From Napa to Burgundy: A Live Chat with Diana Snowden Seysses

The Snowden Vineyards and Domaine Dujac winemaker discusses her Napa roots, emmigrating to Burgundy and the challenges that keep her on her toes

From Napa to Burgundy: A Live Chat with Diana Snowden Seysses
Diana Snowden Seysses divides her time between two very different terroirs. (Bénédict Manière)
Jul 1, 2020

How does one winemaker toggle from Burgundy to Napa, Pinot Noir to Cabernet Sauvignon, and achieve greatness with both? Diana Snowden Seysses works in some top crus, frequently moving between time zones and grape varieties to make wine. The Domaine Dujac and Snowden Vineyards winemaker spoke with senior editor James Molesworth about her start in wine, how she approaches quality and the challenges that defined her career on a recent episode of Straight Talk with Wine Spectator on Instagram Live.

Snowden Seysses was born in Napa and spent much of her childhood climbing oak trees and munching on Cabernet clusters at the Snowden property, which her grandparents bought in 1955 and is now home to the 170-acre Snowden Vineyards estate. She later enrolled at the University of California, Davis. During that time she spent two summers working at Robert Mondavi Winery as a vineyard sampler, where she met her husband, Jeremy, whose family owns Domaine Dujac in Morey-St.-Denis.

One of her mentors at school was professor Ann C. Noble, who would ask, "How do you define quality?" Snowden says it's still a question she chews on every year.

Snowden Seysses left Napa to work at her father-in-law's Burgundy domaine, and released her first Pinot Noir vintage in 2003. She had no plans of returning to California wine country until a brettanomyces infection ravaged the Snowden winery during the 2002, 2003 and 2004 vintages. Her father called for help. She decided to bring her single-vineyard, Old World mindset to the operation in 2005.

"I just like seeing the same vineyard express itself a little differently every year," she said. "That is how I've established my quality hierarchy: My single vineyard designates are at the top, and my blend is all our fruit …. It's the more modest wine."

The next big challenge that Snowden Seysses faced in Napa was during the 2017 wildfires. At that time, there was also a heatwave. Temperatures reached 110 to 120° F for four days in a row, and Seysses recalls consulting fellow winemakers and her notes to save the grapes from heat damage.

"Picking early is important for me so everything was in by the time the fires came through," Snowden Seysses said. "It was certainly that Labor Day weekend heat wave that marked the [2017] vintage."

Watch the full episode with Snowden Seysses and learn more about Burgundy and Napa on Wine Spectator's IGTV channel, and tune in to catch Straight Talk with Wine Spectator, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7 p.m. ET.

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