Winemaker Talk: Paul Hobbs

Top California vintner shares his first wine love, favorite food pairings and what he enjoys about working in South America
Nov 8, 2006

Paul Hobbs, 53, runs his own eponymous California winery, where he makes around 23,000 cases a year of top-notch, vineyard-designated Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir (see Wine Spectator's Dec. 15, 2006, issue) and Merlot from sites around Napa and Sonoma. The second oldest of 11 children, Hobbs grew up on a farm near Lake Ontario, in western New York, but moved west to study winemaking at the University of California, Davis. After working at and consulting for a number of prominent California producers, he started his own label with the 1991 vintage, eventually adding his own winery and vineyard in the Russian River Valley. Hobbs also works extensively in South America, where he is a partner in Argentina's Viña Cobos, and consults for other wineries, including Chile's Odfjell, MontGras, Viña San Pedro and Viña Tarapacá.

Wine Spectator: What got you interested in being a winemaker?
Paul Hobbs: The first seed was planted by my father. He served a bottle of 1962 Château d'Yquem blind at the family table one winter's night in 1969. I had never tasted wine before, and it was so delicious and compelling that it entirely captured my imagination. From that evening, my father and I decided that we would start planting vineyards on our apple farm in New York and start learning about wine.

WS: What was your first vintage in California?
PH: Harvest 1977 at Robert Mondavi. I interned in the research and microvinification arenas.

WS: Which wineries did you work at prior to starting your own?
PH: Robert Mondavi and Opus One for seven years, and then six years as winemaker at Simi.

WS: Who have been your biggest influences as a winemaker?
PH: Robert Mondavi, Lucien Sionneau at Château Mouton-Rothschild, Paul Pontallier at Château Margaux, Henri Jayer, [wine merchant] Darrel Corti, [UC Davis enology professor] Vernon Singleton and surely my father, plus countless other remarkable folks who've infused and inspired me with their great passion and love of wine.

WS: You've made quite a business for yourself consulting in South America. What is it about Chile and Argentina that you like?
PH: The extensive diversity of incredible terroirs coupled with the sheer exuberance and unbridled joy the people have toward life--that sets my creative juices to maximum. Also, I am extremely fortunate to be surrounded by people of immense talent and a burning hunger to excel.

WS: What's your favorite food pairing with Argentinean Malbec?
PH: At the moment, I'm savoring the idea of baby-back ribs asado or an over-the-top homemade lasagna … then a nap.

WS: With Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon?
PH: People will think I am crazy, but these wines have big, polished, smooth tannins that pair up beautifully with fresh salmon à la plancha [grilled].

WS: What's your favorite wine other than your own?
PH: Naturally, I do like my wines, but often I prefer the wines of others over my own. In blind tastings, for example, I rarely pick my wines first. Could it be that someone else's cooking always tastes better than your own? Ever since my first trip to the Rhône, I've become a devoted fan of Graillot, Chave, Colombo and Guigal.

WS: If you could be one other person in the wine business for one day, who would it be and why?
PH: Émile Peynaud because of his remarkable vision, passion, discipline and the influence he has had on the world of wine. I could learn a lot, and for at least one day, I'd speak fluent French.

Argentina Chile United States California People

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