A Legacy Sparkling with Personality

Hailing from a pioneer winemaking family in Napa, Paula Kornell is a Napa native who has seen the region’s rise from idyllic countryside to a world-renowned premium wine destination. Paula has acquired decades of experience throughout the wine industry, having held management positions at Mondavi, Phelps and other wineries. She has been a member of the Board of Napa Valley Vintners and served a term as its President, and has also chaired the famous Napa Wine Auction several times.

Paula Kornell serving her wines at home.

Meeting Paula Kornell and Tasting Her Very First Vintage

Now, Paula is carrying on her family legacy, having launched her own line of methode champenoise (traditional Champagne method) wines last October with Vintage Wine Estates. I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet Paula and experience her great hospitality over a cordial wine lunch at her eclectic St. Helena abode and learn about the many colorful stories behind her brand.

Paula opening her bottle of Blanc de Noir

Kornell Family Legacy

The Kornell family history is interwoven with the Wine Country, starting with Paula’s father, Napa wine pioneer Hanns Kornell. Originally from Germany, Kornell studied winemaking at Geisenheim Enological Institute in the 1930s and applied that training working for French and Italian wineries. After a narrow escape from Dachau Concentration Camp, he arrived in America with $2 in his pocket. Hanns worked in wineries until he was able to purchase the historic Larkmead Estate, one of California’s oldest wineries, which was established by Lillian Hitchcock Coit in 1884.

The historic Larkmead Winery. Credit: Napa Wine Project

Paula’s Wine Beginnings

After college, Paula’s adventurous spirit led her to a brief period working in vineyards around Europe and studying winemaking at Geisenheim, as did her father. Later, she did a stint selling Burgundy wines for the famous New York wine merchant Sherry-Lehmann. Although she enjoyed filling orders for celebrities on Madison Ave, her father eventually persuaded her to fly back to California on a one-way, first class ticket to work for Kornell Cellars.

The iconic Sherry Lehmann on Madison Ave.

The Difference Between Sparkling Wine and Champagne

While sharing her Brut, an elegant blend of Central Californian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Paula noted how American consumers were unaccustomed to the “sparkling wine” definition initially. “Champagne” was perceived as better, but consumers increasingly understand why the change in nomenclature was made. International laws restrict the Champagne label to wines made only in this French appellation, even though many premium sparkling wines are made elsewhere using the same method. Her family has long used this traditional Champagne winemaking method in making their California wines.

Kornell Brut in a bucket.

Paula’s Blanc De Noir

Paula also opened a bottle of her inaugural 2017 Blanc De Noir, made with 98% Pinot Noir from the classic Mitsuko’s Vineyard in the Los Carneros area, ideally situated to catch breezes from San Pablo Bay. Remarkable was how it tasted like a more aged Champagne: complex, with toasty notes and a crisp hint of zesty citrus. It was an absolutely delightful pairing with her homemade galette made with fresh vegetables from her yard.

Our wine pairing lunch.

How the Wine Started

Paula’s own wine brand came into being when she was approached by long-time family friend and CEO of Vintage Wine Estates, Pat Roney, who wanted to boost their premium boutique wine portfolio with great sparkling wines. The winemaker behind Paula’s wine is Robin Ankhurst, who has worked harvests from Burgundy and Languedoc to Marlborough and Barossa and now directs winemaking for several esteemed Napa wineries. I noticed the beautifully etched Riedel glasses with her logo, which she explained was the Men of Canaan – the same logo used in years past by Hanns Kornell Champagne, denoting Israelites carrying grapes to the “Promised Land,” which for her family was California.

Paula, her Blanc de Noir and me.

Staying Positive and Resilient

It’s not only Paula’s great wines and the history that stand out, but also her resilient and jovial spirit. To be sure, lockdowns caused by the current pandemic will pose challenges for wineries needing to sell excess inventory, but she sees pockets of opportunity for those who build relationships and continue to get involved. Despite the current pandemic, Paula has managed to progress with building partnerships through Zoom calls.

