Meet the Women Behind California's Most Renowned Reds
Tasting through hundreds of wines in a year, a few Aha! moments are bound to happen. These seductive cuvées flirt with you, showing off their aromas—a whiff of raspberry, a hint of black cherry, some exotic spice—and flaunt their silky mouth-feel, which tickles in the mid-palate and then finishes with a lingering, come-get-me note. Suddenly, you’ve been swept under a spell.
A number of these eye-opening California bottles have women behind the label. These ravishing reds have earned raves across the board from the country’s top wine critics (90-plus ratings for all). Women, some say, do make the most sensuous wines, such as Anne Moller-Racke’s Pinot Noirs from the Donum Estate. Her single-vineyard expressions, in the style of Burgundian grand crus, are made from estate-owned vineyard sites in Carneros, the Russian River Valley and the Anderson Valley. They grabbed me with their nuances of flavor and graceful, flirtatious texture.
Another Pinot, from WindRacer, captured my attention last year. Partners Barbara Banke (proprietor of Jackson Family Wines) and Peggy Furth (co-owner of Chalk Hill Estate) banded together to produce stunning wines from select vineyards in two cool maritime appellations where the morning fog and ocean breezes bring great acidity to the grapes. Their winemaker, Elizabeth Grant-Douglas, contrasts the personalities of two regions delivering exotic aromatics and sumptuousness from Russian River Valley and linear elegance from Anderson Valley.
Female winemakers are showcasing some impressive Bordeaux-style blends too. I was swept off my feet by Hélène Seillan’s new Cenyth brand with grapes from mountain and hillside vineyards in Sonoma County. The daughter of winemaking legend Pierre Seillan (of Château Lassègue in Saint-Èmilion), she creates a classic Bordeaux blend that displays less fruit and more complex notes such as leather and tobacco and lower alcohol than most of California’s higher alcohol wines.
I was also infatuated with Janet Myers’ Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant blends, produced for Napa’s Mount Veeder from grapes planted along terraced slopes. During a recent tasting, she described her plots as squares on a chessboard—each dip and ridge of this rugged high altitude terrain needing to be picked at different times. She gets tiny concentrated berries from the mountain fruit, which brings extraordinary flavor along with hints of spice and herbs.
One single-variety Cabernet Sauvignon rose to the top. Madrid-born winemaker Laura Díaz Muñoz produces Cabs from top vineyards in Sonoma’s Knights Valley and Napa Valley. Her Napa Cab under her Galerie brand is a concentrated gem displaying a velvety mouth-feel and vivid fruit, finishing in tobacco and licorice.
Although bubbly generally makes me swoon, these sensuous reds all left a glowing impression.
A version of this article appeared in the April 2016 issue of CTC&G (Connecticut Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Wine & Women.