From the vine to the bottle, there is a certain level of care, thought, and love that goes in to making wine. But what makes a great winemaker? Is it the person's ability to make great wine from great grapes, or perhaps their ability to make good wine from bad grapes? I believe to be a great winemaker a person must overcome adversity and be innovative and creative in their craft. While much of the wine industry is dominated by men, there are hundreds of outstanding female winemakers around the globe producing world-class wine. Here is the list of the top ten modern female winemakers:
1. Helen Turley
Helen Turley was recently awarded Wine Spectator's 2010 Distinguished Service Award. People who work with her describe her as equally as controversial as she is talented. At one point in her illustrious 30 year career she simultaneously made wine for Bryant, Coglin, Turley, Martinelli, Pahlmeyer, Green & Red, Harrison, La Jota, Landmark, Canepa and her own label, Maracassin. She has worked for industry icons like Peter Michael, Robert Mondavi, Chappellett, Stonegate, Pope Valley Winery, and B.R. Cohn. She has been fired or quit every winemaking job she has had, including leaving Turley Cellars, a joint venture between her and her brother Larry. She currently makes wines under her own label, Maracassin, a California Cult style wine that regularly receives outstanding ratings by wine critics. While she is a wildfire standing 6-foot-2-inches, she is an American wine icon, and arguably the finest winemaker of her time.
2. Merry Edwards
Like Turley, Merry Edwards' career has been full of ups and downs. From bankruptcy to Top 100 Wine Awards, Edwards has bounced back from hard times and today makes world-class Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley of California. Her career began with a degree from the esteemed U.C. Davis, where she studied oenology. In her 30-year career she has made wine for Villa Mount Eden, Matanzas Creek, Laurier Winery, and now makes award-winning Pinot Noir under her own Merry Edwards label. She is a pioneer in California Pinot Noir, so much so that UCD Pinot Noir Clone 37 is also called "Merry Edwards Selection" for the work she did on it. She has certainly earned her spot as a top ten modern female winemaker.
3. Sally Johnson
Sally Johnson, like Merry Edwards, received a degree in oenology from the University of California, Davis. Her career began in 1999 at St. Francis winery in Sonoma, California. During her time at St. Francis, she had a brief stint in Australia at St. Hallett Winery. It's said that she returned from down under with wine stained hands, a pair of Rossi work boots, and an appreciation for Riesling and Shiraz. Today she makes wine for Pride Mountain Vineyards in Sonoma County where, like the other females on this top ten list, her wines have received international attention from wine critics from the Wine Spectator and the Wine Enthusiast to Wine & Spirits and Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar.
4. Heidi Barret
Heidi Barret grew up in Napa. Her career began in high school, where she would perform tasks form sorting vine cuttings to working the bottling line. Like Edwards and Johnson she too earned a degree from U.C. Davis. Her career includes stints with wineries like Silver Oak, Lindeman's, Rutherford Hill, Bouchaine Vineyards, Buehler Vineyards, Dalla Valle, Paradigm, Grace Family, Screaming Eagle, and the list goes on, and on, and on. Currently she is making wine for eight wineries, including her own, La Sierna. In 2002, Heidi partnered with longtime friend John Schwartz and famed French artist Guy Buffet to create Amuse Bouche, a Pomerol-inspired Merlot from Napa Valley. It has quickly become one of the sought after Cult Wines of California. She has been deemed by Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate as the "First Lady of Wine." Heidi is married to Bo Barret, winemaker at Chateau Montelena (Bottle Shock).
5. Susana Balbo
Susan Balbo began her career as a winemaker in Argentina in 1981. Standing 5-foot nothing, this incredible woman has made wine in Australia, California, Chile, France, Italy, South Africa, and Spain. She was the first winemaker to be hired outside of the country to consult. Each year she spends one month in a different country learning their winemaking practices and techniques. She has started her own line of wines that bear her name on the label, and if you get a chance to try her Crios line ($15 a bottle) I promise you, you will not be disappointed.
6. Cecilia Torres
Jumping across the Andes, Cecilia Torres is the head winemaker for Vina Santa Rita in Chile. She is the woman behind #57 on the 2009 Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines List. Torres has worked around the world for industry giants like Penfold's in Australia and Clos Duval in California. Her innovative winemaking practices and attention to detail landed her a spot on this list's top ten. She, like Balbo, travels around the world training and learning local winemaking techniques.
7. Vanya Cullen
Vanya Cullen is the head winemaker at Cullen Wines in Western Australia. She graduated from Roseworthy Agricultural College with a Graduate Diploma in Wine in 1986. Over her 25-year career she has received numerous awards for her style and innovation, including UK Drinks Magazine Woman of the Year in 2008. Cullen has worked for industry icons like Robert Mondavi in California and Domaine Joseph Drouhin in Burgundy, France. Her wines have received attention from wine critics across the globe including 90+ point ratings from the Wine Spectator.
8. Alexia Luca de Tena
Alexia Luca de Tena is the head winemaker for Bodegas Agnusdei in Spain. She brings a taste of style and innovation to the Spanish wine scene. Bodegas Agnusdei is well known for its refreshing whites from the Rias Baixas region, a project Luca de Tena takes great pride in. Her world-class Albarino has received international attention, and she continues to push the envelope creating high-quality wine for the price. Alexia is a pioneer in the modern Spanish wine scene.
9. Isabelle Baratin-Canet
Isabelle Baratin-Canet manages the production of the infamous Chateau Grillet, the AOC/winery in the northern Rhone region of France. Chateau Grillet is one of only two single-estate appellations in France. They are well known for producing arguably the finest Viognier in the world. Isabelle's family has operated the winery since the 1830's.
10. Pascale Peyronie
Pascale Peyronie is the owner and winemaker at Chateau Fonbadet in Bordeaux, France. Peyronie marks the fourth generation of this family-owned and operated winery. She is one of only a few female winemakers in the Paulliac sub-region of Bordeaux. The winery is surrounded by some of the biggest names in Bordeaux, and Pascale is making sure people know it. She has continued to raise the bar and is producing some amazing juice. Her drive and quality-conscious winemaking techniques helped land her a spot on the top ten.
Well, there you go, the top ten modern female winemakers. While there are plenty that deserve to be in the top ten, I wanted to select a range in strengths from a variety of regions. But it's important to pay homage to revolutionary winemakers like Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot and others that paved the way for woman winemakers everywhere.
If there is a modern or even classic woman winemaker you think should be in the top ten feel free to shoot me an email, drop me a line on facebook, or leave a post right here on the blog.
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