With an exciting new adventure ahead of her, we sat down with our new Winemaker, Jill DelaRiva Russell, to learn what inspires her and what she’s most excited about in her new role.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in Castro Valley, California with my two brothers, one older and one younger. When I was in high school, I worked as a server at a winery in Livermore, which is where I first fell in love with food and wine. Once I graduated, I moved to San Luis Obispo to study Wine and Viticulture at Cal Poly. My education there was centered around “learn by doing,” so I while I was there, I made wine with my peers and traveled throughout California, learning about all the various winegrowing regions in the state.
When did you discover your winemaking calling?
I really caught the wine bug at school. While attending Cal Poly, I spent one quarter in Adelaide, Australia and took another quarter off to work a harvest at a local winery. There I tried to learn every possible aspect of the process, and I couldn’t stop asking questions – I just knew it was meant for me.
Where have you made wine?
I’ve made wine in San Luis Obispo County with grapes from Edna Valley, and Paso Robles. I have worked in Santa Barbara County including Sta Rita Hills, and Santa Maria Valley. I also had the absolute dream opportunity of working in France in Menetou-Salon near Sancerre in the Loire Valley.
Do you have a favorite varietal to make? To enjoy?
I love making and enjoying Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Both varietals represent such unique expressions of the place they come from, especially in Santa Maria Valley. They truly were my first loves and always will be. But I will say, you can’t go wrong with sparkling wine for any occasion and I usually won’t turn down a cool climate Syrah.
What excites you most about making wine for Cambria?
Cambria is such a special estate and I look forward to continuing the tradition of world class, cool-climate winemaking that showcases what makes the region so special. Plus, it’s an honor to finally work with fruit from the renowned Katherine’s and Julia’s Vineyards.
Why do you think Santa Maria is a special place?
Hands down, the topography of the region. The fact that there’s an east-west orientation of mountain ranges, which allows fog and coastal breezes to move through the valley and create a long, even growing season makes it special. That coupled with low annual rainfall and warm sun makes Santa Maria Valley (especially the Cambria Estate) a perfect place to grow my favorites, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Do you have a favorite spot on the Cambria Estate yet?
My favorite part of the estate is up on the hillside at a spot labeled block A13. It’s the highest elevation point in the vineyard and overlooks the estate vineyards, winery and the rest of the Santa Maria Valley. It’s so beautiful! As the fog breaks each morning, you can see the valley emerge in the sunlight.
It’s Tuesday night, what’s in your glass?
My husband and I love to pair our wine with what we are cooking, so it changes all the time!
Do you have any unusual food and wine pairings?
Someone once taught me to pair Chardonnay with steak and I initially thought they were crazy, but I love that pairing. Especially when BBQing outside on these hot summer nights, I relish a crisp glass of Chardonnay instead of the typical red wine and steak pairing.
What are your favorite things to do on the weekend?
I love staycations on the Central Coast – between the beaches and wine country, we just have it all! My husband and I are big into hiking, cooking and dining out, especially along the coast. I’m all about broadening my palate, so we’re always researching new wines and visiting wineries, checking in with neighbors and creating friendships.
What’s something not many people know about you?
I love to sing, but I’m in no way good at it. My family had to put up with me singing the blues while growing up. The Cambria crew will soon hear my out-of-tune musical stylings in the cellar.
Harvest is coming up, are you ready?!
I can’t wait for harvest! I’m so excited to work closely with the established team on site and learn the intricacies of the vineyards and winery.