Updated: May 18, 2020
In the final installment of this three-part series, we’ll talk to Laura Díaz Muñoz and find out how growing up in Spain influenced her love of wine. We’ll also explore her journey in the wine industry and how she navigated her way to become a successful winemaker.
Winemaker & General Manager: Laura Díaz Muñoz
Laura Díaz Muñoz has been the lead Winemaker and General Manager at Ehlers Estate since 2018. She grew up in Spain, where her love of food and wine drew her into a career in the wine industry.
Ehlers Estate is located in the St. Helena AVA in Napa Valley, California where Laura produces six different styles of wine: Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and a Bordeaux style red blend.
Spain, Family, & Wine
Growing up in Spain, Laura experienced a different relationship with wine than what we experience here in the United States. She is part of a Catholic family, that traditionally gathered before and after mass to enjoy tapas and wine. There was always wine and beer at the table, but it was about enjoying the food and the wine together.
She has a distinct memory of enjoying Albariño (a light, white wine) with her father while enjoying some seafood in a little town they were visiting. She explains that wine, food, and good company create special moments and memories.
Pursuing a Career in Wine
Heading into College, Laura first decided she wanted to pursue a career in Food Science. This quickly shifted after doing an internship at a winery, she knew she wanted to focus on wine.
Her father did not like the idea of her pursuing a career in wine. He knew that it was a male-dominated industry and thought it would be too much of an uphill battle for Laura to realize her true potential. This just motivated Laura to prove that she could do it.
After graduation from the Polytechnic University of Madrid, Laura started working in the lab of a winery, Finca Otero, in La Mancha, but decided she wanted to know more about wine in different regions. She talked to her employer about going to New Zealand for an internship to learn about Sauvignon Blanc. They liked the idea and Laura was off to New Zealand but she didn’t return to the winery in Spain instead she found a job in Napa Valley. She worked for Jackson Family Wines for a year and a half until her Working Visa expired. The winery then decided to send her to their winery in Chile, where she worked for four months while her Visa was re-established. This gave her even more experience with a different region and terroir (soil & climate).
Practices in the Vineyard & Winery
Ehlers Estate uses organic practices in the vineyard. Laura explains that sustainability is about being more conscious regarding the earth and your neighbors. She explains that it’s important to help the vines and grapes develop with minimal use of chemicals. It’s important to prevent any issues by observing and being ahead of the game instead of adding chemicals to correct issues that start to appear. She says this requires more manual work in the vineyards, but it’s worth it to help take care of this earth.
In the winery, Laura uses minimalist practices as well. She uses minimum organic nutrients for fermentation. She may also add a minimum amount of acid and sulfur. She says the minimal approach coaxes out the natural expression of the grape making it more enjoyable to consumers.
Advice for Career in Wine
For those interested in pursuing a career in wine, Laura feels it’s a bit easier for women to achieve success in a variety of roles in the wine industry today. She feels awareness of what women are capable of doing has improved and that all of the accomplishments that women have made in the industry are helping the next generation.
She also explains that a career in wine is hard, physical work. You get up early and get dirty, but there is nothing women can’t do in the industry. She says to follow your heart and gut to decide if this type of career is right for you. Laura explains that while it’s not easy, it is rewarding in the end.
Laura loves harvest time. She enjoys visiting the vineyards and knowing the grapes are ripe then seeing the transformation from grape to wine. She enjoys seeing the personality of each wine develop. She explains that there is always something challenging that comes up with every harvest that keeps everyone on their toes. This is when they try new approaches to work with the wine which keeps it exciting.
She says the bottling stage is the most nerve wracking because it’s the last stage for the wine. All of the work from harvest through making the wine and seeing it transform every month is going into that bottle. She wants it to be perfect for consumers.
Advice to Learn More About Wine
For those wanting to learn more about wine, Laura says not to be scared to ask questions. She recommends tasting new wines and reading about them. She cautions not to over-analyze wine. Just learn a few basic things like the varietal and region, then taste wine from a variety of producers.
Purchase Ehlers Estate Wines
Ehlers Estate has a variety of wines you can try: Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and a Bordeaux style red blend. You can purchase directly from their website. They also have distribution to 20 states. So, check with your local wine shop.
Join the Wine Club. Receive an annual shipment of 12 bottles, purchase additional bottles at a discount, and get access to Wine Club events.
Visit the tasting room. Experience one of their 3 unique tastings. A reservation is required. (Check into it once businesses start opening again. It’s sure to be a memorable experience.)
I can’t wait to get my hands on the Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux style blends that they are known for. Enjoy!
Read about these Female Winemakers Making History: Kathleen Inman: Winemaker and Owner of Inman Family Wines. Kathleen started her own winery after pursuing a career in Finance in England. Find out how she made it happen.
Erica Stancliff: Lead Winemaker for Pfendler Vineyards and Trombetta Family Wines. Erica focused on a wine career from the start. Find out how she worked her way to become the lead winemaker for two wineries.