A Note From Elton
Welcome to the New Year: 2022
I’m writing this New Year’s note wearing slippers and a flannel while considering the addition of a warm hat in the wee morning hours here in San Rafael. As opposed to last year at this time when my usual day uniform included shorts, t-shirt and good sunglasses. It has been cold and it has been wet; my favorite winter weather by far as it allows our vines to go fully dormant and get some much needed rest. After the fires, extremely hot weather and drought conditions of 2020 and 2021, it was nourishment for the soul to walk through our Howell Mountain vineyards this week and see how much recovery there has been since the fire storm in September of 2020.
Seeing all of the protective white sleeves (I’m channeling Bill Murray’s Carl Spackler from Caddyshack when it comes to gophers) around the newly planted vines in the lower block of our winery vineyard, it’s hard for me to come to grips with the fact that I’ll be sixty-five years old when the first fruit from these new vines makes it into the market. This business requires two primary attributes for success: patience and a willingness for hard work. I’ve had a good dose of both in my eighteen years at Robert Craig Winery.
From the arrival of consulting winemaker Keith Emerson in 2005, Stephen Tebb coming on board in 2009 as head winemaker, hiring Walsh Vineyard Management in 2013 to professionally farm our vineyards (for double the cost of our home grown efforts) to contracting with Pete Richmond to farm Howell Mountain and Phil Coturri to farm Mount Veeder in 2019, and, finally, moving Jason Price into his head winemaker role in 2018, Robert Craig Winery has continued to move the quality needle as much as any winery in the Napa Valley. When you’re in the middle of it all, it’s difficult to have perspective of the full journey.
When I sat to taste our 2019 wines with the toughest grader in the business back in October, Antonio Galloni of Vinous Media, I was optimistic in our chances for successful scores, but not overly so. Antonio was not crazy about 2019 as a vintage overall, and his mood suggested that he might have dipped a sour pickle into his cheerios on the morning that we tasted together at Vineyard 29 where Keith commands the winemaking. Antonio has hardly commented at all on the wines he has tasted from us through the years, even though he consistently has given us high marks on our wines. After completing our Cabernet line up this time however, he sat back and said, “Elton, these wines are very, very good, and this wine (holds up our 2019 Howell Mountain Cabernet) is frankly magnificent.” When my phone started pinging last Friday with message after message from my colleagues, distributors, and customers, I wondered what was going on. It turned out that Antonio had given us some extraordinary scores on three of our wines, some of the highest in his entire article, while also raving about our lower priced offerings of Affinity and Howell Mountain Cuvée. I felt like the farming work, equipment acquisition, and winemaking process refinement had each arrived at the same place at the same time in the comfortable conference room of V29 off of St Helena Highway.
After all of the challenges we have faced as a business over the last 30 months, it is sweet to be acknowledged for what we do best here at Craig; that is to produce thrilling wines.
We continue to evolve and grow at RCW, and part of that growth is in our people. Jami Castro is leaving us to start up her own real estate brokerage, a business that has run through her family for years and is a personal passion for her, but she is remaining on part time to spearhead our big-picture branding efforts. Scott Johnson will assume the role of Consumer Sales and Hospitality Director, and he is one of the most talented people with whom I have ever had the pleasure of working. Carley Maierhofer will come down from her harvest internship and conduct tastings as well as work with the production crew (she’s a double threat!) and Yordanos Gebru (all the way from Ethiopia) has taken the helm as Oenologist up at the winery. Our band of merry women and men continue to hold down the fort at Craig.
Thank you so much for staying with us, and for supporting us in what we do. I feel like our road is a bright one ahead with no small thanks to you. As the vines heal and we all heal from the strains of the pandemic, we begin to come together again as a society. I’m honored that our wines continue to find a place at your table. Please come see us on the mountain when you get to Napa.
Keep an eye out for an exciting new collaboration with our upcoming Valentines virtual!
From Carlos, Kiersten, Jason, KC, Carley, Yordanos, Jami, Scott and me: Happy New Year, peace and love!