Best Wine Tasting Experience at Serego Alighieri Winery in Italy

(Contributed by Gabriele Brusamarello) – My best tasting room experience was at the Serego Alighieri Estate, in the heart of the Valpolicella wine region in Italy. Located just a few miles away from the historic and magical city of Verona and beautiful Lake Garda, the winery estate was establish in 1353. It was a sunny and warm day in spring 2012, and I went to visit the winery with some basketball teammates since we were playing for the Verona basketball team. When we first arrived, we were surrounded by nature, astonished by the historic beauty and uniqueness of the location, and our friend Massimilla (daughter of the owners of the winery) warmly welcomed us and gave us a great tour of the whole Serego Alighieri estate and vineyards.

Estate

Serego Alighieri Estate in Italy

When we first arrived, we were astonished by the historic beauty and uniqueness of the location, surrounded by nature. Our friend Massimilla (daughter of the owners of the winery) warmly welcomed us and gave us a great tour of the whole estate and vineyards.

Tasting the Amarone Wine

After the tour, Massimilla escorted us to the cellar, where grapes used to make Amarone were left to rest during the winter months for hundreds of years. We were welcomed by Massimilla’s family inside the cellar who made us feel like family the moment we walked in. A place with centuries of history immediately became an extremely friendly environment, which made the whole experience even more pleasant and memorable.

Inside the cellar we were offered many red wines that Serego Alighieri produced, including Valpolicella Classico Superiore, the Recioto Della Valpolicella, and delicious Amarone Della Valpolicella of different years. They were complemented by a variety of salame, prosciutto crudo, and porchetta, as well as different cheeses. Pairing wine and food helped wine to release its best flavors and aromas –it was absolutely perfect.

History and Family Linked to Dante

What made this so special is the history and family. In fact, Massimilla’s father told us that the estate was bought in 1353 by the son of the Supreme Poet Dante Alighieri. The fact that we were able to walk around made the whole experience surreal, magical, and breathtaking. I will always remember that special day and to be the experience that made me love wine even more than before.

The Ancient Connection Between Women and Wine

Originally published in Wayward Tendrils Quarterly (Vol 18, No. 2, April 2008), Liz Thach, Ph.D.  Posted here by request. 

Most historians now agree that wine was most likely discovered by a woman. However what is often left out of the history books are the ancient stories of the goddesses of wine – most who came into being centuries before Bacchus and Dionysus.

Modern technology and carbon-dating has helped us prove that wine from cultivated grapes was being made in what is now modern-day Georgia, in the Caucasus Mountains around 6,000 B.C. There are also reports of wine remains in Armenia, Turkey, Iraq, Iran and China which claim to be older than those found in Georgia – though there is some confusion over whether it is grape, rice, date, or honey wine. Regardless of the birthplace of wine, it is commonly agreed that because women were involved in the gathering of berries, grapes, and other crops that it was most likely a woman who picked some grapes and placed them in a pottery container in a cool dark corner. When she remembered to check the container a few weeks later, she found a fermented beverage that had a delightful flavor and a pleasant inebriating effect. Thus wine was born.

From Persia, there is an ancient legend documented in the Epic of Gilgamish that supports a woman discovering wine. She was a member of the harem in the palace of King Jamshid, and she suffered from severe migraine headaches. One day the king found that a jar containing his favorite grapes had a strange smell and was foaming. Alarmed he ordered that it be set aside as unsafe to eat. When the woman heard of this, she decided to drink from the container in an effort to end her life with the poison inside. Instead she found the taste of the beverage very delightful. Furthermore, it cured her headache and put her in a joyful mood. When she told King Jamshid, he tasted the “wine” as well and then ordered that more should be made and shared with the whole court.

It was from this same part of the world, in the Sumerian Empire in what is modern-day Iraq, that the most ancient goddess of wine is first mentioned. Her name was Gestin and she was being worshiped as early as 3000 BC. Gestin, which translates as wine, vine, and/or grape, is also mentioned in the ancient Indus manuscript, the Rig Veda. Experts believe that it is quite reasonable that the first gods of wine were women, because the oldest deities were female agriculture goddesses of the earth and fertility. Gestin was most likely born from this agriculture base and over the centuries came to represent wine.

