Winemaker’s Table: Pam Starr

Pam Starr studied winemaking at UC Davis, graduating in 1984 with a degree in Fermentation Science. Over the next 18 years she worked her way up from enologist to assistant winemaker and finally to winemaker at Spottswoode Vineyard in Napa Valley.

In 1997 Pam met Charlie Crocker, owner of a historic vineyard property in St. Helena planted to Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, and the pair joined forces to create Crocker & Starr.

Since then, the winery has become well regarded for its Bordeaux-style wines, including Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Cabernet Franc. I recently spoke with Pam about her history and life in wine country.

Q: What was the UC Davis wine program like back in the 1980s?
A: UCD was focused on graduating scientists, not winemakers. Fermentation Science bridged the food science and enology departments, and my goal was to graduate and go on to dental school. Post graduation, while studying for the dental entrance exam, I took an 8-month internship with a brand new Sonoma winery. And never looked back!

PamStarrQ: What is it about Bordeaux grapes and blends that grabs your attention?
A: Over thirty years ago—when I first entered the wine world—the focus of North Coast grape growing was Bordeaux varieties. The goal was to grow wines that would stand out as some of the best Cabernets and blends in the world, and I traveled to France several times to look at vineyards, ask questions, and taste wines. And I’m proud to say that the Cabernet Sauvignon and the Cab Franc we produce from the estate are worthy to stand among Bordeaux greats.

Q: I’m a big fan of Cabernet Franc, but it’s often viewed as merely a blending grape. What challenges have you found in producing a varietal Franc?
A: Growing Franc is a humbling experience, and this variety has taught me that patience and timing are critical to produce greatness. The challenge of great Franc is where to plant it, including the combination of rootstock and clonal selection. I believe Franc is more difficult to grow and make than Pinot. When I met Charlie, the Franc in his vineyard estate was planted in some of the best Cabernet soil on the property.

I launched Crocker & Starr Wines with Cab Franc, and was very fortunate that my wine landed in the hands of some of the great Master Sommeliers in the States. As I’ve been able to consistently make a fantastic Franc, the Somms have stood by my brand.

Q: You have a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon, and my favorite moments from visiting vineyards often involve hanging out with the dogs. Why do you think dogs are such a natural match for grape growing and winemaking?
A: Dogs chase deer, rabbits, wild turkeys, and other assorted grape vine predators, and can add a layer of protection while working among the vines. They also make fantastic greeters at the winery!

Q: Do you have a favorite pairing of one of your wines with a specific dish?
A: Cab Franc and a La Toques duck burger; Sauvignon Blanc with Bouchon pommes frites!

 

About the Author

A lifelong resident of Memphis, Tennessee, Ben Carter has been writing about wine and food online since 2005. Starting at his blog, Benito’s Wine Reviews, he has also written for Serious Eats, Snooth, Palate Press, and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal. During the day, he works in quality assurance for a major corporation.

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