In person, winemaker Elena Walch is a lot like her wines — lively, interesting, complex, but never over the top. She is also one of the most-respected producers in Alto Adige. Her winery and her prized vineyards — Castel Ringberg and Kastelaz — are located south of Bolzano near the Lake of Caldaro.
Here are nine of her recent releases:
2012 Elena Walch Alto Adige pinot grigio ($17) Fruity and minerally in profile with dominant tastes of citrus and apple skins. Nice and basic.
2012 Elena Walch “Castel Ringberg” Alto Adige pinot grigio ($23) A fruity wine with a crisp finish of green gooseberries, notes of creaminess, and a good mouth feel.2012 Elena Walch Alto Adige pinot bianco ($15) Juicy and pleasantly tangy — a little gamy even — and quite complex for a young wine. Think of whey or light cheddar notes to add complexity to its crisp, green fruitiness.
2012 Elena Walch “Kastelaz”Alto Adige pinot bianco ($20) A mildly assertive white – full and spicy with nice apple skin tannins. This is a versatile food wine.
2012 Elena Walch “Kastelaz” Alto Adige gewürztraminer ($32) My pick of the litter. This wine shows the seductive side of Walch’s palate, with creamy, fragrant, rounded, spicy fruit, and hints of candied creaminess. Yet the finish of black pepper and acidity keeps the wine from being flabby. Very enjoyable and long on the palate.
2011 Elena Walch “Beyond the Clouds” Alto Adige bianco ($55) A special cuvée blend, it is primarily from chardonnay grapes, but a dominating spiciness comes through, most likely from gewürz. The result is a very juicy, rich, lively wine with lots of lemon, minerality, and skin tastes. Add to that some earthiness and green stemminess in the finish. Depending on your palate, you will either think this is a very delicious, complex wine or a wine whose elements are competing too much with each other. When drinking it, I admit that I went back and forth.
2010 Elena Walch “Kastelaz” Alto Adige merlot riserva ($45) On the purple fruit side, this is a merlot that is at once opulently fruity and earthy with nice textures and moderate tannins.
2012 Elena Walch Alto Adige lagrein ($17) Americans are getting used to the taste of lagrein, a grape of northeast Italy which has a very pleasant, red-fruit spiciness on the nose and palate. This one has good structure, a fresh fruitiness but with a finish that has pleasant barrel notes to add complexity.
2009 Elena Walch “Castel Ringberg” Alto Adige lagrein riserva ($32) Castle Ringberg is a typical lagrein with red fruits and acidity but with an added concentrated richness of fruit, mainly red and black raspberry with warming barrel notes. It is at the same time a mouthful and an elegant wine that is even better if decanted a few hours before serving.
Into the Clouds
When she first developed big ideas about wine, Elena Walch knew nothing about winemaking. She was reared in Milan, studied in Venice, and then set up her own architectural practice in Bolzano, the capital of Northern Italy's Alto Adige.
Then in 1985, at 35, she was hired to oversee restoration of a 17th-century Austrian Hapsburg hunting castle surrounded by 50 acres of gorgeous, steeply sloping vineyards. The castle and vineyard owner was Werner Walch, who ran his family's historic Wilhelm Walch winery in Termeno.
Before the project was completed, she and Werner fell for each other, and they were soon married. Then things got really interesting when she turned her attention to the vineyards.
At first, she urged Wilhelm to do more with his family's stunning vineyards and cellars full of hand-carved oak casks dating to the winery's 1869 founding. Instinctively, she questioned why Wilhelm continued his family tradition of blending estate grapes with those he bought from scores of other growers.
"I said, 'Beauty must go with quality. If you have wonderful vineyards, you must have wonderful wines,'" she recalls one spring day at her winery and home built into an old monastery in Termeno (aka Tramin in this German-speaking part of Italy). "Beauty must be kept separate, and must be shown, and must be known."
She insisted he should use estate vineyards to launch a new line of wines.
