nothing ruins that like worrying whether you can make your next tasting appointment or your 6PM dinner reservation in Yountville. Grab a Napa Valley Winery Map and plot out each winery, restaurant & activity you want to do and we recommend grouping them together by proximity if at all possible. There are multiple events every weekend from February to November and traffic can sometimes be a nightmare.

5. Make reservations, make reservations, make reservations!. Make reservations with the tasting rooms, restaurants and activity spots you want to visit. Each week brings new groups of people and different events to Napa Valley whether it be a wine auction, music festival or holiday weekend and reservations fill up quick. Trust us we’ve often went to our favorite restaurant on a Tuesday night only to find out it is booked for an event.

6. Lastly plan on how you are going to get around the Valley. There are many options on how to get around the Valley now that Uber/Lyft and other ride sharing companies have entered Napa. Plan time in your day for these companies to pick up from your current location & travel to your next destination. We recommend planning on 2-3 tasting per day to be able to enjoy the winery, take a tour if offered and not have to race to each destination. We want your visit Napa Valley to be enjoyable and relaxing, Cheers!