Women in Wine
Despite the barriers to their participation, tenacious women in wine have been making their mark on the field of wine since its beginnings. From Napa Valley to France, the next big thing in wine isn’t a new grape, it is women leading the way. Female winemakers remain overwhelmingly outnumbered by their male counterparts. Nonetheless, strong women have worked relentlessly to establish an equal footing in the industry. We are honored to work with these talented women winemakers.
Robin grew up among the vineyards of Inglenook, founded in 1879 by her great-granduncle, Gustave Niebaum, who pioneered fine winemaking in Napa. Inglenook was passed down to Robin’s grandfather and then to her father, John Daniel Jr., a true innovator (he was the first to put ‘Napa Valley’ on his labels, and pioneered varietal labeling) who produced legendary wines. Robin was touched by her dad’s passion and focus on tradition and excellence. In 1964, two years after Robin graduated from Stanford University, her father sold Inglenook. In 1970 after her father’s death, she shepherded the remaining estate vineyards. 7 years later she launched her career as Robert Mondavi’s personal assistant, who became her mentor. While at Robert Mondavi Winery, she directed the creation of the first Auction Napa Valley. In 1982 Robin co-founded Dominus with Christian Moueix, and in 1983 co-founded Merryvale Vineyards with Bill Harlan, where she served as president for 12 years. In the mid-90’s, Robin sold out of her partnerships with a vision of bringing her family’s exciting legacy into the 21st Century. In 1995 she and her two daughters, Erin and Shannon, launched Lail Vineyards. Today, the venture carries on the legacy of over 135 years of winemaking in Napa.
Coupe de Foudre
Heidi Peterson Barrett is a winemaker and entrepreneur and is responsible for some of California’s most notable cult wines. Her career included stints at Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, Paradigm, Grace Family Vineyards, David Arthur, Showket, Amuse Bouche and Revana Family Vineyards. Barrett is also a consultant for Kenzo Estate. Heidi Barrett grew up in Napa Valley in a winemaking family and was destined to become one of California’s leading winemakers. She created the famous “Maya” cult wine, a proprietary Cab blend that received 2 perfect 100 pt scores from Robert Parker. She started making wine for Screaming Eagle in 1992, which has also received 2 perfect 100 pt scores. A 6-liter bottle of ’92 SE set a world record for the highest price paid for a bottle of wine at the 2000 Napa Valley Wine Auction selling for $500,000. She is currently the winemaker for Amuse Bouche, Paradigm, Kenzo Estate, Au Sommet and Vin Perdu. Parker has dubbed her the “first lady of wine”. She lives in Calistoga with her husband Bo, winemaker at Chateau Montelena.
Mia Klein is a Californian winemaker and entrepreneur in Napa. Her career has spanned decades in the food and wine industry. Before studying enology at the University of California, Davis, Klein was a professional chef in San Francisco. Mentored by well-known winemaker Tony Soter, Klein has made wine for several critically acclaimed wineries including Chappellet Winery, Araujo Estate Wines, Viader, Spottswoode, Dalla Valle Vineyard and Robert Pepi. After graduating from Davis, she worked at Chappellet Winery under winemaker Cathy Corison. After Chappellet, she worked at Robert Pepi Winery and met Tony Soter. Soter and Klein would go start a consulting business, providing services numerous Napa Valley wineries. Klein also worked at Dalla Valle Vineyard. She replaced winemaker Heidi Peterson Barrett at Dalla Valle. She is the winemaker for Boyanci and Cimarossa Vineyards, and has provided consulting services to Palmaz Vineyards, Spottswoode, Viader and cult wine label Araujo. Soter left the consulting business in 1999 and Klein continues to consult.
