La Crema Winery in Windsor
Interview with Winemaker Craig McAllister.
Embark on a wine-tasting journey at La Crema Estate, nestled in the Russian River Valley’s Saralee’s Vineyard. Take a step back into history and sip wine in their historic barn from 1900! With experiences ranging from intimate to group friendly, there’s something for everyone–priced between $40-$85 per guest.
We interview La Crema’s Winemaker, Craig McAllister, to learn more.
What type of wine do you specialize in?
La Crema Winemaker, Craig McAllister: Our list of wines is extensive, although we focus exclusively on cool-climate appellations. We source Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from grape growing regions such as the Russian River Valley, Monterey, and Sonoma Coast in California, and Willamette Valley in Oregon.
More recently, we’ve been exploring other varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc, which is on its third vintage, and a Brut Rose sparkling from the Russian River Valley. Both have been well-received among our customers.
What makes your wine unique?
Craig McAllister: Our fruit sourcing and the consistency we provide are essential to our team. We strive for one vintage to be very similar to the previous vintages.
We are consistent and we’re putting wine into the bottle that people are familiar with and can trust. It is this consistency that makes La Crema an esteemed brand in the wine world, with visitors from across the U.S. and throughout the world.
Share a popular tasting experience.
Craig McAllister: La Crema offers many unique experiences, including our barrel tasting. Take your senses on a journey as you sample five exclusive selections that can only be found here at La Crema while taking in unparalleled views of our vineyards.
Describe your winemaking approach.
Craig McAllister: At La Crema, we strive to craft wines that embody the terroir of their vineyard origins. I infuse our winemaking regime with my own personal touch, combining traditional Burgundian techniques with a modern California style for an unforgettable experience in each bottle.
Our commitment to the vineyard is unwavering; with a tender touch, we strive for excellence in preserving the delicate complexity of our grapes.
Do you remember the first time you fell in love with wine?
Craig McAllister: I grew up in New Zealand. One of my first jobs after leaving home was working in resort hotels as a wine steward. There, we had the opportunity to taste some wines as part of our training and it was during one of these tastings that I had my moment with a 1986 Ngatarawa Glazebrook Cabernet Merlot from Hawkes Bay.
I had never previously tried a wine where I was able to tease apart layers of flavor, oak, tannins and acids, before that it was just wine. I hope I always remember that time.
What do you love about winemaking?
Craig McAllister: My deep passion for winemaking has allowed me to explore across the world (New Zealand to Australia, Chile to name a few) and create exceptional wines that I am proud of. I also love that there’s no dull moment in winemaking – From the rush and intensity of harvest, to bottling the wines and taking them to market, it is a riveting and ever-changing experience.
When I started, I didn’t know just how much I’d enjoy it or where it would take me, and I wish I had started twenty years sooner.
How did you get started in the wine industry?
Craig McAllister: I spent many years working in resort hotels in New Zealand, which is where my appreciation for good wine began.
I returned to New Zealand in 1999, after six years of living in the UK and was curious as to what my next steps would be – I happened to open the newspaper and saw that my local university was holding an open day and was offering Viticulture and Enology classes.
Checked the class out, ultimately signed up for my degree program, the rest is history.
I earned my degree and joined La Crema in 2007 as a harvest enologist, then became the head winemaker in 2017.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned as a winemaker?
Craig McAllister: The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that it is probably that you never stop learning in this job, every harvest is different, and they often come with a new set of challenges or surprises.
It could be as complex as working to understand how best to grow grapes and make wine in a changing climate or as simple as assessing which barrels are best suited to which vineyards. Either way the learning never stops but reward comes with it.
Do you have a favorite story about working at your winery?
Craig McAllister: In 2019, La Crema celebrated its 40th anniversary. During the festivities the current winemaking team joined our founding and former winemakers at the La Crema Estate to help celebrate. It was amazing to hear tales of the winemaking adventures from those early days.
I am lucky that I get to travel for work and share our wine with people from all over the USA, I have met some wonderful people on my travels and enjoyed a tale or two over a glass of La Crema.
Do you have any winery traditions with your team?
Craig McAllister: Like many wineries we take a moment to bless the grapes on the first day of harvest. Typically, this involves splashing a bin of grapes with a bottle of wine made from a previous vintage, we wish all who are working a safe and bountiful harvest and cross our fingers and toes that the weather holds.
How does your team help you as a winemaker?
Craig McAllister: Immensely, this is certainly not a ‘one person does all’ role. It takes an army of vineyard and winery workers to tend the vines and turn the grapes into wine. They are our eyes, ears and noses and arguably the real winemakers, it would be close to impossible to be successful without their know-how and commitment to what they do.
I am incredibly fortunate to work in a team who share the common goal of putting the best wines into the bottle.