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At Vintages, we’re always interested in the backstory of the wines and wineries we profile. Even a casual inquiry into a specific wine will involve exploring geography, geology, soil, meteorology, biology, chemistry, agriculture, history and, of course, the people behind the bottle you’re pouring. In their wineries and in the larger wine world, these 10 progressive producers and principals are pushing innovation while upholding generations-old traditions.
There are precious few family businesses that can trace their origins back five generations, let alone 26.
Antinori dates its involvement in wine to 1385, and the strength of Antinori today is, as it has always been, family. After 635 years, the family shows no sign of slowing down and is entering a dynamic new stage under the guidance of Albiera, Alessia and Allegra Antinori. They are the three daughters of Piero Antinori of Supertuscan fame and the first women ever to have significant roles in the running of the family company. Albiera is president, and her interest in architecture was instrumental in the design of Antinori’s new Chianti Classico winery, museum and headquarters, all of which opened in 2012. The youngest sister, Alessia, is vice-president and, in addition to her viticultural responsibilities, oversees the Antinori Art Project. This initiative saw part of the family’s extensive collection of paintings, ceramics, photographs and antique manuscripts transferred from the historic Palazzo Antinori in Florence to the new museum in Chianti. Alessia is also the driving force behind Antinori’s sparkling-wine brand, Montenisa, in Franciacorta. Allegra is considered by her sisters to be the most passionate of the three (which is really saying something) and is responsible for the family’s restaurants in New York, Moscow, Vienna, Zurich and Chianti. All three Antinori sisters travel extensively as global ambassadors for the family’s wines.
Argentina’s first female oenologist, Susana Balbo graduated with honours from the Don Bosco University, in Mendoza, in 1981.
Her relentless exploration of new and more challenging regions and her continuous experimentation into new processes and techniques have raised the bar not only for her own wines but for the entire Argentine industry. She has held the post of president of Wines of Argentina three times and in 2018 was named as one of The Drinks Business magazine’s 10 most influential women in wine. She has worked as a wine consultant in Spain, Chile, Italy, Brazil, Australia and California.
The Autrand family started out as olive growers.
They planted their first vines in 1956, following the loss of their olive trees to frost; their vines now average 35 years of age. Christine Aubert has overseen the property since 2002. In her time at the helm, she has doubled the vineyard size and orchestrated the construction of a modern winery, which was completed in 2008. Domaine Autrand doesn’t use oak in the winemaking process, choosing instead to age their wines in stainless steel in order to ensure that they reflect as pure an expression of the vineyard as possible.
The importance of relationships in winemaking cannot be underestimated.
The partnership between grape growers and winemakers is critical to the creation of top-flight wines. Yvonne Irvine not only understands this, she excels at it. Yvonne enrolled in Niagara College’s winery and viticulture technician program and did her co-op placement at Creekside, working her first harvest in 2007. Though it was a precarious move, Yvonne was so attracted by the friendly, down-to-earth atmosphere at Creekside that it was the only winery she applied to. She continued to work there part-time until graduating in 2008. Yvonne became assistant winemaker in 2010 and has steered winemaking for the Red Tractor line since 2011.
Marisa Taylor spent time as a child watching her godfather work the vines.
Her early introduction to viticulture gave this UC Davis graduate a deep, personal appreciation for the craft of winemaking. Her career began at Piper Sonoma and J Winery, and she also worked as an oenologist at S. Anderson Vineyard in Yountville. For the 1999 vintage she travelled to Rufina, Italy, where she worked with Colognole winery. Marisa has been the winemaker at Rutherford Hill since 2004 and has earned a considerable reputation, particularly for her expertise with Pinot, Chardonnay and Cabernet.
Renee Ary attended Saint Mary’s College of California, where she earned a degree in chemistry and art.
Her first winery gig came when she began working in the laboratory of Robert Mondavi Winery. This experience awoke a passion for wine that saw her supplement the hands-on experience of working for this iconic Napa producer with classes in winemaking at UC Davis and Napa Valley College. She started at Duckhorn in 2003, working with celebrated winemaker Mark Beringer. In the years that followed, Renee progressed from lab manager to oenologist to assistant winemaker to associate winemaker and was responsible for crafting Duckhorn’s Sauvignon Blanc and Monitor Ledge Vineyard wines. She became Duckhorn’s winemaker in 2014.
An innate inquisitiveness and sense of exploration combined with an aptitude for science has made Renae Hirsch a dynamic, innovative winemaker.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in agricultural science (oenology) from the University of Adelaide and has crafted wines in many of the world’s top-flight regions, including seasons spent in Spain, France, Germany and the USA. Her non-interventionist approach to winemaking appears, on the surface, to be a simple one, but there is nothing simple about the complex, refined, expressive wines she creates. Since joining Wits End in 2014, Renae has introduced a subtle change to their style and raised these wines to even greater heights.
“What was very exciting when I came to work with my father was the fact that there were so many undiscovered things in Argentina … it’s only been over the last couple of decades that we’ve dared to go out there into the world with these icon wines that we hope can stand with the best in the world …”
—Laura Catena, winespectator.com, June 12, 2012
Dr. Laura Catena, a fourth-generation Argentine vintner, trained at Harvard and Stanford to become a physician before joining her father, Nicolás, at Catena Zapata. As if being a flying winemaker and an emergency room physician in San Francisco wasn’t enough, Laura founded and is a board member of the Catena Institute of Wine, which works to advance the study of Malbec around the world. Her tireless efforts have seen her dubbed “the face of Argentine wine.” She has also authored the book Vino Argentino: An Insider’s Guide to the Wines and Wine Country of Argentina. She divides her time between the vineyards of Mendoza and the ER in San Francisco.
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