“We’re trying to make wines that are an expression of the ground they live on and the people who make it.”
Making wine is in their DNA. Meet the boutique winemakers making incredible California wines.
Vineyards tell stories. The grapes that grow there tell the tale of what they endured before being harvested. The soil speaks to the climate and elevation, serving as a prologue to the secrets that will eventually be plucked from the vines.
And those who walk the vineyards, assessing them for progress, balance and heartiness, tell stories of tradition and heritage, promises and birthright, risk, reward and an honest commitment to a life that chose them.
Because, making wine is in their DNA. And that sits well with Vinome, a wine experience that utilizes DNA analysis to appropriately pairs members with wines they’ll prefer. Vinome curates fine wines from quaint vineyards and boutique wineries, ones that often carry an inspired, familial narrative.
“It’s wonderful,” John Hawley, founder of Sonoma County’s Hawley Winery, said of the family affair at his Deer Creek Valley, California vineyard. “I never thought my kids would work for me.”
But, they do.
Hawley, who has been making wine since the 1970s, works alongside his two sons, to produce about 3,500 cases of wine each year. The three of them gather for conversations in the vineyard, tasting the grapes as they mature, checking on their progress, strategizing next steps.
Sometimes, they might also just talk about dinner plans, too.
“We’re kind of the real deal,” Paul Hawley, general manager of the winery, said. “We are a family. All of the family members work for the winery. My wife does the bookkeeping.”
Winemaking, for Hawley’s sons, is in their blood. They were raised by a father who produced his first batch of Zinfandel in 1979, a man who has now stepped back from day-to-day operations to focus on his love of falconry – a passion that safeguards the vineyard from predatory starlings.
“We’re not just trying to make clean, sound wines,” John Hawley said. “We’re trying to make wines that are an expression of the ground they live on and the people who make it.”
Ed Sbragia can relate to all of it, since winemaking has deep, well-established roots in his family tree. As a former Winemaker Emeritus for Beringer and founder of Sbragia Family Vineyards, he can sense his grandfather’s influence in the winery’s production facility.
“It’s a little bit of Tuscany down here,” Sbragia said, referring to his grandfather’s Italian heritage and career of choice, which has now filtered through to a fourth generation of the Sbragia family.
Sbragia, who calls his wines “intensely personal,” also works alongside his son, a boy he once taught to ride tractors through the vineyard while instilling in him a love of winemaking. That passion has trickled through the entire Sbragia family, which works together to produce about 12,000 cases of big, rich and balanced wine each year.
A portion of that production includes a Zinfandel, harvested from La Promesa Vineyard, a Healdsburg vineyard Sbragia’s father owned. Its name reflects the promise Sbragia made to his father, Gino, to one day start a wine label for his family.
While Doug Hackett and Crystalyn Hoffman don’t share a genetic connection with wine or each other, as winemaker and co-founder at Spicy Vines, the two exhibit an almost parental dedication to the wines they produce.
Hoffman, the winery’s adventurous maternal influence, not-so-secretly hopes the wines created at Spicy Vines push their own boundaries and that of the industry. And, she’s already succeeded in that arena, by creating a new category of wine with the introduction of spiced wines to the market.
“We’re a cult winery doing something different,” Hoffman said. “We have a spirit of fun about us.”
Harvesting from a 95-year-old vineyard, one that clearly has a heritage all its own, Hackett acts as Spicy Vines’ patriarch of sorts, shepherding the fruit to a creative, yet organic, maturity. As an award-winning boutique winemaker, he relishes the opportunity to be creative.
“Each of the wines we do are very distinct and very different. I want to kind of guide the wines along their path and let them be what they want to be,” Hackett said “It’s one of those things to me that is part of my soul. It’s part of who I am.”