This April, Early Mountain Vineyards announced Maya Hood White as their new head winemaker. This change is both a passing of the baton with former head winemaker Ben Jordan, and a recognition of Maya’s many talents in the vineyard and cellar. Maya’s appointment makes her the latest of woman amongst Early Mountain’s top positions, which also includes owner Jean Case and Vice President for Strategy & Marketing, Aileen Sevier.




Wine & Country celebrates elevated living in Virginia Wine Country. Wine & Country Life is a semi-annual luxury print magazine with a full digital presence. The annual Wine & Country Wedding Planner is an art book of elegant Virginia weddings. The brand includes the Wine & Country Shop in Ivy, Va. It is a beautiful lifestyle boutique that brings the pages of the magazines to life. Wine & Country tells the stories of Virginia wineries, the farm-to-table movement, luxury travel, entertaining, art and the elegant country lifestyle. Ivy Life & Style Media also provides branding, web design and PR services for the wine industry.

Maya Hood White at Early Mountain Vineyards

Maya arrived at Early Mountain to assist with the 2014 harvest and joined the team a year later. While her previous position was ‘Associate Winemaker’, that title seemed too small for her many responsibilities, which include running Earl Mountain’s chemistry lab, heading its sparkling program, and extensive work in the vineyard.

She’s been able to tackle these responsibilities because of a rare trifecta of skillsets, including chemistry, vineyard management, and winemaking. “It’s important to understand that Maya started entirely in the vineyard,” explained Aileen Sevier. “If you think about most California wineries, they usually have one person for the vineyard and another for winemaking. She checks these boxes in a way you don’t often see. And her technical chemistry background is frosting on the cake.”

This combination of skills for a common vision is unusual for wineries of Early Mountain’s size, but its very representative of the Virginia wine industry. While Early Mountain’s 15,000 cases a year places it in the upper tier of Virginia wine production, that’s still a blip compared to commercial wineries in California.

maya hood white early mountain vineyard female winemaker

Skills a Virginia Winemaker Needs

According to Maya, the challenge of making wine in Virginia is what attracted her to this job. “Virginia is so interesting and dynamic. Because the Virginia wine industry is so young we’re like pioneers–always learning.” Maya pointed to petit manseng – a grape that’s taken off due to its suitability in Virginia’s climate—as an example of Virginia’s willingness to experiment.

Like many local winemakers, her route into Virginia was a circuitous one. Maya was born in California and originally worked as an engineer in the defense industry, with no background in wine. But the more she learned about the wine industry, the more interested she became in a career change. When the opportunity to flex different creative muscles presented itself, she dived in.

Maya’s science background likely made the leap easier; not coincidentally, her thesis work at U.C. Davis focused on bubble nucleation of sparkling wine. “The analytical side of winemaking really appealed to me. At Early Mountain we have a lab on site, so approaching this from an analysis background makes sense to me.”

Early Mountain Vineyard 2020. Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life

How a Winemaker Spends Free Time

While no winemaker’s life is entirely about winemaking, Maya enjoys a quiet life outside of work. “I’m very good at staying home, doing things like virtual tastings and daily yoga. Little things like that.”

As for what she drinks while not at Early Mountain, she explained “I’m kind of fickle. It depends on what I’m working on. I like wines that will inform what I’m working on, although I gravitate toward Sancerre.” Of course, that didn’t stop her from popping a 1986 bottle of sparkling when Early Mountain offered her this new position.

Maya is equally low key in talking about her successes and longer-term goals, although she’s happy to talk about her wine. “I think our Pét-nat is a win. Some of our plantings are from 2015-2017. We are trying different clones and it sounds very geeky but having an opportunity to use different plantings is very exciting. Grapes like petit manseng lets you flex your winemaking muscles. But looking at my goals at Early Mountain, I’m looking at ways to express our exciting sites. Plus there are so many places that haven’t been discovered.”

maya hood white early mountain vineyard female winemaker

What’s Next for Maya Hood White and Early Mountain Vineyards

Maya is cognizant she’s one of a handful of female winemakers in the state, although that fact doesn’t seem to faze her. In terms of the people who’ve mentored her along the journey leading to Early Mountain, “I hadn’t met too many winemakers before I got into wine. But Afton Mountain was very generous to me, and Kirsty Harmon (of Blenheim Vineyards) was very generous with advice.”

Literally on her first week in her new position, Maya was part of a team of Virginia winemakers on their way to showcase Virginia wine in the most competitive wine market in the United States. It’s a job uniquely well suited for both Maya and Early Mountain. ~

Although Early Mountain is planning their 10-year anniversary this September, Maya isn’t expecting to make any immediate changes in their style of winemaking. Yet promoting Virginia wine and the Early Mountain brand remains a high priority. Just days after Early Mountain announced Maya as their head winemaker, she was preparing for a trip to New York City.

Learn more about the life and work of winemakers with Wine & Country Life’s editors. Gabrielle Rausse has made wine at many Virginia wineries and is considered the father of the modern wine movement. Get to know Nathan Vrooman of Ankida Ridge Vineyards, Stephen Barnard of Keswick Vineyards, Doug Fabbioli of Fabbioli Cellars, the most awarded winemaker, Luca Paschina of Barboursville Vineyards and Shannon and Caitlin Horton of Horton Vineyards. The annual Governor’s Cup Awards honors the best Virginia wines each year.  

MATTHEW FITZSIMMONS is a Virginia-based wine writer and blogger who has visited nearly every winery in the DMV – most of them twice. Follow his progress at https://winetrailsandwanderlust.com/.




Wine & Country celebrates elevated living in Virginia Wine Country. Wine & Country Life is a semi-annual luxury print magazine with a full digital presence. The annual Wine & Country Wedding Planner is an art book of elegant Virginia weddings. The brand includes the Wine & Country Shop in Ivy, Va. It is a beautiful lifestyle boutique that brings the pages of the magazines to life. Wine & Country tells the stories of Virginia wineries, the farm-to-table movement, luxury travel, entertaining, art and the elegant country lifestyle. Ivy Life & Style Media also provides branding, web design and PR services for the wine industry.