There's still no good word for it. Never has been , although no one made any outcry about missing gender vocabulary until the late sixties and seventies.
That's exactly when Carol Shelton was making a woman's path through the man's wine world of California, and she is one of those missing words: a heroine (besides the unfortunate homonym, a Sir Walter Scott kind of word.) Or a s-hero (a stupid, made-up stop-gap word only fit for the Boston Women's Collective.)
Well, then, call her a hero in her field.
In Salt Lake City this week to promote her wines with broker Francis Fecteau, winemaker Shelton sipped and poured at Fresco and Spencer's, taking a short beer break to check out Epic's line of brews. Yesterday, before the Spencer's dinner, she fit in some girl talk with Vanessa Chang, Heather King and myself.
Affable, unpretentious, an enthusiastic talker, Shelton is a chemistry geek in marketing clothing–her passion for winemaking is backed by a formidable study of biochemistry–and her enthusiasm for the process of turning grape juice into wine makes talk about polysaccharides, yeast strains, filter variations and intelligible even to the average lay sipper.
When she graduated UCDavis in 1978, there were very few women doing cellar work–"All that physical labor_dragging hoses around, lifting crates–was considered unsuitable for women," recalls Shelton.Sexism in the cellars pushed her into lab work for years.
There she worked with big names–under Velma Long at Mondavi, with Ed Rossi and Peter Lehman–but got discouraged by being unable to work hands-on with the boys in the cellar. She was considering going back to her first love, poetry, until a job working in the lab with the legendary Andre Tchelistcheff what put the romance back into wine.
"He'd come into the lab and say, 'How are my ladies,'" says Shelton. "But he meant the wines. The grapes in the field were "the girls," the wines in the lab were his "ladies.""
She fell in love again with what she calls "the most scientific art."
Now Shelton has a label of her own. She's famous for zinfandels–her popular Wild Thing zin blend is the stalwart seller in her portfolio, making other more experimental wines possible. "I call it my "drink me" wine," she says, referring to Alice's Wonderland potions.
But to me, the star of this tasting show was the Coquille Blanc, a genre-busting Rhone blend based on Grenache Blanc, with Roussanne added "to put flesh on the bones" and Viognier added for a whiff of perfume. Chilled, this wine has the crisp vibrance of a peachy sauvignon blanc; as it settles to room temperature, it develops a chardonnay-reminiscent creaminess redolent of almonds and pineapple.
At least, to me.