Wednesdays with Winemakers – Tina Mitchell
As with most winemakers, Tina Mitchell’s interest in wine developed early, while she was attending the University of California, Davis, as a premed student. During her third year, a friend from her hometown of Ukiah, California, opened a winery, which introduced Tina to wine. After taking a class in enology and viticulture and working a harvest in Paso Robles at Estrella River Winery, Tina knew she had found her new career path.
After marrying in 1981, Tina moved to Napa, where she worked a harvest at Rutherford Hill Winery. After harvest, she finished her last quarter at U.C. Davis and earned her degree. She then worked at Louis Martini and Niebaum Coppola, where she was able to make wine alongside celebrated winemaker André Tchelistcheff. “I feel I was very fortunate to work so closely with such a legend,” she says. “André taught me the importance of being a hands-on winemaker.”
In 1991, Tina went to work at William Hill Winery, where she rose from lab enologist to winemaker during her 12-year tenure. Since joining Palmaz in 2003, she has had a hand in all of the winery’s viticultural and winemaking decisions.
Why did you become a winemaker?
I was first exposed to wine when a friend from my hometown Ukiah started up a small family winery. I was going to school at UC Davis at the time & decided to take an enology intro course. I fell in love with the process. Winemaking was a blend of science & art. It was the best of both worlds.
If you weren’t a winemaker what would you be & why?
I can see myself as a farmer which I guess isn’t too far off from what I do now with managing the vineyard. I love the outdoors & gardening. It’s a great feeling of accomplishment when you bring in a great harvest whether it be grapes or some other crop.
What is your greatest strength as a winemaker?
My organizational skills. You can accomplish so much more when you are organized.
What is your biggest weakness as a winemaker?
Delegating work. I have a hard time letting go of things hence the development of my organizational skills. But these last few years I now have people in place I trust implicitly & I now share much of the responsibilities.
What’s the one mistake you made in the cellar you would never repeat?
Not following my intuition & following someone else’s recommendation. I have learned to trust & listen to my intuition.
What is your proudest achievement?
Being part of the team at Palmaz from the beginning. Developing the vineyards into a premium property & seeing the results in the wines.
What was your scariest vintage to date?
The 2009 vintage, having more than half of our grapes still waiting to be harvested after receiving 5” of rain in one night.
What is your favorite word or saying?
When it comes to our wines: elegance.
What is your most prized possession?
I don’t know that I have a “prized possession” but I think family & friends are invaluable.
What’s the oddest thing about you?
I can be a bit anal retentive.
What song best sums you up?
“Happy” by Pharrell Williams.
What is your favorite memory?
Holding each of my sons in my arms for the first time.
Which of your five senses is your strongest?
Smell. Even before I became a winemaker I would drive my friends & family crazy smelling everything.
What is your biggest motivation?
Enjoyment & achievement
Which bottle of wine would you choose to be stranded with on a deserted island?
I don’t think there is one specific wine but probably a red that would age well so I could savor it longer & make it last by just drinking a small amount each day.
What is the difference between a good & great wine?
A great wine is one that imprints a positive lasting memory
Name three individuals you would like to have dinner with.
My mom, Andre Tschelistcheff, and Julia Child.
Who is your winemaking hero?
Andre Tschelistcheff. I was very fortunate to be able to work with Andre for 6 years. He taught me the importance of being a “hands on” winemaker.
What does the concept of “balance” mean to you?
No one component of the wine dominates. Fruit, oak, acid, tannins & alcohol are all integrated with no elbows (edges) on the palate.
What is the one thing you want people to remember about your wine?
That their enjoyment of drinking it made their time more memorable.
Best comment made about your wine? Was it a consumer, trade or press?
“I don’t normally like Chardonnay, but I love your Chardonnay” – I hear this time & time again from consumers.