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Speculation about who would land the coveted winemaker job at Loudoun County’s Breaux Vineyards ended last Monday with the official press release welcoming Californian Heather Munden to the Breaux family.

News travels fast and far when a prominent winery like Breaux — in one of the most recognized ‘emerging‘ regions in the U.S. — is hiring a new winemaker.  Not surprisingly, the top vintner job at one of the Commonwealth’s largest winery operations has been the subject of much interest here in Virginia and points west.

In late March I was reminded just how fast and far news travels in the wine industry when a winemaker friend in northern, California emailed to ask for ‘some scoop on a big Virginia winery’ that was in search of a new winemaker.

One could make an easy argument that such interest from experienced vintners from larger and more prominent regions is a testament to Breaux’s reputation as one of the east coast’s premier winery operations as well as Virginia’s reputation as a serious region producing world-class wines.

A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to catch up with Heather to talk about her move to Virginia and HeatherMundenBreauxher role as the new winemaker at Breaux Vineyards.

Munden grew up in the Bay Area of California.  Her education background includes a hotel and restaurant management degree from San Francisco City College and a Viticulture and Enology degree from the University of California, Davis.

After graduating from UC Davis, Munden spent three years crossing the globe working as a harvest intern, consultant, and winemaker in Italy, New Zealand, Chile and Western Australia.  Before packing her shears for the 3,000 mile journey east, Munden was a consulting winemaker at Mira Flores Winery, the Artisan Winemaker at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards in Sonoma, CA, and held positions at Hartford Family Winery and Michel-Schlumberger.

Why Virginia?
Virginia provides a whole new challenge for me.  I get to push my life in a different direction.  I also have some family and friends on the east coast so it will be great to live near them.

Prior considering the winemaker position at Breaux, did you have much experience with Virginia wine?  If so, what is your overall opinion of the wines here?
No. I haven’t tried enough Virginia wines to have an opinion but I did recently attend a tasting of the Virginia Governor’s Cup wines and was pleasantly surprised at how great the wines were.

Can you describe your philosophy of winemaking?
I am very much a hands-off winemaker.  I don’t like to intervene unless wine/grape quality is affected.  Bring me good grapes and let them do the work.

What are you most excited about at Breaux?  
Jennifer Breaux Blosser and the team is just as passionate about food as I am so being able to incorporate my passion for food and wine here will make Breaux Vineyards a destination place.  I’m looking forward to leveraging my culinary arts background at Breaux.  Maybe plant a garden or even start a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program and host more farm-to-table wine dinners.

Breaux is also are very dog friendly which is a prerequisite for me.  My new puppy, Jem, will be arriving this weekend.  He will be the fourth Rhodesian Ridgeback that I have owned.  Chris and Jennifer have been extremely generous and have given the employees about half an acre to build a dog park so our furry friends can come to work with us.  I can see us hanging out there in the summer with a glass of Rose watching the dogs play.

What do you foresee as your most significant challenge in Virginia?
The weather here in Virginia makes me nervous.  In California, it’s easy to make wine.  I realize there is nothing I can do about the weather so I will focus on making the best picking decisions possible.

What changes would you like to make at Breaux?
I’m still getting settled here so it’s too soon to say for sure, but one thing I would like to work on is moving the white wines out of American oak in to French oak.  I’m not a fan of American oak, it doesn’t integrate well like French oak does, and tends to mask the delicacies of some varieties.   Breaux currently uses both American and French oak and will be moving more towards French exclusively.

What is the one myth about wine that you would like to see dispelled?  
I would like to remove the intimidation factor of wine.  Everyone should enjoy wine.  If someone tells you you should like a particular wine and you don’t, move on to one that you do. Just keep drinking until you find wines you like.  [To paraphrase – drink what you like!  🙂 ]

Please share a couple of facts about you that people may not know.  
I raise pigs, built my own brick oven, love silverware, cannot live without my dog and feeding family and friends is my life ambition.  Also, I am a great baby sitter but a horrible speller.

It’s great to see Breaux expand the ranks of talented women winemakers here in Virginia.
Welcome to Virginia wine, Heather!  All the best with your inaugural vintage.