The first Black woman winemaker always knew she had a gift for spotting something good, so when she came across the opportunity to ferment her own wine, she knew she wanted to make it a career.
Victoria Coleman, 53, said her first batch was “so good” she couldn’t wait to explore more about the art of wine.
“I picked the grapes in the rain in St. Helena and then I got through fermentation and I tasted the wine,” Coleman told The Press Democrat. “I said to myself, ‘Oh my God. This is so good. I did this, and it’s so good at this stage when it’s so raw.’ … I feel like I’ve been chasing (winemaking) ever since.”
Coleman moved to Napa Valley in 1998 after spending years in Seattle, where she was born and raised. A man she was dating lived in the region and he just so happened to work in the wine industry. Before transitioning to the industry herself, she had been working in tech, but because Napa Valley didn’t offer many options for her in that field, she decided to work at a winery.
Coleman began working at Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars as an assistant. It was there that she met the iconic vintner Warren Winiarski, known for his Stag’s Leap cabernet sauvignon, which won the best red wine in the Paris Tasting of 1976. Winning the award at the time changed the game of the world’s perception of California wine.
Coleman studied at UC Davis and in 2008, she was named the first Black woman to graduate from its enology and viticulture program.
While sharing a 1994 vintage bottle from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar with a friend, Coleman said “we looked at each other and said, ‘Wow, I feel that’s what I grew up on, [Warren Winiarski’s] wine.’ He always talks about a sense of time and place, allowing the site to show itself through different vintages. That’s how I like to make wine, and that’s what I hope I’m doing.”
Today Coleman produces a rich variety of wines, including sauvignon, pinot, merlot and a syrah-based blend.
“Sometimes during my first day of harvest, when I’m pulling the trigger on when to pick, I think, ‘Is this really my job?’” Coleman said.