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

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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.

 

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!

Cheers

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

Pesce Spada con Pomodoro

Swordfish in a fresh tomato sauce is a great dish when you can find extremely fresh, high quality swordfish.  The bright acidity of the tomato highlights the rich flavors of the swordfish.  This is a dish that surprises many people as you do not generally think of fish cooked with a “red” sauce.  However the combination is fantastic.

Start by selecting a great piece of swordfish.   The flesh should be firm and the steak should smell like sea water.  I like to get a steak that  is at least 1 inch thick.  Cut the skin away from the flesh and dice the fish into 3/4inch cubes.  Toss the cubes in olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Saute over medium high heat in a non stick skillet until just barely cooked through.  Remove the fish from the pan and place on a plate to rest.

Add you pasta (use what ever shape of pasta you like) to a large pot of salted water that is boiling and give it a stir.  While your pasta is cooking you can easily prepare the Pomodoro sauce.  In a non-reactive saute pan, add a couple tablespoons of olive oil and add finely diced onion.  Saute the onion over medium high heat for 4-5 minutes.  Once the onion is soft, add fresh chopped garlic, salt pepper and a littler crushed red pepper flakes.  At this point I like to add a ladle full of the starchy pasta water.  Once that reduces, add crushed fresh plum tomatoes (I peel the tomatoes prior to use and crush them by hand.  You can peel the tomatoes by scoring the top and dropping them into boiling water for a few seconds.  Remove them from the boiling water and drop them in an ice water bath)  Of course you can use high quality canned tomatoes if it is not tomato season.

Re-season the sauce and toss in a little fresh basil. Add the cubes of swordfish and bring the sauce up to temperature over medium heat.   Drain your pasta when it is still al dente and add it to the sauce.  Cook the pasta and sauce together for 2-3 minutes to bring the dish together.  Serve in a deep bowl and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil.  Serve the dish with a white wine that has generous acidity.

I like to pair this with our Croze Viognier, as the bright acidity on the finish really compliments the dish.

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2016 A Look Ahead

 

One of the most anticipated events early in the new year for wineries is the release of Silicon Bank’s Wine Industry Report. We at Croze want to share with our fans & customers a look at what to expect for 2016 and beyond.

2016 looks to be a very busy year for Croze and Smith Wooton. The year unofficially kicks off in February with Premier Napa Valley. This has been a favorite event of the Croze crew and this year will be no different. March is an extremely busy month with a new event First Press Dinner & Auction in Arizona, CabFest in Yountville and Flavor Napa Valley in Napa. April and May see the Croze team traveling in markets throughout the country. Check out the website Croze-cab.com to see if we are in your area.

In our opinion one of the most exciting challenges for a winery is to release a new wine and this year will see the release of 2 and possibly 3 new bottlings for the Croze and Smith Wooton brands. One of the new wines will be a new varietal for Smith Wooton, Pinot Noir. This varietal is a favorite to enjoy at dinner as well as to work with in the winery for winemaker, Daniel Benton. “I really love the complexities of the wine, having delicate flavors while having intense aromas at the same time is something I find captivating. I believe this also translates to the challenges in vineyard and winery while making Pinot.” The second release will be the first blended wine in the Smith Wooton lineup. “I make wines that I am passionate about and hopefully that shines through in the bottle.” Stay tuned for names and official release dates for these wines.

El Nino has finally arrived and that is great news for our drought plagued region. Smith Wooton has picked up more vineyard management clients and we are very optimistic about the 2016 growing season. These vineyards will give us access to great grapes in fantastic AVA’s in the Napa Valley. These grapes might not end up in a bottle for a couple of years as we like to see what the vineyard brings before releasing the wine.

Lastly we continue to increase production of your favorite Croze and Smith Wooton wines. As we have moved into new markets in Arizona, Delaware, Maryland, Missouri and Texas we have to increase production to meets these demands. We have also taken on increasing production to meet the demands of our long term distributor partners as well. One item were are acutely aware of as we increase production is to not sacrifice quality and ensure that we meet the standards and Philosophy we have set at Croze.

2015 was a great year at Croze and Smith Wooton and 2016 looks to be our best yet.

Cheers,

Daniel, Kara & Warren

 

 

What We’re Seeing in the 2015 Wine Industry: So Far, So Good (For Now)

What We’re Seeing in the 2015 Wine Industry: So Far, So Good (For Now)

Heading into 2015, Napa Valley and the rest of the fine wine industry was expecting to see some growth. Blogs, articles and studies were issued proclaiming that 2015 was going to be a good year.  In particular, Forbes referenced an industry study expecting an accelerated sales growth in the fine wine category of 14 to 18% in 2015.

Dr. Liz Thach’s February 2015 post titled, “Trends in the US Wine Industry for 2015 – Surging Forward with Renewed Optimism ($37.6 billion in 2014 revenues)” also provided an optimistic deep dive on this topic.

We just passed the halfway point of 2015 and so far, these blogs, articles and studies have on been point…and then some! At Croze, 2015 could prove to be a banner year and the indicators that we’re tracking are mimicking the hype from earlier in the year.

It’s All About the Economy

The premium wine market is rebounding. Before the 2008-09 recession, it was on the rise. It was on the rise in Napa Valley and here at Croze. During the recession, premium wine buyers started looking for value at a lower cost. They looked for great wines in the $17-18 price point; and they found them.

Now that the economy is bouncing back, we’ve noticed those buyers are once again purchasing premium wines. In particular, the bounce back appears in some markets tied to this country’s strongest industries: Information Technology (San Francisco, California), Banking/Financial (Charlotte, North Carolina) and Energy (Des Moines, Iowa).

Hashtag #Wine

We’re also noticing these premium wine buyers are starting to share their finds with their friends via social media, tapping a whole new market of wine buyers. Social connoisseurs turn to social media to learn about brands they may have had at a dinner party, brands that share similar traits with what they like and brands that have a very active social media presence.

Not only has social media expanded our wine markets, it has also created more critics. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and blogs have given outlets to those consumers who wish to brag about their latest finds, as well to pan finds that they don’t like. But that’s okay. The exposure serves to enrich/engage our whole community.

An Educated Consumer

Today’s wine consumers are not only using social media to share info, they’re using it to learn about the industry and their favorite wines. They want to know more about the wine maker. They want to know more about the vineyard. They want to know more about the winemaking process. And, they want to know more about different regions.

During our travels across the country, we are indeed seeing a more educated wine consumer and as everyone will tell you, a more educated wine consumer only helps us all.

So, for Napa Valley and Croze, things are looking up. Though things could still change in 2015. We’re keeping on eye on news such as Constellation Brands Inc. buys Napa’s Meiomi wine brand for $315 million. Is this the start of a trend? We don’t know but we’ll let you know at the end of 2015.

More to come…