Women Winemakers of St. Helena

March is Women’s History Month and while we think they’re wonderful year round, it’s a perfect time to highlight our women winemakers leading the way in a male dominated industry! We raise a glass to their achievements – if you’re not already drinking these wines, time to start.

Kim Nicholls – Markham Vineyards

As a winemaker, Kim finds inspiration in her love of pairing great food and wine.  With a gifted palate, and three decades of Napa Valley winemaking knowledge and experience, Kim crafts wines of uncommon character and complexity from Markham’s 350 acres of Napa Green certified sustainable estate vineyards in Yountville, Oak Knoll and Calistoga. Kim continues Markham’s long tradition of making benchmark Merlots recognized for their structure and vineyard-inspired sophistication, as well as acclaimed Cabernet Sauvignons, Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays.

Quotable: “Food, family and fun! Food and wine have a harmony that is best expressed at the table. We enjoy making wines here at Markham Vineyards that we can pair with food. Having fun and sharing with our family of friends makes us love what we do.” via Premiere Napa Valley

Sara Fowler – Peju Vineyards

Sara Fowler joined Peju as the Winemaker in 2006, bringing a wealth of knowledge and creativity into the cellar. Upon completion of the Viticultural program at Fresno State, Sara worked for seven years as the Associate Winemaker at Franciscan and Mt. Veeder Winery under Larry Levin, where she honed and perfected the craft. She also played a role in the terroir-driven Bordeaux blends of Quintessa and Estancia from 1999 to 2002, In September 2007, Sara headed Peju’s efforts to gain organic certification in the Rutherford Vineyard and she is overseeing the winery’s sustainable farming efforts in the Persephone and Wappo Vineyards with organic certification goals in the near future.

Quotable: “Everything has to start in the vineyard. The vineyard is key. If you don’t have good grapes, then you’re not going to have good quality wine.” via Peju.com

Stacia Dowdell – Brasswood

Stacia likes her Cabernets rich and intense. For many years before opening Brasswood Napa Valley, she dreamt of making Cabs in a setting that would high light winemaking and its close connection with food. With a hands off approach to winemaking, she uses flavors and palate to decide how harvest will go. With the idea of “letting the grapes talk to themselves” Stacia’s wines are balanced with soft, supple tannins.

Quotable: “When you are in the dirt, it’s your dirt, and it makes such a difference.  It might sound cliché, but our wines are made in the vineyards.” via Napa Valley Life

Laura Barrett – Clif Family Winery

After interning down under, Laura made a list of “must work with winemakers.” This manifestation led her to Mia Klein of Fisher Vineyards. Under Mia’s tutelage and a subsequent stint as wine maker at Casey Flat Ranch, Laura became winemaker of Clif Family Vineyards.

Under Laura’s stewardship, Clif Family is producing a stellar line-up of wines, including Bordeaux varieties from their organically farmed estate on Howell Mountain.

Quotable: “Science is the foundation of my approach to winemaking. It’s the backbone and where I always go to solve problems. For example, when a wine is not behaving as I might expect, I look at the chemistry and microbiology. But, when it comes to everyday decisions, those are based on flavor and my creative approach overrides” via Brit + Co

Kelly Woods – Burgess Cellars

Falling into winemaking by accident, Kelly has had the joy of working with fruits from the hillsides of Howell Mountain to valley floor vines in Rutherford and beyond. It’s the challenge that each vintage brings that excites her the most. After graduating from UC Davis’ School of Viticulture, Kelly dove into the wine world work at Seavey, Bryant Family, and Sequoia Grove Winery. Kelly’s strong sensory skills and broad knowledge of wine styles have brought Burgess an enhanced focus on objective and precision to their wine making.

Quotable: “Once I started working in the vineyards and winery and learning the intricacies of making wine in a historic facility such as Burgess Cellars, I realized that the rusticity of the estate lends itself to the style of the wines.   So instead of making huge changes, we made some small changes that had big effects on the wines, such as changing the aging protocol for the wines and changing the way we harvested and fermented the fruit. “ via Wine Review Online

Cathy Corison – Corison Winery

Cathy fell in love with wine for all the usual reasons, but, as a Biology major, was also taken by the fact that wine is the result of a fascinating collaboration among a series of living systems. Two years later she graduated, and two days after that, arrived in the Napa Valley, bent on making wine. A master’s degree in Enology at UC Davis followed, and then a harvest internship at Freemark Abbey in 1978. In 1987, toward the end of her tenure at Chappellet, there was a wine inside her that needed to get out and she began to buy grapes and barrels. Using other wineries’ excess capacity while continuing to moonlight at Staglin, York Creek and Long Meadow Ranch, Corison Winery was born.

Quotable: “Cabernet’s going to be powerful no matter what you do,” she says, “but it’s way more interesting at the intersection of elegance. That’s what I’ve been chasing all my life.” via SevenFifty.com

Pam Starr – Crocker & Starr

Pam Starr has been the co-owner, manager and winemaker of Crocker & Starr since its inception in 1997 when she helped resurrect the vineyards on the Crocker Estate in St. Helena. Pam’s transformation into owner, manager and winemaker required a special mix of skill, passion and dedication. Passionate about translating terroir into wine, Pam is known for her distinctive Bordeaux-style blends that express a deep sense of place. For here, great wine must taste of the sun, of the earth it comes from and of the place it grows.

Something to remember: “Napa Valley is more diverse than eating and drinking your way through 31 miles of happiness.”

Discover all of St. Helena’s wineries.