Napa Valley AVA
91 Points - Connoisseurs' Guide
Even though the Crane brothers are the third generation of their family to be born and raised in Napa Valley (Old Town Napa to be exact) they are justifiably proud to be the first Crane family members to be part of the valley’s storied wine industry. It also happens that their eventual ingress to the business took more than two decades to achieve.
“It was always in the back of my bother’s mind to get into the wine business,” older brother Michael Crane, 62, confessed. “My brother Rob went to work for Christian Brothers immediately after high school and has had the wine bug for many years. My own business as a real estate broker has caused me to buy and sell a number of vineyard and winery properties, so I guess it was in the cards for me to join his wine passion and to someday get into the business for ourselves.”
Crane actively entered the growing side of the business some thirteen years ago when he acquired a nine-acre property in the Oak Knoll appellation on the western side of Napa Valley just below the fabled reaches of Mt. Veeder. The vineyards proved to be quite spectacular and the fruit was contracted to Stags Leap Winery for their production.
As the new millennium made its appearance, the Crane brothers began making some homemade wine out of their own vineyard.
“We had actually been making wine for many years from second crop pickings around the valley,” added Michael Crane. “We made it for ourselves and to give away to our friends. When the first wines from our Crane Ranch Vineyard were finished, everyone around us thought they were wonderful, and even better than many of the other commercial wines found in the valley. Everybody encouraged us to consider making the wines on a regular basis so we figured the time was right to give it a go.”
The first miniscule production of 288 cases of Crane Brothers Syrah appeared in 2001, and garnered an exceptional amount of raves and enthusiasm from the general public. Subsequent releases have followed suit until the current level of 1200 cases has leveled the winery’s production.
Michael Crane explained further, “I don’t feel we will ever get any larger than we are now. It’s a matter of control and quality, and the amount of fruit we can get from our vineyard. We prune heavily and drop fruit at least twice a season, so we know pretty much how much fruit we will have. When we realized just how great the fruit could be, we made the decision to be very specific about how the acreage was handled.”
Low yields usually mean better wines, and winemaker Al Perry (Robert Biale Vineyards) has insured only the best since the first releases of Crane Brothers. Since the wines are single-vineyard and estate-bottled, the Cranes also feel they hit some excellent price value spots that consumers are looking for.
“By keeping our operation small, we can control our costs even more. I spent this past week working in the vineyards doing some maintenance on the vines. I did the work myself to make sure it was done correctly. I treat our vines the very best way possible and they repay me by delivering spectacular fruit. It’s definitely a win-win situation.”
Michael Crane and his family live on the property in a rejuvenated old farmhouse, another aspect of the long time dream of being part of the wine business.
Crane Brothers wines can currently be found in six states, but further expansion will undoubtedly be limited due to the small number of cases produced. The company has considered a tasting facility somewhere in Napa that would increase the brand’s exposure, but so far nothing has developed.
“We were involved with a winery owner that wanted to get a dozen or so small wineries together for a communal tasting showroom in Napa’s Old Town section, but the current economy has put the project on hold. We were set to be a part of it, but it just didn’t happen. For a project like that, the timing has to be just right and the people involved need to be the right people.”
Such prudent thinking strikes a good chord for Crane Brothers, a tiny winery that seems destined for truly great things. It is encouraging to see such fine planning and such excellent wines from something so small.