There is a joyous feeling of accomplishment winemakers experience after watching a grape complete its journey from a mere bud into the final wine. According to some winemakers who are also mothers, it’s like watching their children blossom into adults.
“Winemaking mothers create — or rather, every year we give birth to new ‘children’ — to give life to wines that are part of us,” says Lucia Letrari, winemaker at her family’s winery, Letrari, in the Italian region of Langhe.
Letrari adds, “There are some rewarding feelings that motherhood and winemaking both share.”
There are no shortages of challenges with raising children or working in wine, says Ana Rosas, master blender at the Portuguese wine estate Ramos Pinto. She notes that the skills she gained from years of raising children helped prepare her for whatever difficulties that may come her way when dealing with one vintage to the next.
“Being a mother, I learned very quickly to accept that things will hardly go as planned no matter how prepared you may be. As a mother and a blender, I have learned to respect each wine’s individual characteristics and be patient and respectful, just as I would be towards my children,” Rosas says. “Winemaking and motherhood require a surprisingly similar set of skills: patience, courage, time management, perseverance, and a sense of humor.”
Having a reliable support system is a major help in getting everything done, whether in the vineyards and cellars or at home. Harvest season is especially tough, as it often coincides with the same time as kids are headed back to school and into their time-consuming extracurricular activities.
For Alison Rodriguez, winemaker at Hess Persson Estates in Napa Valley, being home in time for dinner and bath time and still being available to connect online, take a call, or hop on a Zoom meeting if need be is par for the course. Having a flexible team that she can depend on to work the season efficiently and effectively goes a long way.
“Being a mom is tough work, and winemaking certainly isn’t easy. Not every day is sunshine and unicorns, especially when working a full-time job that puts a special burn on a particular time of the year. I’m extremely blessed to be working with a group of people who really respect and support moms in the workplace,” says Rodriguez.
“Winemaking and motherhood require a surprisingly similar set of skills: patience, courage, time management, perseverance, and a sense of humor.”
Considering all the work winemaking moms put into maintaining vineyards and perfecting wine recipes, it should be no surprise that they — like many other people — like to unwind with a glass after a long day.
“When the kids were small, my husband and I used to drink a glass of Tawny Port and fall asleep on the sofa without emptying the glass,” says Rosas. “Now that they’re all grown up, we have a glass or two, but we don’t fall asleep before finishing.”
For Naoko Dalla Valle, founder and owner of Dalla Valle Vineyards in Napa Valley, the best form of relaxation comes in a glass of wine made by her daughter Maya Dalla Valle, who now serves as head winemaker at the winery established by her parents in 1986. Naoko Dalla Valle particularly enjoys turning down for the day with a glass alongside her only child.
“When we are sitting together and tasting wine — especially now that Maya is a winemaker — it really does feel like a dream come true. I’ve run this place for many years. Now she is the winemaker, and she has her destiny in her own hands. It’s very exciting, and it makes me happy to get to watch and drink what she makes,” Naoko Dalla Valle says.
With Mother’s Day around the corner, many winemaking moms plan to spend the holiday with children, though there will likely be a few bottles of their other greatest creations on the table.
Here are a few more bottles winemaking moms say they plan to enjoy for Mother’s Day.
J Hofstätter Pinot Nero Meczan 2020 (~$23)
Early in Rodriguez’s winemaking career, she spent time working at a winery in Italy’s Alto Adige and fell in love with the entire region. “It’s at the foothills of the Dolomites, and the area is jaw-droppingly beautiful. There are incredible mountain passes right in front of you. There are tremendous vineyards,” she says, noting the Tenuta J. Hofstätter family wine estate was one that “completely blew me away.” Made with Pinot Noir, this wine is bright and fresh with strawberry and black cherry flavors while earthy nuances linger in the background.
Tenuta Tignanello Marchese Antinori Riserva Chianti Classico 2019 (~$47)
There’s nothing like a wine that pulls at the heartstrings. For Letrari, that’s a “great Tuscan red that warms my heart and gets me thinking about my first time tasting wine with my dad and emotions I felt.” This Sangiovese produced by Marchese Antinori gets the job done with intense ripe red fruit and violet aromas that give way to a pleasantly spicy and lively palate. Silky tannins arrive mid-palate, giving the wine a balanced, lingering finish. The Antinori family has made outstanding wine in the heart of Tuscany for over six centuries. After 26 generations of family winemakers, three women are at the helm of the company.
Far Niente Estate Napa Valley Chardonnay 2020 (~$73)
When Wander + Ivy Wines winemaker Dana Spaulding is off the clock, and her two toddlers are tucked away, she likes to enjoy a glass of wine produced by Napa Valley winery Far Niente. “I like to unwind and share a glass of wine with my husband,” Spaulding says. Made with 100% Chardonnay grapes, the wine is elegant, rich, and silky, with crisp minerality and purity of fruit. Melon and orchard fruit aromas and flavors are persistent. Acidity provides structure through the finish. “It’s a great wine to have after a long day of working on your own product,” Spaulding says.
Krug Champagne Grande Cuvée Brut NV (~$90)
“My palate has been formed by drinking wine with my mom and tasting wines she loves,” says Maya Dalla Valle. Naoko Dalla Valle admits that the duo is pretty aligned in everything from winemaking to their love of bubbles, particularly bottles by famous Champagne house Krug. It’s not uncommon for Naoko to pop a bottle of nonvintage Grande Cuvée to share with her daughter during their downtime. Made with Chardonnay, the Champagne exudes bright and floral, nutty aromas, while the palate is drenched in pear and pastry flavors. Clean acidity wraps up the finish with poise and grace.
Jarvis Estate Cave Fermented Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 2015 (~$142)
Another one of Spaulding’s favorites is Napa Valley’s Jarvis Estate. While she enjoys just about all of the wines made by founding winemaker Dimitri Tchelistcheff and fellow winemaker Scott Morrison, Spaulding says she can’t get enough of the winery’s Cabernet Franc. A deep crimson color, the wine smells like baking spices and concentrated red fruits and evolves into a savory, robust wine with grippy tannins on the palate. According to Spaulding, it’s a wine that will only get better with time in the bottle, and one that would make the perfect gift for a hardworking mom.