Buffalo Hanger Steak

Buffalo was once considered an exotic protein, but has become much more available in the last ten years.  7.5 million pounds of Buffalo meat is consumed annually in the US.   Many local gourmet grocery stores now carry various cuts of buffalo in their inventory.  If you cannot find buffalo at your local purveyor, you can easily order it online. I like to use #D’Artagnan.  The product is shipped frozen or fresh and arrives on ice within a day, depending on order date.

Buffalo has gained in popularity due to fact that it has a rich flavor similar to beef, but has reduced fat and cholesterol.  It has roughly 80% less fat than beef and 22% less cholesterol in the same serving size.  When cooking Buffalo, it is important not to over-cook it.  Without the large amount of intramuscular fat, the meat can dry out fast and goes from beautiful to dull with even slight over-cooking.  So, make sure you keep the meat medium-rare.  I also like to marinate Buffalo steaks, which I normally do not do with Beef.

One of the things I love about Buffalo is that it lends itself to a number of wine pairing possibilities.  While it has the richness to stand up to deep reds, it can also pair beautifully with less tannic red wines.  I love to pair classic varietals, like Merlot and Cabernet Franc with it.

Merlot has a bright fruit character that seems to lift the richness of the Buffalo.  The right Merlot will offer a  balanced acidity that helps cleanse the palate.  This creates a sensation that stimulates the appetite and opens the taste receptors.

A varietal that is even better with Buffalo is a well made Cabernet Franc.  This wine has a beautiful herb perfume with spice and darker red fruit undertones.  With the right aging, this wine is elegant and silky on the finish.  The flavors play perfectly with the finesse of the steak.  I also love our Smith Wooton Mélange with Buffalo.  As a blend of Cabernet Franc and Merlot, it brings the best of both worlds to the party.

We cook and serve Buffalo many different ways here at the CROZE Kitchen.  Hanger steak has become a favorite, but we also braise Buffalo short ribs, and sear Buffalo tenderloin.  I highly recommend you add this flavorful and versatile protein to your arsenal and have a blast researching wines that pair perfectly with your creations!


Buffalo Hanger Steak from D’Artagnan
Buffalo from the CROZE Kitchen, with Oyster Mushrooms, Smoked Onion and Asparagus
Smith Wooton Melange

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.


Diamond Mountain AVA

The American Viticultural Area known as Diamond Mountain is located in the northern reaches of Napa Valley just West of Calistoga in the Mayacamas mountain range. Diamond Mountain is most famous for producing Cabernet Sauvignon that is notably age-worthy. The area is considered a warm climate and is characterized by unfertile, steep slopes. Growing world class grapes in this area takes considerable skills. The soils are highly porous which allows for ample drainage. The elevations put many of the vineyards above the fog line resulting in more direct sun exposure than other Napa AVA’s.

The grapes grown here are tiny and thick skinned. This leads to wines of considerable structure and color. The true challenge in making wine from Diamond Mountain grapes is tannin management.  The wines benefit from considerable aging in the cellar.

We produced a single vintage of Diamond Mountain Cabernet in 2012 from s special parcel at the very top of the mountain.  We aged this wine nearly 3 years in French Oak barrels to allow for the proper tannin integration and polymerization.  The resulting wine is rich, dense and silky smooth!

Napa Valley AVA Map
Napa Valley AVA Map

…and so it begins!

There is an excitement in the air.  Commercial agricultural vehicles fill the roads early in the morning.  The diesel engines provide an early morning wake-up call as they growl and hum outside our home.  Large white fruit bins are stacked high in vineyards ready to be filled with the bounty of 2015!   This is an exciting time of the year.  The buzz is contagious as winery and vineyard employees embark on the “busy” season.  20 hour days, over night harvests, and early morning crush pad action are finally upon us.

I love harvest.  This is the time when winemakers get the chance to showcase their skills.  At Croze, we have not picked our first fruit yet, but we are getting close.  I believe we will harvest our Chardonnay grapes in the coming 7-10 days.  Overall, this season seems to be here a little early this year.  We are a week or two ahead of schedule.  That is one of the wonderful characteristics of agricultural business.   We are never really in control.  Mother Nature is always the one who dictates our time frame.

