More BEST Winemakers Who Dreamt: Jessica Mozeico and the Semler Horde

Writing for a major glossy magazine has inspired me to pursue winemakers that have been on the tBoW hot list for some time. The NY Times versions of these interviews, that would be two women winemakers coming into their own at the same time, can be found in the summer issue of Elegant Living. If you do not live in the Conejo Valley or the Far West San Fernando Valley you can get the excellent articles online. Yes, tBoW conducted the interviews and wrote the glossy print pieces.

We have covered Jessica Mozeico-Blair (she got married) on this blog before. She makes wine with her father Howard in the Willamette Valley outside Portland. Her first career was in pharmaceutical marketing; she was quite successful. Her father wanted a partner and I guess he LOVES his daughter so the rest, as they say, will one day be history. Right now they are riding a wave of great success. The et Fille wines are widely regarded as exceptional examples of custom crush label wine.

The Semler story could not be more different. The Semler patriarch is Ron, in his 60s with a gaggle of kids ages pre-teens to 40-plus. Ron is prodigious. He is also a compulsive worker who loves his family. Lisa is the matriarch and a quiet if guiding force. The family prefers to be represented as acting in unison, making joint decisions about just about everything. This is of course a fiction because everyone knows – as Uncle Joe Giumarra used to say – “somebody’s gotta talk first.” Lisa, Ron and Tami make the big decisions. And not always in that order.

The transformation of Tami Semler is remarkable and central to the changes in the works. In previous encounters (admittedly very few) she seemed guarded like she couldn’t wait to be done chatting and back in the vineyards or stables. Today she is very self-assured and confident, as though 13 years of trying to figure it out on her own has disappeared. While Ron likes the idea of a family enterprise in all things Semler we believe this applies more to the other businesses than the wine business. We think Tami has been the driving force here. Lisa may have provided essential support to pull up the avocado trees and plant vinifera but Tami made it happen. We think. The Big Three have made a lot of decisions in the past five years: apply to build a winery onsite, the first in Malibu; put in a new tasting room down the road at Malibu Golf Club; and perhaps the most important of all, bringing in a highly experienced Santa Barbara winemaker to work hand in hand with Tami in blending the juice. The results are starting to come in. We tasted two new wines – this past summer’s Rose and the new Sauvignon Blanc made by Tami and the Unknown Winemaker and they were quite impressive; a significant step up from muddled and inconsistent past vintages.

The Semlers are poised to move. No. They are making all the right moves. We predict they will shortly dominate the other big cats in the jungle and make wines that will put Malibu on the map for quality instead of curiosity.

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