6 Women Who Make a Difference in the California Wine World

International Women’s Day, held each year on March 8, celebrates and acknowledges the achievements of women. It also seeks to encourage and support women’s equality.

To mark International Women’s Day 2014, we introduce you to a few of the women who are making a difference in the world of California wine…

• Amelia Ceja, proprietor, Ceja Vineyards, Napa, Calif.

At the dining room table that occupies a prominent place at the rural “world headquarters” of Ceja Vineyards, Amelia Morán Ceja reveals her conviction that the diligent pursuit of a passion is key to success.

“My grandmother told me that whatever you do, if you love it and learn everything you can about it, you will be successful — and not dependent on a man,” she says.

It’s advice that both Amelia and her husband, Pedro Ceja, have come to bank on at their highly successful winery.

• Lisa Bishop Forbes, Director of Winemaking, Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards & Winery, Healdsburg, Calif.

Her teenage years in Lodi offered Forbes her first glimpse of the wine industry. In addition to being surrounded by vineyards, her father had a number of friends and associates with ties to local wineries and growers.

When it came time to choose a college, her decision to attend Fresno State to study winemaking was influenced by her exposure to the wine community and her love of chemistry. In addition to the academic strength of Fresno, Forbes appreciated the hands-on training that is a major part of the university’s educational programs.

In 1995, she had the opportunity to join the Chalk Hill Estate winemaking team as Assistant Winemaker, working first with David Ramey and then with Bill Knuttel.

“Chalk Hill, for me, was love at first sight,” Forbes says “It’s so secluded and hidden that you have no idea how beautiful it is. From a winemaker’s perspective, the estate has everything — diverse soils, aspects, elevations, row orientations and exposures. The clones, rootstocks, trellising and farming methods are all matched perfectly to each micro-site. And the wines show the effects of all this attention. They are concentrated, intense, balanced and specific to their terroir.”

• Stacy Clark, Winemaker, Charles Krug, St. Helena, Calif.

Clark came on board as Krug’s winemaker in April 2011. With Clark at the helm, Krug fuses modern winemaking techniques with traditional French methods to craft ultra-premium wines. The focus is on Bordeaux-style wines brimming with great fruit, amazing balance and food-friendly compatibility.

• Janet Myers, Director of Winemaking, Franciscan Estate, St. Helena, Calif.

Traveling a wine road wasn’t Myers’ original path. In what now seems like another life, she gave up her pursuit of a doctorate in Biological Anthropology to move to London, where she worked in the restaurant industry. Living above a wine shop, she enjoyed sampling the wares of her downstairs neighbor and decided to learn about wine production.

“When I realized that this was an industry that combined science and agriculture — which is my family’s background — I enrolled at U.C. Davis and haven’t looked back,” she says.

Before joining Franciscan Estate in August of 2003 as Associate Winemaker, Myers enjoyed stints in Australia’s Margaret River region and at big Cabernet producers Beaulieu Vineyard, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Louis Martini Winery. She was promoted to Director of Winemaking of Franciscan Estate and Mt. Veeder in August 2005.

• Milla Handley, proprietor and winemaker, Handley Cellars, Philo, Calif.

After earning a degree in Fermentation Sciences in 1975 at the University of California at Davis, Handley worked for winemaker Richard Arrowood at Chateau St. Jean. Following the birth of her first child in 1978, she moved to the remote winemaking region of Anderson Valley, where she became assistant winemaker to Jed Steele at Edmeades Winery.

Handley struck out on her own in 1982, making the first Handley Cellars Chardonnay in her basement. At that time, Anderson Valley was still uncharted viticultural territory.

“I was captivated by its possibilities,” Handley says. “Anderson Valley’s beauty and isolation appealed to me. My husband Rex and I felt that it was a good place to raise children. The people here possessed an independent spirit, and I felt I could follow my own course, somewhat removed from the entrenched winemaking culture. I wanted my wines to capture the essence of this extraordinary place.”

• Chrissy Whittman, General Manager and Director of Winemaking, Wild Horse Winery & Vineyard, Templeton, Calif.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Whittman’s entire career has been spent in decidedly non-urban settings.

She joined Wild Horse in 2007 after 10 years of winemaking experience at Scheid Vineyards, Courtside Cellars and Meridian. She earned her degree in Biology and a Master’s Degree in Agriculture from Cal Poly.

Whittman says working at Wild Horse makes her feel like a kid in a candy shop with so many great vineyards to choose from.

Tomorrow: The women behind the success of J Vineayards.

Posted in Wineries of Distinction
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