California wineries are gearing up for their annual harvest, optimistic about a fruitful season after a particularly rainy 2023. The Prisoner Wine Company (TPWC) is no exception, with head winemaker Chrissy Wittmann leading the charge in Napa.
Chrissy came to winemaking in an unconventional way, discovering her passion for the craft while working in a laboratory. After serving as a laboratory enologist, she pursued a master's degree in agriculture to fully commit to the wine world.
This year is particularly exciting for TPWC with the acquisition of luxury wine brand Domaine Curry. We spoke to Chrissy to learn more about the acquisition, her career, and life at the winery.
Your background is in ecology and biology. How did you find your way into winemaking and what excites you about it?
When I graduated from college, I was hired to work in an environmental lab analyzing soil and wastewater. One of my colleagues in the lab analyzed wine and grapes from the local Edna Valley vineyards. When that person went on vacation, I was asked to fill in. I knew nothing about wine, but I took it on anyway. About a year later, I saw an ad for a lab tech position at a local winery. I was hired, and that sealed the deal for my career.
The exciting thing about winemaking is that it is always changing, and each year brings a new challenge. I have realized that the more time I spend in this career, the less I know and the more I have to learn. It is very humbling.
How does TPWC’s commitment to conversation, collaboration, and creativity inform its approach to sustainable practices?
TPWC has a great team. We could not do what we do without committing to our purpose, vision, and aspirations. We also couldn’t do this alone.
Ultimately, one of our goals is to be true to the environment and respect it through our practices. From vineyard practices to packaging, we want to make smart decisions about what is practical, reasonable, and sustainable.
Our team and creativity drive us. We have our way — our own story — that we believe in, that feeds our work and makes it unique.
What inspired the recent acquisition of Domaine Curry to The Prisoner Wine Company portfolio?
Acquiring Domaine Curry has been an amazing addition to TPWC. We have similar values: love, respect, and inclusion. Once I met the owners, Ayesha Curry and Sydel Curry-Lee, the partnership felt natural. Our approaches were very similar, the chemistry in the room was great, and it seemed like a perfect partnership.
What advice would you give to a woman pursuing a career in the wine industry?
I typically try not to fixate on this too much, as I feel that I have achieved my goals because of hard work and determination. However, I am also aware that this may not be the case for everyone.
Someone recently told me, “go for and go after what you want.” I use this as motivation to have the courage and confidence to navigate. Going outside of our comfort zone is okay and pushes us to be better. Don't get in your own way.
What is your go-to wine?
My go-to wine changes often, depending on what we are working on that is inspiring. Sometimes it’s Sauvignon Blanc because there are many ways to make it. Sometimes it’s Zinfandel because it truly has a unique personality and is very site- and region-driven.
Currently, I am interested in Rhone varieties and blends. They have so much to offer and there is still a lot I don't know about them. There is knowledge to be gained. And, living in Napa, where Cabernet Sauvignon usually takes the stage, I like to give a little love to the underdog.