Jenna Davis is the associate winemaker at DuMOL, a producer of cool-climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from vineyards located in the extreme southwestern part of the Russian River Valley in Sonoma County, California. The winery was founded in 1996.
Davis grew up in Dayton, Ohio, where her natural love of horticulture led her to employment at a local plant nursery as a teenager. During school she developed a fascination with microbiology and through a family friend and mentor she learned about a career that blended all her passions: winemaking. After a visit to California wine country, her career path was even clearer.
Per her bio, she earned a B.S. in Food Science from Ohio State while brewing beer for a local microbrewery. After graduating, she packed her car and drove to Napa Valley, where she interned at Opus One and Spottswoode Winery.
She would then join the team at Oakvale Wines in Hunter Valley, Australia, before returning to Sonoma and working a harvest at DuMOL. From there, it was back to school to earn her master’s in Viticulture and Enology from the University of California, Davis. After graduation, she was hired as an assistant winemaker under Andy Smith.
As for DuMOL, it grows and crafts small-lot Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Viognier from vineyard sites in Sonoma and Napa, expanding upon 25 years of wine-growing experience. DuMOL wines are released through limited allocations to its consumer mailing list and select restaurants worldwide. You can find a few of them on the Fine Wine & Good Spirits website.
PennLive sent Davis several questions about the winery and some of the things she has learned since starting her career. Below are her answers.
Q, For those unfamiliar with the winery and the wines, what are some things they should know about DuMOL?
A, At DuMOL, we focus on site-specific wines that are expressive of their terroir. We are winegrowers focused on the land, to the fruit, and to the season. The result is a true translation of what the season and the land gives us. Our wines are authentic and classic, made with minimal intervention, with great purity. Our goal is to make wines which are reflective of the vineyards from which they grew while always having a balance of deep concentration and bright purity. We are honored to work with some of the oldest vineyards in our area, planted as early as the 1960s and many that we have been farming for over 20 years. Each wine is molded by vintage, crafted in the vineyard, and stewarded through the winery to the table.
Q, What do you know now about winemaking that you didn’t when you started?
A, Winemaking is such stimulating work because there is always more to learn. There are so many fascinating aspects to dive into, whether it be soil science, plant physiology or fermentation chemistry. We only get one shot a year at making our wines, which lends itself to a lifetime of learning and growing as a winemaker. A principle that I learned very early on but took time to understand the magnitude of, is the importance of vineyard site. Every serious producer will tell you; the most important aspect of winemaking is site. Like any great chef, we are always after the best raw ingredients. It has been fascinating to learn the many different pieces that intertwine in truly special vineyards. Each great site is comprised of its own unique circumstances – there are no golden rules or must-haves. But one thing the best sites share is a balance between the vines and place.
Q, What are a couple of key lessons you have drawn from Andy over the past decade?
A, I continue to learn lessons from Andy every vintage. One of the most valuable lessons is to trust your grapes. If you have put in the time and effort in your farming and the quality is high when the grapes are harvested, trust the quality of the grapes and resist the urge to intervene unnecessarily. Andy has been working with some of our vineyards for over 20 years and with that experience comes the confidence and ability to trust our grapes. This allows us to take a very hands-off approach to winemaking. Andy has also taught me the importance of understanding a site and its subtle nuances. We don’t think of vineyards in blocks or clonal selections, but rather many different micro parcels with slightly different expressions depending on the soil diversity and unique aspect. We study the vineyards throughout the growing season and identify these differing parcels. We will then harvest and ferment these areas separately and they will each give a unique flavor of the vineyard. I have learned from Andy not to force a style on a site. We don’t follow any recipe and we don’t always do the same things to every lot or every vintage. I have learned that avoiding a dogmatic approach to winemaking always allows you to be flexible and gives you the freedom to learn and grow with every season and continually gain a deeper understanding of your vineyard sites.
Q, Looking at your Linked in, I wouldn’t have guessed you would be doing what you are now off your schooling and first stop or two. Was it the work in Australia that turned you on to winemaking?
A, I actually got interested in winemaking in high school but took a unique path coming from Ohio to California. All of the seemingly side tangents including majoring in Food Science, conducting horticulture research and brewing were my first steps into winemaking in the Midwest. After I graduated from Ohio State with a Food Science degree, I decided to drive across the country and move out to Napa to pursue my dream of being a winemaker. I got extremely lucky and Opus One took a chance and hired me as their harvest berry sampler. From that point I was completely in love with this wild career. I continued working harvests jumping hemispheres to make wine in Australia as well as domestically at Spottswoode and DuMOL. I then made the hard decision to stop doing the work I loved and to go back to school for my masters in Viticulture and Enology at UC Davis before rejoining the DuMOL team.
Q, I always like to ask winemakers or owners in areas where the quality is already high. How do you keep the bar high on the quality and meet the expectations of consumers who have come to depend on that quality?
A, We are at a very exciting time here at DuMOL. Our small winemaking team of four has nearly 60 years of combined experience with making our wines. Most of our vineyards are well established and producing world-class wine. We have put in the slow hard work to get to the amazing point we are at now, which will allow us to continue making expressive wines for all to enjoy. We must also always keep innovating, experimenting, and learning. We will continue to improve our farming techniques to promote the health and balance of our soils and ecosystem and we will continue to try new fermentation vessels and aging techniques to heighten the expression of our sites. We are all very passionate about what we do and that translates into a continuous drive to keep improving with every vintage.
Q, Hobbies .. pursuits outside of winemaking. Even as you eat, drink or sleep wine, what other things interest you?
A, A wonderful thing about winemaking is that the best regions to make wine also tend to be stunningly beautiful places. I love to bike and I will never get over the beauty of cycling along the coast or riding along the trails tucked in the redwood forests of Northern California. Whether it is bicycling, running, hiking, I’m always happiest when exploring the outdoors. I also love to garden, cook [ideally with my garden goodies] and make sourdough bread.
Q, I know there are a few female winemakers in the mid-Atlantic. Not many. What are you seeing where you are? Are there more coming out of school? Is it a career that more females are gravitating to?
A, There continues to be more female winemakers. I am so grateful for all the incredible women that came before me and put in the hard work to open so many doors for my generation of female winemakers. There is however, always more to be done. Even though graduating classes continue to increase the number of females, there are still very few female-owned and operated wineries. The retention rate and promotion rate of females still tends to be lacking. But there appears to be a lot of excitement and empowerment currently in our industry which has been very inspiring to see. Everyone is pushing to not only improve the industry for females but also improve the overall diversity of our field. Something that we all need to continue to strive for.