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 white wines and rich, heavy wines like Chardonnay. It has a richness in flavor and aroma, yet still finishes with great acidity.
Likewise, 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.
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
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!
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.
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!