Dawn Martella is currently winemaker for Karmère Vineyards and Winery, a 6500-case facility in the heart of California’s Shenandoah Valley. Dawn’s emphasis on vineyard expression and understanding of yeast attributes and barrel contributions results in carefully crafted, award-winning wines. A relative newcomer to the winemaking industry, Dawn’s passion for her art is evident in the subtle complexity of her wines. Prior to her relationship with Karmère, Dawn and her husband, Richard, were part owners in another local winery, where she served as both General Manager and Assistant Winemaker.
The wines produced by Karmère include Viognier, Syrah, Barbera, and Zinfandel varietals. Dawn and her husband, a winegrower, especially enjoy time with their family and friends. A farmer at heart and an avid gardener, she can often be found walking the vineyards to see what the grapes are doing. Dawn also enjoys hiking, kayaking, and motorcycling.
As a country girl growing up in Grass Valley, Dawn Martella always wanted to be a winemaker. Fate intervened in the most unlikely of places: While taking a college welding class. Martella recalls, “The instructor gave me a bottle of wine from his vineyard. Since I already had a crush on him, at that point the sky opened and a beam of light illuminated him. I think there were angels singing in the background, too.” The instructor became her husband; as a viticulture and plant science teacher, he helped spark her journey. After working on small productions, she initially turned down Karmère owner Marilyn Hoopes’ offer to become winemaker because of the sheer size, but a pep talk from her husband convinced her to reconsider. “And I’m glad I did,” says Martella. “I just love being here and doing what I do.” Martella is now approaching her 11th harvest at Karmère, and is deeply passionate about all aspects of winemaking.
Every winemaker does things a little differently; Martella says she likes to focus on varietal character. “I want to taste those elements that make Barbera, Grenache, Zinfandel, etc., taste the way they are. When I walk through the vineyard, I taste the whole cluster, because it tells me what the wine wants to be.” Of all the aspects of winemaking, walking the vineyard prior to harvest is her favorite. Says Martella, “There’s a welcoming peace to the vineyard that draws me, and I’m always at my happiest touching the vines and watching their progress. Someone once quoted ‘how can one be an atheist in the vineyard, when you find yourself in the presence of the Divine?’”