A Suisun Valley winemaker has earned a gold medal in the 2019 International Women’s Wine Competition with her 91-point White Pinot Noir.
Lisa Tenbrink Howard, owner of Tolenas Vineyard and Winery, is a second generation Suisun Valley winemaker - her parents own Tenbrink Winery - but making award winning wine was not always on her vision board.
“I went to college and became a licensed engineer working in Arizona,” she explained, “but after several years away from Suisun Valley, the land was calling for me to come back. When the opportunity presented itself to return home, become a winemaker and advocate for our Suisun Valley, I knew I had to go, it was like leaving a job to live for a calling.”
Now, just after releasing her third vintage of Tolenas wine with husband Cliff, with a vibrantly growing wine club of supporters, Howard is in disbelief of the recognition from a competition she almost did not enter.
“Entering wine competitions completely freaks me out,” said Howard, “the thought of someone tasting, judging, and rating our wines makes me want to hide in a corner. I want to be face to face to them talk to them, explain the wine, answer questions about it!”
But Lisa’s husband Cliff insisted they send in a submission this year.
“When we found out that we won a Gold Medal at the International Women’s Wine Competition I could not believe it. To be judged by my female peers, gain their support and earn a score of 91 points, it was true honor.”
Howard says now that their wines are out there, the pressure is on for future vintages.
“Part of me was not sure I wanted to tell anyone we had won a gold, it just raises the bar higher, but the first person I called, after Cliff of course, was my dad to tell him his wonderful Pinot Noir grapes just turned into a gold medal wine!”
It was during a grape harvest under the Solar eclipse in 2017 that the idea for a white pinot noir was birthed by the Tolenas Winery family.
“We were scheduling our picking days and realized we were going to be harvesting our Estate Pinot Noir during the Great American Eclipse of 2017. When I realized how special of a day it was, I knew we needed to create a special wine to match,” she explained, “The thought of making a white wine with the red pinot noir grapes popped into my mind and I just chuckled thinking this is either going to be really great, or fail miserably, but we have to try it.”
Getting a white pinot right is no simple fete, red grapes don’t easily become white wine, she continued, “We hand-picked and pressed the whole grape clusters, very gently, to extract the juice while not imparting any color from the skins into the wine. The wine fermented beautifully and resulted in a crystal clear white wine we called Eclipse. We were fortunate enough to have a great following on the wine and sold out before the year was over.”
In 2018, harvest arrived, and the pressure was on to repeat the prior year’s success.
“I was nervous, would it be as good? Could I repeat this wine without the magic of the Eclipse? Was it just a novelty or was this new wine style really worth making on an annual basis,” but not letting her insecurities get in the way, she went for round two.
“The weather was different, the harvest dates were later, and when the juice was in the tank it seemed to be darker than 2017. I was worried that I blew it; maybe we pressed it too hard and we imparted color, unlike a Rose, we needed it to be clear,” but after a nail-biting couple months Howard says the color shifted to a beautiful straw color.
“This wine was an exciting journey as a new winemaker, I succeeded in duplicating a wine style, and dare I say improved it. My dream with the White Pinot “Eclipse” is to have it be that wine on a wine list in a restaurant or in a retail store that strikes interest and conversation, then quickly becomes your go-to white wine.”
You can find The Eclipse and the Tolenas Vineyard and Winery wines on their website www.tolenaswinery.com, or search Facebook and Instagram for @TolenasWinery.