"My husband said, 'I have no time to do these things,'" Walch, now 67, remembers with a laugh and a flash of her intense green eyes. "And I said, 'Give them to me—trust me."
Starting with those family vineyards and part of her husband's winery, Walch launched her own Elena Walch label. Over 30 years that have been part fairy tale with a big dose of entrepreneurial grit, Walch has achieved stellar international success with distinctive wines distributed in more than 50 countries.
It's a story that's continued into its second generation as Walch has turned over responsibility for her business to her two daughters, who've continued their mother's quest for improvement.
Like others in the Alto Adige, Walch started replanting the then-dominant overproductive red Schiava vineyards with more qualitative local and international varieties. She worked closely with the Walches' winemaker Gianfranco Faustin.
In the 1990s Walch began producing single-vineyard varietals from Castel Ringberg. The vineyard now boasts seven crus from Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Schiava.
But what sealed her reputation were two distinctive whites: The first, debuting with the 1997 vintage, was a Gewürztraminer from the family's Kastelaz vineyard perched above Termeno.
Unlike many sweet, perfumy or overripe Gewürztraminers, Walch aimed for delicate aromas and freshness.
"In Italy it became iconic," she says. "Italians still love Gewürztraminer."
Her 2015 Gewürztraminer Alto Adige Vigna Kastelaz ($35) scored 90 points in Wine Spectator blind tastings, though the U.S. remains a tough market for Gewürztraminer.
Walch followed up with another hit starting in 2000 with Beyond the Clouds (2014 vintage, 91 points, $65)—a barrel-fermented blend of Chardonnay and four other varieties crushed together.
"The idea was to show the vintage in one bouquet," says Walch.
Though the wine is always 80 percent Chardonnay, she doesn't reveal the recipe for the rest. Every vintage she completes the blend by picking four of the five varieties: Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc.
Four years ago her two daughters—Karoline, now 29, and Julia, 31—returned home after studying the wine business and winemaking in, respectively, Australia and France.
With their new responsibilities, the sisters moved quickly: Their first step was building a new gravity-fed winery across the way from the old one shared by their parents. The move gives them more flexibility for more parcel-by-parcel vineyard selections and for varied vinification styles.
"We felt there had been so much done in the vineyards, we wanted to continue that in the cellar," says Karoline.
The sisters are also growing Elena Walch from its 28-label, 50,000-case production. They've bought 45 acres of new vineyards both on the cooler west-facing slopes opposite Termeno and south in the Trento DOC appellation known for its classic method sparkling wines. This year they will harvest an old Chardonnay vineyard for about 650 cases of blanc de blancs that won't be released until at least 2022.
"It's a long-term project," Karoline says. "In wine you have to always look to the future."
Where Ancient Traditions Marry Modern Elegance
After finishing a late breakfast we drive about half an hour into the heart of Alto Adige’s winegrowing region — breezing past tempting photo opps and idyllic hillside towns along the South Tyrolean Wine Road (Weinstrasse). We eventually arrive at Tramin — a wine village seemingly lost in time and home to the Elena Walch estate.
We park and meander through Tramin’s winding passageways toward the winery. The village peacefully invites you into the past. And if we were here on any other day I would have likely let its seductive stillness transport me. I make mental notes on sights to revisit later.
The Elena Walch estate unfolds from the cobblestone surroundings and reveals beautifully landscaped grounds bringing to mind a scene from The Secret Garden . Walking through the entrance we notice touches of modern elegance blending into the estate’s historic architecture.
Anna Marsoner, our guide for the morning, soon greets us with a wide, warm smile. We exchange introductions and begin our tour by following her to the winery’s newest addition.
We walk into a room with towering glass walls graciously offering views of distant mountains. Anna invites us down steps into a state-of-the-art fermentation cellar. We are immediately struck by the happiest of all aromas — grapes becoming wine.
