Winemaker Pam Starr puts in long hours overseeing the production of Cabernet Franc and other varieties at Crocker & Starr. But she also makes time to soak up her surroundings. "Napa Valley is more diverse than eating and drinking your way through 31 miles of happiness," she says. Sure, Pam enjoys visiting wineries, but she also likes to go hiking and mountain biking and seeing artists at work. "Napa's unique, we just have a really creative, wonderful lifestyle."
"St. Helena is a very special appellation growing region because two mountain ranges come together here," says Pam. "I have five different soil profiles, and there are a lot of complications, so that makes exciting grape growing because soil is location, location, location."
Crocker & Starr marks its 20th season in 2016 – and the first with its own dedicated winemaking facility. "I've been unleashed from all creative impediments and feel like a kid in a candy store," says Pam.
To enable this creative winemaking, Pam enlists all five senses. She tastes and touches; looks for the changing color of the berry; evaluates the smells of fruit or French vanilla; and listens for the sound of fermentation giving off CO2 or percolating.
Pam enjoys talking visitors through her process and says it's made her more thoughtful about why she does what she does. Her eagerness to share is typical of the warm welcome you can expect from the Napa Valley community.
"People open their arms for people who come to visit Napa Valley because there's so much to show, so much to share," says Pam. "I wouldn't be here without you popping corks of my wine – I just couldn't do what I do if I didn't have you, and for that, I'm very grateful."
Read on to see how to follow her lead.
"If you go to our own local market in Napa called the Oxbow, there's a spice company there, and you get to open up all the lids and smell the spices," says Pam Starr. "I like to go and be inspired by different smells. They invite everybody to come in, and they have these huge wonderful jars in multiple colors, and you can just crank off the lid and hold the lid up and smell it. I have to say I really love doing that."
"You can go on a nature walk with the Land Trust, and a guide will tell you about all the plants that we have here – they're all really important to the Napa Valley life," says Pam Starr. "It's worth the membership, and you should sign up in advance. Offerings have included a full moon hike at Tuteur Ranch, Hoffnagle Loop at Wildlake Ranch, and Linda Falls."
"There are a lot of artists here in the Napa Valley, and you can go into their shops and watch them weld or paint; they're really interesting people," says Pam Starr. "We also have one of the best preserves ever – di Rosa, with art inside and out. We hired one of the docents for a Crocker & Starr company team building activity where we toured the art and were challenged to describe our thoughts. It was super fun."
"There's a really great trail that lets you hike the ridgeline of the eastern hills," says Pam Starr. It begins with the Table Rock Trail, which meanders for about three miles through forests to a lookout point with rewarding views. Along the way, you'll pass open chaparral, volcanic cliffs, and seasonal wildflowers like poppies and lupine. Table Rock connects to Palisades Trail (about four miles), which in turn connects to Oat Hill Mine Road.
"Skyline Wilderness Park is known for its mountain-bike racing, which can be very challenging; I don't do all of the challenging trails, I just do the ones where I won't fall off my bike and skid my knee anymore," says Pam Starr. "It's a great place to go and ride your mountain bike. You can do archery, spot wildlife, and there's major hiking there as well."