Heidi Peterson Barrett
Over the course of her career, Heidi Peterson Barrett has made wine or consulted for many of California’s most famous cult wineries. In 2002, Barrett started Amuse Bouche along with John Schwartz and artist Guy Buffet. This is a Merlot-based wine made in the style of Pomerol on the Right Bank of France’s Bordeaux region.
But this is just one of Barrett’s latest projects; her resume includes working for names such as Dalla Valle, Paradigm Winery, Showket Vineyards, Lamborn Family, Jones Family, Grace Family, Barbour Vineyards, Vineyard 29, and Oakford Vineyards. Perhaps Barrett is best known for her work as winemaker for Screaming Eagle, arguably California’s most hallowed name.
The magic of her winemaking lies in the fact that she is able to harness the ripe fruit flavors that Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are known for, but also retain balance and elegance in her wines. This is no small feat, and very few have accomplished it successfully.
In 1980, Barrett graduated from UC Davis with a degree in Fermentation Sciences. During her college years, she helped Dr. Ann Noble develop the now famous UC Davis Aroma Wheel.
Immediately after earning her diploma, she was employed by the first in a long line of wine luminaries: Justin Meyer of Silver Oak and Franciscan Vineyards. She subsequently worked crush for Rutherford Hill and Lindeman’s Wines, the legendary Australian producer.
Then it was on to Bouchaine Vineyards, where she worked as the assistant winemaker under Jerry Luper. By 1983, at the age of 25, Heidi Barrett landed her first job as head winemaker for Buehler Vineyards in the eastern hills of the St Helena wine region. She single handedly put Buehler on the map as a top tier producer in the Napa Valley, and also increased annual production from 6,000 to 20,000 cases.
Never one to get ahead of herself, Barrett said at the time, “You can’t just step in and be the winemaker unless you have a lot of experience in the cellar. I wanted to make sure that when I finally had the title of winemaker, I had earned it.” And she certainly did earn her title, but after 5 years at Buehler, it was on to even bigger and better things.
In 1988, Barrett essentially became a freelance wine consultant, and began hiring out her expertise to a handful of Napa Valley’s smallest, most quality-oriented wineries. This is when her legend really began to grow. Gustav Dalla Valle was the first to hire the talented young winemaker to vinify his prized grapes from the eastern hills of the Oakville wine region.
Barrett stayed with Dalla Valle until 1996, and developed the cult wine named Maya. This is a primarily Cabernet Sauvignon blend that was far ahead of its time. Robert Parker gave Maya unheard of back-to-back 100 point scores for the 1992 and 1993 vintages. He also began referring to her as the, “first lady of wine.”
In 1992, Barrett went to work for Screaming Eagle. Screaming Eagle is one of those wines that everyone has heard of, but not many have tasted. It is an emblematic California wine, perhaps the California wine of the last few decades. And once again, it was Barrett’s exquisite blend of art and science that made this wine a reality.
Her first vintage, the 1992, also received a 100 point score from Parker. (Two in one year!) At the 2000 Napa Valley Wine Auction, a 6 liter bottle of this wine was purchased for $500,000; the most expensive single bottle of wine ever sold.
In 1994, Heidi Peterson Barrett launched her own label which she named La Sirena. Starting with very small amounts of Sangiovese, she also began making Cabernet Sauvignon in 1996 and Syrah in 2000.
Not surprisingly, Barrett has received numerous accolades from major wine publications. According to Wine & Spirits Magazine, “In the realm of the Napa cult wine, Heidi Barrett is the reigning queen… Barrett makes gorgeous wines; supple, elegant, generous in flavor and nearly perfect in their composure.”