Las Vegas Woman magazine is presenting a new series, dedicated specifically to the art and magic of Napa Valley.
When Alison Doran started her career in 1973, she was among the very first women in the industry. Her father owned a winery in Napa’s Alexander Valley and brought in Andre Tcheellistcheff as a consultant. Doran began to work alongside him, and soon they developed a strong connection over their shared commitment to creating fine wines from California grapes. Tcheellistcheff became an important mentor and arranged a life-changing position for Doran as a “cellar rat” in Alsace, France.
When she returned, she earned a degree in fermentation science for the University of California, Davis and began working for the Firestone Vineyard, famous for its estate-bottle wines. She spent several years at Firestone adding to her education and experience, starting as a lab technician and advancing to bottling supervisor, cellar master and, finally, to winemaker. Today, Doran lives on the family vineyard with her husband and two sons and works as a winemaker with a select group of clients just as passionate about fine wines. These include Crane Family Vineyards, Hill Family Estate, Romeo Vineyards and Cellars and her own winery, Hoot Owl Creek.
When she talks about the Napa Valley and its wines, Doran has a few important things to say. She feels strongly that a wine should taste where it’s from. This concept in wines is called terroir and often differentiates the products of small wineries from that of large commercial ones, which must blend grapes from several growers to achieve a uniform and consistent product. As a winemaker for wineries focused on terroir, it is Doran’s task to balance the wine and bring out its best features. She works with the unique flavor profile generated by the interaction of soil and weather, the specific grapes and winemaking technique to create truly distinctive and memorable Napa wines.
Doran also has some advice for people who are interested in learning more about fine wines. She encourages people to come to Napa and visit some of its many wineries. Bring a notebook, write what you like and watch a crush or two. Understanding how a wine you like is made will increase your enjoyment and appreciation of it. Join a tasting group and compare notes. Once you know what you like, consider joining a wine club. Many excellent wines are available through clubs and many wineries depend on these memberships. Doran also reminds us that you need to allow plenty of time for the great pleasure of becoming educated about the variety of fine wines produced in the Napa Valley.
Over the course of her pioneering career, Doran has seen many changes in the industry, but says the greatest challenge is simply the year-to-year difference in the grapes. “No two years are ever the same and it is experience that really helps. I love the whole process, determining whether to press early or late, the tastings, the fermentation decisions, all of it. To me, the most fun part of what I do is watching the wine unfold and tell me what it wants to be.” For Doran, winemaking is a mixture of art and science that is far greater than the sum of its parts.
“Alison has taught me so much about winemaking. She’s methodical and yet in perfect harmony with Mother Nature. Her grace and patience allow her to produce the best wines from the best grapes year after year,” said Ryan Hill of the Hill Family Estate.
Alison Doran is known as the wine doctor by many in the industry for her ability to create consistently excellent wines.