20 Years In, and Korbel’s Erica Mandl is Still Learning on the Job

Apr. 27, 2018

Erica Mandl - Women in Wine - Korbel Header

This story is part of our “Women in Wine” series — an ongoing effort to highlight the women shaping today’s evolving global wine industry. From winemakers to sustainability specialists to executives, these are the women among the vines to watch in 2018.


Erica Mandl has been working at Korbel’s California Champagne Cellars for more than 20 years, but she’s been an admirer of the winery for far longer—or at least its location.

In the mid-1980s, Mandl and her family moved from the cold Chicago winters to warm, sunny and hill-speckled Sonoma County, California. There, as a young girl, Mandl would often ride past Korbel’s vineyards and wine cellars.

Mandl stayed on the west coast for college and enrolled at UC Davis to study biochemistry. It was there that her technical mindset and methodical drive was born. Upon graduation, the beauty of Sonoma County was too alluring to leave, so she applied to a few local wineries, including the one she often rode past while driving with her parents.

“I wasn't quite sure where I was going to wind up,” Mandl said. “Korbel was looking for someone to work in its laboratory, and I thought that could be great foot in the door.”

Fast-forward 20 years and Mandl is now senior winemaker at Korbel, a title she has held since 2004. Along the way, Mandl also served as a wine chemist, enologist and assistant winemaker. 

“I think that it was good for me to start in the lab and work my way up through the winery and all of its roles and responsibilities,” Mandl said. “I look at life as a growing experience, and I feel like there's always something new to learn.”

Mandl is still learning. Whether it is from a customer, her hospitality team or even Mother Nature herself, Mandl continues to find lessons and insights under every leaf.

Lesson 1: Strive for Balance

Being the senior winemaker at Korbel is all about balance—a balance of tradition with innovation, strict methodology with creative freedom, and numbers and data with taste and intuition. Not to mention the technical balance of grape varietals, brix (sugar) levels and maturation time.

“We do 1.4 million cases of California Champagne per year, so when you are overseeing programs that large, you definitely are paying a lot of attention to numbers,” Mandl said.

She added, “It is very technical and there are a lot of numbers to look at, but numbers only tell you so much. Sometimes the numbers don't always tell the full story. You might think that the sum is going to be equal to its parts, but when you abandon the numbers and just start creatively blending different varieties, different vineyards, and tasting all these wines, you realize that the sum is greater than its parts.”

Lesson 2: Embrace Your Surroundings

Korbel has vineyards up and down California. From as far south as Bakersfield to as far north as Mendocino and Colusa Counties. With such a large selection of vineyards to source from, Korbel can set itself apart from French Champagne and use grapes beyond Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.

“We've got some really beautiful fruit to work with it in our portfolio,” Mandl said. “We do use a lot of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, because we’re in in Russian River Valley, and this region is known for those two grapes.

“That said, we also use many other grape varieties in our blends, like Sangiovese, which is an Italian grape with a nice spicy, peppery note. And Damiat, which lends a delicate strawberry element to the blends.”

This bounty of varietals and terroirs is what allows Mandl and her team to keep Korbel consistent vintage after vintage.

“All this amazing fruit from all over California is the key to our consistency for Korbel's house style, which is fruit-forward, fresh, crisp, clean and approachable,” said Mandl.

Erica Mandl

Lesson 3: Celebrate the Every Day

There’s been a lot of change in the wine industry since Mandl started out in the lab.

The biggest change she’s seen? Consumption.

The old attitude of sparkling wine being reserved only for special occasions has all but been abandoned,” Mandl said. “Today’s consumers instead are choosing to celebrate everyday life and as a result, they’re drinking a lot more. From a glass of sparkling wine with eggs in the morning to a Champagne cocktail after dinner, consumers are finding new ways to add some celebratory bubbles to their daily life.”

Lesson 4: It’s Always Cocktail Time

“We’re the official sponsor of brunch here at Korbel, apparently,” Mandl said.

For many, brunch cocktails are limited to a few classics: Mimosas, Bellinis, Bloody Marys and Irish Coffees. Tried and true? Yes, but in need of some fresh newcomers.

Personally, I’m a fan of the French 75 at any time of day, but especially at brunch,” Mandl said. “Made with Korbel, of course.”

Mandl mentions that she has seen a wave of new and refreshed interest in sparkling wines spout across the California cocktail scene. That innovation must be infectious, as Mandl mentioned a line of new sparkling shrub cocktails that the in-house hospitality team at Korbel was currently experimenting with.

Lesson 5: Recognize Where There is Room for Improvement

Erica Mandl PQ3

Becoming the senior winemaker for an iconic brand like Korbel is a lifetime achievement for any budding blender or oenologist. However, for women in the wine industry, achieving a position of that stature has historically been rare.

“I think in all industries, there's always room for improvement,” Mandl said. “In the wine industry, specifically, we are just now starting to see more women in positions of power.”

Mandl recognizes that her career at Korbel has been one filled with support and stability. For the last 20 years, she’s been able to grow from an entry level lab tech to a role that is directly responsible for more than 1.4 million cases of California Champagne per year. She’s now a leader and influencer in a community she’s been enchanted with since she was a young girl.

Women have always been an integral part of the wine community, and now we’re starting to see a new wave of women step into positions of authority within the industry,” Mandl said.

She concludes, “Maybe our voice is getting heard a little bit more than before.

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