“My story is really long,” Carolina Damiano Cores explains. Her accent is clearly South American, but the way she speaks English hints at her globetrotting lifestyle. Subtle inflections and turns of phrase are like an aural manifestation of her colorful personality. Carolina is head winemaker at Pennsylvania’s beautiful Mazza Vineyards near Lake Erie in North East. She’s also Mazza’s first female winemaker and is among the few female winemakers in the state.
“I started to study winemaking at home in Uruguay, at the only oenology school that we have. In 2007 and 2008 I was preparing my thesis and in the meantime I traveled.” Carolina’s travels brought her to California, New Zealand, Chile and ultimately Pennsylvania, with many stops back home in between. “I’ve been traveling and jumping around, discovering new places.”
With stints in prestigious winemaking areas like Sonoma County in California, New Zealand and Chile (at Concha y Toro), Carolina was drawn to the stellar potential of the Pennsylvania wine country. “I’m so impressed with the wines that we have here,” Carolina gushes. “We have very nice Riesling. The hybrids, like Traminette, are so wonderful! We’re cultivating a lot of new varieties that you’ve never had before. It’s so exciting to see what you can create with that.” Pennsylvania wineries have grown exponentially over the last decade, and that growth has brought better grapes, better techniques and great winemakers like Carolina.
“My life is like a roller coaster, I know,” Carolina says of her travels. That roller coaster has proven to be a cornerstone to her success as a vintner. Carolina’s work history is a colorful patchwork of experience. Her approach to the field of winemaking has been akin to the tradition of “stage” in the culinary world. To date she’s done harvests in four countries totalling 14 harvests around the world, adding a wealth of exposure and knowledge to her repertoire. “I arrived at Mazza, my last destination for now, last year in July . . . and I love it.” At Mazza, Carolina has found the energy, teamwork and environment in which to live her dream of making great wines. “I am an energy person. At Mazza we are all young—like 20s to 30s. It makes for a great team and it is so fun!”
Carolina’s interests mirror her varied experience abroad. “I like too many things,” she professes. “I’ve developed my cross-country skiing. I like to ride bicycles all the time during the summer. I like to walk around the lake near my house. I like to paint—I paint mandalas. It helps me to relax my mind after 12–15 hours working during the harvest season. When it slows down a little bit and you have time to walk, you can’t because it’s winter and there’s snow everywhere. So I paint mandalas.”
Her zest for life and urge to pursue her interests is what drew Carolina to winemaking. “I really like chemistry. When I was just 18, I found out that there’s a lot of chemistry in winemaking. So when I was 19 I was like, ‘OK I want to try this.’ At home at the University you start your first year harvesting, and then your second year you jump to the cellar. I was in love with it.”
That love has now found a home in Pennsylvania’s Lake Erie wine country, where despite cold winters and heavy snow, vinifera flourishes.
“You need to find the right grape for the region you are in,” she confides. The colder climate where Mazza is situated offers unique opportunities, like making traditionally crafted ice wines. Mazza released one last winter and it struck a chord with Carolina that is in tune with one of her favorite aspects of winemaking: community. “Last January we did ice wine. It was crazy when we had volunteers come to harvest the ice wine grapes. I was like, ‘You have people that want to come just for fun?’ At six in the morning we had 15 volunteers here helping us harvest the grapes. Everyone was happy!” The volunteer response that Mazza enjoyed in this instance and others is a reflection of the fabulous wines that are being made there. “There’s this wonderful community and it’s amazing,” she added.
Carolina’s passion for community echoes her strong feeling that winemaking is truly a team effort. “My favorite part is being in the cellar with my people. It’s fantastic. It’s so awesome, being here in a very unique Pennsylvania wine region and being part of a team and having support.”
It’s easy to see the impact that Carolina’s bright personality and strong oenological experience bring to Mazza’s wines. Like all of Pennsylvania’s estates, Mazza is forging ahead, increasing quality and learning more with every harvest. “I discover interesting things all the time. Every year is different. Even though this will by my sixth year harvesting it’s insane how many things you will learn every harvest. The weather, the grapes. It’s an exciting challenge every year.”
Those challenges and the positive response from patrons and associates at Mazza have captured this transplant’s heart: “I don’t have words for that. You make the wine and people like it and they help you to grow and help you to develop new things. It gives you more energy to keep going and it tells you, ‘Oh, you are doing the right thing.’ It’s like a happy chain of events all the time.”