‘Grapes Don’t Care if You are a Man or a Woman,’ Says Priyanka French

Illustration by Barbara Spurll
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Founded in 1977, Signorello Estate is in the midst of a rebirth. It was one of the few wineries to burn in the 2017 wildfires that hit Northern California, and French is key to its bright future.

A native of Mumbai, she worked in France and New Zealand as well as alongside Andy Erickson and Michel Rolland at Dalla Valle Vineyards before being named Signorello’s winemaker in the spring of 2019. She is just the third-ever winemaker to grace the property near Napa’s Silverado Trail, which comprises 100 acres, 42 of which are planted to a variety of red and white wine grapes.

Did you have any role models?

I was an undergrad in Mumbai pursuing a degree in food technology when our class visited Sula Vineyards for a field trip, and I instantly fell in love with the wine industry. My first mentor was Neil Fernandes, Sula’s winemaker, who gave me valuable direction in terms of gaining an education and, then, experience.

More recently, Naoko Dalla Valle, who owns and operates Dalla Valle, is someone I look up to immensely. She has such a clear vision and is tireless in her quest for perfection. Who Naoko is and what she does is truly spectacular. I learned so much working for her.

“I’ve been very fortunate to always work at wineries and with people where being a woman was a non-issue.” –Priyanka French

What is your proudest achievement?

There were a few “firsts” early in my career I am extremely proud of. I was the first Indian to earn a master’s in viticulture and enology from UC Davis, and the first Indian to work in winemaking at Hospices de Beaune, Burgundy.

And at Signorello, the best is truly yet to come. I’m honored to oversee the construction of a new winery and caves, and excited to work alongside our new viticulture and winemaking team of Steve Matthiasson and Celia Welch.

What was the most surprising experience or encounter you’ve had as a female winemaker?

To quote a friend, “grapes don’t care if you are a man or a woman.” All joking aside, I’ve been very fortunate to always work at wineries and with people where being a woman was a non-issue. I’ve always been treated like an equal, and for that, I am thankful to all my colleagues, past and present.

What is your advice to someone interested in entering the wine business?

It’s not as glamorous as it looks. No matter which field you choose to work in—production, hospitality, sales—always take the time to learn about the whole business. For example, in addition to making wine, I’ve done sales for a cooperage, which helped me have a far deeper understanding of the interplay of oak and wine, and I’ve written articles for wine publications in India.

Always keep exploring, especially in today’s world, where there’s an explosion of creativity, off-beat varieties and creative packaging. Find your niche, and then own it.

Published on February 10, 2020
Topics: Advocacy


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