Interview with Winemaker Shelly Rafanelli

I love whenever I get the opportunity to interview winemakers to learn more about their journeys. In this case, I got to know Shelly Rafanelli better over an evening of amazing Rafanelli Wine at my Pinots & Plaid Winemaker Dinner Series. I curated an evening at the Matheson Healdsburg with Sonoma Legendary Winemakers including Shelly Rafanelli, Tom Rochioli & the Iron Horse Vineyards team. What a blast. See more of my Emily Martin Events Winemaker Dinner series on Emily Martin Events website here. 

Shelly Rafanelli

 Continue reading to see My Interview with Winemaker Shelly Rafanelli from Rafanelli Winery.

As someone who is from Wine Country, was there a moment that you remember when you wanted to be a winemaker?

Born and raised in wine country, and working in a family winery, I have
experienced every facet of grape growing and winemaking. It wasn’t until I left
for college and took a course in which I made a Pinot Noir that I realized this was
a path I wanted to follow. Sometimes you need to step away from something to
realize how much you value it.

Winemaker Shelly Rafanelli

What was your first wine job?

My first winemaking job was at the age of 10. I would sparge the empty wine
bottles with nitrogen before they were filled with Zinfandel. This was when my
grandfather Americo was still hand-bottling.

As a winemaker, you taste (and spit) lots of wine. What wine do you feel bad about spitting because you love it so much?

Actually, I really don’t like to spit at all. But if I have to spit it would be the Estate
Blend, since there are only 10 barrels and it is a specific blend that can’t be

What is it like from a winemaking perspective to wear such different winemaking hats during harvest and throughout the year?

Many people think Dry Creek valley only grows Zinfandel, but this region with its
unique soils and topography, and varied microclimates has a lot of diversity and
enables us to grow many different varietals both red and white very well. This
year is actually the 40th anniversary of our appellation.

Winemaker Shelly Rafanelli

I love champagne, so I had always wanted to try to produce a sparkling. We had a
chardonnay vineyard and when my husband told me 2018 was the last harvest
before we were to replant it I knew this was my chance. So I harvested 500
gallons and it was bottled my Blanc de Blanc in the spring of 2021. Since we are a
red house it can be a challenge when pairing for winemaker dinners and special
events. Adding this to our portfolio gave us more versatility for food pairings and

What was one of the biggest mistakes you have made in your winemaking career?

One of my “uh oh” experiences would be starting a trial of new barrels for 6
months and then forgetting to pull samples and tell my crew not to blend them
into the rest of the lot. Trial incomplete!

Who has been the most influential mentor in your career?

Along the way, I have had many mentors. Looking back I would start with my
Father, Dave. He taught me that it all starts in the vineyard and the importance of
growing good grapes. Then I would have to say Marty Bannister, Mary Ann Graf,
Zelma Long and Shirley Molinari. These women helped teach me the more
technical aspects of winemaking.

Winemaker Shelly Rafanelli

Me and my Dad, David Rafanelli

What’s your favorite after-work drink?

Favorite after-work drink…….wine! Most likely a good red wine or a glass of
bubbly depending on the type of workday I had!

What is your favorite local spot in Healdsburg?

I have many favorite local spots in Healdsburg. We are so lucky to live in a town
where there are so many excellent dining options. For a casual night I love eating
at the Oyster Bar at Willi’s. For a special occasion, Valette delivers a great dining
experience. If we are craving Italian food we enjoy Baci. Girls’ night out is best at
Roof 106. Craft cocktails are best at Lo & Behold. Sorry, but I can’t just pick one.

Tell us something that would surprise people about you?

Something many people might not know about me is I have owned and ridden
horses my whole life. I currently have 2 horses and a pony and enjoy going to
competitions on my free weekends. It is the best way to decompress and take a
break from the busy wine world.

Winemaker Shelly Rafanelli

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