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Famous Winemakers in California

Written by Madeline Puckette

There are a few truly exceptional winemakers who are shaping the world of wine through innovation and style. In addition to their own wine, they often take on additional consulting projects and mentor fledgling winemakers. Some of the most famous winemakers have their stakes in dozens of projects all over the world, garnering them the title Flying Winemaker.

The following winemakers are the puppet masters of the California wine industry and have inspired much of the wine we drink today. Their influence is apparent in the wake of new wineries and would-be winemakers who mimic their style and methods.
Famous Winemakers from California


The Most Expensive Wine in America

Heidi Peterson Barrett

In 1992 Robert Parker awarded Screaming Eagle a one-hundred point score making winemaker Heidi Barrett an overnight sensation. Then in 2000, a 6-liter bottle of 1992 Screaming Eagle sold for $500,000, the most expensive California wine ever sold. Today Screaming Eagle continues its reign demanding the highest retail of any other California wine thanks to Heidi Barrett’s efforts. Now a world famous wine consultant, Heidi has launched La Sirena, a wine of similar quality to that of Screaming Eagle. Even at around $150 a bottle, La Sirena wine is considered substantially more affordable.

Heidi Peterson Barrett has worked with these wineries: Dalla Valle Vineyards, Paradigm Winery, Grace Family Vineyards, Amuse Bouche, Lamborn Family Vineyards, Showket Vineyards, Fantesca, Diamond Creek Vineyards and Niebaum-Coppola.
Screaming Eagle Wines 1992 by Heidi BarrettLa Sirena by Screaming Eagle Winemaker Heidi BarrettAmuse Bouche by Heidi BarrettDalle Valle Winery Paradigm VineyardsDiamond Creek Vineyards on Diamond Mountain District


Escape From California

Paul Hobbs

Paul Hobbs started his wine career at Mondavi in 1977. Paul Hobbs focus on oak aging techniques led him to make great wines with Mondavi and Simi Winery. In 1991 he struck out on his own, developing the Paul Hobbs brand began consulting for other wineries. Paul Hobbs realized the potential for Malbec after his success with the varietal at Bodegas Catena in Mendoza, Argentina. Today he continues to make fantastic Malbec and Cabernet through his partnership at Viña Cobos, Mendoza and other Argentinian brands.
Affordable Introductory Wine: Crossbarn

Paul Hobbs worked with Simi Winery, Peter Michael, Fisher Vineyards, Lewis Cellars, Bodegas Catena, Pulenta, La Flor, Riglos, Château de Mercuès and Finca 8.
vina-cobos-paul-hobbs-argentina-malbecOpus One was owned by Mondavi until 2004 when it was sold to Constellation Brandslewis-cellars-cult-cabernet-paul-hobbsfelino-malbec-argentina-paul-hobbscobos-bramare-by-paul-hobbsCrossbarn Napa Cabernet and Chardonnay by Paul Hobbs


Putting Zinfandel Back on The Map


Helen Turley

Helen Turley was already known for Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in Napa when her brother asked her to produce Old Vine Zinfandel at Turley Winery. At Turley she found success in her signature winemaking style of using ripe old vine zinfandel grapes and natural yeasts. Eventually Helen started her own label, Marcassin, which produces Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. They are rich wines that see extended barrel aging. Some have noted they’re as good as drinking gold and just about as expensive.
Affordable Introductory Wine: Turley Wine Cellars, BR Cohn

Helen Turley has had her hand in Pahlmeyer, B.R. Cohn Olive Hill Vineyard, Turley Wine Cellars, Peter Michael Winery, Colgin, Bryant Family Vineyard, Martinelli Winery, Green & Red, Harrison, La Jota, Landmark and more
marcassin-chardonnay-by-helen-turleyturley-zinfandelpeter-michael-winerypahlmeyer-winerybr-cohn-winerymartinelli wine


If You Have $500 Lying Around


Bob Levy

Bob Levy started his career as a winemaker at Rombauer in the early 1980s and then devoted 15 years as winemaker at Merryvale. During his tenure at Merryvale, Levy partnered with Real Estate Developer Bill Harlan to create a ‘first growth’ Napa red wine. The wine, Harlan Estate, commands prices close to $700. Bob Levy is responsible for Harlan Estate and the two other Harlan brands: Bond and The Maiden. Since his success with Harlan, Bob Levy started a personal brand, Levy & McClellan, with his wife, winemaker Martha McClellan.

harlan-estate-bob-levybond-wine-bob-levylevy-and-mcclellan Ampersandmerryvale-bob-levy


French Winemaker Lost In Napa


Philippe Melka

Philippe Melka cut his teeth at Chateau Haut-Brion, Badia O Coltibuono (Italy), Chateau Petrus (France) and Chittering Estate (Western Australia). Realizing the potential of Napa he dedicated his life’s work to consulting and eventually starting Melka Wines with his wife Cherie.
Affordable Introductory Wine: Cliff Lede
Known for Melka Wines, Gemstone, Dominus Estate, Cliff Lede, Hundred Acre, Vineyard 29, Seavey Vineyard, Parallel, Moone-Tsai, Dana Estates, Lail Vineyards.



Inky Stuff with Weird Grapes


Robert Foley

Robert Foley became a famous winemaker after his stint at Pride Mountain Vineyards. Foley has a clear passion for alternative grapes such as Charbono and Petite Sirah and makes incredibly rich red blends under his personal brand, Robert Foley Vineyards.
Affordable Introductory Wine: Griffin by Robert Foley
Bob Foley is known for Switchback Ridge, Hourglass, Paloma, School House, and Engel Family wines and his own label Robert Foley located on Howell Mountain





Tony Soter

In 1982, Tony Soter founded Etude Wines specializing in Pinot Noir. After a lifetime of California wine consulting with partner Mia Klein (see below), Tony Soter decided to leave California for good. He currently spends all his efforts on his Oregon wine label, Soter Vineyards.
Affordable Introductory Wine: Soter Vineyards
Tony Soter has worked with such famous wineries as Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Stonegate, Spring Mountain, Chappellet, Sequoia Grove, Robert Pepi, Araujo, Niebaum-Coppola, Shafer, Spottswoode, Viader and Dalle Valle.

etude-wineschappellet-winerysoter-vineyardsviader-wineshafer wine


Redefining Pinot Noir


Kris Curran

Kris Curran put Pinot Noir back in the limelight with her most famous wine Sea Smoke, which was featured in the movie Sideways. She currently lives in Santa Ynez, an area that’s expanding in popularity.
Kris Curran has consulted at Koehler Winery, Seasmoke Cellars, Foley Wines, Cambria Winery, Badge and D’Alfonso-Curran Wines, with husband Bruno D’Alfonso,

sea smoke-pinot-noirfoley-winesd'alfonso-curran-winesbadge-winerycambria


Other Winemakers to Geek Over

  • Merry Edwards Mount Eden Vineyards, Matanzas Creek Winery, Merry Edwards Vineyards
  • Mia Klein Araujo Estate, Spottswoode and Viader, as well as the full-time winemaker at the vaunted Dalla Valle and the proprietor of Selene
  • Mark Herold Hestan, Kamen, Harris, Buccella, Kobalt, Celani Family Vineyards, Maze and The Vineyardist
  • Thomas Rivers Brown Outpost, Turley Winery, Schrader, Maybach, Aston Estate, Vieux-Os, Double Diamond

Written byMadeline Puckette

James Beard Award-winning author and Wine Communicator of the Year. I co-founded Wine Folly to help people learn about wine. @WineFolly

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