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A Toast to Women Winemakers in Sonoma County

A. Rafanelli Winery

Sipping Spot at A. Rafanelli Winery, photos by Dana Rebmann

There was a time when women winemakers were few and far between. Lucky for us, that time is long gone. Sonoma County gals who grow grapes are taking the Bay Area by storm and giving wine lovers delicious reasons to raise a glass.

Shelly Rafanelli, A. Rafanelli Winery

Wine making is a family affair at A. Rafanelli Winery in Dry Creek Valley. Founded in the early 1900s, Shelly Rafanelli represents her family’s fourth generation growing grapes and making wine. (Her sister, Stacy, is in charge of daily operations at the winery.) Specializing in Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, tastings at the winery are by appointment only and all of the wine is sold direct. Give yourself some extra time to linger when you visit. The rustic winery is surrounded by hillside vineyards and a garden that offers a perfect place to sip and picnic on a sunny day.  

Amista

Syrah View at Amista

Ashley Herzberg, Amista Vineyards

Ashley Herzberg was going to be doctor, then she worked a harvest and “fell in love with everything.” Armed with a chemical engineering degree, she spent four years working as the Assistant Winemaker at Mauritson Wines before taking the helm at Amista Vineyards – the only producer of sparkling wines in Dry Creek Valley from Dry Creek grapes. Add on an Estate Grown Syrah, Grenache, Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and a Grenache-Syrah-Mourvedre blend called Tres and you get the sense she’s a busy lady. Amista wines are available in a few Sonoma County restaurants, but otherwise can only be purchased at the tasting room, online, or through Amista’s wine club. Making wine seems to run in the family, her husband works as a winemaker as well, at Merriam Vineyards in Healdsburg. 

De La Montanya

Apple Trees, Roses, and Bocce at De La Montanya

Tami Collins, De La Montanya Estate Vineyards & Winery

Sip, stay, and play at De La Montanya Vineyards & Winery. Just off Westside Road, and five minutes from downtown Healdsburg; drive slow, or run the risk of speeding by this 1950s era, apple orchard turned vineyard and tasting room where Tami Collins has been making wine since 2006. Get a glass and head outside to the garden area complete with redwood picnic tables, bocce ball, a horse shoe pit, and of course, apple trees. Plus, De La Montanya is dog friendly! Her wines are only available direct through the winery. No appointment is necessary to visit the tasting room on weekends, but call ahead on weekdays. Wine is a family thing for her too. Her husband is General Manager at Asti Winery.

Gary Farrell

Sunset at Gary Farrell Winery

Theresa Heredia, Gary Farrell Winery

With a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, Theresa Heredia was a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry at U.C. Davis. Meeting regularly with several other graduate teaching assistants to grade exams, Heredia met a couple of people from the Viticulture & Enology program – who actually brought wine to the grading sessions. She discovered that their respective research was actually incredibly similar, and an aspiring university professor switched her focus to the world of winemaking.

“Harvest is my favorite part of the job. Walking the vineyards, tasting grapes and then tasting and smelling the tanks as they evolve during and after fermentation is a pretty amazing experience," says Heredia. “Sometimes I have to pinch myself to confirm that somebody is actually paying me to do this cool job!”

The tasting room at Gary Farrell Winery is open daily; an appointment is necessary for groups of seven or more.

Want more? Check out the gals growing grapes in Mendocino.

Dana can be found on Twitter @drebmann