Built in 2015, the cellar holds immense stainless steel fermentation tanks. An LED display glows from a nearby wall and Anna shows us how the winery applies climate control technology to produce vintages to exacting standards.
The room is softly lit by violet lighting that delicately shimmers off each tank. Anna tells us Elena was an accomplished architect before her marriage. The exquisite ambiance of this space leaves no doubt in my mind.
Moving on we venture deeper into the cellar entering a vast room that looks to be carved out of a mountain. Here, more massive steel fermenting tanks stand against stone walls naturally cooling the cellar air.
Anna ducks us into a tunnel that runs to a dark cavernous area. It looks like we are walking through a passage that belongs deep within the belly of a castle. We encounter rows of French and Slovenian oak barriques masterfully aging wine into expressions distinct to Elena Walch.
She tells us the first building on the property was a Jesuit convent for 70 years before being purchased by the Austrian founder, Wilhelm Walch, in 1869. From here, we head up steps into another cellar where massive wooden casks surround us from all sides. As much as the new fermentation cellar gave us a peek into the winery’s future, these imposing wooden monoliths wow us back in time.
The face of each cask bears the ornate craftsmanship of woodcarvers from Val Gardena, a valley in Alto Adige’s Dolomites mountain range. Every chiseled mark forges a story commemorating significant occasions in the estate’s history.
I stare at them as if I am in an art gallery. One can’t help wonder how long it took to carve out such detail…and how these immense wine barrels were transported long ago. The artisans certainly did not roll them down the mountain.
The oldest cask dates back to 1878. But, the one I find most interesting has a delightfully mischievous depiction. Thanks to a poor translation, the woodcarver etched horns on a likeness of Moses rather than the intended halo.
The largest cask is born of Slovenian Oak from Croatia and holds 180 hectoliters. Anna quickly puts the number into terms we can grasp telling us it would take 65 years and 7 months to empty completely!
While admiring these historic casks, Anna informs us Elena Walch produces 500,000 bottles each year primarily from two nearby vineyards, Castel Ringberg and Kastelaz. In total, her vineyards comprise 60 hectares. Hard to picture? Imagine roughly 60 baseball fields flush with vines.
Continuing on we are surprised to learn hands pick every single grape that goes into an Elena Walch wine bottle. I am ready to volunteer. Anna also informs us the vineyards flourish without applying any herbicides.
Elena was among the first in Alto Adige to make sustainability a hallmark of her wines. This meant producing wine in harmony with nature and reducing quantity to place supreme importance on uncompromising quality.
Taking such a position was initially met with resistance by wine producers firmly rooted in tradition, but the value of preserving vineyards for future generations has become a celebrated standard in Alto Adige thanks to pioneers like Elena. Nearly every facet of her wine production considers the environmental impact — from practicing sustainable cultivation to solar powering the estate to using corks from forests certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
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Wine Aged In a Silver Mine Is Pure Gold
Karoline Walch’s grandmother noticed it first. Sitting around the family’s vacation house in the Dolomites, sipping the wines they’d made for generations, she was struck by how different they tasted from the wines stored back at the winery. The house in the mountains sits at some 6,500 feet in elevation. The wines stored there seemed to age more deliberately, showing youth and vibrancy compared to the exact same bottles stored in the winery’s cellar, at roughly 900 feet above sea level. The difference was so glaring that the Walches decided to conduct a little experiment.
“We were convinced that wine matures differently at higher elevation. We had the proof already,” says Karoline Walch, whose mother is Elena of Elena Walch Family Estates in Alto Adige, in northern Italy. “We decided to do it [intentionally]. The tricky part was finding a place with the right elevation and conditions. We visited several locations and ended up choosing an abandoned silver mine. It had the highest elevation, and it’s three kilometers deep — nearly two miles — in the mountain, so the conditions are pretty consistent.”
