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!
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.
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.
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.
The French word Mélange translates to the English word blend. We chose this as the name of our new Smith Wooton Wine for several reasons. The first, and most obvious, is that this wine is a blend of two grape varietals. In addition, we wanted to pay homage to the Old World wine making techniques we use in the cellar to produce our wines. Finally, we wanted to give a nod to one of our influences, Louis De Coninck, who grew the Merlot for this blend.
To make Mélange we selected two of the most iconic vineyards in Napa for their respective varietals; the Flinn Vineyard for Cabernet Franc and the Long Meadow Ranch Vineyard for Merlot. Flinn Vineyard was formally known as Gallagher’s Vineyard and is located just south of Stags Leap on the Silverado Trail in Napa. This vineyard has been the source of our Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc for almost 15 years now. We have a long history with this gem and have developed farming techniques to showcase the characteristics of Cabernet Franc that we desire in our wines.
The Long Meadow Ranch Vineyard has a 30+ year history of producing world class Merlot. This vineyard is owned and farmed by a 9th generation Bordeaux winemaker. The wine is grown in a style that resembles the Right Bank wines of Bordeaux. There is an elegance and age worthy quality that immediately shines in the Merlot’s created from this estate. (Check out Beaucanon Estate)
Like all of our wines, we use small lot fermentation techniques to greater influence flavor extractions. This method is highly labor intensive, but the results are extraordinary. The varietals were fermented separately and blended after fermentation was complete. The wines are hand stirred three times a day to gently extract flavor components without increasing harsh tannins and astringency.
Finally, this was an opportunity to acknowledge the French influence that we have adapted from our time working with Louis De Coninck. Louis has been a great ally to Croze and Smith Wooton. We have sourced grapes from him over the years and have produced some of our most memorable wines from estate. Louis has shared his opinions and knowledge of wine making with us over the years and we know that he has influenced our processes.
So what is in a name? A lot more than most consumers realize. The 2013 Smith Wooton Mélange is representation of our family, as well as those families who work tirelessly to grow world class grapes. We have a strong connection to our growers and we feel it is important that our customers get to know the people behind our products.
Syrah is one of my favorite varietals. It is produced all over the wine making world and is a varietal that greatly shows characters that are directly influenced by where it is grown. In my opinion, that is the key to great wine; it represents its vineyard and growing region in the glass! For years we produced Syrah under our Smith Wooton brand. We sourced the fruit from what I believe is one of the best warm climate locales for Syrah. The vineyard is located outside of Murphys, CA on a steep and rugged hillside. The Tanner vineyard is magical for the style of Syrah we love to make. There are two important factors to this vineyard: one is the tough, rocky soil where the vines are planted and the second is the care in which the Tanner family farms it.
The vineyard is littered with stones that were uncovered when planting the vines. I have even been told that some of the vines had to be planted using crowbars in order to get the roots in the ground in between the stones. This abundance of rock material holds heat at night that radiates into the vineyard. The combination of site, location, and climate produce Syrah grapes that possess rich varietal character, yet an affinity for elegance.
Secondly, the Tanner Family puts as much love in the vineyard as we do in our winery. The entire family is involved in the farming process and it shows in the quality of the grapes. This is one of the main reasons we choose to work with the vineyards we do. I look for owners who are active in the field. I truly believe that the energy and passion of the family ends up in the finished product.
After years of customers asking why we stopped making our Syrah, I decided to bring it back into the Smith Wooton line-up. The 2013 Syrah is the first release sense 2006. This wine is another classic Smith Wooton, handcrafted gem. Rich, yet balanced with true varietal character, perfect for game and lamb. This wine is unfined and unfiltered and showcases both richness and complexity, while holding on to just the right amount of acidity.
No rest for the weary! It looks like we are going to have an early bud break this year. That is the point in the grapevines life when it begins to come out of winter dormancy and begin to grow shoots. These shoots will continue to grow and eventually produce the grapes that we all love.
As vineyard managers, we have been busy preparing the vineyards for the 2016 growing season. We pruned last years growth off the vines and set them up to grow in the manner we wish based on our trellis systems. This can be very different from vineyard to vineyard. The training and trellis system is chosen for each individual site and grape varietal to achieve the desired fruit characteristics for the site.
In additional the soils are being prepared to support the growth. For most of the Napa Valley, this means plowing and turning under the green fertilizer you planted in the winter. We use natural and organic means to replace vital nutrients to the soil. This green manure is called cover crop, and based on the needs of the individual site, it can contain a mix of legumes, grasses, and greens. When this cover crop turned into the soil, it supplies the nutrients necessary for the grape vines to grow.
Overall, this is a beautiful time of year in the Valley. There is an energy that radiates this time of year. New excitement for the upcoming season and a nervousness for the challenges that lie ahead. Cheers to 2016