As we put the final touches on harvest preparations, there is a nervous energy.  The vineyards all look fantastic.  We are looking forward to the chaos that brings us to the end product that we all love.  Cheers to Harvest 2015!

Lamb Sirloin with Ratatouille

We are certainly spoiled here in Northern California with the bounty of produce and fresh herbs.  Most of us grow culinary herbs as shrubs in our yards.  It makes it so easy to craft excellent dishes that reflect the seasons.  I have always felt that one of the biggest improvements home cooks can make to their food is to use more fresh herbs.

One of my favorite side dishes to make in the summer is ratatouille.  Our garden is a prolific producer of squash, zucchini, and egg plant.  Outside of the basic vegetables you can greatly impact the flavor profile of your dish by what fresh herbs you choose to use.  For summer I like a little thyme and oregano.  In the winter I use heartier herbs like sage and rosemary.

My basic Ratatouille is made using:

2 summer squash diced

2 zucchini diced

1 onion diced

1 large eggplant diced

Fresh chopped garlic

3 fresh tomatoes diced

1/4 cup of white wine

Salt and Pepper to taste

Fresh Herbs chopped (Thyme and Oregano)

This is a really easy and basic dish.  Sauteed the onion, zucchini, and squash in olive oil for 8-10 minutes.  Add the garlic, salt and pepper, and continue to cook for another minute.  Finally add the tomatoes and white wine.  Let the mixture reduce for several minutes and add in your fresh chopped herbs.

This dish pairs with just about any protein.  Here we serve grilled lamb sirloin over the ratatouille with a port reduction.  This is fantastic with Croze Vintners Reserve Cabernet!

Lamb Sirloin with Ratatouille and Port Reduction
Lamb Sirloin with Ratatouille and Port Reduction

The 2015 Journey Begins

As the calendar rolls to a new year, the time to begin preparing the vineyards for a new season rolls around.  While pruning and vineyard maintenance are not the most romantic notion in the wine business, it is a vital part to the quality of the finished product.

Each year as I set out hand pruning the vineyards that we manage, I find myself visualizing the upcoming season.  Pruning the vineyard is a time of rebirth for the grapevines.  We cut away the canes that brought us our amazing fruit last season and strategically set the grapevine up for harvest 2015.  How we prune dictates where and how the vine will grow in the upcoming season.  It can also greatly dictate the quality of the upcoming harvest.   While it may seem like menial labor, those workers who are out in the vineyard are highly skilled and very knowledgeable.  They are a huge part of the quality of any wine.

To me this time of year is a magical time in the valley.  As I walk the rows and prune grapevines, I rejuvenate myself and the vineyard.  These hours of manual labor offer a time to put the 2014 harvest to rest and begin the journey towards the 2015 season.  With the right amount of skill, passion, and care for the vineyard, Mother Nature will reward us with beautiful 2015 crop.  The cycle of life in the vineyard is an amazing thing!  It will not be long before we are celebrating the fruits of our labor.

Family on a plate

One of the things I love about the wine industry is the people.  We have the opportunity meet and work with so many wonderful people who are so passionate about what they do.  From grape growers, farmers, distributors, retailers, and wine lovers, the industry pulls together like-minded people.  I was reminded of this the other evening when my wife and I sat down to dinner.

Nothing super special for a weeknight dinner, but as I looked at my plate I was reminded of all the wonderful people in our lives.

We had eggplant from the garden at Flinn vineyards (where we buy Cabernet Franc grapes).  Heirloom tomatoes from Simone Vineyard (where we buy Chardonnay grapes), onions and zucchini from Tenbrink Vineyards (grapes for port), infused balsamic from Fezziwigs in Illionois (retailer who carries our wines), herbs from our own gardens, and local olive oil from friends of ours in St. Helena.  We had a bottle of Croze wine and after dinner i enjoyed a cigar from our good friends at the Pipe and Pint in Greensboro, NC.  Most of our dinner ingredients were made or grown by wine industry associates!  Cheers and thanks for being part of a great evening.

Chicken II