Women are a strong force in the U.S. wine industry and here are three winemakers worth watching: Angelina Mondavi of CK Mondavi Family & Wines; and Chrissy Whittman and Niki Williams of The Prisoner Wine Co. in Napa Valley.
All have crafted new and exciting wines over this past year.
For Angela Mondavi, wine is in her DNA. She’s a fourth-generation member of a celebrated Napa Valley wine family that dates back to great-grandparents Cesare and Rosa who emigrated to America from southern Italy in the early 20th century. Angelina started in the family business as a 10-year-old assisting in the lab. She earned a chemistry degree at Villanova University and a master’s in oenology and viticulture in Australia. Today, she makes wine under the tutelage of Jayson Woodbridge of One True Vine (Hundred Acre, Cherry Pie, Layer Cake). She’s also involved in several family ventures with her father Marc (Aloft Winery), cousin Robert Mondavi Jr. (Fourth Leaf Winery) and sisters Giovanna, Riana, and Alycia (Dark Matter). Together, they’ve kept alive the spirit and passion of CK Mondavi & Family wines.
Recently, Angelina collaborated with Randy Herron, CK Mondavi’s head winemaker, to develop the new Flat Top Hills brand. It’s a portfolio of five California wines – Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, rose`, Cabernet Sauvignon, red blend – emphasizing premium quality at an affordable price. The wines debuted in May in five states, including Massachusetts, and sell for $14 or less.
The wines are easy drinking, fresh, and abundant in flavor. While the lush, apple-and-pear infused Chardonnay captured my interest, the Cabernet Sauvignon and red blend stole my palate. Both muscle up with red and black berry flavors and well-integrated layers of warm spices – cocoa powder and vanilla for the Cab, cinnamon toast for the blend – that prolong a velvety finish. With medium alcohol (13.5%) and bright acidity, these reds can spark up pizza night and a weekend barbecue feast, or just sipping by the fire pit.
The Prisoner Wine Co. has some of the most provocative labels in the industry, but the wines wouldn’t be so popular were it not for director of winemaking Chrissy Whittman and winemaker Niki Williams. Wittman has a degree in ecology and systematic biology and a master’s in agriculture. Williams, who previously worked for a European travel agency, has a degree in viticulture and enology. This is a smart, energetic team that has crafted two vivacious whites – Blindfold, a California Chardonnay blended with Rhone Valley varietals; and The Snitch, a Napa Chardonnay with a touch of viognier.
Blindfold ($29.99) is quite expressive on the senses, with ripe Chardonnay picking up bold aromatics and unique flavors from the mix of rousanne, viognier and muscat. Imagine freshly baked apple pie and peach cobbler topped by melting vanilla ice cream. Yummy. Despite its name, there’s a lot to see in this wine.
As for The Snitch ($34.99), a bottle placed on a table is bound to break the silence. The label, depicting a police informant’s mug shot, is torn in half leaving The Snitch’s face missing. Yes, it’s a gimmick but the wine doesn’t need witness protection to get out the word that it’s good. The 2017 version blends 3 percent viognier with Chardonnay sourced from top-notch vineyards in Stags Leap and Carneros. Aged 10 months in French oak with 100 percent malolactic fermentation, The Snitch is rich, round and lovely in apple, pear and citrus notes. Crème brulee lovers will swoon over the nose. Here’s the deal: the wine is on sale in New Hampshire through the end of September for $29.99.