Pam Starr established Crocker & Starr in 1997 with Charlie Crocker, great grandson of Charles Crocker, founder of the Central Pacific Railroad. Starr partnered with the San Francisco businessman to resurrect the 100-year-old vineyard he purchased in 1971. The winery’s 100-acre estate vineyard in St. Helena sits on land that has grown grapes since the 1870s. After graduating from the University of California at Davis in 1984 with a degree in Fermentation Science, Starr worked her way up from harvest intern and barrel stacker to enologist and assistant winemaker at wineries in Sonoma Valley and San Luis Obispo. In 1991, she became the winemaker for Spottswoode in the Napa Valley where she worked in tandem with other now-celebrated winemakers Tony Soter and Mia Klein.
Karen MacNeil interviewed Pam Starr for WineSpeed in December 2019.
Karen MacNeil: You often speak about your vineyards like old friends. You say things like, “I met these vines in 1996.” “Cabernet Franc has a pulse. The grape itself has a pulse.” While I’ve not heard you speak about biodynamics, are you influenced by its principles and philosophy?
Pam Starr: I like to follow some, but not all, biodynamic guidelines. For instance, I have not gone through the process of using the animal horn to determine soil organism activity because we can measure activity using science and visual inspection. Examples of indicators I look for are lace wing and ladybug populations in the spring, and vine balance through growth expression. In the winery, we try to wait for racking and blending when the barometric pressures don’t influence lees settling. And I farm organically with respect to our surroundings and the weather. – So, yes, I’m influenced by the concepts.
KM: Tell us about your relatively new Crocker & Starr project, the A.V.A. Napa Valley Series.
PS: Barrels that do not make the estate level are used in the Appellation series and are blended with wines from appellations surrounding Napa Valley. Because Crocker & Starr is focused on 100% estate wines, the Appellation series allows us to reach outside of St. Helena and bring balanced delicious cabernet franc and sauvignon blanc to the table.
KM: You are a member of Wine Entre Femme, an international consortium of women winemakers from Napa and Bordeaux. Tell us about your involvement and why you’re a member.
PS: The WEF is a relatively organic consortium as each member runs her own wine business and winemaking full-time. The network was laced together over 10 years ago when a group of winemakers from Napa Valley visited some of their counterparts in France. The following year, we reciprocated by hosting the French winemakers, along with new members from Switzerland, Japan, and New Zealand. Each trip was precisely organized to share viticulture, vintage, vinification, marketing, and sales challenges and successes. It makes sense to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with powerful, inspired, and successful women of wine [from around the world] who promote creativity and forward thinking.
“It makes sense to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with powerful, inspired, and successful women of wine [from around the world] who promote creativity and forward thinking.”
KM: You have had many mentors. But who else would you love to work with?
PS: Tough question. Maybe a future ‘Bill Gates’ who can use the wine business to raise money to promote agriculture as a viable professional future for young people.
KM: What advice would you give to a winemaker just starting out?
PS: Enjoy working each level of production and seek out ways to better accomplish each task. Strive to experience a multitude of winemaking processes and techniques and find a template that inspires you.
KM: Crocker & Starr will marks its 25th vintage in 2021. What is next for you?
PS: Amazing – 25 years already? My mother used to say ‘where does the time go’… No one ever seems to have the answer! I would like to return to the consulting world in the future and assist those passionate about the wine business to create successful wines and stories.
KM: I read that as children, you and your sisters would pick flowers and make perfume. Sounds like the stirrings of a distiller. Have you ever considered making artisanal spirits?
PS: Absolutely! Somewhere in my future is a beautiful floral and spicy spirit!
KM: Tell us something about you that would surprise most people to learn.
PS: I am shy and not that comfortable in crowds! No one will believe this.
KM: What was the last wine book or article that you read and was it good?
PS: The recent Bloomberg article by Elin McCoy [Eight Ways Wine Will Change in 2020, 1/4/2020] predicting how wine will change in the future. Though I’m not a fan of mixing cannabis with wine, I think there will be people who have success with those products. She also covered the continuing conversation about climate change, what Napa will be planting, and the future Champagne-style sake. All very interesting.
KM: Your parents are from Canada. How well-versed are you in the ways of the “Great White North?”
PS: Canada is in my blood. I had dual citizenship until I was 18, and spent many a winter and summer with family in Manitoba.
KM: In that case, tell us if you would rather:
- Lake Tahoe or Lake Erie? PS: Lake Tahoe
- Niagara Sparklers or Champagne? PS: Champagne
- Ice Wine or Auslese? PS: Auslese
- Carignan or Caribou (a sweet Québécois cocktail composed of red wine, hard liquor, and maple syrup)? PS: Carignan
- Maple Whiskey or Southern Comfort? PS: Maple Whiskey
- Gravy or Ketchup (on fries)? PS: Gravy
- Michael J. Fox or Michael B. Jordan? PS: Michael J. Fox
- Hockey or Football? PS: Hockey, always! And I would love to drive the Zamboni, please.
- Trump or Trudeau? PS: Trudeau