With the excuse of celebrating Women’s History Month, I decided to dedicate this column to pay homage to the powerful figures in the wine world.
Although recognized on a daily basis, our lives are constantly enhanced by a number of female vintners. While there are too many to mention, here some of the best examples that come to mind and the projects they craft.
One of the most influential personalities in the realm is undoubtedly Genevieve Janssens, from one of the top California wine powerhouses, Robert Mondavi Winery.
Moroccan-born of French parents, Genevieve Janssens joined the Opus One team in the 1980s and eventually moved on to be the director of winemaking for Robert Mondavi Vineyards. While she is currently part of the team, she has started her own label Portfolio Wines.
Sourcing from highly coveted vineyards like Detert and Hendry, she and her husband built a micro-winery where the wine is made. I am a huge fan of the 2016 Portfolio Limited Edition Proprietary Red Wine Napa Valley ($165), a powerful orchestra of dark fruit, mineral-rich layers of graphite and pencil shavings adorned with harmonious tannins.
A rising star to watch is the charismatic and driven Sara Beer from Pilcrow Wines. I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Sara for a number of years. Her career in the wine world includes working for Duckhorn Wine Company and later she created her own company True North, which is a wealth of thoughtfully curated producers that range from Napa Valley’s Spottswoode Vineyards, Oregon’s Nicolas Jay and a handful of Italian and French wines.
Inspired by the notion of the "Old School Napa," she and her husband created Pilcrow Wines, sourcing grapes from vineyard sites that include Yountville’s Ghost Block and Mt. Veeder’s Hillwalker vineyard.
Her inaugural wine, the 2015 Pilcrow Pym Rae Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Mt. Veeder ($110) holds a special place in my heart, gifted with a savoir-faire festival highlighting varietal purity and site expression with a dark plum tone accompanied by savory herbs and an inviting kiss of lavender.
The name Kerrin Laz carries a lot of weight with everyone who has met her. A dear friend and force of nature in the wine industry, she first came to the Valley to be in charge of the Dean & Deluca wine program.
After a fruitful stint she decided to launch her own platform, the K. Laz Collection. Shortly after she started the Inspire Napa Valley, fueled by her strong partnerships both with producers and followers, she has made a big impact generating proceeds for Alzheimer’s research over the years.
A few years ago she partnered with one of the biggest names in Napa, Celia Welch. Together this powerful duo created LAZ Wine. One of my favorites is the 2016 LAZ Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($165) with an incredible pedigree, this wine offers an elevated experience with an enchanting amount of sun-kissed blueberry, cocoa nibs and violets leaving a long-lasting memory.
Speaking of iconic winemakers there are few names that carry such prestige as Heidi Barrett. Her trajectory in the wine world simply has no match, having been part of some, if not most, of Napa Valley’s most-mentioned cult labels. One of my fondest memories with Heidi is the first time I judged an International Wine Competition. Overwhelmed by the experience I was very lucky to be in her panel. She carefully walked me through the process and shared her thoughts and pointers of the exercise, something for which I will forever be grateful.
Although she has an influence on many labels across the valley I am a huge fan of her own project. While her expertise lays heavily in the world of Cabernet, one of my “island wines” is the 2019 La Sirena Moscato Azul Calistoga Napa Valley ($30). It triggers fond memories of pairing it with a range of cuisines, although it is delightful on its own. Driven by an intricate blend of mandarin blossoms, lychee fruit and lime zest, this vibrant wine made of Muscat Canelli carries a touch of sweetness to counter the bright acidity.
The list is much larger with stars that enlighten the wine industry with their talent in every bottle.
Until next time, cheers to all the women that make this world a better place!
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