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Without a Care
A Blog By Far Niente
These Women are Crushing It!
by Far Niente | 2017 | 11:45 am
In celebration of International Women’s Day, we’re tipping our hats to the women who grow and make our wines.
Whether you’re interested in pursuing a career in wine yourself or you simply like to drink great bottles, read on to discover what gets these five talented Napa Valley winemakers, enologists and winegrowers inspired about getting their hands dirty in the cellar and vineyard.
Winemaker Nicole Marchesi, Far Niente.
A Viticulture and Enology graduate from UC-Davis, Nicole has always been struck by winemaking’s intersection of science, history, art and nature. She joined Far Niente in 2005 and worked her way from enologist to assistant winemaker before making her mark as the fourth winemaker in Far Niente’s almost 40-year history. Below, Nicole shares some of the best lessons winemaking has taught her and shares her advice to young women interested in pursuing a winemaking career.
Three key lessons you’ve learned while making wine? 1.) Good organization and record keeping is essential. 2.) Embrace humility and honesty. Everyone makes mistakes. The most important thing is to take responsibility for them and find solutions. 3.) Find your confidence. I recently spoke to a room of 300 of my peers, and it was scary but also awesome and rewarding!
Does curiosity play a role in winemaking? Curiosity is extremely important!!! I’m always asking myself “why” and “how” questions. Why does one wine taste better than another? How does that piece of equipment work? What do those numbers mean? How can we be better?
The best advice for women interested in a career making wine? Work hard; get your hands dirty; never stop thinking; be curious; and be kind.
Winemaker Darice Spinelli, Nickel & Nickel
Darice joined Nickel & Nickel in 1998, just one year after the winery’s debut vintage. Since then she has helped shape and solidify Nickel & Nickel’s reputation as the preeminent authority on Single-Vineyard Napa Valley Cabernet. A winemaker for over 25 years (and with Nickel & Nickel for 19), Darice still wakes up excited about the prospect of another day at the “office.” Here, her two cents on the moment she finally felt like a winemaker and how she stays centered amidst the physical and mental demands required when making up to 15 different Single-Vineyard Cabernets each vintage.
The moment you finally felt like a winemaker? In December 1992 I officially became a winemaker and really felt excited about making wine. I immediately threw myself into the challenge of creating a completely different style of wine than the previous winemaker. I was very proud when those first wines achieved high awards.
What essential life lesson has making wine taught you? When it comes to making wine, it’s important to be as flexible as you can and never forget that this is an agricultural industry. No matter how much you think you have control, you must always be ready for the unexpected. Mother Nature rules. Adapt quickly.
What centers you? A deep breath.
Words of wisdom for future female winemakers? This is a very physical industry, and if you’re interested in making wine, you will learn more by doing. Embrace the challenge and have fun. Wines continue to change, so there is always something to learn, even (especially!) from the most repetitive jobs. Another key to remember is to learn to be as objective as you can. It can be easy to infer results because you’d like them to be that way.
Winemaker Megan Melief, Bella Union
Megan is the newest winemaker to join the fold. The Marin County native has some pretty serious degrees (Molecular and Cell Biology; a Masters of Pharmacology), but it was her stint at an upscale D.C. restaurant that ultimately ignited the spark for a life in wine. She traded a career in pharmacology for the physical satisfaction of pulling hoses and midnight pump-overs and never looked back. She joined the Nickel & Nickel team in 2009 and crafted the first vintage for Bella Union in 2012.
The mom to one-year old twins, Megan is an ace juggler and a woman winemaker to watch. Although if you asked her directly, she’d humbly say great wines aren’t made in silos, and that every bottle of Bella Union is a true team effort. Her take on the art of patience in making wine is below.
The best lesson making wine has taught you? Working in wine has taught me – and continues to teach me – patience. Growing, making and aging wine is a long, slow process that evolves over time. If you’re patient, you learn to discover how the wine emerges and appreciate how it changes and matures.
Words of wisdom for the next generation of winemakers, male or female? Don’t be afraid to do the dirty work. To fully appreciate the hard work it takes to make a bottle of wine, you need to know what it’s like to drag hoses, run a pump and clean drains. And you need to remember that everything is a team effort. That knowledge is critical to becoming a good winemaker.