The Bara property was built in 1860. In the beginning, it was a farm with stables, a cow shed, a sheep pen and a cellar; however, in 1965, the barn was transformed into a winery. Paul Bara, the father of today’s owner Chantale, was the first of the dynasty to sell champagne under the brand of the same name in the 1950s. He also wrote a very interesting book retracing the story of his ‘beloved’ village of Bouzy, its people and their wines and culture. In 1975, the Bara champagne house innovatively became one of the first to export its champagnes to the United States. Today, the brand has a long-standing tradition of transatlantic sales and continues to work with the same US importer as back in the day. Nowadays Paul Bara champagnes are sold on all continents of the world. In 1980, Chantale began assisting her father and soon after, in 1986, began co-running the business. The 6th generation, she gets on with excellency by being a partner and also President during 4 years of the Club Trésors de Champagne and by initiating in 2013 a major program of renovation of the winery to enhance its winemaking capacity and precision.
Patience may not come naturally for 4th generation winemaker Paola Lanzavecchia but she is certainly a woman of passion and persistence. Paola accepts that “the land gives the rhythm” and sets the pace for winemaking. The soaring hills of Serralunga d’Alba in Piemonte, in the north of Italy, provide the gentle yet busy rhythm to Paola’s life at Villadoria winery. Founded in 1959 by her grandfather Pietro, Villadoria is located in the heart of Barolo. The family’s estate, Tenuta Cappalloto, is nestled in the western hills of Serralunga d’Alba. Barolo from this region is celebrated for its exceptional quality. Villadoria is known for the classic style of the wines they produce from the grapes grown on their 20 hectares of vineyards that are planted primarily with Nebbiolo. A graduate of the University of Turin with a degree in Agriculture (Winemaking & Oenology), Paola is very much in charge of day-to-day operations but her father is a valued partner and she affectionately refers to him as the “Lion King.” She has successfully implemented forward-thinking sustainability practices. Paola balances her passion for innovation with respect for tradition so that the quality and style of Villadoria wines are never compromised.
Priyanka Dhar French was born and raised in Mumbai, India, earning a degree in Food Science and Technology at the University of Mumbai. With the support of an uncle and mentor, Priyanka was admitted to schools in Australia and France. But her dream school was the University of California, Davis, where she entered the Master’s program in Viticulture and Enology in 2009. Her time at UC Davis was a life-changing experience for her. The program provided her the opportunity to interact with people from all over the world. She completed her degree in 2011, and was the first Indian national to do so. While earning her degree, she was a harvest intern with Louis M. Martini, and completed three internships at Hospices de Beaune, Louis Royer, and Saint Clair Estate in New Zealand. She returned to California 2013, to an internship position at Stags Leap Winery. In October of 2014, she joined Dalla Valle Vineyards as cellarmaster/enologist, where she remained until 2019, before assuming her current position as winemaker for Signorello Estate.
Taking over a well-established Barolo estate at the tender age of 24 is an incredibly daunting prospect, but for Giulia Negri, the latest in a 150-year line of grape growers in the Langhe commune of La Morra, the challenge proved irresistible. After completing studies in management and biology, and fresh off an inspiring trip to Burgundy where she truly began forming her palate, Giulia returned to La Morra motivated to learn all the secrets to making fine wine in her native Piemonte. She started small, releasing microcuvées under her own label, before finally taking over the totality of vineyard management and production in 2014.
In the heart of the Serradenari cru of La Morra—the highest point in the Barolo zone, with vineyards culminating at 536 meters above sea level—Giulia passionately pursues her goal of crafting Barolo with a Burgundian sensibility. In fact, she even inherited small parcels of Chardonnay and Pinot Nero, allowing her to pay tribute to the great wines of the Côte d’Or through the lens of Piemontese soil.
Barologirl, as she has become known, may still be the new kid on the block in La Morra, but tasting her wines reveals a respect for tradition that already places her wines among the region’s classics.
Celia’s parents were avid wine collectors and at-home winemakers in Medford, Oregon, where her training in wine appreciation and the basics of winemaking began. She enrolled in the Enology program at the University of California at Davis and earned her B.S. in Fermentation Science in 1982.
To further her winemaking education, Celia traveled throughout the winegrowing regions of the northwestern and eastern United States, and in New Zealand and Australia, where she worked in the vineyards of the Barossa Valley. Upon returning to the States, she settled in Napa Valley.
