Wonder Women: 10 female California winemakers to watch

Elizabeth Vianna

8 Elizabeth ViannaA glass of 1985 Sociando Mallet changed the course of Elizabeth Vianna’s life. A pre-med student at the time, Vianna’s wine epiphany came at a tasting at Christie’s in New York. Working as a clinical toxicologist at New York Hospital, her love of wine stuck and she spent her free time going to every wine tasting that would let her through the door. Biting the bullet, Vianna enrolled on UC Davis’ famous oenology course, ditching a medicine career in favour of a life among the vines.

“Being a winemaker is a blend of art and science. It’s mainly science, but the artistic dimension is so fun – it’s instinct, using your palate much in the same way that you use your imagination,” she says.

Interning at Chimney Rock in the late 90s, after graduating she joined the Napa Wine Company as assistant winemaker. There she found herself working alongside Heidi Peterson Barrett, Pam Starr and Celia Welch. Returning to Chimney Rock in 2002, Vianna was named chief winemaker in 2005 and general manager in 2011. Based in the Stags Leap District, Vianna focuses on powerful yet elegant Bordeaux blends at the estate.

“My goal is to be an interpreter of the vineyards and not to intervene too much with the beautiful fruit we grow. I believe in making wines that tell the tale of the grape, place and time in the purest way I can,” she says. So far, Vianna is proudest of the wines she made in the “challenging” 2011 vintage. Her ultimate goal is to make wine under her own label in her native South America.

9 Responses to “Wonder Women: 10 female California winemakers to watch”

  1. Very enjoyable and thorough article, but am surprised you missed Bibiana González Rave, winemaker for Wayfarer and the San Francisco Chronicle’s Winemaker of the Year.

  2. Steve Bslmutj says:

    How did you leave off Jordan Fiorentini from Epoch.

  3. Sandra Roberts says:

    Missed one…Danielle Cyrot. Cade Estata, Howell Mtn

  4. Kent Benson says:

    Didn’t know WSET ever had “sommelier” exams. Might want to double check that. First paragraph of Terrizzi profile.

  5. Kent Benson says:

    Re Barrett profile: Since the topic is winemakers, give credit where credit is due. The person who “made” the 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay was Mike Grgich.

  6. Penny Gadd-Coster is a winemaker in Sonoma County who won “Winemaker of the Year” in 2013 in the inaugural Wine Industry Awards, a great achievement considering contenders were from the entire Napa, Sonoma and greater Bay Area winemaking regions! She’s also won over 30 Best of Class, Best of Show, Sweepstakes, Gold medals and 90+ point ratings for four wines in the past few years!

  7. Bob Kugler says:

    You missed Signe Zoller at 72 years young, graduated from Davis with a MS in enology chemistry. Founding winemaker for Jess at Kendal Jackson and now winemaker for AVE.

  8. Nice article, and I’m sure we all have additions to make. Mine are Milla Handley of Handley Cellars in Anderson Valley and Shauna Rosenblum of Rock Wall Wine Co.

  9. Carlos Rodda says:

    Agree with Kent above, it was made by WINEMAKER Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, winery was OWNED by the Barretts!

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