Napa’s Pahlmeyer: From Father to Daughter #WomensHistoryMonth

Thirty years ago, San Francisco Bay Area attorney Jayson Pahlmeyer set out to make a very specific style of red wine, Mouton Bordeaux, and he chose Napa Valley to do so. He worked with professors from Bordeaux, sending samples of soil, and they returned with these results: grow corn. He persevered, and eventually, a place was found to develop his dream and find success– in part because in 1981 he smuggled vines in from France! Not to mention one of his wines getting a cameo in a major Hollywood film (scroll down for the clip).

Now, thirty years later it’s women that call the shots, and wines made by women that we’re celebrating during March’s Women’s History Month. Today Jayson’s daughter Cleo runs the show as President of Pahlmeyer since 2017, and in terms of winemaking, women have held this job for a number of years as well! In 1993winemaking leader Helen Turley left Turley Wine Cellars and took over winemaking along with her protoge Erin Green. More recently, for six years, Bibiana González Rave made the wines; she grew up sampling from her father’s glass and knew by 14 she wanted to make wine herself. In 2014, Wine Enthusiast included her in their “40 Under 40: America’s Tastemakers” and in 2015, she was named “Winemaker of the Year” by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Today Pahlmeyer’s wines are made by Jennifer Williams who grew up playing in her family’s fruit trees in San Diego.  She previously made wine at Spottswoode, and the San Francisco Chronicle named Jennifer a “Winemaker to Watch” in 2007, and Women for Winesense awarded her a “Rising Star” in 2010.

Cleo Pahlmeyer; photo courtesy of their label Wayfarer

Unlike Bibiana, Cleo Pahlmeyer didn’t go directly into wine after sampling her father’s wine. Her route was more circuitous and included a BA in art history, and a Master’s Degree in Connoisseurship of Fine and Decorative Art at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London and a number of years working in the field of art until 2008 when she returned to Napa to work in wine with her father to carry on his legacy.

“My father’s vision and passion have driven our success for more than thirty years,” said Cleo Pahlmeyer. “With the support of an incredibly talented and dedicated team, I am honored to continue Pahlmeyer’s legacy of iconic wines and be a steward to our exceptional estate vineyards.”

In 2017, Cleo was named one of the “Top 40 Under 40 Tastemakers of 2017.” In November 2019, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Gallo purchased Pahlmeyer and Jayson by Pahlmeyer (a line of more affordable wines) but none of the lands. Jennifer Williams continues to make the wine and Cleo Pahlmeyer serves as president according to the website.  While Jayson now lives in Hawaii, father and daughter continue to own and be involved with Wayfarer, a brand based in Sonoma and focused on Pinot Noir with a small amount of Chardonnay which I hope to feature soon!

Recently, Sue and I got together at my house for a meal to pair with Pahlmeyer’s wines. We knew they’d be heavy hitters, and we wanted to do something special, and we wanted dishes designed to work well with the wines.

Our cheese plate had a range of flavors for pairing with each wine, then each dish paired well in a different way with each wine. Also in thinking about the menu, I wanted flavors that also reflect California cuisine as well as the wines of Napa. A friend of my husband’s shot the elk and gave him a tenderloin and that was the center piece. The herbed blackberry sauce took it over the top both in terms of being special as well as providing more complexity for the wines to pay off of.  Sue and I also have a wealth of winter squash which we know goes particularly well with merlot. And when I found the shrimp on skewers on sale, I knew they’d be wonderful with the beurre blanc that Sue had made previously and I still had in the fridge. The courses and the wines were exquisite, making this a meal to remember!


  • Cheese plate with cured meats
  • Grilled Shrimp on Skewers
    with Beurre Blanc
  • Butternut and Kobach Squash Fritters
    on a bed of ricotta and arugula with lemon honey vinaigrette
  • Wild Elk Tenderloin
    with blackberry sauce

Disclosure: Wine samples were provided for my review consideration; I did not receive any other compensation and opinions are my own.

  • 2017 Pahlmeyer Chardonnay SRP $80
  • 2016 Pahlmeyer Merlot SRP $90
  • 2016 Pahlmeyer Red Blend  SRP $200

2017 Pahlmeyer Chardonnay – 14.9% alcohol –  SRP $80
Sample for my review.

Remember how I mentioned above that Pahlmeyer has an important cameo — nay, plays an important plot point in a major motion picture?

And now for our thoughts about the 2017…

Color: Golden daffodil.

Nose: Butterscotch, vanilla, honeysuckle, bee pollen, flowers on a warm day, to which Sue said “I would not want to drink this on a warm day!” Cardamon, lemon custard.

