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
Our Inaugural Virtual Tasting on September 12th
The Dancing Crow Family invites you to our Inaugural Virtual Tasting Event
on Saturday, September 12th at 6:00 PM PDT
Our first virtual wine tasting will be hosted by the Dancing Crow Family and our wonderful husband and wife winemaking team, David and Katharine DeSante.
If you’d like a preview of what’s in store check out this video of David and Katharine
We have picked out two of our favorite wines for you to taste along with us:
2019 Rosé – made in the classic style of Provence utilizing European grape pressing techniques, this “true” Rosé is light in color, dry, aromatic and crisp with a sumptuous balance of bright fruit and lively mineralogy. You can download complete tasting notes HERE
2018 Old Stake 1901 Vineyard “Field Blend.” – More than 15 varieties of grapes from our Old Vine vineyard (planted in 1901) are harvested together and co-fermented to create this rare, Rhône-style “Field Blend,” from one of the oldest vineyards in Lake County!
The total cost for the tasting kit is $50 and includes:
1 bottle of our 2019 Rosé of Syrah
1 bottle of our 2018 Old Stake 1901 Vineyard Field Blend
Detailed information about the wines and Dancing Crow Vineyards
An in-depth, fun and educational tasting of both wines facilitated by our winemakers David and Katharine DeSante.
Live Q & A
To register for the tasting simply order your wine tasting kit by clicking HERE
We’ll ship you the wine and confirm your registration by email including your the ZOOM link for the tasting.
If you have any questions about the event please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at email@example.com or 707-738-5228
We look forward to hosting you on September 12th!
Two Wines Awarded 91 Points by Wine Enthusiast
Recently two of our 2018 Vintage red wines received 91 Point scores from the Wine Enthusiast. These two current releases represent the wonderful diversity of soils in the various Lake County AVA’s. The 2018 Zinfandel is made with grapes from both Red Hills (75%) and The Kelsey Bench (25%). Red Hills is perhaps the best known red wine producing region in Lake County and it is an open secret that fruit from this region ends up in many premium Napa Cabernets. The red soil is volcanic in origin, mineral rich and fast draining. These qualities combine with altitudes ranging from 1600 to 2500 feet to create a unique terroir. The wine has lovely complex fruit and bright acidity.
Here’s Jim Gordon’s review for the 2018 Dancing Crow Zinfandel in the Wine Enthusiast:
“Fruity, rich and moderately spicy, this is an easy wine to sip and enjoy. It offers well-concentrated blackberry flavors, mild tannins and full body, without feeling heavy or tasting too sweet.”
The other 91 Point wine is from our Old Stake 1901 Vineyard on the Kelsey Bench, which sits between the Red Hills and the low lands closer to Clear Lake itself where the soils are typically sedimentary and range from loams to heavy black clay. At Old Stake we see a blend of all these different elements. This is the fifth oldest vineyard in Lake County, with vines dating to 1901 and still producing. Not only are the vines old, but also surprisingly diverse with over 20 different varieties identified to date, including Zinfandel, Alicante Bouschet, Cinsault, Touriga Nacional, Syrah, Primitivo, and Counoise. This resulting field blend creates a wine unlike any other.
Here is 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.”
We now have a Mix & Match option on our purchase page so you can sample both wines in a 6 pack or 12 pack of your choice HERE.
Our 2019 Lake County Rosé
A New Vineyard and a New Wine – 2019 Rosé
One of the great pleasures of gradually becoming part of the farming community in Lake County is the discovery of new vineyards, which offer the potential for new and unique wines.
When we decided we wanted to add a Rosé to our portfolio, we asked our vineyard managers, Bella Vista Farming, and winemakers David and Katharine DeSante, to start looking for a vineyard that was planted to Rhone red grape varieties suitable for making a Provençal style Rosé.
Here are winemakers David and Cathren DeSante talking about the 2019 Rosé Watch Video
The ideal site turned out to be 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.
It 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. Even though it is close to our Old Stake 1901 Vineyard, this is actually a terroir closer to what we find at our Sauvignon Blanc vineyard in the Big Valley AVA a few miles closer to Clear Lake – more of a white wine location, which actually makes sense for the kind of wine we want to make – Fresh and complex with alcohol in the 12.5% range – a close cousin to our Sauvignon Blanc with a lovely pale peach color.
Just as the vineyard was chosen for its unique potential, our 2019 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 an overripe vintage. The Syrah grapes were hand picked on September 9th and 10th at just over 21° Brix. We sent 50% of the grapes to the classic “white grape pressing program” and the other 50% to a “Champagne pressing” program. The former gave us more flavor and color, while the latter gave us a wine that had intriguing aromas and more elegant texture. Combining the two optimizes the qualities of the fruit and creates a fresh, subtle and complex wine. Perfect for Summer.
