Minimalist winemaking. That's the secret to making a tasty $15 bottle of chardonnay, according to Alison Crowe, the winemaker of Picket Fence Vineyards.

Crowe is behind our wine-of-the-week winner -- the Picket Fence, 2010 Russian River Chardonnay.

"Minimalist winemaking, a concentration on neutral (as opposed to new) French oak and lighter-weight glass in the packaging all contribute to keeping costs low and this chardonnay accessible to everyone," Crowe said. "Even working with more-expensive grapes out of the Russian River, I strive to keep my wines within reach of an everyday drinking audience."

Crowe said the best winemaking is often hands-off winemaking.

"In the cellar I keep it really simple," Crowe said. "My mom, who is a great cook, always taught me growing up that if you start with wonderful ingredients, you have to manipulate them very little to create a dish to remember. It's the same with grapes and wine."

Owning the vineyards -- the ingredients -- gives Picket Fence an edge.

"It really helps me to form my relationship with these grapes, and that's where all wines really start," Crowe said. "I've worked with these vineyards for the past seven harvests, but more importantly I have access to them year-round and so I feel like I know their personalities. I know when the Wente clone is going to hit that target ripeness and when the older vines might need a little more time to get the grapes to that exact point where I want to pick them."

In 2008 Crowe was named winemaker of Picket Fence, a brand in which wine icon Fred Franzia's Bronco Wine Company is a partner.

But Crowe's winemaking odyssey and her intrigue with scents began when she was a child.

"I started being interested in plants and their natural scent-producing elements and essential oils when I was about 6 or 7 years old," Crowe said. "I started trying to make my own (not very successful) perfumes and waters when I was very young and planted my first herb garden when I was about 11 or 12. I was just intrigued by the complexity that could come out of a plant."

You can reach Staff Writer Peg Melnik at 521-5310 or