The Schneeberg silver mine had been out of commission since 1985. In its heyday, it was lauded. As early as 1237, it was declared the best mine in Europe, and at 6,500 feet above sea level, it still holds the record as the highest on the continent. Inside, it’s pitch black — Walch describes darkness as “a wine’s best friend” — with a constant temperature of 45 degrees Fahrenheit and humidity that clocks in at around 95 percent. The Walches also believe the decreased air pressure in the mine contributes to slowed aging. They began storing wine there in 2011 and released the first results of the experiment in select European markets this summer. The wines should arrive in the United States in January.
“What’s amazing is the silver mine wines seem to absorb their surroundings. You can taste the coldness, the stone.”
“It’s something completely new that, as far we know, we’re the first to try,” says Walch. “It’s always fun going to the mine to check on the wines. We only have access to it for about four months out of the year. The rest of the time it’s covered in snow. It’s actually quite emotional when we go because we haven’t seen the bottles in a year.”
Aging wine in a mine might seem a little gimmicky. After all, there are now wines aged underwater and whiskey aged in outer space. But for Walch, the experiment was important. At the very least, it proves just how much the way a wine is stored really matters.
To get the wines in the mine, they must first be driven up the mountain, a more than two-hour ride from the winery, then loaded into a little cart that runs on railroad tracks into the mountain face. From there, it’s a 30-minute ride to the gallery deep in the mine that the Walches rent. With absolutely no light to work by, the winery staff has to wear headlamps and use flashlights to work, which makes them look a little like actual miners. They started with 1,200 bottles and now have 7,000 stored in the mine. The new release includes the estate’s award-winning Gewürztraminer Kastelaz 2011 and the Chardonnay-based blend Beyond the Clouds 2011. The Walchs hope to keep storing their most precious bottles in the mine and to release different ones each year.
“We’ll keep it a secret so it should be a nice surprise every year. The longer the wines are in there, the bigger the difference should be,” she says. “What’s amazing is the silver mine wines seem to absorb their surroundings. You can taste the coldness, the stone. They taste younger, but somehow more complex. They’re just alive, with a vibrant soul.”
Elena Walch is a leading vineyard in South Tyrol under family proprietorship. Encouraging quality and innovation, Elena Walch stood at the head of the quality revolution in South Tyrol and has gained local and international esteem for her efforts. The great assets of Elena Walch are the two vineyards Vigna Castel Ringberg above Kalterer See, and Vigna Kastelaz above Tramin. All wines bear the clear signature of their producer and delight with their purity of taste, elegance and finesse. Elena Walch, formerly a successful architect, al so understands her current profession brilliantly. Responsibility for the family company has now been placed in the hands of daughters Julia and Karoline Walch, as the fifth generation of the family.
Cabernet Istrice Alto Adige DOC
The Cabernet Istrice has a gleaming garnet-red colour. A seductively tangy nose with coffee note and a light smoked aroma, refreshingly fruity with wild berries and black berries. The wine has a strong structure.
Cabernet Istrice Alto Adige DOC
The Cabernet Istrice has a gleaming garnet-red colour. A seductively tangy nose with coffee note and a light smoked aroma, refreshingly fruity with wild berries and black berries. The wine has a strong structure, subtle tannins and a.
The Vibrant Wines of Elena Walch - Recipes
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Mantsch Lagrein Riserva Südtirol Alto Adige 2014 (13% ABV, $18)
Another indigenous grape, another first, another enjoyable wine. Garnet in color with a ruby rim, the medium intensity blackberries and mulberries, and forest spice aromas were intoxicating. A nicely balanced palate with a dusty mouth feel and rustically silky tannins, this wine lingered on. Medium body, acid and tannins.
Perfect with mountain Gorgonzola slathered on olive fougasse. In France, a cheese plate commonly finishes a meal. Here I slipped in Italian cheese! Speck, the lightly smoked and cured South Tyrolean version of Prosciutto was a hit too.
These Cantini Colterenzio wines show the quality coming from this cooperative. An enjoyable, eye o pening, Alto Adige adventure !
Disclosure: Although the cooperative provided the wines, I was not compensated and all comments are my own.
