The task of producing world-class wine is not something one takes lightly. Just ask Helene Seillan, the assistant winemaker for Verite in Sonoma, California. Verite, which is French for “truth,” is known for the production of exquisite red blend wines including the La Joie, Le Desir and La Muse, SRP $410 per bottle. The winery has come to rely on Helene for her knowledge and wine making talents, skills she honed working alongside her dad, Pierre.
For over 50 years, Pierre Seillan has been a renowned winemaker and consultant in Bordeaux, France, the Tuscan region of Italy, and Sonoma, California, where father and daughter work side by side at Verite.
Helene, who is French born, has spent much of her life traveling back and forth between vineyard sites in France and California. The experience of working among diverse vineyards and climates has prepared her for the many challenges that winemakers from around the globe must face. As Seillan says, “wine-making is both a lifestyle and a profession, one that I have come to fully embrace.”
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Helene about her chosen profession as a winemaker. The timing couldn’t be any better, especially with International Woman’s Day on Monday, March 8.
In spite of growing up in a wine-making family, have you ever felt excluded or less equal than male counterparts?
“No, I have not, I have always felt very valued in our family. My father always told me he believes women have the best palates, that we are more sensitive to certain details. My great-grandmother was the one who taught my father how to prune a vine and other important tasks in the vineyard. She was also the first one to taste when they opened a bottle of wine, and everyone in the family knew she had the best palate. I believe one of the reasons my father and I work so well together is because he has a lot of respect for women in the field. I feel very fortunate to come to work every day and to be respected as a woman. This brings me confidence and the strength to face any challenge.”
Many family-owned businesses find working together difficult. You seem to thrive on working side by side with your dad. Is that true?
There are so many advantages of working with my family, both my father and brother are winemakers. In life and at work, we trust and respect each other, and I really believe that those are the fundamental elements to being successful as a team.”
What does a woman bring to wine-making that men often don’t?
“I can only answer this question through my own experience. I don’t necessarily believe that women or men bring one thing or another to a craft such as wine-making. However, I do believe women are often more sensitive to certain sensory details, such as our ability to taste.”
Have you had the urge to ignore the rules and techniques of wine making in order to experiment and create something entirely unique?
“I am committed to letting the fruit and the soil speak. I’m not someone who wants to manipulate a wine just to make a statement of experimentation.”
Helene’s passion is most evident through the wines she makes, all of which have consistently garnered high praise.
Wine of the week: J Vineyards, 2017 Russian River Valley, Pinot Noir, California. Bright red in color with plush dark fruit and spice flavors that are complemented by hints of earthiness and oak. $37