1. What’s your Napa love story – what brought you here to make wine instead of remaining in your native Portugal?
I first came to Napa in the (distant…) year of 2004 to be a harvest intern. I spent almost 6 months here, and absolutely fell in love with this unique AVA. I was able to work both in the cellar and in the lab, with great exposure to California winemaking. I was blown away by the wide array of techniques used in wine production, particularly all the technology and equipment winemakers had at their disposal. I returned to Portugal to finish my college thesis and the winery where I interned, but California tugged at my heart strings.
2. What was the first Napa wine that gave you that “ah-ha” moment?
I drank a 1997 Stony Hill Chardonnay in my first week in Napa and was so impressed by that bottle’s duality of restraint/opulence. It showed me what Napa Chardonnay could be, when terroir and technique perfectly align.
3. What was your first winemaking gig in Napa?
After my internship, I returned to Napa and stayed at Rutherford Hill Winery for 6 years. I started as the lab manager and moved up to assistant winemaker. I feel very fortunate for Marisa Taylor’s mentorship; she included me in tastings and blending from day one and allowed me great growth and learning on all facets of grape growing and wine production.
4. What makes Napa Cabernet so special?
I think the combination of all the ‘terroir’ traits is what makes Napa Valley so special, with climate and soils at the forefront. Our proximity to the San Pablo Bay moderates the thermal amplitude between day and night, which is very important for fruit quality and acidity in the wine. On the other hand, the wide range of soil types grants the Cabernet grapes very distinct and diverse flavor profiles. The Valley soils have in common low fertility, good drainage, and a prevalence of volcanic origin, granting the Cabernet grapes a unique earthy undertone, along with an incredibly elegant tannin profile.
5. How do you “break the mold” as both a Cabernet specialist and a woman winemaker?
Great Cabernets are made by working with great vineyards. The ones identified as the top ones are almost impossible to get and come with a very steep price tag. I break the mold by finding vineyards that are not mainstream, but that have the site, the soil, and most importantly, importantly, great farming. Sometimes it is just a feeling about a particular site – and that emotional connection might be felt more deeply by women, I don’t know. Working closely with grape growers is one of my favorite things about this job, especially when those relationships grow over time; when a grower knows the land and cares deeply for it, I always feel that it can be seen and tasted in the grapes.
6. What lessons has being a Napa winemaker taught you?
Being a Napa winemaker taught me to believe in the sense of community. I have been involved with the Napa Valley Vintners over the years, and they truly bring the Napa wine community together, amplifying voices and points of view that need to be heard. It has also taught me that if your dreams are within reach if you’re determined and are not afraid to think outside the box.
7. What drove you to step out on your own as an independent winemaker?
The dream of having one’s own brand is shared by almost every winemaker I know. Naked Wines has allowed me to achieve my dreams on my own terms, gradually. This is my 12th harvest producing wines for Naked Wines – where I focus on wines from Sonoma, Amador County, and Portugal – but it is the first harvest that I am doing so as a 100% independent winemaker. For the past 10 years, I also worked as a winemaker for a Napa Valley winery at the same time. I have wanted to become a fully independent winemaker for a while, and finally this year I felt it was the right time to achieve that dream. I will never look back.