We have been carrying Jules Taylor’s New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc ever since the day she first walked into the store several years ago with her portfolio of wines. We immediately fell in love with her humor along with her vibrant and witty personality, not to mention the delicious wines she produces.
Jules is the visionary and chief wine-maker behind Jules Taylor wines and operates the winery in conjunction with her husband, George. Based in Marlborough, New Zealand, she focuses on classic varietals from the region including the ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Grüner Veltliner, Rosé of Pinot Noir, and late harvest Sauvignon Blanc.
Jules was born in Marlborough in the year the first vines were planted and has literally grown up with Sauvignon Blanc. She spent several years putting her viticulture and oenology post graduate degree to use as Group Senior Winemaker for one of Marlborough’s largest wineries, and then as Consultant Winemaker to the region’s most prestigious brand. Jules spent a few life-affirming vintages in Italy which contributed to her love of wine as a simple pleasure to be enjoyed alongside good food and great friends. She strongly believes wine should be more about creating great memories and less about status or cellaring potential.
The Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc we carry is a wonderful example of what New Zealand can offer. Upon first visit, vibrant tropical and citrus aromas leap out of your glass, knocking your olfactory senses with passionfruit pulp, mango, lemon and tahitian lime, backed up by fresh notes of lemon blossom and chamomile. The lip smackingly delicious palate contains concentrated tropical fruit flavours of passionfruit and pineapple, complimented with fresh citrus notes. Juicy and dry, this wine has appetizing acidity and a beautiful lingering finish.
What To Drink Now: Wine from Women
This is National Women’s History Month so we’re celebrating women of the vine, their stellar wines, and tenacious spirit. Here are a few special wines made by dynamic women all over the world. A few samples were sent for editorial consideration.
When Jackson Family Wines moved into Willamette Valley a few years ago, buying land and planting vineyards, I heard a lot of skepticism. Many believed the large production company would come in and change the standards of quality that so many wineries in the area have worked so hard to maintain. Happily, they did something very right shortly after arriving in the valley, they hired Eugenia Keegan as GM and Winemaker for their prized acquisition, Gran Moraine. Dynamic, determined and delightful, Eugenia has become one of my favorite people. A Californian by birth, growing up in a vintner family, and working in some of the best Pinot Noir growing regions in the world, including Napa, Sonoma, Burgundy, Willamette and is owner of Keegan Cellars in the Russian River Valley and now in the Roussillon, France. Dedicated to her craft, she joined Gran Moraine shortly after Jackson Family purchased the Carlton-Yamhill property in 2014 with the goal to help the family define their style, setting a clear path for producing top notch wine in Willamette. Their cool-climate estate vineyards make this a challenge for Eugenia, as finicky grapes that need time to ripen run a constant risk of giving way to the elements of nature, like rain and frost, each ever present at harvest. These cool temperatures, however, can work in the fruits favor however, by keeping acidity present and flavors preserved, ensuring the end result will be a wine that will taste delicious both in its youth as well as over time. The Gran Moraine Estate Reserve Pinot Noir ($65) comes from a vineyard right around the winery that benefits from a touch more sunlight than their Yamhill-Carlton Estate vineyard, making it more fruit forward than the later, filled with juicy cherry, ripe berry, woody herbs and spice, a great wine for a New World palate. Gran Moraine Yamhill-Carlton Pinot Noir ($45) has much more of an Old World style, with earthiness, mushroom and truffle notes, freshness of purple flowers, a touch of minerality. Both special wines displaying their sense of place, created by skilled hands. Both available via their website.