After several years assisting in wine production on Mt. Veeder and in the Carneros region, she joined Silverado Vineyards to design, implement and supervise a quality control program. Three years later she became assistant winemaker at Robert Pepi winery and soon after began consulting for Staglin. Her current clients include Keever Vineyards, Barbour Vineyards, Signorello Estate, The Hess Collection, J. Davies Winery, and Scarecrow Wine, among others. Her 2015 Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon received the highest rating on Vivino in 2019.
Tina Mitchell’s interest in wine developed while attending college. Her first two years at the University of California, Davis were spent as a premed student, following in the footsteps of her pediatrician father and her mother, a registered nurse. During her third year, a friend from her hometown of Ukiah, California, opened a winery and introduced Tina to wine. Tina enrolled in a class in Enology & Viticulture at UC Davis, worked a harvest in Paso Robles at Estrella River Winery, and immediately knew she had found her career path. She married in 1981, moved to Napa, and worked a harvest at Rutherford Hill Winery. After harvest, she finished her last quarter at Davis and received her degree in 1982. Tina then worked at Louis Martini and Niebaum Coppola, where she got to work with celebrated winemaker Andre Tchelistcheff. Andre taught her the importance of being a ‘hands-on’ winemaker.’ In 1991, Tina went to work at William Hill Winery in Napa. During her 12 years there, she rose from lab enologist to winemaker. Since joining Palmaz in 2003 as its winemaker, Tina has had a hand in all of the winery’s viticultural and winemaking decisions. Varietals produced by Palmaz include Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Riesling.
Donatella Cinelli Colombini owns two wineries, one in Montalcino and one in the Chianti region. Casato Prime Donne in Montalcino is a property of 40 hectares of which 16 hectares include Sangiovese vineyards and the winery and cellar. At Donatella Cinelli Colombini all the vintners are women, as is the head winemaker, which is a unique situation in Italy and a beacon of progress for women in the wine business in general. Donatella herself was approached by the EU to research the use of native yeast strains in Montalcino. As a result of her work, these local yeasts are now used in the winemaking process at Donatella and are available to use throughout Montalcino. In the vineyard, Donatella has been cultivating her grapes with organic methods since 2014 and will soon be receiving organic certification. Instead of barriques in the cellar, Donatella Cinelli Colombini chooses to age her Brunelli for at least two years in 500-litre tonneaux and then decants the wine into 15hl casks for further aging. The distinctive element of Donatella’s wines is their elegance. Donatella’s wines have been widely praised by the press, especially in recent vintages. In 2016, she was one of four Brunello producers chosen to present at Wine Spectator’s New York Wine Experience.
Since founding Dalla Valle Vineyards in 1986, Naoko has been the guiding force behind Dalla Valle, quietly earning a reputation as one of Napa Valley’s most respected vintners. While doing so, she has established Dalla Valle as one of the New World’s most beloved wineries. A passionate farmer, and a believer that great wines are made in the vineyard, under Naoko’s stewardship, the Dalla Valle estate has earned legendary status for the quality of its Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. The embodiment of a hands-on owner, Naoko is in the vineyard almost daily, adding her three decades of winegrowing knowledge to every decision that shapes the vines and ensures the pinnacle of quality. In 2017, Naoko was joined at Dalla Valle by her daughter, Maya, a gifted winemaker who learned her craft working at some of the world’s most iconic wineries. “I have long admired the great multigenerational wineries of Europe, so having Maya join me at Dalla Valle was always a secret dream,” says Naoko. “As a mother, working beside my daughter to preserve the vision and values that have always defined Dalla Valle is truly inspiring.”
