Zelma Long

Zelma Long

Vilafonté Estate Vineyards & Winery, Cape, S Afr (Winemaking Partner)

Zelma Long is one of America’s best-known winemakers and has an enviable international reputation. She graduated from Oregon State University in 1965, having studied science and nutrition. When her in-laws planted vines in Napa Valley, she signed up in 1968 for a master’s degree in Enology & Viticulture at the University of California, Davis. She was the second woman to enroll in enology at UC Davis and the only woman in her class.

Interrupting her studies, she began her winemaking career at Robert Mondavi Winery for the 1970 harvest, rapidly working her way up to the position of chief enologist. In mid-1979, Zelma was recruited as winemaker for Simi Winery, in Healdsburg, in Sonoma County. Two years later, Simi was acquired by Moet Hennessey, with whom she worked for the next 18 years as both winemaker and CEO. From 1976 to 2005 she also oversaw the wines of her family winery, Long Vineyards, in the Napa Valley.

Currently, Zelma is a Winemaking Partner for the Vilafonté project. Established in 1997, Vilafonté was the first winery in South Africa to focus exclusively on luxury wines of international status, growing and making two Bordeaux blends. She oversees the winemaking and style development of the Vilafonté wines and is on site in South Africa during harvest, through pressing and barreling, and then again at blending and bottling. A measure of the quality of wines produced at Vilafonté is its being named Outstanding Red Wine Producer and Outstanding Wine Producer of the Year in the 2021 International Wine and Spirits Competition.

Zelma has won many awards, among them the prestigious James Beard Award for Wine Professional of the Year, the MASI award for international wine contribution, the Wine Spectator-sponsored Oral History of a California Wine Pioneer, and the Annual Award of Merit from the American Society of Enology and Viticulture. In addition, she was elected to the Vintners Hall of Fame in 2010, at the time being only the second woman to be recognized in this way. Most recently, she was named as the Lifetime Innovator Award winner for 2019 by the Innovation + Quality 2019 Advisory Board. She completed a Ph.D. in Performance with a designated emphasis in Native American Studies from UC Davis in 2020. Zelma has also established Zelma Long Wines Consulting Practice and works with clients in California, Washington, Israel, Provence, and Bordeaux.

Zelma has served as a mentor for many winemakers and paved the way for other women to be successful in what was and is a male-dominated field. In a 2007 interview, she was quoted as saying, "I think I had a lack of consciousness about being a woman, and so I’ve never had any constraints about hiring women." Those she hired include Dawnine Dyer, who headed Napa’s Domaine Chandon and now owns Dyer Vineyards; Genevieve Janssens, now chief winemaker for Robert Mondavi Winery; Diane Kenworthy, the first president of the American Society of Enology (ASEV); and Margaret Davenport, also a president of the ASEV and now owner of her own wine consulting company, Davenport & Company.

Zelma is married to Phillip Freese, Ph.D., viticulture consultant and Winegrowing Partner for Vilafonté, and has one stepson and two grandchildren.