Originally an architect by trade, Elena Walch met her husband, Werner Walch of the prestigious Wilhelm Walch winery, when he hired her to restore the family’s 17th Century Renaissance castle, Castel Ringberg, in Alto Adige in the early 1980’s. As they fell in love, she also fell in love with wine, eventually deciding to leave her work as an architect and get into the wine business. Instead of entering into her husband’s business, she did it on her own. Though, of course, she received great support from her husband, but with her own vision and determination created her Elena Walch Winery. Though an outsider and new to the industry, she gained the trust of her vineyard workers, bringing them on board with her vision for what the winery could be, while imparting her deep passion and ideas within them. Taking the time to develop her style, while ensuring her wine was of the highest quality, led her to release her first vintage in 1988. Since that time the winery has become one of the most respected in the region, producing aromatic whites and balanced reds. Her Gewürztraminer, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio are mineral driven, high acid wines with layer upon layer of floral, melon, tropical fruit and citrus notes melding with crushed stone and herbal characteristics, clearly telling the story of their high elevation soils. Today both of Elena’s daughters are a part of their mother’s business, each joining the winery after studying abroad, continuing the prominence of strong women in the industry.
One wine region that has always celebrated the women in winemaking is Rias Baixas, Spain. The seafaring community of Galicia thrives thanks to the men of the region heading out to sea while the women stay home, managing the family. More often than not, this includes a few vines planted in pergola trellising, with vegetables planted underneath. With harvest being no different than any other time of year, women are responsible for picking their grapes and either making their wine in basements in the family home for personal consumption, or taking the wine to one of the local cooperatives. Out of this came more and more women stepping up to lead the way as winemakers in the area. One of the best, Pazo de Senorans started as the dream of husband and wife team Marisol Bueno and Javier Mareque. In the early days of the region, after it was established as a D.O. with Albarino as the key variety, Marisol was the founding president of the Consejo Regulador of Rias Baixas, dedicated to promoting the Albarino variety throughout the world. Aromatic Pazo Senorans Albarino is filled with white flowers, lemon and lime zest, orchard and stone fruit, a lively representation of the region. $24 at Pogo’s.
Amy Aiken is a self made woman, and winemaker. Though she is the wife of respected Napa Valley winemaker, Joel Aiken, formerly with Rutherord’s BV Winery and winemaker for Aiken Wines, Amy is the heart and soul of her incredible Meander Wines. The UC Davis Master’s Degree recipient, with an emphasis on plant research, got her start in Napa Valley working at Joseph Phelps, giving her a keen understanding of the Cabernet grape and a passion for quality wine. After a few other stops along her way she decided, in 2000, it was time she start producing her own wine from fruit she chose. Meander was born, today producing about 300 cases of Cabernet from specifically selected vineyards in St. Helena and Rutherford. I love this wine that blends these two AVAs with seamless integration of earthy, dusty, tobacco filled Rutherford fruit with supple red fruit, spice and espresso notes of St. Helena. A beautiful wine showcasing the strength and determination of this fantastic lady. $75, available via her website.
Great winemaking genes often run in the family, with generation after generation following in the footsteps of those before them. This is the case with Hélène Sellian and the loving mentorship she received from her father, world-renowned winemaker Pierre Seillan, winemaker for Verite in Sonoma and Lassegue in Bordeaux. Growing up both in her family’s Bordeaux estate in St. Emilion, France and in the vineyards of Sonoma, wine was always a part of her life. After receiving her degree in Viticulture and Oenology from the Institut Rural de Vayres in Bordeaux, and working as the assistant winemaker to Pierre in Bordeaux, while helping manage the family estate, Hélène decided to marry her passion for both regions in her first solo winemaking presentation, Cenyth. A Bordeaux style blend from Sonoma vineyards in Alexander Valley, Bennett Valley and Chalk Hill, aged for around 1 year in partially new French oak, the robust, full bodied wine has elegance, with a delicate touch highlighting a balance to the richness. A beautiful wine, and an impressive one for Hélène’s first creation, receiving a score of 93 points from Parker. $60, available via the Cenyth website.
