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Elizabeth Vianna Ditched Medical School to Make Cabernet

Cover Image for Elizabeth Vianna Ditched Medical School to Make Cabernet
By Sophie Brochu

Elizabeth Vianna didn’t plan to work in the wine industry. The Brazilian-born winemaker and general manager of Chimney Rock Winery had plans to attend medical school before she fell in love with wine. Now, with over twenty years of experience, she’s capturing the essence of the Stags Leap District with a less-is-more approach. Chimney Rock is one of several wineries with a special offering on Tock’s new Holiday Wine Shop. Here’s what Vianna has to say about winemaking, Banksy, and the Taste of Stags Leap gift set.

Can you describe your philosophy on winemaking?

My winemaking philosophy here at Chimney Rock is to aim for our wines to capture the essence of our estate Stags Leap District vineyards. We have amazing vineyards and put a lot of work into producing the best quality grapes. My goal in winemaking is a less-is-more approach. We grow great fruit in an outstanding AVA, so the less we manipulate, the more pure the wine can be—no fining and/or filtration, soft-handed use of new oak, really working to depict the expression of site and vintage with respect for the fruit.

“My goal in winemaking is a less-is-more approach.”

You were born in Brazil. How did you end up in Napa?

My father’s career brought us to live in the US, mostly on the east coast. I got my undergraduate degree in Biology at Vassar and my plan was to attend medical school after that. Living in New York City after college, I fell in love with wine as a consumer. My strong science background and love for wine propelled me to change plans and I applied to the UC Davis winemaking program in viticulture and enology. I was accepted in 1997 and the rest is history. I knew I wanted to make Cabernet Sauvignon for a living and Napa seemed like the best place for it.

Chimney Rock is located in Napa, California.

What’s unique about Stags Leap terroir? 

Stags Leap District is nestled against the base of the Palisades in the Vaca Mountains and in the southeast corner of Napa Valley. The combination of reflective heat from the massive rock outcroppings in the Palisades, in addition to the cooling from the San Pablo Bay, and ancient gravelly, volcanic soils create the perfect terroir for the ripening of elegant Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s all about the trifecta of geography, geology, and climate. This combination gives us wines of elegance, bright acidity, and power at the same time. That is magic for the age-worthiness and quality of the Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.

“My plan was to attend medical school…My strong science background and love for wine propelled me to change plans.”

What’s a day-in-the-life like for you?

One of the things I love about winemaking is that a day in the life varies tremendously during the year. A winemaker always has many balls in the air–it requires lots of multi-tasking. Harvest is go-time with most of my time being spent walking vineyards and actually making the wine. We bottle twice a year and that changes the day’s activities completely. One of my favorite times of the year is when I work on putting blends together. Other times of the year, I might be traveling and working the market seeing accounts and hosting winemaker dinners or writing tasting notes for sales. The one thing that is consistent all year is I am always spending time walking our vineyards and tasting our wines.

As an avid lover of the arts, do you have a favorite song, artist, or book of the year?

My favorite artist of the year was Banksy, the British street artist. Just got to see the Banksy exhibit at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. His work is irreverent and thought-provoking.

A Taste of Stags Leap.

Can you tell us about your special offering on Tock’s Holiday Wine Shop?

Our special offering is the duo of the 2018 Estate Cabernet and our 2018 proprietary red blend, Elevage. Those two wines are a great introduction to what we are all about—classic Stags Leap District wines. The Cabernet is a powerful representation of the beautiful cool 2018 vintage while the Elevage is a slightly more feminine blend of three grapes, which highlights the silky nature of Stags Leap District wines.

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