Sarah was born in Buenos Aires and spent her early years travelling the globe with her family. In 1986 her parents settled in Seattle to start Hedges Cellars. A vineyard was planted in 1990 in the Red Mountain area. In the summer Sarah and her brother Christophe, worked in the vineyard and in later years at the new winery. Sarah’s love for the industry soon would turn into a career choice. She attended the University of San Diego and graduated with a degree in business and philosophy. She later attended UC Santa Barbara to study chemistry and at the same time worked for Santa Barbara winery managing the tasting room and helping with harvest. From 2003 to 2005 she worked for Preston Vineyards in Healdsburg, doing wine production work. In 2005, she decided to move back home and start working for the family winery. She joined the winery full-time in 2006 as Assistant Winemaker and two years later had completed her certificate degree in enology from Washington State University and started the label Goedhart Family with her husband. After her uncle and mentor retired in 2015, Sarah became head winemaker.
Molly and Donn Chappellet’s lasting achievement was not only to bring their own winery to greatness, but also to establish Pritchard Hill, the slope on which his property lies, as a sought-after area for grape-growing. In a very unusual move, the Chappellet’s — who preceded their current neighbors, including Colgin, Ovid, Continuum and Bryant, by at least 25 years — trademarked Pritchard Hill, never allowing it to become an official American Viticultural Area. To this day, Chappellet remains the only winery permitted to use “Pritchard Hill” on its label. Chappellet has also been an incubator for some of Napa’s greatest talents: current winemaker Phillip Corallo-Titus, who followed Helen Turley, Mia Klein, Cathy Corison, Tony Soter and Philip Togni. Molly is a leading Napa Valley proponent of sustainable business and farming practices.
Jules Lassalle established his family-owned Champagne house in 1942 in the village of Chigny-Les-Roses on the Montagne de Reims. He established a signature style of elegant, tightly knit wines. When he passed away in 1982 his wife, Olga, and their daughter, Chantal Decelle-Lassalle, stepped in and took over the estate, upholding Jules’ high standards and progressively pushing the domaine to the next level. In 2006 Chantal’s daughter, Angéline Templier, joined the estate as winemaker. Their twenty-eight-year tradition of “une femme, un esprit, un style” holds true today more than ever…3 women, 3 generations. Champagne J. Lassalle works with all three varietals authorized in the region (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier) on sixteen hectares of vineyards, all of them premier cru. These tough, hardworking women continue to follow the vinification methods established by Jules in the forties: they use the same wooden basket press he installed in the winery over 50 years ago, pressing and vinifying individual plots separately.
Sally Johnson, winemaker at the prestigious Pride Mountain Vineyards, has an impressive résumé. Originally from Ann Arbor, Michigan, Sally fell in love with the concept of winemaking during her European travels. She earned a Master’s degree from UC Davis and became an enologist at St Francis Winery. She subsequently traveled to Australia to work a harvest in Barossa Valley. After her return to the US, she crafted wines under her own label. In 2007 she joined Pride Vineyards, where she manages forty-six individual vineyard blocks of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Sangiovese, Syrah and Chardonnay. Founded in 1990, the winery soon became the reference point for mountain fruit wines. Johnson’s unwavering dedication to consistently producing some of the most exceptional, age-worthy and wildly delicious wines earns her a prominent spot on Napa Valley’s most notable winemakers list. Sally also consults for such notable brands as Curvature, Schoolhouse and Sequum.
Lia Tolaini Banville was born in Canada and introduced to Italy and wine at the age of 6 when she and her father visited Aunt Laura in Lucca (Tuscany). Her aunt introduced her to cooking, wine and business. Graduating from the University of Manitoba in Canada, with majors in art and economics, Banville traveled to Florence to study art but turned to wine in 2004 when she started Donna Laura Chianti wines in Castelnuovo Beradenga in memory of her aunt. Lia started Banville Wine Merchants as a boutique importer of Italian fine wines and Menabrea beer in 2004. Lia had the desire to grow her company yet keep regional exclusives with her suppliers, which led her in 2016 to expand the portfolio outside of Italy. Dissatisfied with the wholesaler options in New York and New Jersey, Lia and her team created the Banville wholesale division in 2011. This momentum then brought expansion of its direct distribution in 2017 to Washington D.C. and Virginia. Banville Distribution now partners with well-regarded wine importers to add breadth to the Banville wholesale portfolio. Lia believes that business is built on a handshake, hard work and honesty.
