Laura Díaz Muñoz: An Unexpected Trip to Napa | Wine
MIRA ADVANI HONEYCUTT
Napa Valley has attracted many young winemakers from around the world. But in Laura Díaz Muñoz’s case, the trip to Napa was meant to be just a brief stopover before moving on.
The young Spanish-born winemaker arrived in Napa in 2007 at Cardinale to do an internship with famous Napa winemaker Chris Carpenter. “I came from New Zealand to work a harvest here,” said Díaz Muñoz, who is now a winemaker and managing director of Ehlers Estate. She was actually on her way to Argentina after the Napa harvest. She never succeeded.
“Chris offered me a job,” said Díaz Muñoz, when meeting in the comfortable tasting room at Ehlers Estate in Saint Helena. (According to Spanish tradition, she has both her mother’s and her father’s last names.) Even then, her thought was to stay in Napa for maybe a few years. “I didn’t think it would last that long,” she confessed with amusement.
It turns out that was the start of his ten-year association with Jackson Family Wines, starting as an intern and then as an associate winemaker on such prestigious names as Lokoya, La Jota and Mt. Brave. Thus, Díaz Muñoz honed his skills working with some of the most renowned vineyards in the mountains and valleys.
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In 2011, she was ready to start her own project with Jackson Family Wines. She created Galerie Wines, focused on a portfolio titled “Portraits of Places,” featuring Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc wines from some of Napa’s most sought-after appellations.
But the winemaker wanted to expand her knowledge beyond simple winemaking. Ehlers Estate offered this opportunity. In 2018, she joined the Bordeaux domain in Sainte-Hélène.
“I wanted to know more about the company,” she explained. “Here, I manage the operations, the vines, the sales; I can be a part of everything. Sometimes I’m the electrician.
Ehlers Estate sits on a 50 acre property with 40 acres planted with Bordeaux varietals arranged in small blocks of vines and cultivated organically. The stone barn, which is now the cellar, was built by Bernard Ehlers in 1886.
Over time, the estate saw several owners until entrepreneurs and philanthropists Jean and Sylviane Leducq acquired it in the mid-1990s and created the Leducq Foundation. The charitable trust funds international cardiovascular research programs, hence the heart logo, which is artistically embedded in the letter E of the Ehlers logo. The winery is owned by this trust and all profits from wine sales and tasting costs go to this trust.
We tasted a range of four 2018 wines, the first vintage of Díaz Muñoz at the Ehlers estate. A 100 percent Cabernet Franc grape evoked violet and dried herbs. Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with a touch of Cabernet Franc expressed a surge of cherries and dark chocolate. Portrait, a Bordeaux-style blend, focused on cherries and cassis. Intense with ripe red fruits, the Jean Leducq Cabernet Sauvignon with a deep robe was supported by velvety tannins.
“Each year I select a block that shows a strong personality,” commented Díaz Muñoz of this small batch wine (only 369 cases produced) named after the late patriarch. “I heard that Jean had a strong personality.
The winemaker’s philosophy is centered on the sense of place, where the wines come from. “I work a lot in agriculture to minimize the work in the cellar,” she emphasizes.
Born in Madrid, Díaz Muñoz was drawn to science as a child and studied biology and food sciences at the Autonoma University of Madrid. An internship with the winemaker Jose Pascual Gracia led to work on the harvest in the wine region of Manchuela. Impressed by her work, Gracia recommended her name to the Department of Oenology at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, where she obtained her post-graduate degree in Oenology and Viticulture, although a female winemaker was a rarity at the time. and was not accepted by the community.
Among several jobs, she worked in the laboratory of the Finca Constancia winery in Toledo, Spain. “I wanted to do more,” she said. Her love for Sauvignon Blanc and the need to improve her English skills led her to work the harvest in New Zealand in February 2007. A colleague there suggested a trip to Napa and a phone conversation with Carpenter. sealed its immediate future.
“When I arrived here in Napa, it was difficult to communicate in English; it took a few years, ”she said in perfect English now.
“It was more than I expected,” she commented on the beauty of Napa. “Here the winegrower is an important thing, opportunities opened up to me and my work was appreciated.”
As a Spanish winemaker, Díaz Muñoz is a rarity in Napa. Although not sure if she was the first one, she admitted, “I don’t know anyone else.”
In Napa, Díaz Muñoz also met Jacob Cheney, a professional in the wine industry. The two married in 2014 and live in Windsor with their two sons.
Díaz Muñoz recently enrolled in the Master of Wine course to further his studies in the field of wine. “We feel comfortable with our palate,” she noted, “but the more you taste, the more your palate develops. Trends change and consumers change, I don’t think I will make the same wine. in 10 years.
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