Saturday, October 31, 2009

California Women Winemakers, Part 2

As seen in California Women Winemakers, Part 1, we learned that there are many women winemakers producing some of the top quality wines in the state. In the last 15-20 years a new breed of women winemakers has come on the winemaking scene. Two of these winemakers were covered in part 1; this article covers a few more of these superlative women winemakers.

A trailblazer in the industry is Pam Starr. She says that there are over 25 notable young women to watch in Napa Valley winemaking and that women get the best of both worlds: the breakthroughs of women winemakers who emerged in the 1990’s and the new winemaking techniques. Pam has a passion for winemaking. After graduating from UC Davis she began to hone her techniques at several wineries throughout California before joining Spottswoode Estate winery in 1991. At Spottswoode she came to appreciate the winery customers and that winemakers are working for the customer and they need to appreciate the customer’s needs. While at Spottswoode, as she was searching for the right Sauvignon Blanc grapes she came across some vineyards at the old Crocker estate at St. Helena. Joining forces with Charlie Crocker they formed the Crocker & Starr label to resurrect the old winery on the estate. Today they are producing 2400 cases a years of fine Napa Valley wines. In 2004 the Crocker & Starr Sauvignon Blanc was names the No. 12 wine in the world on Wine Spectator’s annual top 100 list!

In addition to Crocker & Starr, Pam is a busy consulting winemaker for several other wineries in the valley, such as Adastra, and has joined forces with winemaker Drew Nieman to create a red wine blend called “Bridesmaid”.2004 Bridesmaid Red Blend explodes with flavors and aromas of dark berry fruits, currant, coffee, chocolate and integrated oak tannins. The texture is creamy polished, classy and plush. It pairs wonderfully with grilled meats and game, sharp cheeses, nuts and chocolate. This is a combination of several wines picked up from different wineries after their blends are complete. The

Winemaker Morgan Clendenen came to winemaking from a different direction. She graduated with a Psychology degree but soon developed a passion for wine, attending as many tasting events as she could in her native North Carolina. She eventually landed a position in sales with an Italian wine importer and then on to a boutique wine importer. A move to California brought her to a sales/marketing position Robert Sinskey Vineyards where she met her future husband Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat winery in Santa Barbara County. Her desire to produce her own wine continued to grow, but she lacked skills needed. When Au Bon Climat was offered some Viognier grapes, rather unknown grape in the area at the time, she saw this as an opportunity to be an innovator with this grape. People told her that the Sanford and Benedict Vineyard where the grapes were grown was too cold for Viognier and it would never ripen properly, but Morgan is one who thinks outside the box and felt that this Viognier was special. Taking a line from a William Butler Yeats poem, she named her new winery, Cold Heaven.

Morgan has focused on Viognier and Cold Heaven now produces Viognier from several different vineyards in Santa Barbara County, along with some Syrah. She tries to dispel the misunderstandings about Viognier and makes a wine with the acidity works with a variety of cuisines. Acidity is like salt to food, and you have to have enough of it to bring out the other flavors. Cold Heaven has a minimalist oak philosophy using neutral oak, 5-10 year old French barrels. The Cold Heaven 2008 Viognier from Vogelzang Vineyards in Santa Ynez Valley is full of lush tropical fruits and exotic white flowers overlaying an invigorating acidity, keeping the wine fresh and lively. Care at harvesting insures that the wine has that sleekness you expect in a fine Viognier. This wine is great for Thanksgiving dinner pairing well with turkey and pumpkin pie. It also goes very well with Asian foods and curry dishes.

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