Blog featured Get to know Firstleaf’s Head Winemaker Olga Karapanou Crawford MW

Get to know Firstleaf’s Head Winemaker Olga Karapanou Crawford MW

Olga leads our team of wine experts at Firstleaf. She has recently been awarded the prestigious Master of Wine and joins the ranks of 379 other wine experts worldwide that hold this highly regarded distinction. She is one of only a few female winemakers in the U.S. to have received the honor, and the first Greek winemaker to be awarded the Master of Wine title. As the driving force behind our team, her insights and leadership are invaluable when we source, taste, and make wine for the club.

Firstleaf’s Head Winemaker Olga Karapanou Crawford MW
Firstleaf’s Head Winemaker Olga Karapanou Crawford MW

Firstleaf (FL): What is your title and what do you do at Firstleaf?

Olga Karapanou Crawford MW (OC): I am the head winemaker at Firstleaf, and lead an exceptional team of winemakers who have experience working in Europe, Australia, and the United States crafting all different types of wines. For Firstleaf we source and make wines from all over the world, which allows us to experiment with all kinds of styles.

FL: What makes a "good wine"? Are there certain characteristics that you shoot for, or is it all about balance?

OC: A good wine definitely has a "wow" factor! I love making powerful and complex wines as much as I love making light, refreshing, and easy drinking wines. There is a wine to match almost any occasion.

To make sure we have selections for every palate at Firstleaf we work hard to have many styles of wine so our algorithm and Wine Concierge team can direct the right wine to the right person. We want to share new discoveries and classic wines from around the world, but most importantly we love to send our customers a wine that will make their day!

FL: You have had high success at competitions and with reviewers, but I can't imagine that you got into winemaking just to win awards! Could you tell us a little bit about how you got into winemaking?

OC: I grew up in a winemaking family in Greece, and at a very early age I fell in love with winemaking. Wine has always been an integral part of my life. I realized growing up around wine that the best wines are an amalgam of art and science. The art of winemaking comes with experience, so I began by pursuing a chemistry degree so that I could understand what is happening at the smallest level when I make a wine.

FL: You've gone through some pretty serious wine education; can you tell us a little bit about where you've studied?

OC: As I mentioned, I received my degree in Chemistry in Greece before moving to California to complete my master's degree in Viticulture and Enology at CSU Fresno. 

The wine world can be very seductive. I feel like I have developed a never-ending thirst for knowledge that has led me to pursue various certifications after my formal education. I am a Certified Sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers, a Certified Wine Specialist from the Society of Wine Educators and most recently I finished my Master of Wine from the Institute of Masters of Wine in London.

FL: That's a lot of studying about wine. What is it that drew you to learning about winemaking at this level?

OC: Passion and the pursuit of quality. Wine is complex and fascinating in so many ways. It touches so many aspects: agriculture, production, quality, marketing, sales, social media, and more. That being said, for me the most important piece is sharing good wine with friends. Understanding the effects of winemaking at this level of granularity not only helps me appreciate wine from all over the world, but it provides me the ability to assess wines at different price points and analyze what that means for the overall quality of each bottle.

FL: Finishing your MW puts you in a very exclusive group. You are now one of 20 female Masters of Wine in this country, joining that group sounds incredibly exciting!

OC: It is only fitting for an industry with such a diverse product to support diversity in all aspects. At the end of the day, winemaking is all about crafting a wine that meets and then exceeds expectations. The Master of Wine is the ultimate challenge, it pushes the boundaries of what you think you know about wine.

FL: So what do you want to tackle next? A new wine, or a new style? 

OC: I want to tackle both. Innovation happens by pushing the boundaries and thinking outside the box, and it is needed in our industry. Wine is an agricultural product, and its character is subject to weather conditions. Now more than ever we are seeing fantastic wines from underrated regions and grapes because of these weather changes.

I have loved exploring wines from these lesser-known areas and varieties, which in most cases have been made and consumed for centuries in their countries of origin. Firstleaf is global and our offerings capture the breadth of the world of wine, and that is very exciting for me.

FL: After all the hard work what kind of wine do you like to drink? Do you have a favorite type of wine

OC: It is very difficult to choose one favorite wine! For me it totally depends on the occasion. On a hot day, I prefer a perfectly chilled dry rosé or easy drinking sparkling wine.

I generally enjoy drinking Pinot Noir because it is a very challenging grape variety to grow and vinify, and most of the resulting wines are very transparent, ethereal and pure.

With a special meal it's fun to indulge in a bold, firm Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or a Bordeaux—the experience is unparalleled. For me the fun of wine is all about embracing the diversity available to us.

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