Carmel Greenberg is the new head winemaker at Clos Du Val in Napa Valley. 
Carmel Greenberg is the new head winemaker at Clos Du Val in Napa Valley. 

Meet Carmel Greenberg, the first Israeli woman to be a head winemaker in Napa

Talk to any Israeli in the wine industry, and most don’t have a recollection of drinking wine as a child, unless it’s the sweet kind, for Kiddush.

Carmel Greenberg is no exception, though she does recall her parents offering her a sip of their beer while they sat on their front porch in Yavne’el, a moshav near the Sea of Galilee.

“Being Jewish, of course, wine is part of the culture, but I don’t remember my parents drinking a lot of it for pleasure,” she said.

Greenberg was recently appointed head winemaker at Clos Du Val, making her the first Israeli woman to hold that position in Napa Valley, perhaps in the entire area. (It’s easier to find local Israeli male winemakers; in this column we have profiled both Oded Shakked and his Longboard Vineyards in Healdsburg and Chaim Gur-Arieh with his C.G. D’Arie label in Amador County, to name just two.) Greenberg started in June, and this is her first harvest. On the Silverado Trail, Clos Du Val, known mostly for its prize-winning cabernet sauvignon, is celebrating its 50th anniversary next year.

Greenberg, 44, is the daughter of American immigrants to Israel. She grew up on a moshav, or farming community that “was just big enough that I didn’t know everyone, but almost everyone,” she said.

Her interest in wine was piqued during her army service when she’d visit her sister in Tel Aviv, though it was usually an Argentinian bottle they drank that was “probably one of the cheapest ones imported to Israel,” she said.

While in school for interior design, she worked at one of the more well-known French restaurants in Israel, Yoezer Bar Yain in Jaffa. “That was the first time where they sat me down with a book with different wine regions of the world and I got my first experience in tasting a lot of different wines,” she said.

It was a formative experience, as it led to studying more on her own. She began visiting wineries on her time off in Israel and traveled to France and Italy.

“I took my sisters for fun, but the main event for me was going to different wineries,” she said. “By the time I finished my degree, I was really transfixed by it.”

Rather than look for work in design when she graduated, she took a job at Derech HaYayin, one of Tel Aviv’s largest wine stores, with a large, international selection. (While she got to try many Napa cabernets there, Clos du Val’s was not among them).

She ran appreciation classes at the store and later enrolled in a wine marketing class, soon realizing that for a more serious education in wine she’d need to go abroad.

Carmel Greenberg behind the scenes at Clos Du Val.
Carmel Greenberg behind the scenes at Clos Du Val.

She first thought about Australia, but her American citizenship made the U.S. a much more attractive option — her husband could get a green card, and she had one sister already living in California — and she enrolled in the viticulture and enology program at UC Davis. Quite a few Israelis have gone through that program by now; some stay here to continue their careers, while others take their knowledge back to Israel.

Greenberg thought she’d do the latter, but after graduating in 2011 she chose differently.

“At that time, it was still hard to find a job in the [Israeli] wine industry, there weren’t that many wineries, and with most of them, the owners and winemakers were the same person,” she said. “Plus, there wasn’t a lot of turnover.”

With so many more opportunities here, she and her husband decided to stay. “With Israelis who move here, the first few years they are always thinking: Should I go back and when? And there are so many conversations around that,” she said. “That can keep you from taking steps to deepen your roots here. Once you decide, it makes life a bit easier.”

They visit frequently, she said, and have two daughters, 8 and 13.

Her family has traded off living in the East Bay and Napa, and recently moved back to Napa for her new job. She said they are one of five Israeli families that she knows of in the area.

Greenberg has held positions at Cakebread Cellars, Buccella and, most recently, at Dominus Estate as assistant winemaker.

She didn’t necessarily choose to specialize in cabernet sauvignon. She said it chose her.

“It’s definitely been my thing, it’s followed me in my career,” she said. “I have no experience making white wine.”

Because she tastes so much cab on the job, she tends to drink mostly white at home, but she loves cab for its complexity.

Clos du Val makes “soft, fresh, elegant cabs with a long finish that pair well with food,” she said. “There is something about cab that’s just concentrated and rich and it has such a range of flavors. It’s very broad in its expression.”

A statement from Clos Du Val said: “We are delighted to bring Carmel’s diverse experience and artistic vision to our cellar, and look forward to the fresh perspective she will bring to our wines.”

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."