Near Perfect Harvest

2018 has been a magical year in the Napa Valley.  The weather has been near perfect, allowing for a substantial fruit set and long hang-time.  After several challenging vintages defined by drought and wildfires, Mother Nature rewarded the perseverance of Napa Valley wineries with a near perfect growing season.

This season started after adequate winter rains filled reservoirs and replenished ground water.  The vines came to life in early spring and the weather was conducive to a large fruit set.  The temperatures were moderate with no rain and minimal wind.  This all resulted in a picture perfect bloom and set.  The summer temperatures remained steady with minimal heat spikes allowing for a slow even fruit development.

This year veraison was extended with moderate temperatures allowing for a slow and steady development of fruit maturity.   As the fruit approached harvest, the mild weather continued and thick skinned red grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, had ample hang-time to allow secondary flavors to develop.

The excitement surrounding the 2018 harvest is evident as I talk to colleagues.  This is a banner year for the Napa Valley and we are all very fortunate for such fantastic weather conditions after several challenging vintages.  Be on the lookout for these wines when they are released in the years to come.  This may very well be one of the greatest vintages in Napa history!

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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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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.

 

 

 

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.

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Lamb Sirloin