Food, Family, & Wine

With the holiday season in full swing, it is time to start thinking about three of my favorite things:  food, family, & wine (not necessarily in the correct priority order).  Over the years I have read so many opinions on serving wine with holiday meals and they generally make me laugh.  Some people think you should serve less valued wines, some recommend top shelf, others swear by specific regions or varietals.  I tend to approach the holidays like any special time and serve wines that, quite frankly, I love to drink.  I do not believe this is a time to go out of your comfort zone.  Choose wines that you love and share them with family and friends.  “Wine people” tend to over-complicate and overthink special occasions.

As a winemaker, I love to showcase our CROZE Viognier and Smith Wooton Cabernet Franc with the traditional holiday meals.  I believe that these wines pair well with the traditional fare, but more importantly, I love to drink and share them with family and friends.  I typically host Thanksgiving and prepare most of the classic dishes associated with the holiday.  However, we do add Oysters and Dungeness Crab to the line-up as every good Californian should.

As a varietal, Viognier is a great holiday wine.  It bridges the gap between high acidity croze_viognier_12white wines and rich, heavy wines like Chardonnay.  It has a richness in flavor and aroma, yet still finishes with great acidity.

smithwooten_cabfranc_12Likewise, Cabernet Franc is a very versatile red wine.  A well made, balanced Cabernet Franc can be a great match to roast poultry as well as rib roast.  It has a beautiful elegance and finesse that compliments a wide range of foods.  There is just enough tannin to take on beef yet enough elegance and acidity to compliment poultry.

The only real rule of the holiday table is that there has to be wine on it and people you love around it!  Cheers and Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Croze and Smith Wooton Wines.

 

 

 

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Mélange…whats in a name?

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.

 

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!

Syrah

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.

SmithWooten_Syrah_13

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Lamb Sirloin

 

Pipe and Pint Grape Notes – Vol.1/ Ch.1

Thanks for the great review!

World of Wine CP

2013 Croze Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville

Croze-2013-Cabernet-Sauvignon-Oakville

For our first Grape note we wanted to pick a wine that has character, is meaningful and also represents a certain connection to the wine selection at Pipe and Pint. The 2013 Croze Cabernet Sauvignon seemed like a perfect fit. To start things off, winemaker Daniel Benton is originally from North Carolina and a friend of Larry’s and Pete’s. Also, Daniel is a great fan of Bordeaux style wines which as I will talk more about later, clearly shows in this particular wine and definitely appeals to me personally.

Let me say this up front, I love wines that apart from being powerful and bold, also show finesse and a somewhat classic style and this wine definitely matches those criteria. I quote the great wine writer Jancis Robinson in saying that “wine is geography in a bottle” and with a bit of experience it’s usually…

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Bud Break 2016

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

Bud Break

 

Lobster with Saffron Cream

At the winery we are always looking for new dishes to pair with our wines.  Actually, one of the very best aspects of our profession is sharing great recipes and wine.  It is hard to find a fine wine lover who is not also a self proclaimed “foodie.”  Recently we paired our 2013 Croze Chardonnay with a poached lobster and saffron cream.  It was an amazing pairing.  The richness of both the lobster and cream highlighted the full bodied chardonnay.  Yet the crisp acid on the finish of the wine cut the richness of the food and left your palate craving more.  So here is our recipe for Lobster with Saffron Cream:

We poached a 2.5 lb lobster in salted water and then chilled it in an ice bath.  Save a half cup of the lobster liquid.

To make the cream: chop a shallot and a garlic clove.  Place them in a sauce pan with a tbs of olive oil and saute over medium heat.  Add a pinch of salt and white pepper if you have it.  Toss in a few sprigs of thyme and let it wilt.  Then add a good pinch of saffron and let it heat gently.  Add 2 tbl of white wine and a 1/2 cup of the lobster stock. Reduce this over medium heat until there is just a couple tablespoons of liquid left.  Strain the mixture and return to the sauce pan.  Add 1/2 cup of heavy cream and let it slowly  heat and reduce until sauce consistency.  Meanwhile gently warm the lobster meat in saute pan with melted butter.

We served this with Carolina Gold Rice (follow link to purchase the best rice in the world).  After the rice was steamed, I added a little cream and the chopped lobster tail. Save the lobster claws to place on top.  Garnish with the herbs of your choice or edible flowers.  We generally use parsley and broccoli flowers.

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Lobster and Saffron Cream