Q & A with Jacqueline Yoakum, Winemaker, Keller Estate

Jacqueline Yoakum attended college in NY. Her first winemaking role was at Macari Vineyards on the North Fork of Long Island, where she was introduced to biodynamics. She was fascinated by women working in the wine industry and after reaching out to a few, she decided to attend UC Davis and get a degree in viticulture and enology. Jacqueline has made sparkling wine at Schramsberg, Pinot Noir at Littorai, and has been making wine for Keller Estate since 2009. She is also a Holistic Health Practitioner, and resides with her husband and daughter in Napa. Here’s her story.

You grew up in Tucson Arizona in the 70’s. Tell us about your family and its traditions; was wine on the Yoakum family’s dinner table?
When I grew up, I remember wine being served at family gatherings like Christmas Eve dinner. My mother’s father was a WWII veteran and he brought home some European traditions like apples and cheese after dinner, and wine and champagne.

The name Yoakum is often traced back to Germany. Are your family roots also German? Have you ever explored your family genealogy?
The Yoakum name is actually a Welsh name. It stems from the Latin ‘Joachim.’ My lineage is three-quarters Welsh and one quarter German. There is 1/64 Cherokee tribe in there too. I haven’t done my DNA testing for my lineage, but my brother has. We also have a couple of extensive family history reports from both sides of my parents. The Yoakum family and name has been in North America for over 400 years. They settled in Kentucky and were farmers.

You attended Vassar and went on to study viticulture and enology at UC Davis. You also worked with several outstanding wineries. What was your first vintage as a winemaker and for whom did you make wine?
I lived on the North Fork on Long Island which had a well-established wine region, even back in 1998. I started working for Macari vineyards, which was farming their 400 acres biodynamically. This was my introduction to biodynamic practices.

What was the impetus for deciding on a career in the wine industry?
In 1998, I landed in New York after undergraduate school. I had finished two big, multi-year projects, designing an American Indian jewelry store in SOHO and producing a book on Swedish Art Nouveau porcelain. I was living on Long Island and began looking for my next project. That was when I landed the job as assistant winemaker for Maraci Vineyards. I loved the work. I found several female authors on the winemaker’s shelf of books and called Zelma Long of Simi Winery and Linda Bisson, professor at UC Davis. After my conversation with Linda, I hung up the phone and said to myself, ‘I’m going to graduate school at UC Davis.’ It wasn’t a direct path, though. I went back to school to get some prerequisites, and then moved to CA and worked in the wine industry to make sure that this was what I wanted to do, which also helped me get in-state tuition.

How did you meet Ana Keller and when did you begin making wine for Keller Estate?
I was hired by Keller Estate in 2009. Ana Keller and I worked closely together in winemaking and farming. She had a background in biochemistry, so her input was invaluable. She had a good palate also and was very helpful while steering the company in a good direction.

You learned how to make sparkling wine while working as a Lab Technician at Schramsberg. Tell us about that experience.
I worked for Schramsberg from late 1999 to 2000. It was a great experience. Craig Roemer was on the winemaking team. He was a great mentor and enriched my experience. We did dosage trials, and I learned so much from that. Making the still base wine was also very interesting. It is very different from making still wines. And Schramsberg was one of the few places which still did tirage by stacking bottles in their cave. They also had some modern tirage cages, but the old-school tirage stacking was classic. They employed a professional riddler; it was so fascinating to see how it would have been done in years gone by. I loved their respect for tradition, while still innovating at all levels.

What is your favorite grape variety to work with? Which wine are you most proud of?
Since Ted Lemon of Littorai was my mentor in making artisanal Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, I would have to say that I am most proud of the Pinot Noirs which I have made. I also think some of the Syrahs rise to that level. As a winemaker, wines are like children; it’s hard to pick a favorite. In fact, we thrive on making more varieties, as it is part of our creative process.

You are also a Holistic Health Practitioner and work with clients to address chronic health issues or to proactively optimize overall health for those without illness. There has been a lot written in the media about limiting one’s intake of wine or avoiding it altogether. As a holistic health practitioner, what is your position on wine consumption?
Many foods cause inflammation, including grapes. From an inflammation point of view, it is smart to have days where you don’t consume wine. Inflammation can take up to 72 hours to manifest in the body. For myself, I have become a weekend consumer of wines. It allows my body to recuperate during the week. Limiting your alcohol intake is smart too. Be good to your body and it will respond accordingly.

What role does exercise play in your daily life?
My main activity is swimming. My weekly routine includes working out 6 days a week – three days of swimming, one day of running, two days of weight training, and one day of stretching. I also walk my dog and get a lot of steps in that way. Occasionally, I deviate from my routine by listening to my body and not over-doing it. I have a long-term injury in my knee, so I don’t push myself beyond my limits. But I love the feeling of exercise, so I seek it out whenever I can.

If you were asked to prepare the healthiest meal, accompanied by a glass of wine, what would you serve?
I would grill or sear a piece of fish or meat and pan-roast some vegetables. It could be a pork tenderloin with brown rice, grilled radicchio, watermelon radishes, fennel and cauliflower. I like to serve this with a tahini, tamari, ume plum vinegar dressing. I like grilled steak, and seared arctic char. I also love wild game, and at one time in the past, I ate only game (venison, pheasant, quail, rabbit). I have a paleo-oriented, adapted-keto diet – lots of protein, fats, and vegetables. A glass of Keller Estate El Coro Pinot Noir would be perfect for all of these ideas!

Do you have any hobbies like gardening, or swimming or hiking?
Yes, I love to garden, but I haven’t been doing much lately. I hike and swim. I love to camp, but really only do it once a year. My recent hobby is weaving. And I love to read.

You are married to Marc Nanes and live in Napa. Why did you choose Napa rather than Sonoma?
We live in Brown’s Valley which is the perfect fulcrum point between Napa and Sonoma.

Do you have children?
Yes, we have an 11-year-old daughter, Luchsia Nanes. She is an amazing child. We love her so much!

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