Katleen Inman exudes entrepreneurial energy, embodying everything you would want a winemaker to be, while also being a truly lovely person, and woman. Driven and dedicated, determined to create stellar Pinot Noir wines in her Inman Family Wines Russian River estate. While also celebrating her softer side, creating her stellar Endless Crush Rose for her husband on their anniversary. But more than being a smart businesswoman and skilled winemaker, her true drive comes from her love of the land, with every aspect of her business, from farming and winemaking to the sustainable tasting room, inspired by her passion for Pinot Noir. One of her latest releases, Whole Buncha Love Pinot Noir, is a love letter to the variety and the process of using whole cluster fermentation and wild native yeasts to produce the robust wine filled with baking spice, cola, dried blackberry and cherry fruit and earth. $45 available via her website.
One of my favorite people in the world of wine is Melissa Burr, winemaker for Stoller Family Estate in Willamette Valley, both for her dedication to producing environmentally friendly Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines at their Dundee Hills estate, but also for her dedicated passion, tasted in every glass of wine produced. Raised in Willamette and educated at OSU, Melissa joined the team at Stoller in 2003 after working at several wineries throughout the valley. Over the years she has seen the region change as new faces arrive, new technologies are introduced and new boundaries are pushed, keeping the creativity and passion for high quality winemaking alive. Her main goal is to show the unique characteristics of their volcanic, Jory soils in Dundee, producing elegant, balanced wines. Her touch also keeps the wines delicate, even when displaying the most robust of flavors. Stoller wines are available at Spec’s and Pogo’s.
Winemaker Christine Barbe met Brenda and Clay Cockrell in 2006, shortly before the couple launched their Coquerel Winery in Napa Valley. The Bordeaux born and trained winemaker, and producer/owner of Toquade, did not start out with a focus on wine during her schooling, instead she earned her PhD at the University of Bordeaux in research, then changed her focus to oenology after tasting some of the finest wines of St. Emilion and Margaux, showing particular interest in the high quality white Bordeaux wines of the region. Finding her path to Napa, with the help of a program offered by Gallo, Barbe looked to find a path that would allow her to make high quality white wines like she had in Bordeaux in Napa. When she met the Cockerels there was an instant connection, realizing their winemaking goals and Christine’s wine philosophy married hand in hand. They started Coquerel Family Wines producing just 200 cases of their Coquerel Terroir Sauvignon Blanc, an oak aged on the fine lees Sauvignon Blanc with texture, richness and depth, exactly as she and the Cockerells hoped for. Now, almost 10 years later, Coquerel wines producs two different Sauvignon Blanc wines, adding a stainless steel version to their barrel aged, as well as Chardonnay, Verdelho and a group of Bordeaux style reds, each with style, character and great taste, just as this duo set out to create. Coquerel Wines are available at Sigel’s.
Mid-west American born Liz Roskam moved to Bordeaux to attend school, enrolling in the viticulture and enology program at the University of Bordeaux in 2002. In 2005 she became the first American woman to receive the French Diplôme National d’Oenologue, and shortly thereafter took over the Château La Lauzette vineyard in the the Haut Médoc, Bordeaux, determined to change the all too familiar stereotype that Bordeaux wineries are run by men, and produce elegant and refined, yet approachable Bordeaux from the region highlighting the elegance of the fruit and flavors of the land. Since she and her husband, co-owner Frans, have achieved Cru Bourgeois du Médoc status, a premium classification noting the quality of their elegant, refined wines.
At the young age of 24 Molly Hill was enticed by Michael Trujilo to join him in Napa Valley as Assistant Winemaker for Sequoia Grove in Rutherford. A savvy winemaker himself, Trujilo was aware of the skills this young woman could bring the property, even though she was still young. However the UC Davis grad had already completed several vintages in Napa Valley, working at Beringer and Domaine Carneros on their still wines, both while still in school, and then on to Sea Smoke Cellars in Santa Rita Hills and Viña Isidro in Chile. Since joining Sequoia Grove the family owned winery has continued to see success for their elegant and very balanced Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($35), while introducing new single vineyard and premium wines, like their limited edition Cambium Bordeaux style Cabernet blend ($125) from their Rutherford estate vineyard and the Tonella Estate Vineyard. Both wines display the earthy, dusty, refined richness, capturing the beauty of Rutherford. In 2008 Molly was promoted to winemaker, stepping into the lead role, overseeing all winemaking and production operations of the winery. Both wines are available via their website, or the Cabernet is available at Total Wines and More.
