Weekly Interview: Tracey Hawkins

Posted by | Posted in Interviews | Posted on 04-19-2013

Each week, as regular readers know, we pose a series of questions to a winemaker. This week, we’re featuring Tracey Hawkins of Hawk and Horse Vineyards in the Red Hills AVA of Northern California.

A Sonoma County native, wine was always a part of Tracey’s life. So when her stepfather, David Boies, purchased a 1,300-acre ranch in Lower Lake (just north of Napa County) in 1982, she began spending more and more time on the land and envisioning a life there. 

In 1999, Mitch and her husband Mitch took over the operations of the ranch, planting their first vines two years later and renaming the property Hawk and Horse Vineyards. Their first release was in 2004. 

Before founding Hawk and Horse, Tracy spent six years working elsewhere in the industry in wine sales and marketing. She studied winemaking at U.C. Davis and wine marketing at Sonoma State University. 

Check out our interview with Tracey below the fold. 

What is your general winemaking philosophy?   

Our goal is to bring a wine of authenticity from our volcanic mountain vineyard to your glass, which is why organic and biodynamic farming is so important to us. We work to achieve a wine that is expressive of the unique terroir of our amazing vineyard site, whicis to go from earth to glass in the most direct way possible. Start with beautifully farmed grapes ripened to perfection then use minimal intervention in the cellar.

What’s open in your kitchen right now?  

I have a few. First, a Richard Grant  NV Cuvee Rose Brut – it’s beautiful! I also have open some Grand Marnier, which is always fabulous poured over dark chocolate ice cream for a quick yet elegant dessert. Finally, I have open my 2006 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Latigo Port. It’s my favorite for sipping and sharing with guests – and it’s also amazing to use in deserts like sweet potato pie! Is my sweet tooth showing? 

Who are your favorite winemakers in history, through personal account, or their wines? 

I would have to say Robert Mondavi because he was a visionary and struck out on his own at great personal risk to follow his vision. I also admire Dr. Richard Peterson because of his dedication to the industry, his brilliance in the realm of winemaking and his wisdom and mentorship. I also like Scott Harvey because of his amazing palate and insistence on balance in his wines. 

What new winemakers are you most excited about, and why? 

I am excited about a whole crop of women winemakers who are beginning to get recognition, though they may or may not be “new” or be listed as head winemaker. Nevertheless, they are all passionate women and are creating wines of quality. Heidi Barrett, Marie-Laure Ammons, and Sarah Gott are a few who come to mind immediately. 

How do you spend your days off? 

Days off?! I would say that I weave “time off” into the workweek bvy spending time with children, horses, reading and writing and preparing meals. The wine industry, especially when one also operates a ranch and vineyard, is a 24/7 prospect. Work must be a passion in itself! The lines between work and play are blurred when one loves what one does every day! 

What’s the best wine you’ve ever tasted? 

How could anyone choose a best? 2009 was a fabulous year for California Cabernet Sauvignon. I feel many North Coast Cabernets from ’09 were really great because the temperatures were cooler than usual for the season, which brought out complexity and elegance in the wine – ours is among my favorites. I love the intensity of the fruit and the balance in the wine. 

The most interesting? Derenoncourt 2009 Red Hills Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. 

What’s the oldest bottle in your cellar? The most expensive? 

Well, I enjoy wine more than I enjoy collecting — but the oldest right now is a 1978 Guenoc, Lake County Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the first really fabulous wine I ever tasted out of Lake County. I would have to say that in my opinion it stands head and shoulders along with any Bordeaux from the old world or new. The most expensive? Ovid 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. 

If you had to pick one red and one white to drink for the next month with every dinner, what would you choose? 

For red, my Hawk and Horse Vineyards 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine has the softness of 2% Merlot in the blend making it a super food wine. 

For the white, the 2011 Smith-Madrone Riesling. I’m not really a white wine lover, but I keep a bottle of this in the fridge – superbly crafted and delightful paired with lighter fare. 

What’s your biggest challenge as a winemaker? 

Remembering to breathe! I usually take a breath around Christmas each year. The grapes have been harvested, crushed, fermented, and are put to bed in oak barrels. Pruning of the vineyard has not yet begun, the cows and horses are out to pasture — free-ranging the 1,300 acres — and the kids are home from school. So there is this one lull in the year before it all begins again! 

What’s your favorite wine region in the world — other than your own? 

Bordeaux. I love the old world feel, the history, and the awakening of biodynamic farming taking hold all over the Bordelais countryside.  

Is beer ever better than wine? 

Beer has its moments as does wine. I personally find more wine moments than beer moments. One beer indulgence that I particularly enjoy is having one at a rodeo on a hot summer day. Nothing cuts through the sweat and grime and dust when the temperature spikes above 100 like a frosty cold beer out of the ice chest! 

What would people be surprised to know about you? 

I am an open book and don’t know if I have any hidden surprises, really. Some of the more unusual things:  I am dyslexic but did graduate Summa Cum Laude with a degree in English/Creative Writing. I also compete in amateur rodeo events but did not have formal riding lessons until I was past 40 years old.

If you weren’t making wine for a living, what would you be doing?

Writing or teaching Creative Writing; training horses; teaching horsemanship to children. I especially enjoy working with at-risk youth. 

How do you define success? 

Success is not easily defined in a word. It comes in many little opportunities along the way. Leaving the world a better place than I found it by raising children to be caring, happy adults; creating a product of quality from the earth that brings joy to others; creating a business from a dream to a thriving entity; offering opportunity to others – especially those less fortunate than myself…all of these things make me feel thankful that I was given opportunities that I have taken advantage of. For me that is a snapshot of success.

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