Celia Welch: What Could Go Wrong With Barrels?

Napa Valley consulting winemaker to share her experiences at oak conference April 27

by Jim Gordon
Celia Welch winemaker oak conference
Winemaker Celia Welch will be the keynote speaker at the Wines & Vines Oak Conference taking place April 27. Photo: Tia Gavin
St. Helena, Calif.—As a winemaker in the Napa Valley since the 1980s, Celia Welch remembers some early oak experiments that worked out, along with some that didn’t. Like the time she reconditioned some barrels by having the interiors scraped and retoasted. The wines she then matured in them turned out to have vague aromas of propane that just wouldn’t go away.

On the other hand, she remembers doing a trial with barrels that had two different toast levels that were not clearly defined for her by the cooper. Tasting the trial wines with the cooper and the barrel rep after a year, “There was definitely a difference in the wines that I could taste, and they could, too,” she said. “They started talking to each other about it in French, and laughing, and I couldn’t keep up with what they were saying. So they stopped and explained that the difference was less than one minute on the fire out of 45 minutes.”

Welch will share experiences like these and take questions from other winemakers attending the Wines & Vines Oak Conference on April 27 at the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone, in St. Helena. Her topic as the keynote speaker is “Hey, They’re Just Barrels…What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”

Welch is in high demand as a consulting winemaker with eight clients in Napa Valley from small to large. She is the winemaker for Scarecrow—the coveted Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon from the J. J. Cohn estate—and produces her own Corra Wines brand. Over the years she has worked with French, American and Eastern European oak barrels, plus a variety of oak adjuncts.

In addition to Welch’s keynote talk, the conference will include plenty of interactivity and tastings for attending winemakers. One big change from last year’s inaugural event is that sponsors this year will bring their own trial wines to offer at their exhibit booths.

Two one-hour tasting labs will be conducted as breakout sessions, focusing on barrels trials with Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon, and on oak and sensory perception.

The conference will run from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and include breakfast and lunch. For more information including other speakers and topics, or to register for $229, go to wvoak.com or call (415) 453-9700, ext. 102.

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