Facts On California Women Winemakers

Wine the nectar of Napa Valley

Fast Facts of Female Winemakers in California

Hannah Weinberger is the first recognized woman winemaker in California. After her husband's death in 1882, she became the first female winery owner and winemaker in Napa Valley. She ran the Weinberger winery until Prohibition laws closed it in 1920. The winery and homestead are on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Josephine Tychson, a contemporary of Weinberger in Napa, was a winery owner, but not a winemaker. She completed the family winery in 1886, following the death of her spouse, and operated the winery until 1894.

Mary Ann Graf, the first woman to receive an 

enology degree from UC Davis, is the first woman winemaker of the modern era being defined as post 1965 when the Napa and California wine country began its renewal as a serious world wine making region.

Graf, who received her degree in 1965, first worked as chemist and assistant winemaker with Gibson Wine Co. in Central Valley before being appointed winemaker at Simi Winery in Healdsburg in 1973. She was followed at UC Davis by Zelma Long in 1970, whose first position was at Robert Mondavi, Barbara Lindblom in 1972, Merry Edwards in 1973, Sandra Belcher in 1974, Milla Handley in 1975, Alison Doran-Green in 1976, Julianne Laks in 1977, and Cathy Corison, Carol Shelton, and Jill Davis in 1978. Each of these modern-era pioneers is an esteemed winemaker and leadersin the field.

The first Women Winemakers to also be owners to have their names on their labels are...

    1982: Milla Handley made her first Handley Cellars Chardonnay under the Handley label in Mendocino.

    1984: Merry Edwards left Matanzas Creek to devote herself full time to consulting and Merry Vintners, a small winery that she and her family founded in the Russian River Valley. In 1997, she co-founded a business venture that allowed her to produce Merry Edwards wines in Sonoma County.

    1986: Delia Viader founded Viader Vineyards in Napa. Her first vintage was 1989, when she produced 1,200 cases of wine. 

    1987: Cathy Corison made the first vintage of Corison Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa. 

    1989: Lane Tanner instituted the Lane Tanner label in Santa Barbara County.

    1989: Marty Bannister established Bannister Wines in the Russian River Valley AVA.

Hannah Weinberger First Female Wine Maker Controversy

Hannah Weinberger born Oct. 7, 1840, and after marrying John Weinberger in 1871, the couple moved to the Napa Valley. They bought 240 acres and spent three years building a three-story stone winery, which was completed in 1876, with 35 acres planted in vineyard.

After the death of her husband due to a shooting Hannah and her family picked up the pieces and she took a leadership role not typical of women of that era.  She took over operation of the winery and vineyards and also took John’s place as a director of the Bank of St. Helena.

There seems to be controversy over whom was the first wine maker. Some sources including myself have reported Josephine Tychson,

as the first wine maker in California.

 In reality both were pioneers but Josephine’s husband committed suicide in 1886 and Hannah’s husband was murdered in 1882. Thus it appears that Hannah was the first to take over a winery as a wine maker.

Many details of Hannah Weinberger are not known whereas the history of Josephine is more widely published. The Historic Society of Napa is fuzzy on which wine maker or winery owner was first. Desth records make us conclude it was Hannah.

Josephine also had a very interesting story...

Josephine Marlin Tychson (March 5, 1855 – December 18, 1939) was the first woman to build and operate a winery in the U.S. In 1886, she established a winery in St. Helena, selling it in 1894. Its name changed to Lombarda Cellars and is now Freemark Abbey Winery.

Tychson was born in 1855, into a wealthy family from Pennsylvania. John Marlin (d. 1878) and Eliza (née Bower; 1823-1860), her parents, had also lived in Astoria, Oregon; Tychson was one of 8 children. She grew up in Philadelphia before the family moved to San Lorenzo. At the age of 8, her mother died and her father remarried Eliza’s sister. Tychson’s father and aunt were influential from a young age in her development as an independent, young women.

Following the death of her sister Catherine in 1874, she married the Danish farmer, John C. Tychson. Their first child, Annette, was born in 1878. In 1879, the young family moved to Denmark, where John took care of some affairs, before returning to the United States.

They moved to the Napa Valley in northern California, where they purchased a 147 acre vineyard in St. Helena from William James Sayward, a sea captain. They planted the vineyards in 1881, establishing Tychson Cellars five years later.

She lost her tuberculosis-afflicted husband to suicide at the Newland House Hotel in Oakland, leaving her to look after two children and the estate. However, it was during this mourning period that Josephine exhibited a penchant for understanding how to survive. Not only burdened with the upbringing of two children, Josephine was also confronted with the heavy task of vineyard construction and design.

Both she and her foreman implemented an ambitious project for the assemblage of a new wine cellar. The capacity within the newly forged space boasted of being able to contain 20,000-30,000 gallons of wine cargo; an impressive size for its time.

For eight years, Josephine devoted her life to the subtle caretaking of her crops. She not only nurtured her children but also the soil of her land, using her knowledge and upbringing to ensure its’ fertility.

Unfortunately, by 1893, her crops were unable to resist the harmful advancement of phylloxera.

According to an 1890 report by the California Board of State Viticultural Commissioners, the Tychson Winery cultivated Zinfandel, Riesling and Burgundy.

She was a true pioneer and after her winery earned acclaim, Josephine’s name was even listed within the Napa-Sonoma County Directory of 1889-90, as a “fruit grower/wine maker. A first for a female.

As a result, she sold the winery in the following year to foreman Nels Larson; Larson sold it to Anton Forni in 1898, who renamed it Lombarda Cellars after the region of Italy that he hailed from, a name it retained until it went out of business.

