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Meet Victoria Coleman, Napa's first Black winemaker

Victoria Coleman. (Courtesy)
Victoria Coleman. (Courtesy)

Victoria Coleman is blazing a trail in the world of California winemaking.

She’s the first Black woman to be named a head winemaker in Napa Valley, at Lobo Wines.

5 things to know about Victoria Coleman

Coleman didn’t grow up in a family that drank wine.

She took on winemaking after the death of her mother 17 years ago, though at the time she thought it would be a temporary gig. Coleman moved to Napa from Seattle to be with her partner at the time.

“When I moved to Napa, the only thing [was] you’re either in a restaurant or you’re working in a winery. And so I just started out working in a winery,” she says. “[I] ended up staying for four years and getting into school and just creating my path.”

She was the only woman of color in her winemaking school.

Coleman decided to further her education in winemaking at University of California Davis. Commuting from Napa to Davis created a challenge.

“I didn’t have the friends or the study groups that I would have liked to have had,” she says. “That made it difficult.”

Coleman realized her talent for winemaking when famous critic Robert Parker liked her wine.

At her second vintage, Coleman was sent to a tasting and dinner with Parker. Several other winemakers wanted the now-retired critic to taste their wine, too, she says.

Parker was seated at a table with the restaurant owner, who Coleman knew. She sent him a glass of 2006 Mario Bazan Cabernet Sauvignon. After trying the wine, Parker sent someone come get the bottle and bring it to his table.

“Robert Parker came to me at the end and complimented me and asked me if he could write about the wine that I just made,” Coleman says. “And he gave it a score of 92, which is not like a crazy score, but it sold the wine out immediately.”

Coleman has crushed wine grapes with her feet.

She believes people still use this traditional winemaking method.

“It seems romantic, maybe. I know of wineries that have offered it, and I’ve actually, where I’ve had a small fermentation,” Coleman says. “I shouldn’t say this, but I’ve done it in recent years.”

She likes wines made from hillside vineyards.

Coleman’s favorite wine is Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon from Lobo — a blend of Cabernet with Merlot and Petit Verdot from a hillside vineyard.

“It’s the wine that’s most interesting — where you actually take a sip and you’re thinking about it,” she says. “You’re actually having a conversation about it with yourself or others.”

Without soil on many hillsides, vines struggle to produce great fruit, Coleman says. The minerals from the rock gives the wine structure compared to vines that grow easily down in the valley.

“You get lush, rich fruit, but it’s there’s no struggle and it’s just like the water’s readily there and available,” she says. “I guess probably like people: The less you have to work, the less interesting.”

Lynn Menegon produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Jill RyanAllison Hagan and Francesca Paris adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.