St. Helena innovators offer elegant solution to tedious winemaking task

Napa Valley Register photo

Napa Valley Register photo

By Kip Davis
(Napa Valley Register – 2//25/14)

A chance Fourth of July meeting of two like-minded “machine geeks” has yielded an innovation aimed at improving a somewhat tedious but critical step in the winemaking process.

Alex Mitchell and Evan Schneider have developed a new device that they say will speed and enhance the process known as “pumping over,” a cellar procedure required during the fermentation of red wine. Under their company name Vinnovation, the two partners designed the new Lotus pumpover head with the help of several Napa Valley winemakers who were frustrated with previous designs. Read more…

Aerial drone captures Napa Valley images from above

action chopperBy Kip Davis
(Napa Valley Register – 2//25/14)

Keeping their feet firmly on the ground, two Napa Valley filmmakers are using emerging and somewhat controversial technology to capture spectacular aerial footage of vineyards, wineries and other wine country locations.

Adam Krolfifer and Bret Lyman teamed up last year to purchase a custom- made, remote-controlled helicopter – technically called an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) but known popularly as a drone.

“We call it an aerial cinema rig,” Krolfifer said, cringing at the term “drone” and what he says are misplaced negative notions about the technology. “It’s such an awesome tool for us to have as film makers and video production specialists because it gives you that great aspect, that awesome view that you want to see in something epic.” Continue reading

Pioneering winemaker forges ahead on the path less traveled

Zelma Long tastingBy Kip Davis
(Napa Valley Register – 2/21/14)

Zelma Long is one of those people who seem to thrive on the path less travelled.  Someone who, when asked why, replies “why not.”

In 1968, Long decided against her intended career as a dietitian and entered the enology and viticulture program at U. C. Davis – one of the first women to do so. A year and a half later, she worked the harvest in Napa Valley and was offered a job as enologist at Robert Mondavi Winery. In 1973, Long further cracked the then male-dominated profession to become Mondavi’s chief enologist. During the next six years, Long earned the reputation for being a pioneering and innovative force in the Napa Valley wine industry. Then, in 1989, Long broke another glass ceiling when she was named CEO of Simi Winery, becoming the first woman to head a California winery.

Today, after a stellar winemaking career spanning four decades, Zelma Long has gone back to U. C. Davis to quench a different thirst. Sure she is now 68. Never mind that she is still fully immersed in the wine business. And “why not” pursue an advanced degree in a subject that seems to have little to do with her celebrated expertise. Continue reading

Blind Boys of Alabama take Uptown crowd to church

Blind-Boys-of-Alabama-photo-by-Cameron-Witting-1By Kip Davis
(Napa Valley Register – 12/18/13)

Joyful sounds may be common during the holiday season but none are more uplifting and downright fun than those that filled the Uptown Theater Saturday night. The Blind Boys of Alabama were in town, serving up a 90-minute, Gospel-infused spiritual high that could make the most hardened holiday skeptic stand up and shout hallelujah.

The Grammy Award-winning vocal group delivered a rousing collection of spirituals and seasonal tunes to an enthusiastic audience that spent much of the concert on its feet. Led by Jimmy Carter, one of the original Blind Boys of Alabama, the four vocalists backed by a four-piece band launched into a stirring rendition of “People Get Ready.” After that, it was pedal-to-the-metal with a hard-driving version of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky.” Continue reading

St. Helena chocolatiers create edible works of art

woodhouse 1By Kip Davis
(Napa Valley Register – 12/2/13)

Visions of Willy Wonka danced through my head as we entered the kitchen of Woodhouse Chocolate in St. Helena. Machines churned silky streams of molten chocolate. Tiny decorated morsels sat ready for packaging. The aroma was intoxicating but there wasn’t an Oompa-Loompa in sight.

Looking nothing like the wacky Gene Wilder character, master chocolatier Tracy Wood Anderson stood at a bench working on a chocolate cat (the Halloween version of a chocolate bunny). Next to her, Tracy’s mother Chris Wood was creating quite a racket by furiously banging a metal mold on the stainless steel table. Read more…