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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

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

 

 

…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!

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…

How will the drought affect Napa?

The number one question we get whether visiting a market or hosting visitors is “How is the drought affecting Croze?” “How will it affect your wine?” The easy answer is not at all, a little and a lot. Due to the uniqueness of the grapevines and the Napa growing area, each answer is multi-faceted and impacts the other…and future wine production.

Not at all. Unlike most other crops, grapes are very drought tolerant. It would take extended periods of high stress for grapevines to stop producing fruit. Napa has been very lucky in the last two years to get just enough rain—at the right time—to prevent the issues that other grape growing regions in California are experiencing. One of the positives, if there is a positive of the lack of is, due to the lack of rain the disease pressure from fungal and mold is almost nonexistent in the vineyards. So with the good comes the bad.

A little. Because of the dry periods, the vines are often producing smaller concentrated berries with thicker skins. The wines made from these grapes are often more fruit forward and higher in alcohol. We like to produce more elegant and balanced wines with a higher acidity so we at Croze, have to be very diligent in the vineyard as harvest approaches and adjust our harvest dates to obtain the optimal fruit. This creates a little more work and a little more stress on the winemaker.

A lot. The biggest issue is the planting of new vines. Because new vines have not begun to root in the soil, they are not very drought tolerant and need constant water. Many wineries have not planted new vines in the last several years due to cost of bringing in water and fears of more watering regulations. This isn’t much of an issue now but many wineries were counting on these vines for increased wine production in the next couple of years and they won’t be able to meet those projections. Lastly, what we foresee as the biggest challenge is just as the vines will not shut down immediately, they do not recover immediately. It will take several years of solid rain to recover from the current conditions.