Top 100 Most Influential U.S. Winemakers

40-Lynne Penner-Ash was one of the first female winemakers in Oregon, blazing a trail which allowed others to follow and still motivates women winemakers after 30 years n the wine business. She started at Stag’s Leap in Napa, then left for Oregon to start work at Rex Hill winery. Along the way she nurtured the Penner-Ash brand which has grown from a mere 125 cases of Pinot Noir in 1998 to today’s production of roughly 9,000 cases of Pinot Noir, Syrah, Viognier and Riesling. 

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39-Richard Sanford is a Burgundy fan and inductee into the Vintners Hall of fame by the Culinary Institute of America. Graduating from UC Berkeley with a degree in geography he drove across Santa Barbara County with a thermometer before settling on a site west of U.S. Highway 101 in the Santa Ynez Valley to plant Pinot Noir. For some years Sanford had the west side of the highway to himself; he was the first winemaker to prove the potential for Pinot Noir in the chilly Santa Rita Hills. He founded Sanford Winery in 1981 and spent the next 20 years making some of the best-regarded Pinots from the region. Sanford left his namesake winery in 2005 and founded Alma Rosa Winery.

38-Celia Welch is an independent winemaking consultant who makes wine for some of Napa’s most prestigious labels, including Kelly FlemingScarecrow, BuccellaHollywood & Vine, Keever, and others. Formerly she worked with Cornerstone, Silverado Vineyards, Robert Pepi and Staglin Family, among others. She has become an icon, known for making big, intense, classic Napa Cabs and for mentoring young wine professionals. She makes yet another Cab for her own Corra label and has devoted her influence almost single-mindedly to Cabernet Sauvignon.

37-Steve Matthiasson started out as a vineyard guy, not a winemaker, but with clients that included Araujo, Spottswoode, Chappellet, and Stag's Leap, Matthiasson gleaned valuable info on creating fresh, vibrant new wines. With his “grapes come first” sensibility, his skill at balancing lusciousness with crisp intensity and his fascination with little-known varieties, Matthiasson is helping to change the Napa Valley paradigm.

36-Aaron Pott is taking Napa Cabernet Sauvignon back to its roots avoiding artificially concentrated, super fruity wines championing profound single-vineyard reds. He also makes wine for star properties like Blackbird, Seven Stones, Quixote and Bello Family. Pott’s influences are far-ranging, he has managed Bordeaux châteaus and made wines all over the world, but his true inspiration is his home turf, Napa. He was named Winemaker of the Year in 2012 by Food & Wine Magazine.

35-John Williams of Frogs Leap Winery in Rutherford is a pioneer on the Napa organic scene, and an advocate of dry farming, and composting. Irrigated grapes, Williams feels, lack the flavor of those from dry-farmed vineyards. His vineyard was the first to have received LEED certification, and his operations run on solar power, geothermal, recycling, and lightweight bottles. But his influence doesn’t end there. All of his farm workers are full-time, benefited workers. At 60,000 cases and yet a small carbon footprint, Williams shows that winemaking can have a minimal impact on earth’s resources.

34-Mike Benziger leads one of the most prominent and one of the last in-tact families in the wine industry. Based in Sonoma, the 30-year old Benziger Family Winery is widely known for their pioneering exploration and practice of biodynamic, organic and sustainable agriculture and grape growing. Though they did not start out this way, as time evolved, they began to embrace a different way of farming. The validation of this is high scoring wines in the national press and medals at wine competitions. Through dedicated promotion of these practices, biodynamics is gaining more traction as a viable farming method.

33-Chris Camarda is winemaker at Andrew Will in Washington State, whose wines routinely score 90 points and over in the major wine magazines. You may think scores are meaningless, but the attention Camarda has achieved has helped to give new life to Washington State wines. Wine & Spirits Magazine called his winery, located on an island off the Seattle coast, America’s Best Washington State Producer, and named him one of the 50 most influential winemakers in the world

32-Bob Cabral with over 25 vintages in Sonoma, Cabral, winemaker at Williams Selyem, has crafted wines from world-class vineyards. His extensive charity work for under-privileged children is matched only by his association with other charity work including with Emeril Lagasse's Carnivale du Vin, Chef Charlie Palmer's Pigs & Pinot, and recently crafting a wine with close friends Jonathan Cain (of Journey) and Michael Browne (of Kosta Browne) to produce the charity auction-only Revelation Pinot Noir. He was named Winemaker of the Year for 2011 by Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

31-Gary Farrell is a pioneering Russian River Valley producer of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. While local producers focused on Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, Farrell saw amazing potential for Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley. His first release, the 1982 Gary Farrell Pinot Noir from Rochioli Vineyard, went on to be one of the most decorated wines of the vintage. Similar successes with subsequent vintages quickly established Farrell as one of California’s premier producers of Pinot Noir. He sold Gary Farrell Winery, and is currently at work on Alysian, as winemaker and co-owner.