Wednesdays with Winemakers – Tracey Hawkins
Why did you become a winemaker?
I’m very hands on and perfectionistic in everything I do. My family had beautiful mountainous land in Lake County which boasted plentiful spring water, volcanic soils, “Lake County Diamonds” and sloping elevations of 2,000 feet and above. First we planned and planted the vineyard based on biodynamic farming principles. Then, when it came time to make our first vintage, the 2004, I realized that I had strong opinions about the direction of the winemaking. After working with a number of consulting winemakers and taking coursework at UC David in winemaking, I became more and more hands-on. I know what I want and how to get there.
If you weren’t a winemaker what would you be and why?
Probably a high-school or college English teacher. I really love working with youth and creative writing. I volunteer teaching creative writing at a local school. Writing is cathartic—for me and for the kids.
What is your greatest strength as a winemaker?
Trusting in the land and nature by using Biodynamic farming protocols in the vineyard. Also, relying on my family to advise and inform decisions and on my husband, Mitch, who is the best, most knowledgeable Biodynamic viticulturist I know. We really do subscribe to the old adage: wine is made in the vineyard
What is your biggest weakness as a winemaker?
Sometimes in life our greatest strengths are also our weaknesses. I pour a lot of love and energy into Hawk and Horse Vineyards. This ensures excellent vintage after vintage. The drawback is that I can wear myself out. I sometimes need to remind myself to stop and smell the Cabernet!
What’s the one mistake you made in the cellar you would never repeat?
As my college art professor once told me, there are no mistakes in art—only happy accidents. We learn from every aspect of the process. In addition, we consult with some of the greatest minds in the industry. True mistakes are rare because we pay close attention to the wine from earth to bottle.
What is your proudest achievement?
My children—and Hawk and Horse Vineyards counts as one of them!
What was your scariest vintage to date?
The Valley Fire of ’15, of course, was terrifying. But we harvested two days before the fire broke out. We were most concerned about our animals and our friends. Grape vines can grow again, but the thought of people or animals being caught in fire was devastating. Fortunately, we had no casualties on the ranch.
What is your favorite word or saying?
“The harder you work, the luckier you get!” (Credit: my dear friend and Sonoma County vintner, Tom Simoneau)
What is your most prized possession?
Besides my family, my dogs and my horses…well…maybe that’s it. I love my home and other “possessions” but anything material can be replaced. It is the living beings with whom we share our life who matter most to me.
What’s the oddest thing about you?
Hmmm…perhaps that I practice gluten-free eating and cooking.
What song best sums you up?
I’m not sure that one song out there precisely sums me up, but “The House That Built Me” by Miranda Lambert is so compelling and beautiful. It is about coming from humble roots, moving forward and looking back. This song reminds me to be grateful for all of the small things – good and bad – that made me who I am. It also brings back precious memories of my youth, growing up on the Russian River with my sister and two brothers. It speaks to the blessing we share to live in this country and the debt we all owe to the freedoms which allow us to make our dreams come true.
What is your favorite memory?
I have lived a very rich life so there are many. The births of each of my three children are top among my best memories. But there are others – winning my first international gold medal on our very first vintage (2004 Cabernet Sauvignon) and winning my first belt buckle at a rodeo are up there!
Which of the five senses is your strongest?
Intuition—or is that a sixth sense? I experience wine from the physical senses – sight, smell, taste, and texture/touch. But in decision-making, and in winemaking, there is an element of artistry which must come from a sense of intuition. By the way, if you want to engage the sense of hearing in the wine experience just clink your glass and exclaim Cheers!
What is your biggest motivation?
Leaving the world a better place than I found it.
Which bottle of wine would choose to be stranded with on a deserted island?
Oh…so hard! You are asking me to choose a favorite child! I’m really loving Hawk and Horse Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon right now.
What is the difference between a good and great wine?
For me, a great wine is the only wine worth drinking. Great wines are those from carefully tended vineyards made with minimal intervention in the cellar. A great wine should resonate with a sense of place and should exhibit particular characteristics from the vintage year. A good wine is perhaps “only” a technically sound wine.
Name three individuals you would like to have dinner with.
Benjamin Franklin, Jane Austen and my business partner, David Boies.
Who is your winemaking hero?
Dr. Richard Peterson.
What does the concept of “balance” mean to you?
There is a chemistry-based answer and there is a more subjective answer. With respect to wine, balance means, to me, that no single thing dominates. Acidity, texture, alcohol, pH, aroma and appearance of the wine in the glass all play together like a symphony – no single element takes center stage but every component plays an equal role in the entire experience.
What is the one thing you want people to remember about your wine?
Best comment made about your wine? Was it by a consumer, trade or press?
We have been blessed by so many fabulous reviews and praise by consumers, trade and media alike. One of my favorites was when Dick Peterson said of our Cabernets “…some [Hawk and Horse Vineyards wines] remind me of the way those beautiful old Georges De Latour Private Reserve Cabernet wines used to develop…” He was referring to the golden days of BV wines under Andre Tchelistcheff – what an honor!