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A Star of Amador County Winemaking: Terra d’Oro’s Emily Haines

Emily Haines Winemaker

Jan. 20, 2022

Chances are pretty good, if you’re reading this, that you already know about the powerhouse lineup of California wines coming out of Amador county, such as zinfandel, barbera, petite sirah, and Rhone-style wines. And if you already know about Amador’s rich tapestry of wines, then you probably know about Emily Haines, one of the brilliant winemakers currently weaving Amador’s vines into a world-class winemaking region.

A transplant takes hold
Haines, Winemaker for the legendary Terra d’Oro Winery, came to the region via Washington State with a background in biotechnology and biochemistry. “I was at a large custom crush facility making gobs of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, chardonnay and riesling,” she said in a recent interview with Breakthru. “It was fun, but I felt ready for a new challenge in winemaking in a completely new-to-me area. I’d looked abroad and in other states, then this opportunity presented itself to me.”

The challenge appealed to Haines, who said of her decision to come to Amador county, “I’d worked very little with the varieties grown here which excited me.” But Amador is more than just its varietals, as she quickly discovered. “Now working and living here, I love the sense of community among the wineries, the picturesque towns and the relaxing atmosphere of being in the country.”

“I’m in a great place now and I’m proud that I’ve been at Terra d’Oro for more than four years,” she added. “I didn’t realize that such a supportive network of winemakers existed and I’m so glad they chose me. Joining Terra d’Oro and Trinchero Family Estates has been the best leap of faith I’ve taken.”

85 percent of the people that I have worked with have been great, supportive, and treated me as an equal. But the other 15 percent told me that I couldn't do it or would undermine me or tell me that I would amount to nothing.
- Emily Haines

The Amador terroir
The unique Amador terroir appeals to Haines, and certainly keeps her work interesting. “I’m excited about barbera and zinfandel,” she told us. "They’re so different from one another, but I love the way both varieties express themselves in Amador County. Amador zinfandel has such beautiful fruit and spice, along with a tannin structure that I don’t quite taste in zinfandel from other regions. Amador barbera can straddle a line of fresh cherry and dried herbs and wet slate; it’s so versatile with cuisines from across the globe.”

Serious wine enthusiasts should keep an eye out for upcoming reds, according to Haines. “We’re getting ready to bottle our 2020 red wines, and I’m pretty jazzed about them. I don’t shy away from robust tannins, and I found that the tannins in 2020 are big, round, velvety, and downright delicious.” For her own enjoyment, Haines has turned of late to “the 2020 Terra d’Oro Pinot Grigio and the 2019 Terra d’Oro Deaver Zinfandel,” she said.

From the soil up
With a background in biotech, Haines approaches her work with a scientific mind. “Starting in the lab,” she said, “my science background was my foot-in-the-door. When something goes wrong, in winemaking or general facility, my research background helps me find the root cause and create solutions.” She waxed nostalgic for those early days in the lab, saying, “I still find myself longing for my lab tech days. Running analysis was so relaxing for me. You can zone out with music and find a rhythm. I still get to be in the lab from time to time here at Terra d’Oro, but mostly during harvest.”

She also had some choice words for other women trying to break into the wine industry. “It’s important to keep clawing,” she said. “I’ve had people tell me that I didn’t have the passion or drive to become a winemaker. Those were tough times, and it would get me down sometimes, but I kept clawing and absorbed everything I learned, tasted, and smelled. If anyone says something that gets you down, just keep going. This is your dream, not theirs.

“It wasn’t always easy,” she admitted. “85 percent of the people that I have worked with have been great, supportive, and treated me as an equal. But the other 15 percent told me that I couldn’t do it or would undermine me or tell me that I would amount to nothing. Those people suck, but, those people also made me so mad that giving in and giving up was not an option. The only option was to keep going — flying higher than they ever thought I would — and continue to follow my dream.”

We are proud to carry Emily’s wines, and the full Terra d’Oro portfolio. Connect with us today to find out more about how this incredible brand can be a win for your business, too.

This story is part of our award-winning “Women in Wine” series, our long-running effort to highlight winemakers, sustainable specialists, executives, and others making a positive impact in the world of wine.