Midafternoon, temperatures in the mid-eighties in October and blazing sun above, it wasn’t an ideal time of day for a photo a shoot. From my lens, everything outside was drenched in yellow sunlight. But learning that crush was underway at Hawley Winery and Vineyards, it was a story I didn’t want my camera to miss, regardless if the light was cooperating or not. Meandering through Dry Creek Valley, my visit to the winery was somewhat impromptu. Though they have a tasting room located in downtown Healdsburg, my heart loves being around vines.
Traveling with a friend and enjoying the backroads, we found ourselves heading up Bradford Mountain and couldn’t have ventured over to the vineyard at a better time. We were warmly greeted by Paul Hawley, General Manager, assistant winemaker, grape wrangler and hop grower. A family affair producing small-batch wines, everyone at Hawley wears many hats, and at harvest time, all hands are on deck. While waiting for a truckload of Zinfandel grapes to arrive from Ponzo Vineyards for crush, Paul treated us to a taste.
Popping a cork, we poured Sauvignon Blanc first. Cool, crisp and clean, it was a refreshing splash in the hot weather. Paul shared how he was inspired to make this varietal after working harvest in New Zealand. Known for their Viognier, and what prompted my visit, the 2012 proved to be “a vintage to celebrate”. I first tasted Hawley at Locals Tasting Room in Geyserville a few years back. Discovering that I love Côtes du Rhône style wines, their Viognier made a lasting impression. Viognier is one of the approved white wine grapes that’s permitted to grow in the Rhone Valley in France. In California, American Rhone varietal wines have surged, and thus too the Viognier has grown in popularity. The challenge is finding Hawley Viognier though as they produce their wines in small quantities and have limited distribution.
With the truck delayed, we ventured over to see the hops growing across from the vineyard. Paul filled us in about his new project, Fogbelt Brewing Company. Using both locally and estate-grown hops, with the intent to plant more in the coming spring, Fogbelt is brewing up Red Ale, Blond Ale, Stout, IPA and Witbier. Witbier, a Belgian style ale that’s “pale and cloudy in appearance” is traditionally made and lightly spiced with coriander and orange peel. A play on that theme, Fogbelt has a fresh twist in store using cilantro and Kaffir lime leaves.
The fruit finally arrived and a flurry of activity got underway. I had gotten my hands dirty earlier in the season by taking part in harvest, crush and punchdown in the Santa Cruz mountains. I was excited to finally capture a few stages of the wine-making process with my camera. The typical winery equipment was set in motion. A forklift hauled the Zinfandel-filled bins from the truck and arranged each closer to the hopper, a destemming machine.
Paul had a chance to share some interesting insight about Zinfandel grapes while his brother Austin was working the forklift. Paul noted that “often people think it’s Pinot that’s hard to work with, but Zin, it’s hard to predict the perfect time to pick.” “You can’t pick Zin from the [Brix] numbers alone. It’s not just about sugar numbers. It’s important to be out in the vineyard tasting the fruit, evaluating the look of the clusters. He emphasized it’s “really important to taste the berries.” In an article, wine journalist Talia Baiocchi shed some light on the grape: “Zinfandel is uniquely prone to uneven ripening, where both raisins and green berries exist on the same grape cluster at the same time.” This is exactly what Paul pointed out as he reached into the bins. The uneven ripening poses a challenge as fermentation gets underway.
Heading inside, Paul poured a range of more wine and pulled a sample of the 2013 Oehlman Vineyard Pinot, which he shared is aged in 50% new French oak, iridescent, and is partially through malolactic fermentation.
We chatted more about production and the wine-making process. Garland Wine Merchants has an extensive profile on Hawley Wines and thoughts from winemaker John Hawley, who notes that following in the French tradition, Hawley Viognier is fermented in “5 to 8 year old French oak barrels by choice to produce a wine with a silky texture, complex flavors and delicate balance that help make [the] wine more versatile with food, more age worthy, and more harmonious as a whole“.
I may have initially gone to Hawley to simply pick-up a bottle of Viognier. I didn’t anticipate leaving with several bottles (including one gift) of wine, a host of pictures, deeper knowledge about Zinfandel grapes, and a new friend.
Hawley’s Tasting Room and Gallery is located in downtown Healdsburg, California. Or call ahead to schedule time at the winery in Dry Creek, you’ll enjoy the visit.