Wednesdays with Winemakers – Jeff Smith

WHY DID YOU BECOME A WINEMAKER?

My journey in wine started as a condition of proximity growing up in Napa Valley: it was all around me. But it became a focus when my pursuit of a music career ended in my late twenties.

 

IF YOU WEREN’T A WINEMAKER WHAT WOULD YOU BE AND WHY?

Ultimately, I wanted to be a rock star.  Alas, that was not meant to be.  Recently my wife asked me, “What would you rather be, a rock star on the declining side of his career, or the founder of Hourglass?”  She had to slip in the bit about “declining side.” Brutal!

 

WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST STRENGTH AS A WINEMAKER?

Technically speaking, I’m not really a winemaker and that’s my strength.  I view my role in the winemaking endeavor in sort of a “reverse engineering” perspective, rather than from a “bottoms up” standpoint. This allows me to work backward from the standpoint of defining our style. Our winemaking team works from the bottom up and we meet somewhere in the middle.

 

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST WEAKNESS AS A WINEMAKER?

That I’m not actually a technically trained winemaker!  There is much yet to learn.

 

WHAT’S THE ONE MISTAKE YOU MADE IN THE CELLAR YOU WOULD NEVER REPEAT?

Tinkering too much with the wine during a difficult vintage. Sometimes wine is better left alone!

 

WHAT IS YOUR PROUDEST ACHIEVEMENT?

Hourglass Vineyards as a whole. It’s a life’s work realized.

 

WHAT WAS YOUR SCARIEST VINTAGE TO DATE?

No great surprise. 2011.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE WORD OR SAYING?

I don’t fully trust people who can’t use the word “f***” in a sentence every once in a while.

 

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRIZED POSSESSION?

A mint condition 1954 Rickenbacker Capri Guitar. I bought it from Bob Foley and gave it back to him after our first release.

 

WHAT’S THE ODDEST THING ABOUT YOU?

I love Budweiser! Best beer in the world.

 

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE MEMORY?

Casual dinners with the Davies family at Schramsberg. Listening to Jack Davies, that’s where the hook was set for this crazy world of wine…

 

WHICH OF THE FIVE SENSES IS YOUR STRONGEST?

Smell.

 

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST MOTIVATION?

Not to fail.

 

WHICH BOTTLE OF WINE WOULD CHOOSE TO BE STRANDED WITH ON A DESERTED ISLAND?

Chateau Rayas.

 

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A GOOD AND GREAT WINE?

Aromatic expression.

 

NAME THREE INDIVIDUALS YOU WOULD LIKE TO HAVE DINNER WITH.

Thomas Jefferson, Leon Trotsky, & General George S. Patton (I trust that guy).

WHO IS YOUR WINEMAKING HERO?

Too many to note, but Bize Leroy, Jacque Rayas, Helen Turley, and the other Napa game changers of her generation.

 

WHAT DOES THE CONCEPT OF “BALANCE” MEAN TO YOU?

The tensional balancing point between vibrancy and richness.

 

WHAT IS THE ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO REMEMBER ABOUT YOUR WINE?

That they achieve a tensional balance between vibrancy and richness.

 

BEST COMMENT MADE ABOUT YOUR WINE? WAS IT BY A CONSUMER, TRADE OR PRESS?

A consumer. He said, “This wine does not f***ing suck!” (I trust that guy too!)

Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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