Meet Napa Valley’s first Black woman winemaker
Victoria Coleman didn’t grow up with wine on her table, but Napa Valley’s first Black female winemaker found her calling when she tasted her first batch of fermented juice in 2005.
“I picked the grapes in the rain in St. Helena and then I got through fermentation and I tasted the wine,” said Coleman, who was working on the Mario Bazan brand in Napa Valley at the time. “I said to myself, ‘Oh my God. This is so good. I did this, and it’s so good at this stage when it’s so raw.’ … I feel like I’ve been chasing (winemaking) ever since.”
Although Coleman, now 53, is the winemaker of Napa Valley’s Lobo Wines, she came to her love of winemaking in a roundabout way.
Raised in Seattle, Washington, Coleman moved to Napa Valley in 1998 after her mother died. She wanted to be near the man she was dating, who worked in the wine industry. Although Coleman had been working in technology, Napa Valley really only had two options: restaurant or winery work, she said. She didn’t like the lifestyle of restaurant hours, so she opted to work at a winery.
Coleman’s first position was as a production assistant at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, where she crossed paths with the legendary vintner Warren Winiarski. Now in his 90s, Winiarski is best known for shocking the world when his Stag’s Leap cabernet sauvignon snagged the best red wine in the Paris Tasting of 1976, forever altering the perception of California wines on the world stage.
When Coleman was set to occupy a desk at the winery, she recalled, a colleague cleaned out the drawers and came across a 1994-vintage bottle from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. The two of them shared the bottle during a holiday party in 2001, and both were incredulous about how good it was.
“We looked at each other and said, ‘Wow,’” Coleman remembered. “I feel that’s what I grew up on, (Warren Winiarski’s) wine. He always talks about a sense of time and place, allowing the site to show itself through different vintages. That’s how I like to make wine, and that’s what I hope I’m doing.”
While working at Stag’s Leap, Coleman studied at UC Davis. In 2008, she became the first Black woman to graduate from its enology and viticulture program.
A fortuitous twist of fate came that same year, when the relatively new winemaker met Randy Wulff, the vintner of Lobo Wines. (The word lobo means wolf in Spanish; it was chosen to honor Wulff’s Latino vineyard and cellar workers.) Coleman and Wulff hit it off. Now, with their 16th vintage upon them, they’re still in sync.
Today Coleman continues to produce a full lineup of wines, including cabernet sauvignon, pinot, merlot and a syrah-based blend.
“Sometimes during my first day of harvest, when I’m pulling the trigger on when to pick, I think, ‘Is this really my job?’” Coleman mused.
Coleman also spoke with The Press Democrat about her favorite wine book, climate change and how she hopes to inspire people of color to become winemakers.
Question: What’s your favorite wine book?
Answer: I still look at my schoolbooks, and two of my favorites are “Principles and Practices of Winemaking” and “Handbook of Enology.”
Q: Are you concerned about climate change and the caprice of Mother Nature?
A: Someone said, ‘Now we’re inconvenienced, but future generations — what will it be like for them?’ I do worry. We talk about winemaking in terms of the sense of time and place. What will this place show us in the future?
Q: Do you find the lack of diversity troubling in the wine industry?
A: I don’t know if I ever felt discouraged. I don’t come from that mindset. I take pride in being part of history. I just hope it becomes contagious.
You can reach Wine Writer Peg Melnik at 707-521-5310 or email@example.com. On Twitter @pegmelnik.