Nicole Salengo

Nicole Salengo

Berryessa Gap (Winemaker)

Nicole Salengo, originally from New York, took an unusual route to becoming a winemaker. She first completed an undergraduate degree in Geology from the State University of New York in 2002 and honed her palate on different beers(!) while working at Brewery Ommegang, a Belgian-style brewery in Cooperstown, New York.

After earning her degree, she followed her dream by moving to California, where she found an entry-level position at an air-testing lab. But as Nicole says, “the stifling environment of lab coats wasn’t for me,” so she made a short-term shift to waiting tables at a wine shop that specialized in rare wines. There, she serendipitously met winemaker Mark West, a patron of the shop, who offered to teach her how to make wine, in exchange for working full time for him on Rominger West, a project he was starting in Davis.

She remained at Rominger from 2005 to 2008, before moving to Putah Creek Winery in Yolo County, where she worked from 2008 to 2012. She followed this by working harvests in Napa in the fall of 2012 and in Marlborough, New Zealand, in the spring of 2013.

Nicole earned a winemaking certificate in 2013 from the Department of Viticulture & Enology at the University of California, Davis, and joined Berryessa Gap Vineyards in Yolo County as winemaker that same year. Since becoming part of the Berryessa Gap team, she has also completed a wine education sabbatical in Southern France, Portugal, and Spain. Yolo County is a lesser-known region, but Nicole elected to work there because of her “innate desire to showcase that the underdog can achieve.”

Her philosophy of winemaking is, in her own words, “I always try to make wines with a sense of place. I want my wines to showcase the vineyard, the terroir, and the grapes I’m given in a particular year rather than trying to make identical wines year after year.” She goes on to say, “. . . like my life, my winemaking is a work in progress.”

As a woman working in a male-dominated industry, Nicole has had her share of being mistaken for a cellar worker rather than the winemaker. She finds it odd that we still have not reached a point where gender is not even a consideration. "I think we should all be judged equally based on the skills we have, not our biological differences." Nicole has valuable advice for women considering winemaking as a career. “Don’t be afraid to take the chance. Stand your ground. Speak up. Find your passion and don’t let anyone or anything get in your way. This is something it seems that men in the industry seem to be more comfortable doing and there’s absolutely no reason that we shouldn’t do the same. We need more women in the industry.”

Now living in Winters, CA, and having a deep understanding of regional terroir, she blends distinguished red and equally distinctive white wines. These include Zinfandel, Petit Sirah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay, among others. She has also established her own brand, Salengo Wines, and released her first vintage under this label in 2020.

When she’s not at the winery, Nicole enjoys simple pleasures like walking with her dogs and doing yoga.