In our July post we talked about how two different rootstocks, SO4 and 1616C, reacted to late autumn frost last year in the new block of our Dancing Crow Sauvignon Blanc vineyard.
Of the vines that succumbed to frost, 80% of them were SO4 and only 20% were 1616C. In viticultural terms, this is a highly significant result that will no doubt influence future Sauvignon Blanc plantings throughout the frost prone “Big Valley” AVA in Lake County.
It is interesting to see the vineyard as testing ground and not just the site of agricultural and economic production. There’s always something new to learn that will potentially benefit not only Dancing Crow Vineyards, but also, hopefully, winegrowers throughout the region. Without similar work and sharing done in the past by generations of growers both here in the US and in Europe, many of the current viticultural opportunities we enjoy simply wouldn’t exist.
In addition to experimenting with different rootstocks in the new block, we are also taking the opportunity to explore and evaluate the performance of four different clones of Sauvignon Blanc, among the more than 20 that are available.
Here’s what we have chosen to plant:
Sauvignon Blanc 1
SB1 was originally imported into California from Château d’Yquem in Bordeaux in 1884 by Charles Wetmore, who brought it to his vineyard in Livermore. The Wente family ultimately acquired the property sometime before 1925. Professor of Viticulture & Enology, Dr. Harold Olmo, collected samples for the UC Davis collection in 1958. SB 01 was first planted in the FPS (Foundation Plant Services) old foundation vineyard west of Hopkins Road in 1965. This clone is widely used in California and is also well known as the basis of the very successful New Zealand Sauvignon blanc industry, where it is known as UCD 1.
Sauvignon Blanc 530
This selection came to California from France in 1999 and is one of the few clones that comes from the original home of Sauvignon Blanc, France’s Loire Valley. This a purportedly earlier maturing clone, with a lighter crop and small juicy berries, that produce some of the most expressive and aromatic wines with good acid. Clone 530 also has some of the highest sugar levels, and the fruit offers an intriguing mix of tropical and citrus flavors.
Sauvignon Blanc 906
SB 906 is another more recent arrival, coming to California from France in 2005 and qualifying for the California Registration & Certification Program in 2007. SB 906, originated in the Gironde (Bordeaux) region of France and has been described as having an earlier maturity, good tolerance to bunch rot, producing very aromatic, full and balanced flavors. Our plantings of 906 at Dancing Crow are the first use of this clone in the Kelseyville area of Lake County.
Sauvignon Blanc 22
SB 22 is an Oakville Heritage selection from the Tokalon “I” Block, the oldest standing block of Sauvignon Blanc in California. Phil Freese, former Vice President of Wine Growing at Robert Mondavi Winery, encouraged UC Davis to preserve this plant material because he suspected that the vine might have been part of a very old vineyard that originated before the UC importation programs and modern Sauvignon blanc introductions. Pierre Galet, the famous French ampelographer, looked at this vine during one of his trips to California in the 1980’s and told Freese that it was ‘true Sauvignon blanc’.
This selection is known for producing wines with a fuller palate texture while retaining the distinctive aromas and flavors that are unique to Sauvignon blanc.
Dancing Crow’s plantings of this Heritage Selection (SB 22) are the first in Lake County.
As the vineyard matures, we will continue to explore the varied textures, aromas and flavors presented by this palette of clones and we hope that you, our customers, will benefit from the results of our experiment when you taste the finished wines.
Here are some further sensory evaluation notes on each clone from our winemakers, David and Katharine DeSante.
SB 1 – ability to exhibit key lime and tropical fruit flavors on the same vine. Can have a really vigorous canopy. A bit astringent when underripe – cilantro or lemongrass-like.
SB 530 – less green flavors early in the season. Apple and pear in the early season, more tropical later in the season. Less astringent skins.
SB 906 – later in the harvest, this grape has really tasty skins with a candied orange peel like flavor. Can produce a marmalade-like wine when very ripe and the skins turn gold in the sun. However, much more astringent when less ripe. Should be harvested last in our vineyards.
SB 22 – fuller texture and more tropical and melon like in flavor. Clusters are more round and less long. This may contribute to the way in which the berries ripen.
