Laely Heron on Sexto, Balance, Wanderlust & the Evolution of a Cult Winemaker

Laely Heron (Click Image to Enlarge)Laely Heron's life reads like that of a character in a James Bond flick. Raised by adventure seeking parents, Laely spent her childhood moving from one exciting place to another -Algeria one year, Singapore the next- with over a dozen different places of residence by the time she graduated high school. College found Laely at the University of Colorado but wanderlust soon took her to Bordeaux to study oenology. The end result was a young woman with a nose for the unique customs, flavors, and scents that differentiate cultures. Not surprisingly, a wine career ensued. Adventurous, entrepreneurial, talented, ambitious and, let’s face it, stunningly beautiful, the only thing missing is a secret identity and a pistol in her boot and Laely Heron could very well be a Bond girl.

Action flicks aside, today Laely Heron is pushing the envelope in the wine industry as she endeavors to reshape the image of the “cult“ winemaker as one who makes high quality, ambitious, and affordable wines. Thanks to Laely for chatting with IntoWine.

What prompted you to pursue winemaking as a career?

Here's the short story:
I fell in love with wine when I studied and lived in Bordeaux, during my University days. Almost every job after that was in different areas of the wine business, all over the world, and my curiosity led me to begin studies for the Master of Wine. In the early 90's, when I was broke and looking for a job, a friend told me to start my own business. We figured out the humble beginnings of Heron Wines on a napkin! My passion just evolved into winemaking, it was never planned.

Now here's the long story:
Fortunately, I was raised by very unconventional, young parents (they were only 17 years old when I was born). My dad was a mining engineer and we moved around, all my childhood. Laely Heron in the Vineyard (Click Image to Enlarge)We lived in about 10 different places before I was 8. At one stage he got the bright idea that we should move to Algeria so he could do a mining project there. We lived in Algeria for years, and the exposure to different flavors, smells, and new interesting things made an impression on me. Not going to school all those years was another plus- I never learned to do things "by the book". My parents were very open minded and adventurous, so after awhile they got another bright idea... that we should travel around the world until their money ran out. So, we were a family of 4, we each had only a backpack, and we traveled until I was a teenager. Again, this was great exposure to the world, and exotic smells and tastes fed my hedonistic curiosity.

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When we came back to the US, I was a confirmed victim of wanderlust. I had also been exposed to many different languages. In high school I took advantage of the study abroad language programs, and traveled to France. I realized then that my Arabic/French dialect from Algeria needed to be cleaned up. So to perfect my French, I chose to do my junior year of university studies in Bordeaux.

When I got to Bordeaux, I was very, very fortunate to meet some of the most amazing people in the business… people who exposed me to wine and encouraged me to study at Bordeaux's famed Institute of Enology. That was an incredibly lucky, life changing experience. But I still never meant it as a career; that just sort of happened later on. But the exposure to Bordeaux, before I could even legally drink in this country is what did it for me. That never would have happened without my childhood experiences overseas.

Joan Ma Riera Agustina and Laely Heron working the wine in SpainTell us about the people who influenced or mentored you as a winemaker.

I think, in a way, it began early I was strongly influenced by my Mom- when I was little, she'd open up the spice jars in the kitchen and we'd play a guessing game where I'd identify the spices. That MUST have been the early influence on my future. She's also a great cook and that touched my palate. My parents contributed to my big "worldview", which very much effects my wines, by showing me the world and helping me erase borders. That's why I'm comfortable making wine in different countries, and being open to learning.

About real winemaking... I've been so fortunate to have many winemaking mentors, all over the world. I can't think of one who would be happy seeing their name in print! These people know how much I appreciate them.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.