Some of the finest wine women in Napa Valley figured out early that high up on Howell Mountain was the ideal place to settle down, interesting as Howell Mountain is supposed to be a place that grows very masculine fruit. Robin Lail, celebrating 20 years of her Lail Vineyards, will welcome you into her home for a tasting around her kitchen table of her stellar J. Daniels Cuvee ($200) and lush, lively and fragrant Georgia Sauvignon Blanc ($120.) However, don’t try to book when Stanford is playing at home, the Lail’s will be at the game following their favorite team. Argentina born, French raised, Delia Viader fell in love with the terrain of Howell Mountain, determined to build terraced vineyards into the steep mountainside to create her Bordeaux style Viader Wine ($150,) with a heavy emphasis on Cabernet Franc. Now almost 30 years old, Viader wines are some of the most respected in Napa Valley, especially her floral, spice and cherry filled single variety Cabernet Franc. In 1990 Betty O’Shaughnessy started out in Oakville with a small vineyard and home site on the valley floor, but quickly moved to acquire mountain vineyards on both Mount Veeder and Howell Mountain. Her expressive O’Shaughnessy Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon ($80) captures every element of her wine loving spirit, with aromas of ripe black fruit and spice leaping from the glass, yet maintaining a refined and elegant style from first sip to the very last drop. Each wine is available through the winery websites.
Beth Liston got her start in wine as many with a dream of wine country do, working in a tasting room, then working in Austin selling wine, before attending school to become a winemaker. Her Dark Horse wine, a part of the Gallo family of wines, defines her goal to create bold, approachable, varietally correct wines without a high price tag, each around $10-$15. These are easy, everyday wines with a fruit forward approach and easy style, meeting Liston’s hopes and expectations. The affordable Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Big Red Blend are available at Albertson’s stores.
No “women in wine” story would be complete without the incomparable Heidi Barrett. Of all the beloved winemakers of Napa Valley, through all the years of quality wines produced in the region, Heidi easily ranks amongst the most respected and sought after. Heidi Barrett grew up in the Napa Valley, in a winemaking family, with a father who appreciated the science of winemaking, as much as the art, along with an artistic mother, both influencing the romantic side of wine. Graduating from UC Davis, and starting early, she became winemaker at Buehler Vineyards at the age of 25. After taking the winery from 6,000 case production to 20,000 cases, while improving their overall quality, she set out to see what she could do on her own. In 1988 she left to become an independent winemaker, specializing in small production, premium wineries focusing on high quality Cabernet Sauvignon. She was winemaker at Dalla Valle Vineyards from 1988 – 1996 making their perfect score “Maya” with both the 1992 and 1993 vintages, started working with Screaming Eagle, making their perfect 100 score wines in 1992 and 1997, and spent time at the prestigious Grace Family, Vineyard 29, David Arthur, Barbour Vineyards, and Showket wineries before starting her own La Sirena Winery and Barrett and Barrett Winery, working with her husband, Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena. I was gifted a bottle of her 2003 Snowket Vineyards Cabernet recently from the Oakville AVA in Napa. Though 10 years old, this robust cab could easily have been aged another 8-10 years, displaying everything that Barrett has dedicated her life to creating. Bold and robust, yet elegant and restrained, nuanced with layers of black fruit, leather, tobacco and dark chocolate. Barrett’s La Sirena Syrah has been one of my favorites since she began producing it in the late 1990’s, with smoky, spicy, berry and earth notes with a Rhone style, highlighting the beauty of the fruit. La Sirena Syrah is available at Goody-Goody stores for $60.