Piedmont Winemaker Elisa Scavino is considered to be one of the region’s rising alchemists. She is the great-granddaughter of Lorenzo Scavino, the founder of the venerable Castiglione Falletto Winery in 1921. Following in the footsteps of her grandfather, Paolo, and father, Enrico, she is the fourth generation to produce high quality wines from the three local grapes, Dolcetto, Barbera, and Nebbiolo. Elisa is proud of all their Barolo. She says they all have a special value for different reasons. The Barolo Bric dël Fiasc is the connection to the family’s origins and not only for its qualities, its elegance and force, but also it’s particularly dear to Elisa for all that it means and the memories it recalls. It’s a continuous learning process and her father Enrico as a great teacher. He inspires and he spurs Elisa all the time. Working with Nebbiolo in Langa imposes a certain rigor. It demands vinification in the most pure way, without dispensable interferences, in order to show into the wines the truest expression, the beautiful grape’s nuances and finesse.
Arianna Occhipinti is an Italian winemaker and winery owner based in Vittoria, Sicily in the Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG where she grows Nero d’Avola and Frappato grapes. Occhipinti has worked in the wine industry since age 16, and has released red wine vintages under her own label starting at age 22. She is known for growing wines in the biodynamic methodology. Occhipinti grew up and became fascinated with wine in her teens. Her uncle is Giusto Occhipinti, a Sicilian winemaker of the COS estate who has been making wine since 1980. She attended the University of Milan’s school of viticulture and enology. Occhipinti has farmed all of her land Biodynamically since 2009. Her SP68 Rosso, is a blend of two varieties native to this part of Sicily: Frappato and Nero d’Avola. The title “SP68” refers to the Strada Provinciale 68, a state route that passes by Arianna’s rural property. Occhipinti introduces very little, if any, sulfur in the wine, uses no filtration, and follows an extremely simple vinification process: wild fermentations from native airborne yeasts, 30 days maceration on skins, six months of aging in cement tanks, and a final rest in bottle before release. Occhipinti is fluent in English, which has helped with U.S. distribution and press. She is one of the largest producers of biodynamic wine.
Kelly Peterson founded Switchback Ridge in 1999 with the dream of continuing her family’s legacy that began with her great-grandparents over 100 years ago. She is responsible for all aspects of the business, including sales, marketing and hospitality functions. Kelly grew up in Calistoga and spent most of her childhood on the family’s vineyard, which included picking prunes and grapes at a very young age. After spending 13 years at a local winery overseeing direct sales, hospitality, special events and corporate dining programs, Kelly left to concentrate full time on the business she built from the ground up.
Kelly takes great pride in what she and the three generations before her have accomplished and is thankful for the opportunity to continue a family legacy of hard working farmers, grape growers, and now, wine producers. Above all she is most proud of her daughter, Ashley, who joined the company in 2015 and her son, Devon, who is currently studying viticulture and enology. With the future of Switchback Ridge in good hands, she looks forward to focusing on her most recent and cherished role as “Mimi” to her first granddaughter, Ava, the sixth generation already in training!
Ann Colgin is the heart of Colgin Cellars, a true renaissance woman and vintner of uncommon passion. An avid art collector and dedicated philanthropist, her elegant, yet engaging personality is a telling reflection of her wines and winery. Ann founded Colgin Cellars in 1992 with a vision of making the finest wines from exceptional hillside vineyards in St. Helena and was instrumental in forging a world-renowned reputation for California’s small production hand-crafted wines. Ann began her career in the world of fine art with an M.A. from New York University, subsequently becoming President of Fairchild’s Fine Art, then establishing the Colgin label, where her own artistry found expression in the creation of her wines. Ann serves as consultant to the Sotheby’s Wine Department and has been instrumental in developing many major charity wine auctions. Her generous donations of rare verticals and large format bottles of the Colgin wines have raised over $13 million for worthwhile causes involving health care, community services and the arts. Ann is a trustee and executive committee member of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Centre Pompidou Foundation. She and her husband Joe Wender also have an ownership interest in Camille Giroud in Burgundy.