MaryAnn Worobiec Issue: May 31,
Even as a child, Celia Welch realized that she was passionate
about the way things smell and taste. She recalls a childhood
birthday party where she suggested that instead of playing pin the
tail on the donkey, a better game would be for guests to try to
guess the spices in her mother's cabinet by scent and flavor.
Today, she gets to challenge her palate every day as one of Napa
Valley's most admired winemakers. A Cabernet specialist, Welch
(formerly Masyczek) makes wine for eight wineries, including some
of Napa's most sought-after, such as D.R. Stephens and Scarecrow.
Her own label is called Corra.
The youngest of four children, Welch grew up in a small town in
Oregon. Her father, an internist, was a wine lover and home
winemaker who planted a half-acre of assorted vines in their yard
for experimentation—everything from French Colombard to
Welch pursued winemaking, earning a degree in fermentation
science from the University of California, Davis, in 1982. "I came
out of Davis with a strong set of technical skills and not a lot of
practical idea of how wine is made," she recalls. She saw many
women hired for lab jobs, but not for cellar positions.
She traveled to Burgundy and did stints in New Zealand and
Australia before landing in Napa, settling in and making her mark
at Staglin. Since 1995, she has been an independent winemaker, one
who has managed to keep a low public profile while her wines gained
in stature and her reputation grew.
Describing her winemaking goals, Welch refers to structure and
texture more than flavors. "I want density, but not to be
overbearing," she says. "I don't want to be the equivalent of the
loudest voice in the bar. I want quality and complexity expressed,
Scarecrow stands out as one of her biggest achievements. Founded
by photographer Bret Lopez and stylist Mimi DeBlasio, who
resurrected Rutherford's famed J.J. Cohn Ranch in 2002, the
winery's debut Scarecrow Cabernet 2003 sold out briskly. And the
2004 vintage (96 points) sold out in 16 hours.
Welch, 48, a single mother of two teenagers, bases her
operations at the custom crush facility Laird, where she makes six
clients' wines. In this busy facility, she admires everyone
involved in making the wine with her. "None of us are doing this
100 percent by ourselves," she says. She sees winemaking as
collaboration and tries hard not to let her ego get in the way.
"Most of the wines [I make] are estate grown, and each bears its
own personality and stamp of soil. My own influence on the product
is invisible," she says. "I don't want someone to taste a wine and
say, 'Oh, Celia made this.'" But when asked to what degree a wine
is made in the vineyard, she says, "Well, if you give five
different winemakers the same fruit, you'll get very different
wines." She and her finely tuned palate are obviously doing
something right. —MaryAnn Worobiec