Margaret Davenport

Margaret Davenport

Winemaker (Winemaker Emerita)

Loving wine, wanting to live in the countryside, possessing a B.S. degree in biochemistry from San Francisco State in 1975, and working at the UC Medical Center for several years after graduation made Margaret a good candidate for her first winery job. In 1980 she accepted a laboratory position at Simi Winery in Healdsburg. Pursuing science, not routine laboratory work was her true interest, but positions in the laboratory or the tasting room were the only choices for women interested in entering the wine industry in the 1980s. Fortunately for Margaret, although extremely unusual during this era, Simi’s winemaker, and later winery president, was a woman, Zelma Long. She encouraged Margaret to consider an advanced degree in enology.

In fall 1981, Margaret enrolled as an enology graduate student at the University of California, Davis. In 1983, having completed her course work, she accepted an enologist position at Wente Brothers (now, Wente Vineyards) in the Livermore Valley while she continued the research for her master’s thesis. During her three years at Wente, Margaret not only completed her thesis, graduating with her M.S. in 1985, but also became Wente’s maker of sparkling wines.

In late 1986, Margaret moved to western Sonoma County to assume duties at Clos du Bois as assistant winemaker, becoming its winemaker in 1990 when her immediate predecessor left the position, and then its Vice-President and Director of Winemaking. There she focused on crafting small lots of single-vineyard wines from the Alexander Valley. In addition to winemaking, she and her production team worked on the design and oversaw the construction of its state-of-the-art facility in Geyserville and had their first harvest there in 1991.

During Margaret’s 16-year tenure, Clos du Bois was barrel fermenting more Chardonnay than any other winery in the world and increased its overall winery production from 150,000 to 1.5 million cases while receiving recognition for its wine quality from Robert Parker and Wine & Spirits. Margaret noted that at the time “her winery team of assistant winemakers and enologists was second to none. We were a group of largely women managers who not only worked directly with the cellar masters and crews, but also trained them in the techniques and care of small-lot winemaking. It was an honor to have worked with such dedicated people and shared the success as the winery grew.”

Margaret took her career in a new direction in 2003 by starting her own business, Davenport & Company. Under this label, she was making Russian River Pinot Noir and Zinfandel from her Rockpile vineyard, while also providing consulting services for winemakers and winery owners. Margaret also directed small-lot production of Cabernet and other Sonoma County varietals at several wineries. These included Passalacqua Winery, where she was the winemaker starting in 2004, and Merriam Vineyards, where she served as its first winemaker. She became the winemaker at Windsor Oaks Winery in 2011. Even with all the demands associated with her duties as a winemaker, Margaret managed to find time to teach in a UC Davis extension program associated with earning a certificate in winemaking.

Reflecting on the passion for her work at both small and large wineries during her long career, Margaret noted that the “’secrets’ of great wines are the same world-wide: the best grapes, refrigeration, gentle handling, and winemakers overseeing all steps from grape to barrel to bottle and aging.” Her wine-tasting advice for consumers is to taste more wines and more often.

After working more than 30 harvests, Margaret formally retired in 2014 but she continues as a consulting winemaker. Margaret and her family reside in Sonoma County.