Tychson, who never remarried, bought a white house opposite the vineyard. She was described as “an intrepid Victorian widow who could often be spotted riding”.

She died in 1939. Upon her death, the estate was sold to Charles Freeman, Mark Foster, and Abbey Ahern, giving it its name “Freemark Abbey”.

Tychson has been showcased by Napa County Historical Society in the past with a temporary exhibition for her historic contributions to the wine industry in an exhibit titled “Harvesting History,” which documented the early viticulture of the Napa Valley.

Although Josephine’s winery does not exist today, her home still remains —a remnant of her legacy as one of first true female vintners in California. It’s located beneath the Freemark Abbey Gift Shop in St. Helena.

Records support both cases for Hannah and Josephine. Josephine seemed to secure a higher profile in historical documents thus the confusion as to who was California's first female wine maker. We on the other hand celebrate both as pioneers who's names continue to inspire conversation in the Napa Valley and beyond. 

Modern Female Wine Making Pioneers

MaryAnn Graf. In 1965, first woman to receive a BS in enology (then fermentation science) at UC Davis and first woman to serve on the Board of Directors of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture. Appointed winemaker at Simi in Sonoma in 1973. Six years later, she left Simi and with Marty Bannister co-founded Vinquiry, a highly successful business that specialized in providing analytical and consulting services to the winemaking industry. Graf is now retired.

Zelma Long. BS from Oregon State University in 1965. She enrolled in the UC Davis master's program in food science in 1968, the only woman in her class. Interrupting her studies, she began her winemaking career in 1970 working the harvest at Robert Mondavi Winery, rapidly working her way up to the position of Chief Enologist. She moved to Simi in 1979 where she was winemaker and CEO for nearly 20 years, one of the first women to run both the winemaking and business sides of a California winery. Regarded as one of the early technical leaders in winemaking. Her national and international awards include induction into the James Beard Hall of Fame in 1996, The James Beard Wine and Spirits Professional of the Year Award in 1997, and induction into the Vintner's Hall of Fame in 2010. Long is currently a winemaking partner for Vilafonté in South Africa and a consulting winemaker in California.

Barbara Lindblom. BS in fermentation science from UC Davis in 1972; first position was Laboratory Director for ten years under Zelma Long at Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley and Simi Winery in Sonoma County. Lindblom has had a successful consulting career since 1984.

Merry Edwards. BS in physiology from UC Berkeley. MS in food science with an emphasis in enology from UC Davis in 1973, where she was one of three women in her class and the only one to become a winemaker. After many years as a winemaker for other wineries, she and her spouse built their own Merry Edwards Winery in 2006. A celebrated winemaker, Edwards was the third women to be inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame in 2013 and the fourth woman to receive the James Beard Award for Outstanding Wine, Spirits, or Beer Professional in the United States in that same year.

Mary Sullivan. First position at Sonoma Vineyards in 1973 where worked in lab under winemaker Dick Arrowood. Joined Sebastiani Vineyards in 1975 as enologist and worked way up to winemaker in 1980. While in this role, initiated the Estate collection of single-vineyard bottlings, including the renowned Cherry Block Cabernet Sauvignon. Promoted to Director of Winemaking in1986, one of the first female Directors of Winemaking at a major winery. Winemaker at Beringer 2001 to 2009. In 2010, Sullivan joined Bear Creek Winery in Lodi as Senior Winemaker, remaining there until leaving for semi-retirement in 2016.

Dawnine Dyer. BS in biology from UC Santa Cruz. Began her wine career in 1974 at the Robert Mondavi Winery located in Oakville. Recruited two years later to the Napa Valley start-up Domaine Chandon where she pioneered use of French Champagne production methods in California's fledgling sparkling wine industry. Also recognized for creating Bordeaux-style single-vineyard blends using Cabernet Sauvignon grapes grown in the Napa Valley. She headed Napa's Domaine Chandon for 25 years and now owns Dyer Vineyards with her husband Bill Dyer. Dyer, who is among the very first women winemakers in Napa, served as President of the Napa Valley Vintners Association and was a member of the founding board of Women for WineSense.

Genevieve Janssens. Born in Morocco and raised and educated in France. Received her National Diploma of Enology in 1974, returned to her family's vineyards, operated an enology laboratory in Provence, and served as a consulting enologist in France until the mid-1970s. She moved to Napa in 1978. In 1997, she became Director of Winemaking at the Robert Mondavi Winery, a position she holds today. Janssens was named Wine Enthusiast's 2010 Winemaker of the Year.

Sandi Belcher. BS from College of William and Mary in Virginia; MS in chemistry and agriculture from UC Davis in 1974. After graduation, she worked in wineries around the world before returning to California as winemaker for Long Vineyards on Pritchard Hill in St. Helena until the property was sold in 2005. Named best winemaker of the year by the San Francisco Chronicle, today she is the highly acclaimed winemaker at Arns Winery in St. Helena, which she owns with her partner John Arns.

Ann Noble. PhD in food science from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. In 1974, first woman hired as a faculty member in the Department of Viticulture and Enology UC Davis. A prolific researcher and inspiring teacher, she taught courses on the science of flavor and aroma and developed the famous "Aroma Wheel." She took a strong interest in students and was an advisor or mentor to many, including Heidi Barrett, Mia Klein, and Celia Welch. Noble retired from UC Davis as Professor Emerita in 2003. She remains active in her area of Wine and Sensory Science and continues to participate in national and international meetings. 

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