Grower Spotlight: Dancing Crow Vineyards

Scott Kirkpatrick & Adam Forni of Dancing Crow Vineyards
Scott Kirkpatrick & Adam Forni, Dancing Crow Vineyards
Photo credit: Karen Pavone

The late afternoon sun dips low over Dancing Crow Vineyard on a beautiful spring evening as vineyard co-owner Adam Forni and winemaker Scott Kirkpatrick stroll the vines. Spring bud break is in progress, and their anticipation is palpable. It’s the excitement growers feel when they know they are onto something special.

Adam’s family story in Lake County wine cultivation began in 2006 when his stepfather, Tony Cartlidge, a 30-year veteran in the industry, decided to make a single vineyard Sauvignon Blanc from grapes grown in the fertile floor of the Big Valley appellation. That particular wine was so well-received that Tony later decided to purchase the property where he had procured those grapes. In 2013, Dancing Crow Vineyard was born—a family collaboration led by Tony, his wife Sarah Forni, and sons Adam (Forni) and Stefan (Cartlidge).

Initially, the family set out to produce a fresh, aromatic Sauvignon Blanc reminiscent of that standout wine Tony had first created from the vineyard’s grapes. That definitive offering remains the winery’s signature flagship wine today.

“My stepdad fell in love with the vineyard and the fruit,” says Adam. “His winemaker at the time, Paul Mosher, loved French wine—particularly Sancerre—and he thought it would be interesting to emulate that style using our grapes. So, we set out to do just that: make a Sancerre-style Sauvignon Blanc from Lake County. It was a BIG hit right off the bat, and that’s when we knew we had something. We feel Lake County is the best place for Sauvignon Blanc in the United States.”

Winemaker Scott Kirkpatrick joined the team in 2021, bringing the expertise and passion the family sought in a partnership. Scott’s desire to learn about wine sprouted from a grassroots interest he developed waiting tables at a restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky. “I didn’t know anything about wine growing up,” says Scott. “I started reading every book I could find and drinking every wine I could afford…and a lot that I couldn’t! I took a couple of sommelier exams.” Eventually, he realized his passion for wine was greater than his passion for restaurants, and moved to Napa in search of a harvest internship.

He landed a job sweeping floors at a brand-new Napa winery called Eleven Eleven and worked his way up to cellar master, eventually starting his own brand, Mountain Ties, in 2016.

“In 2021, I was ready to move in a new direction,” he says. “I knew the team at Dancing Crow from my very first internship. We reconnected, and the rest is history.”

Both Adam and Scott are evangelical about the qualities that make Lake County an outstanding growing region.

“The volcanic soils in Lake County have a lot to do with why wine grapes thrive so well here,” says Adam. “The high iron content, along with other essential nutrients, are great for the vines. It imparts a little minerality to the grapes; some say they detect a mild saltiness that lends a unique quality to volcanic wines.

Scott adds, “Big Valley has heavy clay in the soil and high magnesium, which means the ground retains water. Most grape varieties can’t handle having wet roots, but thankfully, Sauvignon Blanc tends to thrive in these conditions. Being at 1,400-foot elevation, with intense heat but wet soil, keeps the vines from getting over-stressed so they don’t ramp up sugar production. The high water content in the soil creates natural inhibition of sugar accumulation. There aren’t many places in California where these conditions exist. We get this curve where we have a good amount of sugar for a low alcohol wine with tons of acidity, freshness and fruit quality. That’s really hard to match!”

“I’ve worked with vineyards from the Santa Cruz mountains to Lodi, to the Sierra foothills, to Dry Creek Valley, to Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, and Lake County,” says Scott, “and Lake County does things that no other place can do. I’ve seen almost every AVA in California, and I truly believe there’s no better place to grow Sauvignon Blanc than Big Valley.”

Looking to expand their offerings, Dancing Crow also purchased vineyard property (formerly Catfish Vineyard) in the Kelsey Bench AVA from pioneer grower/winemaker Jed Steele and renamed it Old Stake Vineyard. Planted in 1901, this historic property has a mix of 24 different old-world grape varietals, including seven acres of vines that were planted more than 120 years ago.

The family decided to “put it all together and do a big field blend,” says Adam, “– that’s something you just don’t see much of anymore. Our Old Stake 1901 Field Blend is a very special wine that pays tribute to Lake County’s historic legacy.”

The other plot of Old Stake Vineyard is planted in 13 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon. “The Kelsey Bench appellation has everything Cab needs to thrive,” says Adam. “Elevation, beautiful red iron-rich soil, hot days, and proximity to Clear Lake, which pulls the cool air in at night—like nature’s air conditioner! It creates perfect conditions for the grapes to reach their full potential.”

The two vineyards are the foundation of Dancing Crow’s offerings, which center on Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon, along with Chardonnay, Rosé, Corbeau Rusé (Rhône Blend), and the Old Stake 1901 Field Blend.

Both Adam and Scott agree the future of the Lake County wine industry is wide open.

“I think more and more people are learning that Lake County is a special place with unlimited potential,” says Scott. “There’s a real diversity of soil and micro-climates, and it’s still possible to invest here in a way that is out of reach in neighboring counties for most.”

“The wine industry has brought a lot of positive opportunities to my life,” he reflects, “and I feel morally obligated to make wine that’s affordable. Lake County is one of the few places in California where that is still possible.”

Adam wholeheartedly agrees. “We’re doing something different in Lake County,” he continues. “We’re letting the soil and the grapes speak for themselves and trying not to interfere too much, which is producing these nice, bright, refreshing, and aromatic wines with good acidity and tannin. There’s a freedom here to do what we think is best with the grapes, which is an amazing opportunity to make wines that aren’t your typical offerings. That makes Lake County wines shine and separate themselves from other places.”

Both men nod in agreement. “We love being a part of the exciting growth trajectory happening here.”

Adam Forni & Scott Kirkpatrick of Dancing Crow Vineyards
Adam Forni & Scott Kirkpatrick, Dancing Crow Vineyards
Photo credit: Karen Pavone

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