Two photos taken by DCV co-owner Adam Forni on Earth Day 2020 – showing a swarm of bees on a vine at our Old Stake 1901 Vineyard and beehives next to the barn at our Dancing Crow Sauvignon Blank vineyard.
What is the role of bees in a vineyard when grapes are self-pollinating?
Thanks to Keith Brandt, part of the team at Bella Vista Farming Company who take great care of our vineyards, for helping answer our questions.
“Yes, grapes are pollinated by wind – so in a sense self-pollinating – but the bees are good to have around because they pollinate many of the cover crops (such as mustards) and native plants used in and around vineyards. They’re definitely great partners in the sustainable farming practices, which we use for all of Dancing Crow’s vineyards. During their natural foraging, the bees also visit the vines when they flower, no doubt helping with some additional cross pollination and they are also an asset to the neighboring pear orchards, for which Lake County is justly famous.
The swarm on the vine at Old Stake is in transit. Hive colonies do separate and a portion will swarm in search of a new home. The swarm will typically rest in a location such as this for 1-2 days and then move on. We have had 4 such swarms in the redwood tree outside our offices over the past 4-5 weeks. The beekeeper, who placed the hives at Dancing Crow vineyard, has come and collected all 4 swarms – which were given a new hive to set up home in, along with food and water. Happy bees….indeed.
Of course, at Dancing Crow vineyard we also have barn owls residing in the owl box placed there to attract them – another common practice in sustainable farming. Some have voiced concern about bees taking over these nesting boxes. However wild bee swarms are the usual culprit in such cases – likely “africanized’ colonies – which can be very aggressive and opportunistic. This type behavior is not normally observed here in N. California as the “africanized’ colonies have not yet moved this far north due to the differences in climate. By contrast, the typical honeybee is usually quite docile and not prone to aggressive activity.
The hives, which have been placed at Dancing Crow, are “starter” hives – set up with food and water and not every hive has a resident colony yet. The empty hives are to encourage swarming colonies to set up housekeeping (as discussed above with the swarm at Old Stake). With the starter hives in place there is little-to-no incentive for a swarm to want to set up house in an owl box.
The thought here is – why live in a drafty barn (owl box) and have to build your own housing when you can have a beautiful new “condo” (hive) with food and water already provided? In conclusion – we believe co-existence between bees and owls will be the order of the day at Dancing Crow vineyards.”
All about Alicante Bouschet
Alicante Bouschet is one of the more than twenty different grape varieties planted at our historic Old Stake 1901 Vineyard near Kelseyville in Lake County, California.
The grape was first cultivated in France in 1866 by Henri Bouschet as a cross of Grenache and Petit Bouschet, which had in turn been created by his father Louis Bouschet as a cross of the very old variety Teinturier du Cher and Aramon. It is a rarity among Vitis vinifera species because its flesh is red and hence it is known as a teinturier from the old French word for someone who dyes fabric. The resulting depth of color makes it a unique blending component.
Rather obscure today, it was popular in California during Prohibition (1920-33) particularly for export to the East Coast. The intense red color was helpful for stretching wine, as it could be diluted without detracting from the appearance, while its potentially high yields and plump, juicy pulp made it possible to extract fermentable juice even after the third pressing. In addition its thick skin made it resistant to rot during the long journey to the East Coast.
The Volstead Act, which set the rules of Prohibition, allowed up to 200 gallons of home-made wine per year, per household, for consumption in the home only. This loophole was widely exploited and the volume of wine exported from the west coast to the east, to New York in particular, was staggering. In 1928 for example, 225 railcar loads of grapes were auctioned off at Penn Station to a single buyer, enough to make more than 2,000,000 gallons of wine!
While still planted in many European wine regions, it now plays a minor role there, except in Portugal’s Alentejo where is it widely used and produces expensive wines that often outperform other better known varieties. These high-end wines are valued for their full body, dense color and complexity.
As we’ve mentioned in other blog posts, Alicante Bouschet is also one of the red grapes being tested by various Napa viticulturalists as a possible hedge against the effects of climate change on more typical and popular red varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon – so the old may become new again.
At Old Stake the red wine field blend is anchored by Zinfandel while Alicante Bouschet comprises about 9% along with a similar amount of Cinsault, which together help drive the wine’s distinctively soft, round tannin structure and fresh fruit notes, accompanied by spicy aromatics.
Alicante Bouschet leaves turn a beautiful purple hue in late autumn as shown in this photo from Old Stake after the 2019 harvest.
