8 March 2021
In Conversation with Diana Seysses
with Inspiring Women in Wine
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we are launching a series of interviews with women in wine. We love working with some of the most inspiring women in the world of wine and are looking forward to interviewing winemakers, sommeliers, chefs, critics and perhaps even our own staff.
We are delighted to introduce Diana Seysses for our first interview. Diana’s contributions to the world of wine are almost too many list. She is the owner and winemaker at her family estate, Snowden Winery, in Napa valley as well as oenologist and cellar master at Domaine Dujac (and family member of course!) and red wine consultant at Triennes in the South of France. Her underlining drive is her family, a genuine passion for the soil that influences her viticultural and winemaking decisions and has transformed the winemaking at Snowden since she took over the baton from her father. Her CV is extensive and her formative years were spent at Araujo, La Fleur de Boüard, Domaine Leflaive, Domaine de la Romanée Conti, Ramey Wine Cellars and Robert Mondavi Winery (as a sugar sampler!). Last year she became a Batonnage Mentor to aspiring female Vigneronnes/Winemakers and I am so grateful that she took the time to answer my questions.
- What was your earliest wine moment?
I remember the excitement of the harvest of our 1985 vintage at Snowden Vineyards in the days when we sold all of our fruit. It was the first harvest after my granfather’s death and after replanting what we call Palomino Hill to Cabernet Sauvignon. Harvest fell on the first day of school for second grade and we went up the vineyards early before school. I was overwhelmed by the abondance of the fruit, the vines were heaving with purple grapes, the pickers plucking them off & throwing them, like fish into picking bins.
- What is the biggest challenge you have faced as a winemaker?
Climate Change! Something previous generations have not and could not prepare us for. It will be a life-long battle.
- Who has had the greatest influence on your winemaking career?
Jacques Seysses, and Burgundy are the guiding light for all the wines I make.
- With all your experience running two wineries at opposite sides of the world… regardless of cost, what makes a great wine?
A great wine carries with it the clear echo of terroir. Terroir, being so much more than vineyard designates, but tradition and savoir faire of a community working from a very special site. Those wines are where the magic is. When you drink a wine that carries nature’s heartbeat, for a moment you too feel more alive and transported to another place and time.
- Do you have a fact, historical or otherwise, about Snowden or Domaine Dujac that you wished everyone knew?
…hmmmm… well, both companies care about community and ecology. At Snowden we could have torn out more forest and planted more vineyards; we own 170 acres but only 23 are under vine. My uncle and father cut down one oak tree and swore they never would cut down a tree again. None of our vineyards are rectangular. They are blobs in and amongst the forest, planted where the land was still clear. Today Napa commission regulation has put a stop to tearing out forest for vineyards, but we stopped before we were forced to. Then, in a similar spirit, at Dujac, in the 70s and 80s, Jacques co-signed the mortgages of any of our employees who needed his backing. I think he co-signed 6 mortgages so far. Every single one of our full time vineyard team are home owners.
- What is the first question you ask another winemaker when you visit them, and why?
This is of course very circumstantial. In wine there are so many interesting points to talk about… These days much of my “free time” is focused on climate change and how our industry can inspire positive change. I imagine that might be a direction I would encourage conversation to go in.
- I am sure you have drunk many memorable bottles, but which bottle inspired you to do something different and why?
Barolo has been really impactful on some of my choices in California. From experimenting with Freisa/lambrusca techniques to re-considering long tank times and a long term goal; foudres for élévage, it has been rich for with inspiration.
- We have had a tough year behind us. What was your favourite lock-down bottle?
Indeed we did… Well while I can’t pick a favorite, I recently had a 2016 Cote de Nuits Villages from Berthaut Gerbet which BLEW MY SOCKS right off!
- Finally, what advice would you give your younger self?
Well, because it is women’s month afterall- cultivate your village of sisters. Women who will lift you up, as you will for them, women who challenge you to be your best self and who have the confidence in turn to be their best selves.