Meet a Vintner – Paula Kornell of Paula Kornell Sparkling Wine
We caught up with Paula Kornell on a very big day! It was the 75th anniversary of the Napa Valley Vintners and a week before she launched her own brand of sparkling wine, Paula Kornell Napa Valley Blanc de Noir. The project is an homage to her father, legendary wine maker Hanns Kornell. Kornell’s parents started Hanns Kornell Champagne Cellars is 1958 in Napa Valley, and were the first to produce sparkling wine in California using the traditional method, called Methode Champenoise. As a child, the vineyards of Napa were her playground, and as an adult, she’s made the vineyards of Napa her life work.
CA GROWN: Tell us about your background in the wine industry.
Paula: I grew up in that discipline in Napa Valley with the winery as my playground. In 1992 the winery closed because of a change of climate in the industry. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, there was a huge influx of French capital in the industry and our family winery could not compete, so the winery closed. Since 1992, I have worked for some great wineries and had the opportunity to manage many big wineries. About 6 years ago, I started my own wine consulting company. The consulting started out being mostly marketing and sales but evolved into more general business and strategy consulting. About three years ago, I was having lunch with Pat Roney, president of Vintage Wine Estates and an old friend of mine. Pat proposed that we partner on a sparkling wine project. Shortly after that lunch, the Paula Kornell Sparkling Wine business was born and it has been an amazing three years. It has now truly come full circle, bringing me back to the business that my family started so many years ago.
Our sparkling wines are still made in the traditional process and fermented in the bottle for two years. We are just now releasing 2017 wines which are mostly pinot noir and some chardonnay.
We will be releasing a limited offering at the Napa Valley Vintners Premiere Auction in February 2020. In order to be considered for the auction, the wine must be unique and creative and/or noteworthy. The wine must be limited and at least 5 cases. I have a few bottles of Hanns Kornell 1970’s vintage so I am combining a small amount of that for the dosage to my 2018 wine as a finish.
CA GROWN: What are you doing today?
Paula: Today is actually a special day because it’s the 75th anniversary of the Napa Valley Vintners. There is a big party this afternoon at Copia in Napa Valley. It’s bringing the founding wineries together as well as all of us who have been past presidents of the Napa Valley Vintners. Anyone that has been visible in the Napa Valley Wine business including all of our volunteers will be celebrating.
CA GROWN: What is your favorite part of being a vintner?
Paula: It’s how the complexity of the sparkling wine changes. Especially for making sparkling wine or champagne, you are trying to figure out how it’s going to taste a few years from now. It’s the mystery of what’s going to happen and the journey of it, and how it changes. Another favorite part is just being outside walking the vineyard. My mother used to tell me great stories of being in the vineyard with my father. To this day, one of my favorite things is being outside in the vineyard with my dogs.
CA GROWN: How do you give back to the community?
Paula: I personally give back by serving on the Board of Queen of the Valley Hospital for several years. That’s the fundraising arm of the local hospital. I’m also on the board of Napa Humane. It is a very important cause for me to remember our four-legged and two-legged feathered creatures in the valley. I have been involved in Napa Valley Vintners for many years as a president and a board member. That organization as a whole has given so much to Napa Valley for healthcare for farm workers and underprivileged children. The wine industry gives back generously to our local communities in many ways.
CA GROWN: What drew you into the wine business?
Paula: It was definitely family. At times in college, I thought maybe vet science would be a good path to take. Then when I took business classes, it started to click. I love being in the farming and wine business. It’s so connected to the hospitality business. It’s in the blood!
CA GROWN: What are your hobbies or past times when you are not working?
Paula: I do a lot of entertaining. I love to cook, can, and garden. I make a lot of jam. I love my animals and have three dogs, an English Bulldog, an English Mastiff, and a Terrier. Also, a chicken named Queenie that lives in the house. I also love to travel. I have a great group of women friends and we all have wanderlust and have treked the world together when we have the chance. We’ve climbed Kilimanjaro, we’ve gone to Peru, and we’ve been to Mongolia…just to name a few.
CA GROWN: What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into the wine industry?
Paula: It’s hard work, and you have to have passion for the work and patience. I just think you really have to love what you are doing. It’s not a get rich quick or get rich at all opportunity. If you grow great grapes and you have a buyer, make that buyer your best friend. It’s about passion and commitment and understanding its hard word.
CA GROWN: What are one or two things you do on the vineyard to be sustainable?
Paula: It’s more of what we don’t do. It’s doing as little as possible. Two of my clients are certified organic. It’s really about giving the vineyard good nutrients, and leaving it alone and letting it do what it does best. In this case, it’s less is more.