Dancing Crow Vineyards
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Country of Origin: USA
Location: Lake County, California
People: Cartlidge-Forni Family, Owners | David & Katharine DeSante, Winemakers
Dancing Crow Vineyards is the culmination of multiple generations of wine experience and the collective energies of the Cartlidge-Forni clan. The winemaking team, husband and wife David and Katharine DeSante, contribute their unique collaboration. The vineyard sites are located in the heart of Lake County's premium wine growing region in two different AVAs; Big Valley, noted for white wines, and the Kelsey Bench noted for reds. Grapes are also sourced from the Red Hills and High Valley AVAs.
Lake County sits at the northeast edge of California’s North Coast AVA, one of the world’s most prestigious wine regions. The seven sub-appellations exclusive to Lake County are attracting national and international acclaim for their exceptional quality and unique characteristics. Lake County’s volcanic topography, ancient fresh water lake – the oldest in North America – clean air, excellent soils, and mountain climate all combine to produce ideal viticulture conditions. Long, hot summers at high altitude supply a stronger ultraviolet light beneficial to growing grapes. In addition, the lake’s late afternoon breezes cool down the vines, an important advantage in high quality grape production.
Cartlidge-Forni Family: Tony Cartlidge is the driving force behind Dancing Crow Vineyards, bringing with him a wealth of wine business knowledge and experience. Tony Cartlidge’s journey in the wine industry began in 1979 when he teamed up with retired financier Glenn Browne to form the Cartlidge & Browne winery. Early customers were Alice Waters of Chez Panisse and Paul Prudhomme of K Pauls in New Orleans. Over 30 years, Cartlidge & Browne grew to 120,000 cases and was distributed in 49 states and 22 countries. In 2004, Tony started buying Dancing Crow grapes to make a vineyard designate Sauvignon Blanc for Cartlidge & Browne. The resulting wine was very well received. In 2011, Tony sold Cartlidge & Browne and two years later was able to buy the Dancing Crow property. The acquisition of this 36-acre Lake County estate fulfills Tony’s dream of bringing his family together in a new and exciting wine venture. The historic Old Stake 1901 Vineyard, purchased in 2018, adds another dimension to the dream.
The Cartlidge-Forni family, individually and collectively, have been involved in the Napa Valley wine industry for 4 generations. Adam Forni’s great grandfather, Charles Forni, immigrated to Napa Valley in 1903 at age 18 from Lombardy, Italy to join his cousin Antonio Forni, who needed help cutting stone for Lombarda Cellars – which is now Freemark Abbey Winery. Charles played a pivotal role in many early Napa Valley wine ventures, including in 1943 being one of the founders of the Napa Valley Vintners Association. In the 1970s and 80s Cassayre-Forni Cellars became the next generation of Forni family wine ventures, and where Sarah gained her winemaking experience. This dynamic wine family now pours their combined passion and experience into their own Dancing Crow wines.
Winemakers David and Katharine DeSante: David DeSante wanted to be a winemaker at age 10, and apart from a detour at medical school, he has pursued this dream on 3 continents; US, France and Australia’s Margaret River–a region known for Sauvignon Blanc. He and his wife Katharine are the consulting winemakers for Dancing Crow Vineyards. They both enjoy the unique winemaking opportunity offered by the varied terroirs in Lake County’s mountain growing region. Winemaking is a collaborative venture – in their case, a 20-year dialog of discriminating palates and a creative combination of David’s vineyard expertise and Katharine’s fine touch with fermentation, which she honed as a former baker-turned "yeast whisperer." They also farm a 120-year-old vineyard together by hand – a task as therapeutic as it is demanding.
Vineyard Manager David Weiss and Supervisor Juan Sanchez: David Weiss has managed vineyards in Lake County since 1993, and has witnessed the county’s reputation for premium quality grapes increase rapidly. Juan Sanchez has been the Dancing Crow Vineyards supervisor since 1998. His attention to the vineyards is a key contribution to grape quality. Lake County’s unique mountain climate affords many natural advantages to the viticulturist: crystal clear air (the cleanest in California), dry air (fog is rare), and high intensity UV light (which results from both dry air and elevation). Hot days are moderated by afternoon breezes and cool nights. A 50° F diurnal temperature drop is common in summer and, again thanks to high elevation (~1,400-1,500 feet), the winters in Lake County are quite cold. Together these conditions reduce pest and disease pressure, enabling softer, more environmentally sound farming practices. Organic composts and methods such as IPM (integrated pest management) are used to intervene only when absolutely necessary.