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Winemaker Kristen Barnhisel Blazes New Trails in Wine and Life.

Kristen Barnhisel
J. Lohr
J. Lohr

Acclaimed Winemaker Kristen Barnhisel brings two decades of experience spanning three continents to her role as winemaker for all J. Lohr white wines. Known for her gifted palate, Kristen’s talent is part of why the J. Lohr Estates Riverstone Chardonnay is America’s #1 selling AVA-specific Chardonnay between $10 and $15. Kristen is also a trailblazer in what has historically been a male-dominated industry. At the start of her career, Kristen became one of the first women, and the first American, to work harvest for renowned Ruffino winery in Italy. Years later, she holds a coveted position at  J. Lohr, and also has an important leadership role as president of the American Society for Enology and Viticulture.

“I worked my very first harvest back when I was 18, at Simi Winery, where my mother worked as a microbiologist,” says Kristen. “I love harvest. I love the smell of the fermentations, the camaraderie of the crew, and the excitement when you know that you picked your grapes at just the perfect moment.”

Though Kristen grew up in Santa Rosa, and was immersed in the wine industry from a relatively early age, it wasn’t until she traveled to Italy while earning her B.A. in Italian literature that she was inspired to become a winemaker. Encouraged to pursue this path by legendary California winemaker, and family friend, Zelma Long, Kristen earned her master’s degree in enology from UC Davis. Since then, Kristen has worked at a who’s who of wineries including Warwick Wine Estate in South Africa, Opus One, Long Vineyard and Inglenook in Napa Valley.

At J. Lohr, Kristen has been embracing the beautiful cool-climate flavors of the Arroyo Seco. “I love making serious white wines that reflect their vineyard roots,” says Kristen. “That’s the essence of terroir—the idea that a great wine should have a sense of place, that its personality should reflect where it comes from. Because of our unique climate and geography, Monterey yields wines unlike anywhere else in the world. They are pure and poised with vivid aromas, vibrant fruit, and remarkable texture. As a winemaker, it was easy to fall in love with Monterey.”

Fun Facts About Kristen

  • Though she grew up immersed in the wine industry, even working harvests as a summer job, it wasn’t until she traveled to Italy while earning her B.A. in Italian literature that she was inspired to become a winemaker.
  • “I love pairing our J. Lohr Estates Arroyo Seco Chardonnay with salmon prepared with lemon and sweet herbs. Some other favorites include chicken in creamy Dijon sauce, crab cakes with reduced orange cream sauce, and scallops in beurre blanc. Once while camping, I even made risotto with smoked salmon, mozzarella and asparagus to pair with our Chardonnay! Quite the experience dining like that in the middle of Yosemite!”
  • If I Could Have a Dinner Party with Any Three People Living or Dead: “A couple of people that come to mind that I would be very interested to have dinner with are Marco Polo and Julia Child. Both would have incredible stories to share of their travels and their culinary experiences.”
  • As with winemaking, Kristen was introduced to cooking early on. When she was 12, she received cooking lessons for Christmas, which taught her the basics. Later, when she was in Italy, her Italian roommate taught her to cook with very fresh, simple, seasonal ingredients—more Mediterranean and Italian-style cooking. Kristen’s signature dish is risotto al fungi with fresh fall mushrooms.
  • Kristen loves to travel. She has been to South Africa, Canada and all throughout Europe, including Prague, Portugal, Germany, Spain and Italy. “I love discovering the beauty in other places and new surroundings, meeting new people and relating to them in new ways. Whether it’s listening to new music, going to museums, or meeting people with unexpected personalities, traveling opens me up to new experiences.
  • Kristen has been into rock climbing since she was 21. Her first climb was at Tahquitz Rock outside of San Diego—one of best places in the world to climb. She even had a chance to repel on her first day. It was a lot of fun, and she loved the adrenaline rush. She was totally sore the next day, and totally hooked. “Climbing is a great way to let your mind relax and really focus on what is right in front of you.”
  • From Bond to Bourne to Mission Impossible and Spy starring Melissa McCarthy, Kristen really enjoys spy movies.
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