Paula Harrell: A Winemaker’s Tribute to Family

For Oakland-based winemaker, Paula Harrell, there is no rushing a dream that has been placed in your heart. The founder and owner of P. Harrell Wines is taking her time and doing things her way as she introduces wine lovers to her portfolio one glass at a time. Harrell’s journey into becoming a winemaker is as unique as every other winemaker who turned a passion into a successful business.

Born and raised in San Francisco, Harrell grew up the daughter of an immigrant mother from Panama and father from Oklahoma.  Her parents built and owned a series of elderly care facilities and other properties throughout the city which also helped to host and employ families coming from Panama looking to build a better life.  “It was just like this big melting pot of family and extended family that was always around and it was a very supportive situation and I watched people’s families grow as a result of my parents bringing everybody here,” says Harrell.  Those memories would later play a role in her now growing wine business.

The Beginning of a Wine Journey

Her first introduction into wine would take place while studying abroad as a college exchange student in Spain.  A roommate’s boyfriend came to visit and wanted to introduce a few of them studying together to wine.  Little did he know, he not only did that but also planted a seed that would lead Harrell on her own wine exploration.

With Napa Valley just a stone’s throw away from San Francisco, Harrell decided to spend time getting to know more about wine, the grapes and the process.  She eventually purchased a timeshare there and began working events at different wineries and spending a lot of time with winemakers.  As her affinity for wine grew, so did her desire to share what she knew with others but wasn’t quite sure what that looked like outside of going wine tasting with family and friends and sharing over the dining table.

For family gatherings, she became the go-to person for selecting wine and it was one particular dinner and selection that sparked it all. “There were two of them, a zinfandel and a petite sirah and I thought these would be better together and I blended them,” says Harrell recalling the time when she was choosing between two bottles of wine for a family dinner.  Subsequently, the blend was a hit with her uncle saying, “You know this is a pretty good blend and I don’t know how you figured this out, but this is a pretty good blend. But might I suggest you make your own wine and stop blending other people’s wine.” Harrell says, “And when he said that to me, a lightbulb went off and I said oh my God, that’s what I will do.”

Although her uncle later said he was just joking, Harrell was not. Over the next five years, she went back and talked to all of the winemakers and people she knew in the industry who shared advice and resources so that she could map out the best way for her to enter into the industry.  Eventually, her research and planning paid off with the introduction of P. Harrell Wines in November 2015.

A self-proclaimed red wine lover, one of her two portfolio offerings includes a zinfandel that is described as full-bodied and fruit-driven with layers of vanilla, cinnamon and clove with a hint of white pepper.  It is named THREE FIFTEEN after the family home she grew up in at 315 Santa Ana Street in San Francisco.

Photo: V. Sheree Publishing

Her reisling has been described as a “white wine for red wine drinkers” as she says it is not on the sweet side. A bouquet of peach blossom, passion fruit on the nose and a palate of full citrus fruit is how it is described on the tasting notes.  Harrell named it Haight Street in homage of her father and grandmother who built their family property at 940 Haight Street in San Francisco from the ground up in 1969. The property was the cornerstone of their business.

This month, Harrell is releasing a third offering, a rosé.  With rosés having their moment in the industry right now, Harrell’s takes a different spin blending zinfandel, petite sirah and grenache together for her first vintage that has body and lots of color with ripe strawberry and raspberry and a hint of earthiness.

She currently distributes directly to consumer through events, her wine club and online purchases shipped to select states.  Oakland residents and visitors can also stop by a handful of restaurants in the area pouring a glass. Harrell hopes in the near future to have store options nearby where you can pick up a bottle after having the wine at a restaurant.

For a list of upcoming events where Harrell will be pouring, visit her website at www.pharrellwines.com and also sign up for her newsletter.  You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram for more updates and future releases.

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Sheree has been penning stories since the fifth grade. Her stories took a delicious and adventurous turn as an adult when she became a foodie.