Carol Shelton

Carol Shelton

Carol Shelton Wines (Winemaker & President)

Carol Shelton is widely cited as the most awarded winemaker in the U.S. She has won countless medals for her wines and has been honored as Winemaker of the Year numerous times. After years of working with some of the industry’s top winemakers and wineries, Carol continues to win awards and accolades for premium Zinfandels produced under her own brand, Carol Shelton Wines. For example, her 2011 Wild Thing Zinfandel was included in the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2014 and her 2019 Coquille Rouge blend was named as “Best of Show” in the 2021 Women’s International Wine Competition, which also named her “Winemaker of the Year.”

Carol’s career got an early, and unusual, start. When she was six years old, her mother developed an “identify the scent” game using household herbs and spices. It was the beginning of Carol’s path into the wine industry. It became apparent soon that Carol not only had a great sense of smell, but she was remarkably adept at figuring out the new smells as the game evolved.

She enrolled at the University of California, Davis, with a penchant for poetry, but she stumbled upon her true calling when she first entered a wine cellar. The wonderful aroma of wine aging in oak barrels was so enticing that it drew Carol to her life’s work. Under the tutelage of Ann Noble, a professor at UC Davis and the author of the Aroma Wheel, Carol threw herself into enology studies. After graduation, she worked with such wine industry icons as Andre Tchelistcheff at Buena Vista, Peter Lehmann at Saltram in Australia, and Robert Mondavi. Her time making wine with these icons in the industry would be invaluable as she forged a career as a winemaker in Sonoma County.

Early in her career, Carol experienced some of the resistance that many of this pioneering class of women winemakers were encountering. In her own words: “women weren’t allowed to work in the cellar. We weren’t considered strong enough, but I think many of us proved this conception to be dead wrong: by hauling hoses, pushing around pumps, shoveling out a tank full of grapes – and yes it’s hard physical labor, but women can do it.”

In 1981, she began working at Rodney Strong and Windsor Vineyards. During her 19 years as winemaker at Windsor, Carol had the opportunity to bottle some 45 different wines each year, ranging from sparkling wines to port, and Zinfandel came up as her favorite wine time and time again.

In 2000, Carol and her husband, Mitch Mackenzie, formerly a software engineer, launched their own brand: Carol Shelton Wines. Provided with an opportunity to create her own identity and focus on whatever varietals she wanted, Carol chose Zinfandel. Zinfandel’s unpretentiousness and range of flavors drew Carol further into the exploration of this varietal.

Drawing from the finest Zinfandel appellations throughout California, Carol carefully selects vineyards producing stellar fruit that reflect the terroir of the region. She develops close partnerships with each grower to ensure that she is kept abreast of the changes in the vineyards and the evolution of the growing season. She produces 5,000 cases a year, with distribution throughout the U.S. and internationally. With an eye to the future, Carol has added a few non-Zinfandel varietals and is increasing production slowly to meet the growing demand for her wines.