March 17, 2009 / 10:04 AM / 10 years ago

Women winemakers strive for greatness

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Some winemakers are born into it, others stumble upon it, but all desire to achieve greatness in the glass.

A worker pick grapes at a vineyard at Napa Valley winery Cakebread Cellars, during the wine harvest season in Rutherford, California in this file photo from September 12, 2008. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

California winemaker Theresa Heredia, 38, accidentally found her way to wine making.

“I’m actually kind of a geek,” she admitted.

Heredia had planned to get a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of California at Davis but after more than few glasses and late night study sessions with colleagues from the school’s viticulture and oenology program, she switched disciplines.

During a two-month stint working at one of Burgundy’s most prized estates, Domaine Hubert de Montille, she found her true passion, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and a greater understanding, not of quantifying and precision, but of tradition.

“The most important lesson I learned was that less manipulation is better,” she said, adding that good lees - the dead yeast cells that pool at the bottom of the tank once fermentation is completed - “are what help to preserve the freshness, character and regionality of the terroir.”

Consequently, her wines for Freestone, a Sonoma county estate owned by the makers of Joseph Phelps wines are unfiltered, unfined and the fermentation is natural.

“I would say that winemaking is all about extracting the purity and essence of the grape and the essence of the terroir,” she explained.

“The best way to show the precision, the purity of the wine and the fruit is to have wines that are about 14 percent alcohol or less,” she said. “That allows the essence, the subtle floral aromas, the black tea characters, to shine through.”

Unlike Heredia, Cristina Mariani-May, who is also 38, was practically born with wine in her blood. She is co-president of Banfi Vintners, a family-owned wine company celebrating its 90th year in the business which just introduced BelnerO, its first new wine in 10 years.

“It is a wine that has taken 30 years of research. We started with 600 Sangiovese clones and whittled them down to 16,” the mother of three young children said.

It is also a wine that marks a generational shift as she and her first cousin, James, take over the helm. Their fathers introduced Americans to Riunite some 50 years ago. The slightly sweet Lambrusco is the largest selling Italian wine in the United States.

The same brothers also created some of the finest examples of Brunello di Montalcino, one of Italy’s iconic wines that fetch more than $80 a bottle.

But Brunello di Montalcino, made entirely of Sangiovese grapes, requires time. Time spent not just in oak and bottles at the winery, but also down in the owner’s cellar, before it can be fully realized.

“Too many people around the world want instant gratification and this is our answer,” she said. “We created and crafted a wine that doesn’t have to be laid down. It does have age-ability, it does have longevity, but it is quite approachable today.”

Slideshow (4 Images)

Predominantly Sangiovese with touches of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, she said BelnerO “has much more forward, vibrant fruit, soft, lusher tannins” than its older cousin.

“And when you taste it, you will see it offers a sense of place, a sense of terroir, a personality and a romance,” Mariani-May said.

“A life in wine is such a wonderful thing. The door it opens is to a life full of passion, and at the end of the day that is what matters. Something of our heart is rendered in that bottle,” she said.

Editing by Patricia Reaney

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