The 2021 Vintage so far
With this year’s harvest set to begin in the second week of August, the 2021 Vintage is about to move from the vineyard to the winery so we thought it might be a good time for a review, especially as it has been a very “interesting” year so far.
The 2021 vintage actually began as soon as the grapes were picked last autumn and the vines turned from producing and ripening fruit to storing energy/calories in their roots to get them through their dormant winter period and fuel new growth in the coming year.
If you have visited Napa or Sonoma wine country you will have seen large wine turbines scattered among the vineyards – these are part of a frost protection strategy that also includes the use of sprinkler systems. When frost threatens, they spray the growing vines with water which freezes and actually creates a protective bubble around the new buds keeping them safe at 32 degrees even as the surrounding air drops well below freezing.
This threat is a regular springtime occurrence in Napa and Sonoma, but in Lake County we see a different climate zone entirely and late Autumn frost can also be factor. This is partly due to elevation – Clearlake itself sits at 1329’ and vineyards are found as high as 3,000’. There is also northeasterly air flow late in the year, like the Mistral in France, that carries cold air into our region as well as Mendocino County.
On November 8th 2020 we recorded 19-20 degrees in our Dancing Crow Sauvignon Blanc vineyard near Kelseyville. The pond was empty having helped irrigate the vines though the hot summer and the vines stood unprotected. Among new vines that are only four years old, 20% were killed outright. These vines sit on two different rootstocks – 1616C and SO4 – and the toll was distributed accordingly. Of the vines that succumbed to frost, 80% of them were SO4 and only 20% were 1616C, so we lost 16% of our young SO4 rootstock vines and only 4% of our young 1616C rootstock vines. In viticultural terms, this is a highly significant result that will no doubt influence future Sauvignon Blanc plantings throughout the frost prone “Big Valley” AVA.
In the mature vineyard many canes were damaged by the cold so that fewer new buds appeared in spring this year. Our Old Stake vineyard, planted to a variety of red grapes, only 4 miles away and 100 feet higher in elevation, experienced no damage at all which speaks to the dramatic influence of terroir. In general the quality and yields of the red grape varieties seem unaffected by the factors that impacted the Sauvignon Blanc.
Next, soon after budbreak, the vines started to produce much more foliage than usual to compensate for the potential lack of fruit and the vineyard canopy has a very different look this year. We have been working closely with our viticultural team, headed by David Weiss of Bella Vista Farms, with the application of high potassium kelp for example, to manage these unusual conditions.
The end result is a drop in Sauvignon Blanc yields and a projected harvest date of August 10th-12th which is 10-14 days early. As with red wines, a smaller crop is sometimes a more flavorful one and it will be fascinating to see how the fruit tastes once we process it in the winery.
We’ll keep you posted…
More Recognition for the 2020 Rosé
Dancing Crow started with a unique vineyard in the Big Valley region of Lake County, California. There is something special about the deep clay soils lying next to Clearlake, at 1400 ft. elevation in the shadow of Mount Konocti.
This terroir allows us to make a Sauvignon Blanc that is stylistically distinct – complex at only 12.5% alcohol with no “grassy” aromas. To see how exceptional this is, check out the other Sauvignon Blancs on the shelf next time you’re shopping for wine. If you find one that’s below 13% alcohol it will likely be from France, or perhaps New Zealand. This is a stand out wine.
We find very similar growing conditions at the Smith Lane vineyard that produces the Syrah for our Rosé and the resulting wine shares many characteristics with the Blanc, fresh, crisp, and flavorful, again at only 12.5% alc.
The 2020 Rosé has been receiving some good press recently. We already posted back in March about the S.F. Chronicle’s Best in Show award, as well as 90 points from the Wine Enthusiast recently, and just last week we heard about a Double Gold Medal and 96 points from the 2021 Sunset International Wine Competition.
Of course, we’re happy about this recognition, but the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so why not order some Rosé today? Especially good during these warm summer days.
Here’s some more about the vineyard and the wine
Our Rosé comes from 25-to-30-year-old Syrah vines on the Smith Lane Vineyard, whose name alone tells you how long the Smiths, who own the property, have lived and farmed here. Looking for a vineyard planted to Rhône red grape varieties suitable for a Rosé, Smith Lane was the perfect find. The vineyard is located at 1,300 feet on the lower portion of the Kelsey Bench AVA and sits on dark clay-loam soils where abundant willows and a nearby pear orchard indicate the riparian nature of the environment.
