Maria Helm Sinskey
Co-owner Robert Sinskey Vineyards
Culinary, Marketing & Sales Director
Maria Helm Sinskey has been surrounded by food and wine for most of her life. Raised in Upstate New York, her large family embraced a life of food and wine. “After spending my childhood weekends watching my father’s forays into gourmet cooking,” she recalls, ” I became fascinated with the art and joy that comes from creating a meal. Wine served at the table seemed mystical to my young senses.”
A student exchange trip to France in her senior year of High School opened her eyes to a whole new world of food, wine and the art of dining. This one experience planted the seed that would eventually grow and blossom. A career in advertising and media buying seemed to be on track after her graduation from Union College in 1983, but fate dealt a different hand. “I had applied to Law School and was on the cusp of attending when my father proposed culinary school instead.” She knew at that point that her heart was in the kitchen not behind a desk. Food and wine had shadowed her entire life and it was about to take center stage.
Maria graduated from the California Culinary Academy and Conditerie Tivoli Pastry School in Denmark in April of 1988. She worked in several highly acclaimed Bay Area restaurants. During this time she cooked in the French Michelin starred kitchens of George Blanc, Paul Bocuse, Mark Meneau and Emile Jung. In 1995 she took over the reins at PlumpJack and Balboa Cafes in San Francisco and PlumpJack Squaw Valley Inn. Her partnership with Bill Getty and Gavin Newsom flourished as together they expanded the PlumpJack Restaurant Group empire. In 1996, she was selected as one of Food & Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs, San Francisco Magazine’s Rising Star Chef and San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 5 Rising Star chefs. It was a year that planted her firmly in the national spotlight.
In 1997, Maria married vintner Rob Sinskey of Robert Sinskey Vineyards in Napa, California. She left PlumpJack in the summer of 1999 soon after the birth of their first daughter. It was then she assumed the role of Culinary Director in charge Food and Wine Programs at their winery. Their second daughter was born in 2000.
Since then, in addition to her culinary duties at the winery, Maria oversees the maintenance of the extensive vegetable gardens and fruit trees spread throughout their 160 acres of organically grown grapes. “We grow a lot of the fruits and vegetables we eat at home and supply the culinary events at the winery and vineyards workers as well. Sometimes the only way to tell what month it is in the valley is by what the garden is producing.”
Maria has appeared as a guest chef on many TV shows. Cooking with Bobby Flay, Ina Garten and Harry Smith of CBS’s The Early Show have been highlights. She continues to write for Food & Wine, Fine Cooking, Bon Appetit and has penned 2 cookbooks, The Vineyard Kitchen (Harper Collins 2003) and Family Meals (Oxmoor House 2009). Her keen appreciation of wine has pushed her to pursue her Masters of Wine offered by the IMW in London and hopes to become one of 300 Masters of Wine in the world in the next few years.