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Zelma Long

Zelma Long graduated from Oregon State University in 1965, got the winemaking bug and signed up in 1968 for a Master’s degree at the famous UC Davis Department of Enology and Viticulture from which she graduated in 1970. She was only the second woman in history to enrol for a master’s degree in oenology at the University of California, and the only woman in her class.

It didn’t take long for her to land a job at the Robert Mondavi Winery, culminating in her becoming Mondavi’s chief oenologist from 1973 to 1979. She was then courted by the then owners of the 100 year old Simi Winery in the Alexander Valley to take over the role of winemaker and eventually became the winery’s CEO from 1989 to 1996. She then moved to Chandon Estates (like Simi, then owned by LVMH) to become Vice President of business development until 1999, when she decided to retire and “go solo”. During this time, (and to the present day), she remains winemaker to the family winery - Long Vineyards, in the Napa Valley which she founded with her ex-husband and still business partner Bob Long in 1977. During her time as a hands on winemaker, Zelma wasn’t concerned about being a role model for the women to come. Even now, she doesn’t think about it too much, although admits that she was involved in hiring the first tier of women winemakers in the 1970s and 1980s, but she believes that most young professional women today don’t feel the same constraints as they might have done 30 years ago.

Zelma has won many awards, among them the prestigious James Beard Award for Wine Professional of the Year, the MASI award for international wine contribution, and the Wine Spectator sponsored Oral History of a California Wine Pioneer. She was nominated Woman of the Year in 1994 by the Roundtable for Women in Food Service and in 1995 by the Women for Wine Sense organisation. She has written books and has given many presentations at local and international wine conferences on wine and winemaking and has cemented her association with University of California, Davis, by sitting on many of their committees, culminating in her receiving their Outstanding Alumni Award in 2009. Not content with that, she now finds herself accepted in her third age for a PhD programme at the university which commenced late in 2009.

Her “going solo” in 2000 has led to a number of wine consultancies, particularly in Oregon and Washington State, where she considers Eastern Washington Merlot grapes to be among the best in the world. In addition to consulting for Northwest winemakers, Zelma and her current husband Phillip Freese started Zelphi, a wine company making premium wines in Germany and South Africa, and consulting in Israel and California.

Perhaps the most exciting development in Zelma’s Golden Age is her involvement in overseeing the winemaking and style development of the Vilafonte wines, in Paarl, South Africa, an estate which she and her husband partner with Mike Ratcliffe, of Warwick Estate in Stellenbosch and Bartholomew Broadbent, whose top-notch distribution company has put Vilafonte (and many a non-American winery) on the map in the USA. Southern Hemisphere vintage times enable her to be on site during harvest, through pressing and barrelling, and then again at blending and bottling.

Zelma has sometimes been described as “fanatical” in her pursuit of quality in winemaking which can be borne out just by looking at my write up of her outstanding Vilafonte Series M Bordeaux blend in another part of this website as one of the wines of the month for August.

As a lasting legacy I think that Zelma will be most remembered for being a pioneer in getting wine growers and winemakers to produce “joined-up” wines that have catapulted Californian wines into the top drawer of international acceptability from the early eighties, but it’s clear that she hasn’t stopped yet in that quest for the perfect harmony between the soil and the cellar. More power to her elbow.

Long Vineyards:
Po Box 50: St. Helena, California 94574
Tel: (707) 963.2496: Fax: (707) 963 5016

PO Box 64, Elsenburg 7607, South Africa
Tel: 21 21 844 4410 Fax: 21 21 884 4025

Zelma Long