This wine was grown and harvested specifically to be a Rosé. By contrast, many Rosés are actually a by-product of red wine production, a solution to an unripe or overripe vintage. We add just a bit of our Sancerre-style Sauvignon Blanc to enhance the wine’s brightness and aromatics. For the 2020 vintage the Syrah grapes were hand-picked at around 21° Brix. 50% of the grapes are put through a classic “white pressing program” and the other 50% go through a “Champagne pressing” program. The former gives us more flavor and color, while the latter gives us a wine that has intriguing aromas and more elegant texture. Combining the two optimizes the qualities of the fruit and creates a fresh, subtle yet complex wine in the Provençal style.
Our new Old Stake label
Those of you who are fans of Dancing Crow’s Old Stake 1901 field blend may have noticed that we debuted a new label with the recently released 2019 vintage. It was designed by Dancing Crow co-owner Stefan Cartlidge and while representing the “old vines” that contribute to the wine, and the crows of course, it also pays tribute to a few of the unique qualities of Lake County.
First is Clear Lake itself – the second largest in California after Lake Tahoe and one of the oldest in the entire country. It sits at an elevation of 1417 feet and comprises almost 70 square miles. This formidable body of water helps to create a unique climate zone for premium grape growing.
Next the pears – Bartletts have been grown commercially in Lake County since 1885, shortly after being proclaimed “the finest in the world” at the World’s Fair in New Orleans. Beautiful pear orchards still adjoin our Sauvignon Blanc vineyard.
Then Native American basketry for which the region is famous. Numerous indigenous tribes lived in the area – Pomo, Wappo, Lake Miwok and Yuki among them and they were master basketmakers, using the great variety of reeds and grasses that still grow around the lake and its watersheds to craft not only extraordinarily varied and beautiful baskets, but also storage structures as large as a small tent and canoes made from tightly bundled tule.
And lastly the elusive owls who preside in the old barn next to the vineyard at Dancing Crow…
July Rising filmed in Lake County
Lake County is a bit off the beaten path, lying between two of California’s major highways, 101 to the west and Interstate 80 to the east. All the roads into the region are narrow and winding as they climb to the 1400 plateau where Clearlake sits.
It is unusual to find a film that uses this county as a location, but we are delighted to have discovered July Rising (2019). Not only are many of the locations very close to our vineyards, but they also highlight the beautiful pear orchards that the county has long been famous for. We not only see the pears, but also some of the equally famous crows!
July Rising was written and directed by Chauncey Crail, who is part of the family that owned and farmed Dancing Crow before we bought the vineyard. He features a bottle of Dancing Crow in the movie – our first product placement! Thanks Chauncey.
Here’s a plot summary – When sixteen-year old Andy inherits her grandfather’s orchard and becomes the ward of her aunt from the city, she must navigate the path to her future from a small town where choice and agency have never been options for young women.
2020 Rosé – Top of its Class
Our 2020 Rosé of Syrah from Lake County is the first wine we’ve released from the new vintage, which is always exciting. We’re also delighted to have stellar recognition for the wine right out of the gate.
At the recent 2021 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition this wine was chosen as the Best Rosé in the entire SFCWC, which is the largest wine competition of North American wines and features nearly 5,700 entries from over 1,000 wineries.
You might enjoy these two short videos of our winemakers, David and Katharine DeSante, talking about the Syrah vineyard which produces the Rosé and their winemaking process
Here’s some more information about this lovely wine, which is perfect for the spring season.
The 2020 Growing Season
The Lake County 2020 vintage was an interesting one to say the least. Between COVID-19 and the wildfires in the surrounding counties of Napa and Sonoma it was definitely a challenging harvest. However, we are learning how to adapt and excel when Mother Nature throws a few curve balls our way, and we are very enthusiastic about the quality of the wine we produced from this vintage. For 2020, Rosé and White wines from Lake County are showing particularly well, with lighter yields but exceptional grape quality. The weather was mild through most of the growing season, followed by a manageable heat spike in September, which meant that harvest began slightly earlier than normal.
