A Who's Who List on the California Wine Scene
“Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.”
― Andre Simon
Many wine lovers follow wine brands. I follow winemakers. They personify the concept of "human terroir" and have demonstrated the power of human impact on the outcome of an agricultural product that some of them elevate to withering heights.These winemakers has shown stellar talent and made many of their client's brands household names in the wine lovers circles. They’re not listed in any particular order.
1. Celia Welch :
Celia has been making wine for 30 years, starting at Mt. Veeder, moving on to Silverado, Robert Pepi and then Staglin Family. She made wines from nearly every Napa Valley appellation, from Mt. Veeder to St. Helena. Current consulting clients include Hollywood & Vine, Keever, Barbour, Nicali and Scarecrow. Celia also has her own brand, Corra. Readers are advised to get on her mailing list as her wines are seamless objects of beauty.
2. Phillip Melka:
Phillip has been a winemaker for 15 years. He hails from Bordeaux, starting his career at Chateau Haut Brion, then moving on to Dominus and Petrus. He counts Haut Brion and Petrus owners as his mentors, as well as the legendary consultant Michel Rolland.
Phillip is a consulting winemaker for the following stellar wineries: ADAMVS, Ashe, Brand, Dana Estates, Entre Nous, Fairchild, Gandona, Gemstone, Hundred Acre, Lail, Moone-Tsai, Parallel, Perfect Season, QTR, Roy Estate, Seavey, Skipstone, Tusk, Vineyard 29 as well as tending to his own brand, Melka Wines.
Thomas's career began in 1997 at Turley Cellars. He experienced a meteoric rise as one of the most sought-after consulting winemakers in Napa Valley. He earned eight 100pt scores from Robert Parker and two from Wine Spectator. Among his clients are such revered brands as Black Sears, Outpost, Aston, Maybach, Seaver, Revana, Casa Piena, Wallis Estate, Jones, Hobel, Double Diamond and the much heralded Schrader. His latest endeavor, Pulido-Walker is his first wine from Pritchard Hill.
Thomas and his wife Genevieve are owners of one of the most incredible vineyard sites in California, Summa Vineyard. Thomas is praised for his hands off, minimal intervention approach to winemaking. Readers are advised to try wines from his personal label, Rivers-Marie.
4. Paul Hobbs:
Paul Hobbs is the industry's hardest working winemaker. He started at Robert Mondavi, then moved on to Opus One, Simi, Peter Michael, Lewis Cellars, and many more. He founded his namesake winery in 1991 and produces wines under both Paul Hobbs and Crossbarn labels. Robert Parker named Hobbs Wine Personality of the Year - twice.
Currently, Paul has more than a dozen winery clients that he consults for in the United States, dozen in Argentina, three in Chile, three in France, as well as Canada, Uruguay (Juanicó Wines) and astoundingly, one in Armenia. Hobbs was the first American winemaker to launch a brand in Argentina (Vina Cobos) in 1999. He is widely regarded as a global visionary who seeks unique, historic vineyard sites.
5. Bob Levy
Bob Levy' career began at Rombauer in 1980s and continued on to fifteen years at Merryvale. While crafting wines at Merryville, Levy met and became friends with a real estate developer named Bill Harlan. Harlan's vision was to create a "first growth" Bordeaux blend in Napa Valley.
The wine, Harlan Estate, became an instant hit with critics and consumers alike. Having achieved the ultimate with Harlan Estate Bob created two additional brands under Harlan umbrella, Bond and Maiden. Subsequently, Levy also started his own brand, Levy & McClellan, in partnership with his wife, Martha McClellan, a renowned winemaker in her own right (Checkerboard, Sloan)
6. Ehren Jordan
A chance meeting with Bruce Neyers at Phelps vineyards set in motion a chain of events that landed Jordan on my list of the top winemakers of our generation. Neyers, then national sales manager for Phelps, offered Jordan a job, and later asked him to make wine at his winery. Jordan also began working for Helen Turley, a.k.a. Wine Goddess, at Turley Wine Cellars where she mentored him on the art of crafting fine wine. When Helen left Turley to pursue other projects, he took over as winemaker. He makes wine at Turley cellars to this day.
Known for his uncanny ability to create a wide range of wine personalities, from low alcohol, elegant Pinots, Chardonnays and Syrahs under his own brand, Failla Jordan, (which he founded in 1998) to high octane, powerful Zinfandels and Petite Sirahs at Turley, Ehren is an extraordinary versatile and cerebral winemaker. He sources fruit from his own Sonoma Coast vineyard as well as other select sites.
7. Helen Turley
Helen Turley already had a blossoming winemaking career when she was tapped by her brother Larry to make wine at his winery. It was at Turley Cellars that she became famous for her unmistakable style of bold, ripe, larger-than-life Zins and Petite Sirahs. She went on to consult at a host of well-known wineries such as Pahlmeyer, Colgin, Bryant Family, Peter Michael, B.R. Cohn, La Jota, Landmark and many more.
Her longest relationship was with Martinelli where she made a number of well-received Chardonnays, Pinots and Zins that quickly garnered cult following. Particularly noteworthy was her famous Jackass Hill Zinfandel. Along the way, Helen started her own label, Marcassin, which produces Pinots and Chardonnays that are next to impossible to obtain.
8. Mark Herold
Herold's career began as enologist at Joseph Phelps, where he worked on improving the quality of the wines of the renowned brand. After seven years with Phelps, he started his own label called Merus, which became an instant hit with Robert Parker. Herold's wines have been perennially praised for fruit driven, uber-concentrated, yet balanced wines. After selling Merus he launched yet another label, Mark Herold Wines. His past and present consulting clients include Kamen, Hestan, Harris, Buccella, Kobalt, Celani, Maze, B Wise and Vineyardist.
9. Luc Morlet
Luc grew up on his family’s fourth-generation vineyard, Pierre Morlet & Fils, in Champagne. He earned a Masters degree in enology and holds both a viticulture degree and an MBA in wine business. After several internships in Burgundy and Bordeaux. Luc became a winemaker for the Val d’Or Champagne Cellars. In 1993, he was asked to become a winemaker at their French subsidiary in St Helena.
He subsequently replaced John Kongsgaard, his then mentor, at Newton Vineyard. Later, Peter Michael came calling and Luc stepped into the shoes of legendary winemakers such as Helen Turley and Mark Aubert. His next job was at Staglin where he worked closely with the famed David Abreu. In 2006, Luc and his wife Jodie launched their own brand, sourcing fruit from both Napa and Sonoma. Their wines immediately became sought after and were recently featured at a State Dinner at the White House. Luc's current clients include Bure, Cabaud, Carte Blanche, and Vineyard 7 & 8 of Spring Mountain fame..
10. Kale AndersonCurrently Anderson is the winemaker at Pahlmeyer, where he is crafting stellar wines for this iconic brand. Kale's past jobs include Colgin Cellars, Terra Valentine, and Cliff Lede. Kale's mentors were David Abreu, Philippe Melka and Mark Aubert. His own brand, Kale Wines receives lots of buzz for his thoughtful, elegant, and exquisite Syrahs.