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Napa's Cutest & Coolest Vintner: Michele Ouellet

Michele Ouellet has a recognizable face. You've probably seen her high cheekbones and intense gaze gracing catalogues from Reformation to Free People. But modeling is only a fraction of her day-to-day life. When she's not posing as the face of J.Crew and Madewell, this Napa Valley native is the creator and manufacturer of her own line of rosé wine, Lorenza.

Michele Ouellet at the vineyards (Photo credits: Refinery 29)

Michele Ouellet grew up in Napa and is a successful international model, based in NYC. She began modeling in Paris when she was just 15. While in Paris, Michele discovered rosé. It was low alcohol, so she could have a glass for lunch and not be wiped out for work afterwards. Michele and her mother, Melinda Kearney, appreciated the food-friendly aspects of rosé. It was as if, while a continent apart, both were enjoying an appreciation for similar things. They determined it was time to join forces so they could not only spend more time together but do something they also loved.

Melinda Kearney with her daughter, Michele Ouellet (Photo credits: Sara Kerens Photography)

Hence, the mother and daughter duo founded Lorenza in 2008. Coming from modeling into the wine space, Michele quickly learned how much she didn’t know. From sourcing grapes, the harvest, the crush, and so much more she relied on her mother who has been in the local wine business for almost 30 years, to do the research. 

The pair was clear on what they were going to make, it would be a very pale pink, low alcohol, and very crisp rosé. They knew exactly what it would take to get the grapes to make their desired rosé, but they were bucking tradition. Farmers were hesitant and uncomfortable with the tradition-breaking tactics that the pair needed. They knew that every success related to wine begins in the fields with the farmers and used every means to assure them they knew exactly what they were doing and had the money to pay for their adventure.

A bottle of Lorenza Rosé (Photo credits: Lorenza Wine Company)

While Lorenza Wines is based in St. Helena, their fruit comes from Lodi, California, where there's a sense of summer, palm trees and sunshine. Lorenza uses old vines which provide such a contrast: they are super gnarly and crazy, a dichotomy of grandfather vines with rosé, which is fresh and young. “We like to think that working with old vines gives us complexity and longevity. You don’t think about rosé as something that you would age, or being age-worthy at all but actually, it is. A few years down the road, it adds beautiful nuances to the fruit. It adds layers and from an aesthetic or authenticity factor it feels really good.” says Melinda.

After eight years of producing Lorenza Wine they are thrilled about what they’ve built and where the market is. It’s taken time to erase the bad rap rosé had once upon a time, but the market is educated and pleased with this newer generation of dry rosé.

Lorenza Rosé pour (Photo credits: Lorenza Wine Company)

"Lorenza is a super fresh, dry, delicate rosé, like Provence, but made in California. Lorenza is made from very old vines, picked in the first two weeks of August specifically for rosé. It also has teleportation powers – one sip and it is summertime, and you’re jumping off a boat into the Mediterranean Sea." Michele says.

Michele Ouellet posing at the vineyards (Photo credits: Free People Blog)

In an interview with Michelle, she talks about her role in Lorenza: “I am in the vineyard before harvest, tasting the grapes for ripeness and then all the way through harvest checking on everything. I make it a priority to be as hands-on as possible during the blending process.” She continues, “I handle our social media from wherever I may be working out of town. When I’m in the valley, I make deliveries, organize our parties and visit our restaurant and hotel clients. It’s been a lot of fun to host parties supporting my friends in the fashion and art businesses in New York and Los Angeles.” 

She also commented that she loves bringing her two worlds, modelling and wine, together. “I have found that the wine business and the modelling world are very complementary and am so pleased with the balance it provides me,” she said. "I love having another project that is stable, adheres to a schedule of sorts—nature’s time zone—and I am in the driver’s seat, along with my mom, of course. In modeling, I am at the center of someone else’s creative vision. It’s interesting to apply what I’ve learned in fashion to the wine business."

Michele Ouellet posing with a bottle of Lorenza (Photo credits: Wine Enthusiast)

This Valentine's Day, love is not only in the air, it's in the bottle too. And what better wine to fall in love — or stay in love — than a bottle of bubbly rosé? We've got California's best right here at Vinified. Shop Lorenza Wines here.

Article credits: The Wine Siren and Racked.

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