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Allen R. Balik, The Wine Exchange, Kristi Koford celebrates her 50th harvest
The Wine Exchange

Allen R. Balik, The Wine Exchange, Kristi Koford celebrates her 50th harvest

From the Napa Valley Wine Insider Digest: Feb. 20, 2021 series
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Kristi Koford was born in Berkeley but spent most of her earlier years following her father around the world as he pursued an international career in zoology. She originally wanted to “continue in his footsteps becoming the next Jane Goodall.” Yet in 1971, she found herself in Lodi cultivating mushrooms and working extensively in the area’s vineyards.

She realized her true calling in 1974 and moved from the vineyard to the winery, joining Robert Mondavi where she eventually became senior microbiologist working alongside Tim Mondavi and legendary winemaker Zelma Long. In 1988, Koford began a 10-year stint as assistant winemaker at St. Supery before moving on as winemaker for Alderbrook Winery in Healdsburg.

In 2001, she joined Napa Wine Company, where she is celebrating her 20th anniversary. She is director of winemaking and responsible for all production including their proprietary brands – Ghost Block, Elizabeth Rose and Oakville Winery – along with their impressive portfolio of custom crush clients. These two distinct multifaceted winemaking roles are rarely mastered by a single individual.

Koford credits her time at Mondavi and concurrent courses at UC Davis for development of her “sense of winemaking theory and her years with St. Supery for putting this theory into practice.” Napa Wine Company offered her the opportunity to synthesize these experiences and find a variety of solutions for numerous clients and challenges.

As a custom crush producer, Napa Wine Company requires each client have their own winemaker responsible for their unique perspective and providing instructions (most often issued after conversation with Koford) on how the many phases of production should proceed. In this role, she feels, “It is not my intention to create the customer’s style but to understand their vision and create a path to its accomplishment.”

Aaron Pott, owner and winemaker of Pott Wines and Huis Clos Wine Consulting in Napa Valley, is a long-time fan of Koford and speaks enthusiastically of her knowledge and expertise. “KK (as Aaron refers to Koford) is the Wizard of Oz and one of the best technical winemakers I know. She’s a fountain of knowledge but also very humble and prefers not to take credit for her many contributions executed behind the scenes. It is an honor to work with her.”

Noted winemaker Charles Thomas (whose distinguished path spans work at Robert Mondavi, Opus One, Cardinale, Lakoya, Quintessa and Faust) has known Koford since the time they both launched their careers at Mondavi and shared similar thoughts, describing her as “a logistical magician who is also a pioneer in the industry flying well under the radar in recognition of her contributions and accomplishments.”

When working with a custom crush client, it is essential Koford understands each winemaker on their own terms to create a setting as if they were in their own winery. This is one of her great strengths as she and her staff take pains to outline adjustments and compromises while meeting the clients’ goals.

With this purpose front and center, she acknowledges her work is not just making wine but, “understanding all the processes involved in coordination with the client’s winemaker.” Motivation to achieve the client’s goals energizes her as the “process manager” and greatly contributes to her success as well as each client’s positive result.

In her role as principal winemaker for Napa Wine Company’s three proprietary brands, Koford assumes total responsibility for all processes and execution while envisioning each brand as a “valued client” in the winery’s operations. This is an important perspective and ensures each brand and custom crush client are treated equally in pursuit of their vision.

Napa Wine Company and the Pelissa family’s ownership has a long history in Napa Valley dating back to the early 20th century with original patriarch Joseph Pelissa. Now, with the fifth generation on board and fourth-generation Andrew (Andy) Hoxsey serving as managing partner, it offers custom crush capability for dozens of clients ranging from 250 to 100,000 plus cases and is widely viewed as an “incubator of fine wine brands.”

It is Bonded Winery #9 in California with the property changing hands several times since its original founding. It was purchased by the Pelissa family in 1993 from Heublein, where they had produced Chardonnay for their Inglenook brand.

Hoxsey and the family spent the next years completely renovating, updating and restoring the winery with the idea of creating a state-of-the-art custom crush facility as home to other wineries in need of production capacity and the potential of producing their own brands.

Updating Napa Wine Company’s facility and equipment is an on-going project due to Koford’s responsibilities for the company brands and for meeting clients’ complex requirements. In accomplishing her varied winemaking tasks, she utilizes diverse sorting programs, fermentation vessels and aging protocols along with a range of racking, fining and filtration procedures. Each is geared to the individual needs of the winery clients.

Many of the methods and vehicles Koford employs are based on centuries of tradition while others are on the cutting edge of modern techniques. All are designed to integrate various disparate components to find the proper production niche for each of the hundreds of individual wines in her charge.

Wine industry veteran and now Napa Wine Company general manager Russ Joy admires Koford, “for many qualities but particularly for who she is. Kristi is very thoughtful and authentic She has been guardian of so many wines made at Napa Wine Company and is a hidden gem in our industry. I find myself constantly learning from her over a broad range of subjects both technical and theoretical.”

Over the past five decades, Koford has observed the impressive growth of Napa Valley and its winemaking community where countless innovations have been introduced and some of the world’s finest wines produced. Looking ahead, She envisions continued growth in the valley and further development of the industry and her winemaking skills.

Koford dismisses the issue of retirement because, “there’s nothing I enjoy more than making wine” and views her life’s work simply as, “taking fruit from the earth and creating a wine that makes people happy, including myself.”

WATCH NOW: PRELIMINARY GRAPE CRUSH REPORT REVEALS NAPA VALLEY PRODUCTION DOWN ALMOST 40%

Napa County’s wine industry crushed just under 100,000 tons of grapes in 2020, according to a preliminary crush report from the California Department of Food and Agriculture, marking an almost 40% decline year over year.

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Share your experiences with other readers by commenting on this article with an e-mail to me at allenbalik@savorlifethroughwine.com.

Allen Balik, a Napa resident, has been a wine collector, consultant, author, fundraiser and enthusiast for more than 35 years.

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