Winemaking and Tasting Notes
The Syrah grapes were hand picked at just around 21° Brix. 50% of the grapes are put through a classic “white pressing program” and the other 50% go through a “Champagne pressing” program. The former gives us more flavor and color, while the latter gives us a wine that has intriguing aromas and more elegant texture. Combining the two optimizes the qualities of the fruit and creates a fresh, subtle yet complex wine in the Provençal style. We added a little of our Sauvignon Blanc for brightness and aromatics.
The color of this wine entices with its pale pink hues. On the nose, aromas of floral jasmine and Alpine Strawberry abound. After the wine eases over the palate, flavors of ripe strawberries and Bartlett pears become readily apparent. The finish boasts notes of clover honey accented by a refreshing minerality. Much in the French style, this Rosé delivers just a suggestion of color, but follows with an abundance of freshness, complexity and flavor. Alcohol: 12.5%.
New Grapes for Old
Dancing Crow’s Old Stake 1901 Vineyard is an ongoing experiment in grape diversity 120 years in the making. So far we’ve identified over 20 different varieties, some dating back to the original plantings at the turn of the last century, all the way through to modern times and even into the future as we add new vines to replace some that are unhealthy or no longer productive. The palette of aromas, flavors and textures is always evolving.
While Old Stake produces a truly unique and complex red wine field blend, there are both red and white grapes in the vineyard; the white varieties not only add their own aromas, flavors and characteristics to the blend, they actually enhance the quality of the reds, and this carries through to the color of the wine as well – white grapes can actually catalyze the color of the reds though a process called co-pigmentation as you’ll see in this short Youtube video of winemakers David and Katharine DeSante. LINK
With all these factors in mind, one of the varieties we’ve selected as a new addition to the site is Verdelho – a white grape noted for its floral and citrus aromas that is grown throughout Portugal, where it was first planted as early as the 15th century. It is closely associated with wines from the island of Madeira where it was the most widely planted grape at the turn of the 20th century. The fortified wine named after the island was extremely popular in the American colonies, a favorite of Thomas Jefferson and used to toast the Declaration of Independence.
As one of the few heat-loving white grapes, Verdelho is well adapted to California where it has a long history. By the 1870’s it was extensively grown in what is now Amador County in the Sierra foothills. Currently there are approximately 200 acres in California are devoted to the grape, which has also been successful in the vineyards of Australia.
Among the reds we have chosen Niebbolo in part because of the success one of our neighbors on the Kelsey Bench has had with this variety. Originating in Northern Italy’s Piedmont region, where it dates back to the 13th century, this grape is best known for producing Barolo and Barbaresco, powerful, full-bodied, and highly tannic wines, often with a surprisingly light color.
It will be a few years before we see how these new vines contribute to Old Stake, by which time we will no doubt have discovered some new “old” varieties in vineyard.
If you’d like to sample this fascinating old world field blend, Old Stake 1901 is the only wine we sell in a three pack – currently offered at $99 or mix and match with any of other wines – HERE
Photo credit: By José Luís Ávila Silveira/Pedro Noronha e Costa – Own work, Public Domain
Looking Back at 2020
Well 2020 isn’t a year any of us will forget in a hurry!
It was definitely a year of challenges. Of course Covid dominated the news, and the various wildfires in wine country, over the late summer and early fall, were also a major concern. Our hearts go out to everyone affected by both of these disasters.
Fortunately Lake County, where our vineyards are located, was largely untouched by fire, and we were able to farm grapes during the year and harvest them without serious interruption. We very much appreciate our vineyard team led by David Weiss of Bella Vista Farms and his entire crew, including those who harvested the grapes, for ensuring an excellent crop delivered safely to the winery. By the time you read this the 2020 Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé will be bottled, ready for release in early 2021.
The Rosé was a real bright spot for Dancing Crow in 2020. When we decided we wanted to add this varietal to our portfolio, we started looking for a vineyard that was planted to Rhône red grape varieties and suitable for a Provençal style wine. The ideal site turned out to be one where 25-to-30-year-old Syrah vines sit on the Smith Lane Vineyard, whose name alone tells you how long the Smiths, who own the property, have lived and farmed there. The site is full of promise for the kind of Rosé we want to make – fresh and complex with alcohol in the 12.5% range and a lovely pale peach color.
