Gary Fisch recently spoke with Paula Kornell during an Instagram live interview (video below).
Paula is of one of Napa Valley’s leading women in wine, living and breathing the premier wine-growing region all her life. With sparkling wines that draw on California’s past while attracting contemporary lovers of champagne and bubbles in general, Paula builds on the legacy of her family’s winery, Hanns Kornell Champagne Cellars, the first to use “méthode champenoise” in California.
Gary and Paula Kornell met at Per Se restaurant 18 years ago at a Vitner’s dinner in New York. They hit it off immediately and have been friends/business associates ever since.
Gary Fisch: Paula, tell us about yourself and your very interesting wine-making history.
Paula Kornell: I was brought up in Napa Valley and my great grandparents on my mother’s side of the family homesteaded in Napa and are buried in St. Helena, California. My mother’s family is Swiss Italian and my father is from Germany. My parents met in San Francisco in the 1950’s. My father’s family was always in the wine business and made German sparkling wine called German Sect in the 1920’s- 40’s. Before the war he was captured by the Germans and taken to Dauchau for 18 months. He was released because he was able to build wine cellars for doctors in the UK. He had to get out of Germany, went to London and eventually took a ship to the U.S. He never dwelt on that; instead had a great sense of humor and stressed the importance of family and pets – he loved animals. When he came to the U.S. he started his wine making in Ohio and eventually came to Sonoma county and opened his first winery called Hanns Kornell – 3rd Generation Champagne. He always labeled his wine champagne because it was made using the traditional méthode champenoise.
Gary Fisch: When did you get started in the wine business?
Paula Kornell: My brother and I got into the wine business early on. I did every step of the wine making process – and I even had my pigtails stuck in the labeling machine one time! It was a true family business until unfortunately, in 1992, when the family winery went under because so many European brands were coming in to Napa with lots of money and lots of new brands.
Gary Fisch: Tell us about the new Paula Kornell Brut California wine.
Paula Kornell: This wine is a California blend that is primarily Chardonnay with a smidge of Pinot Noir. It has a year on the yeast. The Paula Cornell Brut California was the most difficult in style to make to be sure it had a yeasty and dry component that would go with just about anything. You can mix if you want or enjoy it by itself. It has good fruit upfront and good acidity but not bone dry. My goal was to create a wine to not only take the first sip, but to also not put the glass down and finish the glass. It costs $20 and overdelivers for the price!
Gary Fisch: Why after working with lots of great wineries, and consulting did you decide to take the plunge and put your name on a bottle?
Paula Kornell: Its always been in my heart and in the back of my mind to do this – to continue on the family business. I love champagne and sparkling wine so it was a great fit. My great friend, Pat Roney, came and asked to do this project together. I brought the history and the flavor profile that I wanted and they have a great sales and marketing team and production facilities. Its a win-win!
Gary Fisch: Tell us about your Paula Kornell Blanc de Noir.
Paula Kornell: The Paula Kornell Blanc de Noir is a Napa Valley all Carneros fruit wine. It is 98% Pinot Noir and the rest is Chardonnay. It comes from Carneros, from the Mitsukos winery. The story goes that Jan Shrem gave this 365 acre vineyard to his wife in a box filled with dirt with a note that said for the 365 days I love you! The wine has acidity and nuttiness without having to age for four years and is not as creamy as some of the French champagne. It Has texture and great fruit, balance and acidity. It is $50 and is exquisite.
Gary Fisch: Tell us about the bottle design for your bubbles.
Paula Kornell: Michael Vanderbile is a very talented package designer and is now a neighbor to the Gary’s Napa store in St Helena. He is very talented package designer. After we talked a little about what the design should be, he asked why I wasn’t using the two great men from Caanan which was on my great grandparent’s and father’s wine bottles.
The Bible says that the Men from Cannan are sent over the mountainside to see if the land was fertile. They came back with fruit and huge cluster of grapes. The symbol has become a well-known symbol of the wine business. It wasn’t until I read an old newsletter from my father that said that Napa Valley is his promised land and his land of plenty and that’s when I decided to use the symbols. My father’s vision was to come to Sonoma to make bubbles.
Gary Fisch: And Hanns Kornell bubbles was there when I first got into the business! Tell about the St. Helena store opening and your introduction of your new wines.
Paula Kornell: Gary, you have been the most supportive of all. It was great timing opening the St. Helena store when my first production of Paula Kornell brut was ready! For the first shipment of Paula Kornell Napa Valley bubbles I was channeling my father as I pulled up to the store on the day the store opened and took the first shipment out of my trunk for the grand opening. I was very proud to do that. I also remember that we were not convinced the labels were all dry – it was hot off the press! It was a wonderful celebration that day.
Gary Fisch: Thank you for sharing your story with us and your passion for wine, your love of life and your energy. I am so proud to say that we are friends and now neighbors! Paula Kornell Sparkling Wine is about crafting wines that are stylish, sophisticated, engaging and food friendly. Designed to be drunk with friends and family, raise a toast to California’s history and the rich pleasure of enjoying Paula Kornell Sparkling Wine. All of the Paula Kornell wines are available at Gary’s Wine and Marketplace. Cheers!
For more information on the Paula Kornell wines visit Paulakornell.com