Esteemed Women Winemakers in the House: Heidi Barrett & Carol Shelton

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Esteemed Women Winemakers in the House: Heidi Barrett & Carol Shelton

Last week, I was invited by Greg Kassanoff, owner of Pioneer Wine Company, to its annual portfolio tasting, a traveling road show held in Houston, Austin and Dallas.  Seventy one exhibitors representing unique small production wines gathered at the Palomar Hotel to pour hundreds of wines Pioneer is bringing to the Dallas market.  As a consumer, imagine a “speed dating” scenario where you are given one glass and hundreds of wines to sample.  Needless to say, you had to use the dump buckets to survive.

Much to my surprise I also found two iconic women wine makers in attendance.  Carol Shelton, winemaker for Carol Shelton Wines, is often named the most awarded winemaker in the United States with numerous Winemaker of the Year designations.  I always love talking to women winemakers like Merry Edwards or Carol because they stumbled into wine making versus pursuing it as their first career choice.  In Carol’s case, she entered UC Davis to be a poet.  Merry was going to be a biologist.  But the grapes came calling…

Carol Shelton

Carol Shelton and my friend, Susan Hartman

Carol Shelton formed her winery in 2000.  Focusing on Zinfandel only, Carol chooses vineyards with unique terroirs and put her poetry to use with the naming – 05 Wild Thing Zin, 05 Karma Zin, 06 Monga Zin and my favorite, the 06 Rocky Reserve, which was balanced with big blackberry flavor and chocolate notes.

I did a little happy dance when I saw that La Sirena was exhibiting, but did a double take when I saw Heidi and Remi Barrett pouring the wines.  Heidi is a Napa Valley icon, the former wine maker for Dalla Valle Vineyards and Screaming Eagle and was named by Robert Parker as “The First Lady of Wine.”  In addition to her La Sirena wines, she is the winemaker for Amuse Bouche, Paradigm, Au Sommet, among others.

Heidi and Remy Barrett

Remi and Heidi Barrett

I had the chance to talk with Heidi and Remi briefly and asked about the Texas market for La Sirena wines, which is booming.  I had the chance to taste all of Heidi’s wines – the 08 Moscato Azul, Napa Valley, which was full of honeysuckle and fruit; the 05 Syrah Napa Valley, which was a traditional Syrah with berry and graphite; the 05 Syrah Santa Ynez, which tasted of chocolate covered cherries and currant; the 07 Pirate TreasuRed Blend, which was full of blackberry jam.  Finally, we got to the 06 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Wow!  Black cherry, cassis, chocolate, French oak.  The quintessential Cabernet with a big price to go with it.  However, based on some of the more expensive, “slap you in the face” cabs that I’ve tasted, this is worth the $150 price point.

While I didn’t get to try the majority of the wines offered, I can say that the snapshot of those I did try bodes well for Texans in terms of bringing small production, interesting varietals and wines from around the globe to our neck of the woods.

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