Wine, Women and Rebekah Wineburg
Yes, her name really is Rebekah Wineburg, not Weinberg… but WINEburg and she is one of the few women winemakers in Napa Valley and the head winemaker for boutique winery, Quintessa in Rutherford, CA.
In South Florida for the monthly special Cellar 1954 Wine Dinner at Michael Mina’s StripSteak at The Fontainebleau, I caught up with Rebekah for a glass of wine (what else?) and some conversation.
Rebekah was 16 years old when she was first introduced to the world of wine on a trip with her parents and never really looked back. Studying Chemistry and Biology, she became fascinated with viticulture and especially the science of blending various grapes to create the ideal wine. After college, she went on the get her graduate degree at the University of California-Davis. Her semester abroad in Australia included working in a vineyard, where she handled among other tasks, the unenviable task of setting up the nets for the vines.
Today, she handles the wine tasting and blending of both the Quintessa and Illumination wines, the former a rich blend of Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Carménerè and Petit Verdot and the latter a Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grape white blend.
Both are distributed to upscale wine stores and restaurants including the Fontainebleau concepts, Scarpetta, StripSteak and Hakkasan.
The Quintessa Winery is like many of the Napa boutique wineries, family owned and managed. The Huneeus family are originally from Chile and purchased the 280 acres of pristine unfarmed land in the Rutherford appellation in 1989. Today they produce some of the best Cabernet Sauvignon blends in the region garnering top marks from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.
Q: Tell me about being a woman in the wine business
A: Women are still fairly rare in the vineyards and wineries. It is still very much a male-dominated business, but I see more women becoming interested. In California alone, only 10% of the 3700 wineries have a woman winemaker. I do tell anyone, male or female, that it is not an easy job starting out. It is not the glamorous wine tasting over an alfresco lunch in a vineyard. Anyone, male or female should work a harvest and be prepared to start at 5 am and work hard…very hard, even cleaning the drains. At the end of a typical hard day at work, most people want to go home and have a glass of wine to relax. Not me, a hard day to me means tasting up to 200 bottles of wine in a day.
Q: The fires in Napa and Sonoma looked devastating, how did Quintessa fare and what was it like being there during the disaster?
A: I will never forget the date, October 8th was when it really started. Our vineyard and wineries were fine, but I have friends who lost homes including close friends at White Rock Vineyards who lost both their homes and some of the wine in their caves. Fortunately, their vineyards were spared. I know of many wineries still trying to recover. The scariest was having no power, no cell service, no internet, basically no way to communicate, so we did not know how bad it was or who was in danger. They say that high winds downed power lines and that was what caused the fire to start, the winds then spread them quickly. Fortunately, 90% of the grapes had already been harvested in the region and grape vines are very resilient and don’t absorb smoke, so the 2017 vintages are fine.
Q: What trends do you see in wine and winemaking?
A: I hope to see more women choosing winemaking as a vocation, and the growth of authentic interaction with the consumer at intimate wine tastings and dinners, just like the Cellar 1954 Dinners here at StripSteak. Making that personal connection through love of wine and even through social media like Instagram. Personal messages I have gotten from wine lovers inspire me every day.
Q. There is a Food Network, do you see a Wine Network in the future?
A. How fun would that be? I hope so. It would be fun to have big name celeb winemakers hosting Wine Tasting Competitions etc.
Q: If you could have dinner (and wine) with 3 people who would it be?
A. Agustin Huneeus Sr, the original owner/founder of Quintessa for his elegance, passion, and knowledge, Mel Brooks, to keep us laughing, and Louis Pasteur, for his scientific knowledge about chemistry.
Q. If you weren’t a winemaker, what would you be?
A. A Research Biologist or Professor. I love knowing why things happen.
Q. Final thoughts?
A. I hope everyone comes to visit the Napa and Sonoma Valleys soon. Most of the damage from the fires has been repaired and wineries are open and have plenty of wine in their tasting rooms. In addition to wine production, hospitality is very important for the restaurants, shops, and hotels and we hope to see many visitors return very soon.
For more information or to arrange a visit to Quintessa visit their website https://www.quintessa.com/home
For more information about the Cellar 1954 monthly Wine Dinners contact the Fontainebleau at https://fontainebleau.com/packages/miami-beach-restaurant-deals