Great Reviews from Wine Advisor
“Dancing Crow has successfully positioned itself as a high-quality, astronomic-value winery.”
Dan Dawson has been part of the Napa Valley wine scene for over twenty five years in many roles – as sommelier at the French Laundry and head buyer at Dean and DeLucca to name just two. He now operates the Wine Advisor where he shares his insider knowledge of the Valley.
Here are his recent sterling reviews of three Dancing Crow wines.
2018 Sauvignon Blanc – Awesome Value
Easy to pick this out of wine line-up as Sauvignon Blanc…lemon zest, grapefruit, lime juice, honeydew melon, lemon thyme. Light bodied, strong intensity of flavor. Shiny-bright with healthy acidity and a leesy richness on the finish. If you’re a fan of crisp, taut California Sauvignon Blanc, I guarantee you’ll like the Dancing Crow Sauvignon Blanc a lot. 100% Sauv Blanc, steel tank fermented and aged.
2018 Zinfandel – Great Value
Just barely enough Zinfandel to be called such and 1/4th a field blend of Alicante Bouschet, Cinsault, Touriga Nacional and more. Surpisingly delicious for such a young and hearty red wine. Deep, dark red berry smells and flavors that venture into the blueberry zone. Particularly spicy, especially on the finish. Roast coffee beans, clove, cinnamon and Pernod (anise). The black licorice is especially pronounced when first opened and enjoyed. Purity of flavor, careful use of oak, fine tannins and a healthy thread of acidity make this a complete, high quality wine. Once again, Dancing Crow WAY over-delivers for the price!
2017 Cabernet Sauvignon – Hall of Fame Value
Very satisfying Cabernet Sauvignon that’s ready to enjoy anytime. Dark red, ripe cherries, blueberries and pomegranate flavors are obvious and generous. With the fruit, honest and transparent Cabernet flavors of cassis, sandalwood and cedar compliment nicely. Fine tannins, medium acidity and kiss of toasty oak make for a rich, ripe mouthfeel and sensation. This is an outstanding choice for a “House Cab” or restaurant by-the-glass Cabernet Sauvignon. The Cabernet comes from two AVAs: Red Hills and Big Valley – where the growing days are hot and the nights are cool. 11% Merlot from Mendocino in the blend.
Wine and Climate
2019 seemed to be the year that climate change made its way to center stage, although it has to share space there with plenty of other attention grabbers!
The wine business has a reputation for being rather conservative, traditional and slow to change, perhaps because it is literally rooted in the ground, but there has been a flurry of articles recently on the topic of climate change, its potential effect on vineyards and winegrowing and what viticulturalists and winemakers are doing about it.
Grape vines, of course, are extremely sensitive to climate variations and this is probably true of most fruits, like the famous Bartlett pears that grow next to our Sauvignon Blanc vineyard in Lake County. However, unlike other crops, the wine made from grapes uniquely captures and preserves each year’s changes – this is the essence of vintage after all. Perhaps this is one reason why wineries around the world are responding with uncharacteristic prescience.
Here’s some of the relevant press on the topic from 2019.
In her Aug 16th article “The end of Cabernet in the Napa Valley” Karen Mobely the SF Chronicle wine critic, detailed concerns about increasingly early harvest dates due to warming growing seasons. She reviewed the efforts of Larkmead Cellars and the Beckstoffer family, among the largest growers in the region, to research possible alternatives to the dominant Cabernet grape. Both have invested in sizeable test vineyard projects.
Of particular interest to us at Dancing Crow was the inclusion of Touriga Nacional and Alicante Bouschet in some of these trials. We already have these two varieties growing and producing in our Old Stake 1901 Vineyard, where of course it is already warmer than Napa (and cooler at night).
If a subscription wall stops you, or the link becomes inactive, then a Google search will usually get you to this and the other articles.
The New York Times featured a 4 part series titled Wine and Climate by Eric Asimov, which covered some of the same ground as the Chronicle, but also asked “How does your love of wine contribute to Climate Change?” and noted how warmer weather could sometimes produce pleasant surprise as in “Great Bubbly from England, Believe it or not!”
Bordeaux winemakers allow new grapes to fight climate change
A potentially landmark vote has seen seven new grape varieties approved for Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur appellation wines as part of efforts to fight climate change. As with the Napa project, Touriga Nacional was one of the varieties selected.
If you’re curious about our 2018 Field Blend from the Old Stake 1901 Vineyard that contains Touriga and Alicante Bouschet along with a dozen other unusual varieties just go the the WINE section of this site, sign up for our newsletter and check back here for more on this evolving story…