Later, in 1500 BC, we find mention of another wine goddess, Paget, in the same part of the world. The clay tablets refer to her as working in the vineyard and helping to make wine.

Then around 300 to 400 BC as wine became more prominent in Sumeria, a new wine goddess, Siduri, is described as living near the city of Ur. She is reported as welcoming the hero in the Epic of Gilgamish to a garden with the tree of life which is hung with ruby red fruit with tendrils. Siduri is referred to as the Maker of Wine.

Across the deserts in Egypt the wine goddess Renen-utet is mentioned on hieroglyphic tablets as blessing the wine as early as 1300 BC. Interestingly she is known as both a wine and snake goddess. She usually had a small shrine near the wine press and often her figure would appear on the spout where the grape juice flowed into the receiving tank. She is sometimes joined by Ernutet, the Egyptian goddess of plenty, in blessing the grape harvest.

What is intriguing about these wine goddesses is how little is known about them, whereas Dionysus and Bacchus have much more coverage in the literature. It is possible that this is because they are more recent. The earliest records of Dionysus, the Greek wine god, show he appeared around 500BC in the Greek Islands, whereas Gestin dates from 3000 BC. However, the concept of Dionysus, as a child god who was born of a mortal woman and a god, is very ancient and can be traced back 9000 years. These depictions however — which are amazingly similar to the images of Mother Mary with the Baby Jesus – do not include wine. Dionysus as a wine god came later. Indeed, another legend says that Dionysus came from the lands near Sumeria to the islands of Greece. Is Dionysus somehow connected with Gestin, Paget and Siduri?  Bacchus, the Roman name for Dionysus, became known in the literature around 200 BC as the Greek Empire was fading. Other wine gods included Osiris from Egypt and I-Ti from China.

So what are the implications of these ancient connections between women and wine? Why have the ancient wine goddesses been lost in the history of time? Is it because the culture changed towards a more masculine image, which gave rise to the male wine gods? Is this why in the period of the Roman Empire, women were banned from drinking wine? Indeed, a husband who caught his wife drinking wine could legally kill her on the spot. And the depiction of the raging Bacchanalia rites, in which women chased after Bacchus in drunken ecstasy while they tore animals to shreds is hardly flattering to women.

So perhaps it is time to resurrect the image of the ancient wine goddesses, and the blessings of a plentiful harvest and the joy that wine can bring in moderation. After all, the cultural tides of the world have changed again, and today in wine-drinking countries, women are the primary purchasers of wine. The connection between women and wine has always been there. Today it is growing stronger, with a focus on friendship, romance, health and balance.

REFERENCES

ü  Barnet, R.D. (1980). “A Winged Goddess of Wine on an Electrum Plaque,”Anatolian Studies, Vol. 30, Special Number in Honour of the Seventieth Birthday of Professor O. R. Gurney, pp. 169-178

ü  Hackin, J. (1932). Asiatic Mythology. London: George G. Harrap & Co.

ü  Johnson, H. (1989). The Story of Wine. UK: Octopus Publishing Group.

ü  McGovern, P.E. (2003). Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viticulture. NJ: Princeton University Press.

ü  Ushanas, E.R. (1997) The Indus Script and the Rg-Veda. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass

ü  Y ounger, W. (1966) Gods, Men and Wine. Ohio: The Wine and Food Society Limited.

ABOUT THE ARTIST: Vivian Olsen is wildlife, landscape, and portrait artist living in Redmond Oregon. Her media include watercolors, oils, pastels, and pen & ink. Her work is currently exhibited in art galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Bend, Oregon, and Meredith, NH. She has received numerous recognition awards for her work, and has traveled widely throughout Europe and Asia to attend art workshops. Vivian holds a B.A. in Fine Art and an M.A. in Education which allowed her to teach art in secondary school for over 18 years. Originally from California but currently living in Oregon, she is an active member in the National Oil & Acrylic Painter’s Society, the Central Oregon Art Association and is a Signature Member of the New Mexico Watercolor Society.  http://www.vivianolsen.com/