This question always arises at dinner functions or wine tasting events. While I know I will unfortunately leave out a name or two, I will attempt to answer the question.
Following the two advent guard winemakers in Napa is a good starting point. They are Philippe Melka and Thomas Rivers Brown. Between the two of them who knows how many wineries carry their prestigious name as wine maker or consultant (Entre Nous, Skipstone, Outpost, Kinsella, Vineyard 29, Revana, etc). Also in this exalted list is Celia Welch of Scarecrow, Corra Wines, Bucella and Lindstrom wines. Their wines are remarkable and should never be passed up! Many writers have given accolades to each, devoting praise with multi-page spreads. I collect and follow their wines each year — they are all exquisite wines.
That said, I would like to focus on some of the “next tier” of exceptional winemakers who are constantly honing their craft and providing us the consumers with intoxicating creations or simple making an elegant varietal. For simplicity sake I am going to list them by two categories. The first category being those who have been doing this for years but have not received their full complement of notoriety. We will call those: The Humble & Craftsmen Superstar Winemakers (HCSW). The next category is identifying the next level of winemakers coming on to the scene or who have already had some excellent wins, like the SF Chronicle Tasting Event. We will call them: The Rising Superstar Winemakers (RSW).
Name Category Wineries
Steven Kent Mirassou HCSW Lineage & Steven Kent
Rhonda Wood HCSW Wood Family Vineyards
Steve Burman RSW 3 Steve’s Winery
David Akiyoshi HCSW Lange Twins
Karen Birmingham RSW
Tom Hoffman RSW Heritage Oak
Rudy Zuidema HCSW Red Cap, Alyris, Kent Price,
Chad Alexander HCSW Mia Nipote (Livermore) &
V12 Vineyard Estate
Chuck McKahn RSW Wm Harrison & McKahn Family Vineyard
David Tate HCSW Barnett Vineyards & Tate Wines
Pam Starr HCSW Crocker & Starr, Bridesmaid
Scott Young RSW YoungInglewood, Venn
Kirk Venge HCSW Trespass Vineyards, Venge Vineyards
Tom Garrett HCSW Detert
Michael Desantis HCSW Harumph
Vince Kalny RSW Incendium Wines
Laura Zahtila Swanton HCSW Zahtila & Laura Michael
Sean Capiaux HCSW O’Shaughnessy, Capiaux & Progeny
Ted Osborne HCSW Phifer Pavitt Winery
Bob Foley HCSW Switchback Ridge & Robert Foley Winery
Steve Ledson HCSW Ledson Winery & Mountain Terraces
Fred Nunes HCSW St Rose Winery
Matt Taylor HCSW Reuling Vineyards
Steve Dutton HCSW Dutton-Goldfield
Leo Hansen RSW Stuhlmuller Vineyards
Ron Pieretti HCSW Prospect 772
Ryan Teeter RSW La Folia Winery
My upfront apologies if I inadvertently left someone off this list. I will be updating this once a year going forward so you are welcome to ping me.
These folks are absolutely some of the best winemakers that Northern California offers. Pick up a bottle to taste yourself!
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