Assistant Vineyard Manager Jessica Luke, Vinescape
Jessica’s path to viticulture was anything but direct. A Texas A&M undergrad, Jessica found herself on the dental school track. Then, a mid-college trip to Napa Valley made her seriously rethink her career goals. The agricultural landscape, the food and yes, the wine, sparked the same passion in Jessica that she had felt on an earlier trip to Italy. She returned to Texas and switched majors, this time to Horticulture, with a minor in Business. After graduating, Jessica crossed back and forth between Napa Valley and Texas, returning to Texas “for good” in 2013. And yet…she just couldn’t give up on her viticulture dreams. Once again, Jessica applied for work in Napa Valley, this time accepting an internship at Nickel & Nickel. The winery was a great fit, and during the 2014 harvest season, she was introduced to our precision vineyard management company, Vinescape. She came on board immediately after her internship wrapped, and she’s been going full throttle ever since!
What excites you about coming to work each day? The ever-changing trials and challenges we face in viticulture get my heart pumping every morning. Growing grapes is one of the most detail-oriented and labor-intensive crops to grow. With that said, even if we plan, coordinate and have everything laid out perfectly, we still have to factor in what Mother Nature decides to give us!
What message would you give young women (and men!) interested in pursuing a career in viticulture? Just go for it! And go for it, even when the path isn’t a direct one. Although my passion and background were based in viticulture, I started working in a tasting room when I first got into the industry. Then, during an internship with Nickel & Nickel, I was introduced to Aaron Fishleder and the Vinescape team. When they offered me a full-time role in the vineyard, I leaped at the opportunity. And I never looked back!
Enologist Sara Jablow, Nickel & Nickel
Sara entered college as a Chemistry Major with a Pre-Med emphasis. One year in, Sara found the pre-med track to be a bit more cutthroat than she had anticipated, as well as lacking in the camaraderie she craved from her classmates. She loved the sciences, however, and was equally interested in the Psychology, Viticulture and Enology tracks. Unable to make a decision, she literally flipped a coin. Enology won the toss. When she graduated in 2009, she went straight to work as an intern at Cakebread Cellars in Rutherford. Her love for Napa Valley and making wine was instant. After a brief harvest stint in New Zealand, Cakebread brought her onto the team full time. She worked her way up the ladder, becoming one of the lead cellar hands, before joining the Nickel & Nickel team in 2014. Sara brings a passion for solving winemaking puzzles, not to mention a talent for taking the most gorgeous Napa Valley sunrise photos (one of the perks of being in the lab before dawn), to each day!
What excites you about coming to work each day? I love being able to create things and I love the challenge of working to shape something that is alive. Each day presents a new opportunity, a new puzzle to figure out, and it is always exciting. Harvest may seem the most fast paced and exciting time of the year but it is during the “off-season” that we get to hone our craft and do the fine detail work.
What role does curiosity play in making wine? An enormous part of my day involves experimenting with new techniques and always asking, “Can we make this better?” Darice has taught me that you will never know the answer unless you ask the questions. Not every experiment or trial is successful but we always learn from what we do. Winemakers are truly scientists and we love to play around.
What centers you? Fitness and meditation. I have found that the world is so fast in this age of the internet and there are so many demands on us during the day, that we forget to take care of our mind and body. I spend at least an hour everyday just enjoying my ability to move. I love running, weight lifting, yoga and exploring nutrition as well. It’s a hobby that has helped me keep my focus at work. Self-care is so important and something that many women push to the side.
Although Far Niente was founded in 1885, the winery’s modern era dates from 1979, when Gil and Beth Nickel rescued the long-abandoned stone winery in Oakville and began a three-year restoration of the historic estate. Throughout the winery’s nearly 40-year history, Beth and Gil have had a long history of admiring – and hiring – talented female winemakers.
As the Proprietress of Far Niente and its sister wineries, Beth continues to lead by example. Next week we’ll share the lessons working in wine has taught her – along with what continues to excite her about this dynamic industry.