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The partnership between winemaker and grape grower is paramount to the quality in the glass. ZIATA winemaker Jennifer Williams straddles both worlds, bringing an impressive depth of knowledge about viticulture to her craft in the cellar. She spends as much time walking in the vineyard rows as she does tastings from the barrels. Jennifer’s uncanny ability to bring wine grapes to their highest expression comes from an abiding connection to the land.
“The first thing we do as winemakers is make decisions about which growers and vineyards we want to work with,” said Jennifer. “Understanding soil types and canopy management and all of the elements that make a vineyard what it is takes a certain amount of experience and intuition. Rather than relaying my vision for the final wine to someone else, I’m able to impact the road that gets us to that vision through viticulture.”
Hers was the ultimate education by doing. Jennifer grew up on an orchard in rural Valley Center, outside San Diego, and spent her summers grazing between fruit trees. In those formative years, she was already struck by how varied the flavors of an apple could be from tree to tree and at different ripeness levels. A deep fascination was born, driving Jennifer to earn her bachelor’s degree in agriculture from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.
Had it not been for an internship at Napa Valley winery Beaulieu Vineyard during college, Jennifer might have chosen a life tending animals or farming produce. Armed with a truck, a book of vineyard maps and a refractometer, she checked vineyards for BV and simply fell in love with Napa and the wine industry. There, she found the perfect match between the pursuit of flavor discovered on her parent’s orchard and the science and instinct of farming—and ultimately, winemaking.
Stints at wineries in Paso Robles followed, both in the vineyards and in the lab, and she joined Trefethen as an enologist after graduation. She continued her hands-on education in the Rioja Alavesa region of Spain, then split her time between Napa wineries Araujo Estate and Spottswoode mentored by esteemed winemakers. All the while, she continued to work both in the vineyard and the cellar, honing her niche as an expert in winemaking and vineyard management.
Today, as the winemaker behind ZIATA, Jennifer seeks out-of-the-way vineyard sites to craft vibrant wines with fresh varietal character. She employs boutique winemaking techniques–think small barrel fermenters—to create serious wines with personality and depth. The result is a collection that honors the land as much as the winemaker’s imprint.
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