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Until recently very few women have been mentioned in the long history of wine making in California—Simi Winery is a notable exception to this omission.
Simi’s history starts with Giuseppe and Pietro Simi, two brothers who emigrated from Italy and bought a winery in Healdsburg in 1881 and put down roots. The year 1904 began the distaff history of the winery when Giuseppe died and his 18-year-old daughter, Isabel, took over management of the winery. She continued to sell wine until Prohibition began in 1920. Fifteen years later when Prohibition ended, Simi cellars were full of fine wine ready for the market.
Simi then hired in succession two notable female winemakers, Mary Ann Graf, and then Zelma Long. Each of these winemakers carried on the Simi tradition while putting her own stamp on the wines. In addition, winemaker Margaret Davenport got her start in the lab at Simi.
Current Winemaker Steve Reeder’s cellar crew, half of whom carry the XX chromosome, are educated away from a check-list winemaking mentality and have produced premium, award winning wine year after year, like the 1999 Cabernet Sauvignon awarded 90 points by Wine Spectator.
Simi’s Visitor Center now beckons. It was built in 1970 of stone and wood and is paneled with redwood from a 25,000 gallon barrel that once held wine in Simi’s cellar. The Center is warmed by a cozy fireplace built with basalt rock quarried on the property. And if the weather outside is outstanding, as it often is, there is also Simi’s 70-year-old Redwood Grove, where wine tourers can sip wine and picnic the day away with some of Chef Eric Lee’s delectable fare.
In the end, Bacchus may be the male god of wine, but without women like Isabel Simi and her wine making sisters, his goblet would certainly be less tasty.
This article has been provided compliments of Touring & Tasting magazine.