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Garnet Vineyards

Making sense of scents with Alison Crowe


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When we talk about a wine's perfume, that's when we lose some people. Where do we get hints of anise, Meyer lemon and, for gosh sakes, Chinese five spice out of a squirt of grape juice? Seriously, those aren't actually in the wine, like some kind of eau de cologne?

Yes, in a way, they are. "They're the same compounds, shared between different plant organisms," Garnet Vineyards winemaker Alison Crowe explains. "One just happens to end up in a barrel, and the other one happens to end up in a bottle of Guerlain Eau Impériale."

Crowe, who pluckily announced that she wanted to be a winemaker at age 16, has a secret hobby. She collects perfume and is fascinated by its history. But ever since graduating from UC Davis, Crowe has worked in vineyards and cellars, where the dress code is sneakers and a fleece jacket, and where no career-minded person wears perfume.

"It's kind of like forbidden fruit," she muses, "something I can't indulge in every day." When she assembles a blend of wine from barrel lots, each having its own characteristics, she sees it as being similar to a traditional perfumer's task. "You're taking a perishable, seasonal, organic product, and you're trying to capture time in a bottle."

Garnet's 2011 Monterey County Pinot Noir ($14.99) surely captures the essence of carob and nutmeg, while flooding the palate with deep cherry flavor, checked by tense cranberry fruit on the finish. Crowe calls the 2010 Carneros Pinot Noir ($19.99) her "shiny happy people wine." It's scented with Christmassy cinnamon, clove and potpourri, the dark fruit brightened with strawberry jam. But her "goth, Tim Burton" 2010 Sonoma Coast, Rodgers Creek Vineyard Pinot Noir ($29.99) gets over its dark, brooding phase after a day uncorked, becoming silky and quenching—bing cherries, rhubarb, licorice, orange zest and cinnamon. Or, you know, their organic chemical kin.

Created by Pinot house Saintsbury in 1983, Garnet was sold to Silverado Winegrowers in 2011. Crowe is a partner in the brand, which is nationally distributed to restaurants and retailers. Jill of all trades, she's tasked with everything from overseeing vineyards to traveling for the brand, while personally responding to customers on Facebook, and climbing barrels—although, with her second son well on the way, she's had to give that up for a while.

Sampled out of ground-level barrels, two different clones of newly fermented Rodgers Creek smell sort of peanut buttery to me—they're just finishing up malolactic. But Crowe can pick out the dark, fresh fruit aromas lurking beneath. She's going to enjoy blending this fragrance: 2012 in a bottle.

Garnet Vineyards, Sonoma. For wine availability and retail locations, see


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