Q&A: Lindsay Hoopes, Hoopes Vineyard

Local restaurants host wine dinners and tastings this week.

Lindsay Hoopes, manager of her family’s eponymous Napa Valley vineyard, is in town this week and next for wine dinners and a tasting at WG Kitchen and Bar (Rookwood), 20 Brix, and Miller Gallery, respectively. We caught up with her for a quick phone chat about the origins of Hoopes Vineyard, the flavor profiles, their über-talented winemaker, and that adorable little dog who graces their labels.

Your dad started growing cabernet sauvignon grapes in 1983 in the Oakville AVA. How did he end up making wine?
We started in 1983 as members of the Oakville wine growers association. We were just growers for the first 15 years and then in 1999 we started producing our own wine. Back then, growers were very separate from wine makers. But my father was always a wine enthusiast—he loved wine, he knew how to make wine, but from a business perspective he wasn’t that interested in making the transition to winemaking. But he was approached by a number of winemakers who were using his grapes and they wanted to start using our last name as a single vineyard designation for their own wines. My father thought that if our name had enough cachet then why wouldn’t we use our names ourselves. Initially, we did a hybrid vintage where we sold half to someone else and then in exchange used their equipment. We got rave reviews and decided that we wanted to make that transition from farmers.

Your family describes the wine you make as old world meets new world. What exactly does that mean?
The tradition of a lot of the Bordeaux properties and what my father really embraced was a very hands-off approach to making wine. It was very terroir-driven, site-specific; maximizing the fruit itself as opposed to the winemaking manipulation that can take place from a chemical and oaking perspective. What Napa became famous for was the opposite. Napa wines became famous for using new oak on Chardonnay, for using oak as opposed to highlighting the fruit characteristics. They had a lot of flavor profiles that were interesting to consumers but not native to the grape. It’s not necessarily a bad process but it’s more of a manipulation than we see in old world. My father felt like Napa had a very unique capability of growing grapes to a ripeness and therefore a flavor profile that was unusual in the rest of the world. Because of long summers and cool nights, Napa can grow chardonnay with really tropical fruit flavors that you can’t find in the old world. They can grow cabernet to these beautiful fruit flavors and produce 100% varietal year after year—something they can’t do in the old world—yet we were obscuring what was most unique about Napa grapes by focusing on winemaking manipulation and not on the wine and grapes themselves. He wanted to combine those two philosophies—growing the grapes to their fullest fruit potential but also not over-manipulating them so that the specific terroir can show through.

You took over the management of the Hoopes family vineyard in 2012. At that point you were in the midst of your own career as a homicide prosecutor. Was it always the plan that you would eventually run the business?
I always planned on coming back eventually. When I first graduated college (Georgetown) and moved back home to San Francisco, I knocked on the door and my dad said, “I’m not going to hire you. Why would I hire you? You don’t have any work experience.” So he made me go and word elsewhere, and I did. I’m very thankful for all the business experience I’ve had. I’ve worked for large wineries and then I became a prosecutor. But I didn’t plan on coming back when I did. I was very happy in my previous career—I’d worked hard to get there—but my father grew ill and we do operate as a very small business. When he got sick, and he really didn’t have a choice at first, he realized it was time. As he got better, we started talking about me taking over the operations.

Your winemaker, Anne Vawter, began making wine with you in 2012. Was bringing a woman winemaker into the business a conscious decision for you?
It was for me. There’s a lot of amazing male winemakers out there but I think women have a better approach to Napa cabernets. We want to create a balance and highlight the terroir of the fruit and I think that female winemakers tend to approach wine as a complement to food and a complement of style and not to take over the show. She approached us because she thought our style was similar to what she likes to produce. She wanted to come in and work with a winery that was vertically integrated from grapes to bottle, which is not that common in Napa anymore. It was a perfect meeting of the minds.

What’s the story behind Dante, the Jack Russell terrier, who’s the vineyard mascot?
I always say that he’s my dad’s favorite child, he just didn’t go to college. I got Dante for my father for his 40th birthday. Really because I wanted a dog, but I pretended that he wanted a dog and I had found him in the newspaper. He ended up becoming our best pal around the vineyard. He was very integral in winemaking not just because he was fun but because he would scare all the turkeys away and rat. He actually passed away in 2009. We had him for 19 years and we buried him in the original vineyard. He was absolutely my father’s best friend. We have two new rescue dogs now, Maya and Sophie, and they haven’t taken his place but they’re an important part of the family.

Wednesday, 5/27, 6:30 p.m.: Miller Gallery with Hyde Park Gourmet

Thursday, 5/28, 6:30 p.m.: 20 Brix wine dinner

Starting 5/29: Selected flights available at WG Kitchen and Bar

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