When we fell in love with Anderson Valley, we discovered more than Signal Ridge Vineyard, we discovered Joanna Wells.
Joanna sought out winemaking when she realized she was spending more time in the isles of local wine stores than pursuing her academic path in Colorado. Since then, she has worked in both hospitality and wine production roles at some of California’s most coveted brands including Robert Sinskey Vineyards and Kutch Wines. Joanna is now the winemaker of Signal Ridge Estate and has her own wine project on the side, Model Farm Wines, something she began in 2013 with her husband.
So as you can see, Joanna has an incurable curiosity for wine. We sat down with her to talk about her journey.
Q. Can you tell us about the moment you decided you wanted to pursue a career in wine?
A. I don’t have a family history in wine or hospitality. My mother is a teacher and my father is a salesman. But I have always had a curiosity that I can’t ignore. It started when I went to study business in Colorado. I was spending time in wine shops and started tasting a range of different wines I hadn’t tasted before. I had a thing for Washington State wines (the wines from there are really good!) so I started emailing people to get their advice for how to start a career there. They all said the same thing, “If you want to do it, just come out here.” So I drove up to Walla Walla, sight unseen. I did my first harvest and haven’t looked back.
Q. Are there any challenges you’ve faced being a woman in the field of winemaking?
A. Like most industries, there have been some challenges but ultimately I see that things have really changed. Early on, I was the only woman in the winery surrounded by a bunch of strong guys because the winery work is very physical. My strategy was always to work harder than everyone else.
At Kutch, the owner Jamie was a great advocate for me and provided new opportunities for me to learn and become better at the craft. That really helped me take the step into owning my own winery and call my own shots.
Q. Do you have any advice for women new to the field of winemaking?
A. Don’t be afraid and just jump in. Don’t focus on the limitations, focus on what you can do.
Q. What has drawn you to specializing in Pinot Noir?
A. Pinot Noir is the ultimate mistress, it’s super nuanced. Every vineyard and vintage is different and provides new opportunities to learn and make unique wines. It shows your hand, so when you make it and it’s great, it’s very rewarding.
Q. What do you love most about Anderson Valley and Signal Ridge Vineyard? Why?
A. I love the femininity that Signal Ridge lends to Pinot Noir. Signal Ridge is the highest elevation in all the counties – Napa, Sononma and Mendocino. There are a range of different clones on that vineyard, too, so there is endless opportunity and possibility with that site.
Q. For the everyday wine-lover, what are the best ways to learn about wine?
A. Just start drinking wine, and take notes about what you are drinking and if you like it.
Q. We’ve seen a lot of information out there about climate change affecting vineyards. What are some ways the everyday wine-lover can help?
A. Climate change is 100% affecting wine and we are seeing it play out more rapidly now. A lot of producers are diversifying with different sites and varieties.
For those of us drinking wine, it’s important to know who you are buying from. It’s important to put your dollars with producers who are buying from organic and sustainable vineyards, or also with people who need your support after events like fires.