Crown Valley Winery Hires New Winemaker
South Africa native Alwyn Dippenaar has been named the new winemaker at Crown Valley Winery in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. Al, as he prefers to be called, arrived at Crown Valley Winery in March of 2012 to practice what he describes as a new world style of winemaking.
‘The new world style is more concentrated, rich with ripe fruit and higher in alcohol,” he said. Al said that he enjoys terroir style wines, but he believes there are fewer wineries in Missouri practicing the more technical style of winemaking he learned while working in South Africa, New Zealand (Montana Brancott Winery), Oregon (Adelsheim Winery) and Australia (McNaughton Winery) in the Margaret River region. Al also worked for a few months at Stone Hill Winery in Hermann, Missouri after returning to the United States in September of 2011.
The words “new world” are something of a term of art when applied to wine. For example, new world winemaking implies the use of very ripe grapes, something not always possible in the Midwest after a cool or shortened growing season. Al acknowledges the difficulty of making fruitier, full-bodied wines in Missouri, but he is confident that his experience and equipment are well suited for the challenge.
Al is fortunate to have one of the few cross flow wine filters in Missouri. The $80,000 Italian filtering machine has multiple filters that the wine passes across as opposed to through. According to Al, the filtering system is worth the expense because it removes bacteria that cause volatile acidity. All Crown Valley Wines, whites and reds, go through the cross flow filter in varying degrees.
Another weapon in Al’s modern arsenal is temperature controlled fermentation. A combination of cold fermentation and aromatic yeasts contribute to the rich, balanced wine style that Crown Valley is seeking.
The Winery also has a glycol refrigerated must cooler. In addition, every effort is made during the crushing and destemming process to make sure that the grapes are kept cool. To bring out more flavors and color, Al uses commercially available skin enzymes that are designed for pigment extraction.
The cleanliness of Crown Valley’s production area is striking. Part of the reason for the shiny appearance of all surfaces is that much of the production area can be seen by customers from elevated walkways or a large seating area above the tank room. Al said he has a passion for cleanliness because he believes sanitation has more of an impact on the clear and bright style of wines he makes. ‘I use all the sanitation methods: steam, ozone and chemical cleaning. A clean place is a happy place,” he insisted.
Crown Valley has a long history of blending, sometimes mixing hybrids and vinifera varietals. Al, too, has long practiced the art of blending, a skill of successful winemakers from both worlds, old and new, and he plans to continue to “round off” his wines through blending.
In his role as winemaker, Al said he also looks forward to working next to the vineyard manager and eight other vineyard workers. Crown Valley, which was founded in 1998, grows much of the grapes used for their own production in a 100 acre vineyard adjacent to the main tasting room, one of the largest tasting rooms in the Midwest.
‘My main role is winemaking in the cellar, but I will get more involved in the vineyard closer to harvest when harvesting decisions must be made and when we work out how many grapes we want for the next year,” Al said. In addition to the grapes grown at Crown Valley, Al says he sources grapes from,’the places that best suit our needs, mostly California.”
This will be the first vintage year for Crown Valley’s Valvin Muscat, which Al said is the second Valvin Muscat to be bottled in Missouri. The six and one half acres of Valvin Muscat grown at Crown Valley are also used to make grape based vodka. According to Al, no other winery is making vodka from Valvin Muscat.
Al is well aware of the effects of Midwest climate and disease pressure on grape production. Recently, one of Crown Valley’s best blocks of Chardonnel had to be removed after succumbing to various maladies including phylloxera. ‘I know it’s going to be a challenge, but who would not want to take on Missouri? The weather conditions can be very challenging and you have to adapt to Mother Nature differently each year,” Al said.
This year’s crop is about two weeks ahead of normal because of a warm spring. Al said there was scant April frost damage at Crown Valley, but now he’s concerned about a hot summer with temperatures not dropping off substantially at night. These conditions can produce fruit with both high acidity and high pH and present challenges to winemakers.
Because of the variations in grape chemistry from year to year, Al admits that he will not be able to achieve the consistency of new world wine makers from places like California with his estate grown wines. “Our wines will differ every year, but now the style will be the same regardless,” he said. “You can’t go to extremes with wine consumers.”
Sixty-five percent of Crown Valley’s wines are sold on the winery’s property. Expected production this year is around 90,000 gallons up from 60,000 gallons last year. Crown Valley is distributed in Missouri by Major Brands, Inc. out of St. Louis. Crown Valley is also distributed in 11 additional states.
Gena Feldmann, the Social Media Manager for Major Brand Distribution said Missouri consumers tend to like sweeter wines as evidenced by the volume of sales of Crown Valley Sweet Red Bird (6.5% residual sugar) and Riesling. Crown Valley fruit wines are also big sellers, especially blackberry.
Publisher’s Note: Crown Valley winemaker Daniel Alcorso has left the company.