How Professor Ann Noble Inspired a Generation of Female Winemakers

Professor Ann Noble Photo courtesy of Ann Noble / University of California
By Megan Krigbaum Posted January 05, 2015

Professor Ann Noble taught enology at the University of California for more than 28 years. Many of her pupils are now among the best winemakers in the US.

F&W's #FOODWINEWOMEN series spotlights top women in food and drink in collaboration with Toklas Society. On Mondays through January, we'll look at inspiring mentors. Use the hashtag on Twitter (@foodandwine) to share lessons from your (real and dream) mentors for the chance to be featured.

Who: Professor Ann Noble
What: She taught enology at the University of California for nearly 30 years. Many of her pupils are now among the best winemakers in the US.

Over 28 years at the University of California, Davis, professor Ann Noble taught the science of flavor and aroma to thousands of enology students. Many of her pupils are now among the best winemakers in the US. “She was a force of nature, a take-no-prisoners professor and a don’t-waste-my-time lecturer,” says Celia Welch, winemaker for Napa’s Scarecrow and her own Corra label. “Anyone who thought a university course in wine tasting would be a cakewalk clearly hadn’t met Dr. Noble.”

“I remember one morning at UC Davis, while preparing for class with my co–teaching assistant Robbie Meyer, we noticed a beautiful floral aroma filling the hallway,” recalls winemaker Sally Johnson-Blum of Napa’s Pride Mountain Vineyards. “He and I got into a serious argument about whether it was geraniol or beta-Damascenone—I was for the latter, and I still think I was right. Ann inspired that kind of passion. It wasn’t just about pleasant aromas, either. Once, I walked into Ann’s lab to find a grad student with her nose buried in a sweaty leather boot.”

Ann Noble Protégés and One Amazing Wine From Each

Heidi Barrett: Noble’s lab assistant in 1979.
Her Wine: 2013 La Sirena Moscato Azul ($30). There’s not a lot of Moscato planted in Napa; Barrett’s perfumed, dry white makes a good case for why there should be more.

Sally Johnson-Blum: Teaching assistant for Noble’s wine sensory analysis class in 1998.
Her Wine: 2012 Pride Mountain Vineyards Merlot ($60). Using a blend of grapes from Napa and Sonoma, Johnson-Blum creates remarkably velvety Merlot every vintage.

Helen Keplinger: Noble was her master’s thesis adviser in 2000.
Her Wine: 2012 Keplinger Lithic ($60). Keplinger makes this tiny-production, Rhône-style blend with Grenache, Mourvèdre and Syrah from the Shake Ridge Vineyard in California’s Amador County.

Mia Klein: Noble’s lab assistant in 1982.
Her Wine: 2012 Selene Hyde Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc ($28). Klein ages a percentage of her Sauvignon Blanc in oak, giving the wine unexpected body and richness. The grapes are from Napa’s prestigious Hyde Vineyards.

Celia Welch: Student in Noble’s wine sensory analysis class in 1982.
Her Wine: 2012 Corra Cabernet Sauvignon ($150). Welch makes only a few hundred cases of her superlative Napa Cabernet, but it’s findable if you hunt, and well worth the search.

Name your mentor @foodandwine using #FOODWINEWOMEN and tell us what she's taught you.

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