Before everything changed in March, we had begun a project to video our winemakers, David and Katharine DeSante, talking about the vineyards and the wines. The effort was interrupted by Covid, but we did capture some interesting clips about individual wines, the vineyards they come from, and the uniqueness of Lake County itself as an up and coming winegrowing region. They are a most engaging and knowledgeable winemaking team so if you’d like to “meet” them and learn more please go to our YouTube channel HERE.
We feel very fortunate that David and Katharine are creating our wines and we thank them and the entire winery production crew for keeping everything moving and on track under the very difficult circumstances of 2020.
And that seems to be the thread here – remembering and appreciating how many people it takes to bring our wines from the place where they grow to the consumer’s table.
We owe thanks to them all, including the warehouse people, the shippers, the sales teams across the country who kept our wines on the store shelves. We are also very fortunate that grocery stores, where we sell the majority of our wines, have stayed open and made our wines available, and we thank the staff that continued to stock and sell them. And of course last, but very much not least – thanks to you, our customers, we truly appreciate your support of our family’s wines!!!
And speaking of appreciation, we are very pleased about the quality of our 2020 vintage wines. David Desante is already raving about the aromatics and bright, luscious flavor profiles of the wines; and these offerings seem destined to be a much needed silver lining to offset our otherwise less than stellar memories of this year.
The photo above was taken in March 2020 by David and Katharine looking from the eastern shore of Clearlake (for which Lake County is named) towards Mount Konocti. Apart from being an evocative image, it also seems to us to embody the wild and beautiful place where our wines begin.
The grape harvest went well in Lake County this year and it is always a gift, but this year our appreciation is tempered by the ravages of the Glass Fire in neighboring Napa County. Dancing Crow co-owners Tony Cartlidge and Sarah Forni had a close call themselves when the flames got to within a few hundred yards of their home in Saint Helena. Our hearts go out to everyone, including many friends and colleagues, whose lives have been touched to whatever degree, from evacuation to significant loss. We hope that the rest of the fire season passes without further threats.
In the gift of the harvest there are always a few surprises, but this is especially true for our Old Stake 1901 Vineyard where we always find new, unusual varieties, some still to be identified, as we stand at the sorting table watching the grapes come into the winery. The recent photo above illustrates the point.
These 14 different varieties are a just sample of what’s been planted since 1901 at Old Stake on the Kelsey Bench. All of them are fermented and aged together to create a true field blend and a wine unlike any other.
Here’s Jim Gordon’s review in the Wine Enthusiast – “This field blend of traditional California grape varieties is distinctly peppery and potent, showing vivid black-pepper, char and black-olive flavors over black cherries. It’s bold and attention-getting, without being overly full bodied or overly oaky.”91 POINTS
The 2018 Old Stake is the only wine we sell in a 3-pack – so get yours now for just $99.
Or mix-and-match Old Stake in a 6-pack or 12-pack with any of our other wines with a 25% discount during our Holiday Special offer – so stock up for Thanksgiving and Christmas here
use the code Holiday2020 (not case sensitive)
Offer good through December 16th
Old Stake Video
If you’d like to know more about Old Stake – check out this video of winemakers David and Katharine DeSante talking about the vineyard and the wine.
Great Scores from Sunset International Wine Competition
These two wines – our 2019 Sauvignon Blanc and 2019 Rosé – really express what makes Lake County such an interesting place to make wine. Both are grown in vineyards that sit at 1400 ft. elevation close to the lake itself near the town of Kelseyville. This altitude plus unique soil conditions enable us to create complexity and freshness at only 12.5% alcohol. With the warm weather continuing into early Autumn, this is the perfect time to drink these lovely wines.
Here are some food pairing suggestions for the Rosé from our winemakers:
For something quick and easy, a nice herbed goat cheese (or other soft cheeses) with prosciutto and a French baguette or a classic ripe tomato bruschetta will work perfectly. For more substantial pairings we recommend grilled prawns, beet salad with feta, ceviche, burrata with olive oil & flatbread, Niçoise salads, salmon dishes, herbed chicken, or barbeque veggie skewers.
P.S. The Rosé is almost sold out.
Use our new Mix & Match option to buy both wines – HERE