Palate: Full bodied, rich in character, buttery, butterscotch comes across from the nose to the palate, caramel apple. The acidity of the apple is up front on the palate giving way to the caramel that lays on the palate and hangs out there with a rich, creamy, persistent finish.

If you want to impress those friends who love rich buttery chardonnay, then this is the wine.

For as high as the alcohol is in the Pahlmeyer Chardonnay, it is very nicely balanced. The oak has become perfectly integrated.

Pairing:  Good with a regular brie, but over the top amazing with the mushroom brie, and with the red leister it is like having butterscotch candy. Biggest surprise for Sue was how well the Chardonnay went with the fried salami. The beurre blanc over the shrimp added to the decadence of this wine.

Think rich seafood, shrimp scampi, lobster, even a seafood risotto.  This Chardonnay wants rich buttery goodness! Put a beurre  blanc over the top of any grilled or oven roasted white fish, and it will love the Pahlmeyer Chardonnay.

While the Chardonnay was fine with the squash fritters, we enjoyed it so much more with the shrimp and beurre blanc. The pairing of the arugula greens with the lemon zest and the ricotta was delightful; the fried squash fritters is wonderful and makes an excellent opening course or meal.


2016 Pahlmeyer Merlot  14.9% alcohol  SRP $90
97% Merlot, 2% Malbec, 1% Cabernet Sauvignon
85% new French oak for 20 months
Sample for my review.

Color: Extremely dense, garnet with a blood red rim.

Nose:  Sue got the mint and the eucalyptus right up front. It definitely has the characteristics of the merlot varietal. Cherry, earthy tobacco, violets, pine needle forest floor.

Palate: The eucalyptus, mint, forest floor, earthy textural quality, tobacco, leather, there is a great deal of acidity on the sides of the palate. The tannins are present, but not overwhelming.

What a decadent wine, like a juicy tart cherry that has been dipped in a dark chocolate fondue.

Pairing:  Squash fritters were fantastic with the merlot especially with spiced pecans. We imagined having a roast beet chip on top as well. The bite with everything going on in the meal is the most amazing. The elk with the pepper and the rosemary in the berry sauce goes so well with this wine. Sue is not at all a carnivore, but found the flavors to be amazing in the tiny bit she was willing to try. She kept repeating that the pepper was the key to success in this. The rosemary and the berries also added an additional layer of flavors, but the pepper was the key with the wine.



2016 Pahlmeyer Red Blend  15.1% alcohol  SRP $200
80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Merlot 5% Cabernet Franc, 4% Petite Verdot, 2% Malbec
Sample for my review.

Color:  Maroon, Oxblood red, deep and dense, like the color of California Peony.

Nose: Herbs and spices, violets, cherries, plums, raspberries and iris, very very very inviting.

This is a very heady Red Blend, intense, you get it in your head and it takes a while to process all of the pleasures.

Palate:  Yummy, yummy, yummy on the palate.

This is smooth operator, dangerously smooth.

There are tannins up front, but the tannins are very well balanced.  Such an easy drinking voluptuous wine. Fruit, spice and easily assessable. The texture is memorable. Lingering bentonite clay finish.

Pairing: The red leister cheese was perfect with the wine and it was equally beautiful with the blue. We had a bit of Marco Polo aged cheddar on the plate, and because of the different spices in the cheese, it was an amazing combination. Cured meats were very nice, but Sue preferred the strong aged cheeses. The pepper in the elk again is so yummy with the red blend. The grilled components of the meat and the pepper in the crust went so well with the meat and berry rosemary sauce took the meal over the top.

What an amazing meal!

So this March, find wine where women have a hand or two in the process, like Pahlmeyer, or if Pinot Noir is your thing, check out Wayfarer!

And now, guess who is headed to NAPA?


I’m joining the Napa Valley Wine Academy’s  WSET 3 “Bud Break” class which begins March 15! In this “hands-on course”we’ll visit barrel coopers,  vineyards, and cellars to understand what makes wine from Napa Valley unique. For one week, winemaking theory and practical techniques come together along with tastings and specially prepared lunches plus one winemaker dinner. Since I’m a hands one person, and I learn so much better when all of my senses are engaged, this is the ideal way for me to learn and I am so excited to take a hands-on behind the scenes course in addition to traditional book learning and online resources. It will make for some great story telling too so stay tuned for more! PS The course is limited to 12 people and there is still a couple spots left. Learn more and sign up here. FULL DISCLOSURE: I am getting a reduced price in exchange for sharing my experience with you!

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