Most winemakers grow up around wine; it’s in their blood, they will tell you. It is rare, therefore, to find one that grew up on powdered milk in a family that didn’t even drink alcohol.
From milk to wine
It’s even more rare for such a person to become a powerful force in the global wine world, but that’s exactly what Paul Hobbs did, according to his younger brother Matt, who serves as the Paul Hobbs Winery national and key accounts manager in the United States.
Discussing his family’s history at a wine dinner at the Brasserie Restaurant on Oct. 27, Matt said he and his 10 siblings grew up on a 500-acre apple farm outside of Buffalo, New York.
“We were a teetotaling family,” he said, adding that the beverage they drank every night at the dinner table wasn’t apple juice or apple cider as one might have expected, but liquefied powdered milk.
One day in the late 1960s, Matt said his father brought home what he called “a mystery beverage,” which he poured into Styrofoam cups for the family to try. The beverage turned out to be a bottle of 1962 Chateau d’Yquem, the most famous Sauternes from Bordeaux, which Matt guesses his father received as part of some sort of barter deal. Their mother, who was the one who objected to alcohol in the Hobbs household, was none too pleased, Matt said, recalling that she banished his father and brother outside for the night for the indiscretion. Nevertheless, tasting the sweet exquisiteness of Chateau d’Yquem made an impression on Paul, and that night he and his father sat around a bonfire and talked about growing some wine grapes on the farm.
“It was the moment that set Paul on a trajectory to becoming a winemaker,” Matt said.
After graduating from college, Paul went on to get a master’s degree in winemaking from the University of California, Davis, the best-known institution in the United States for learning about how to make wine. Paul was subsequently hired at the Robert Mondavi winery at a time when it was really starting to become well known. When Mondavi teamed up with Frenchman Baron Philippe de Rothschild to form the Opus One winery, Paul moved over to that venture and was one of the winemakers for the early vintages of those wines.
After a time at Simi Winery, where he started as an assistant winemaker and six years later was the winemaker and vice president, Paul left and started Paul Hobbs Winery in 1991. There, he began focusing on producing 100 percent varietal wines using Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. He later added a second winery in California called CrossBarn, named after one of the barns on the New York farm where he grew up.
The Argentina connection
In 1988, Nicolas Catena invited Paul Hobbs to Argentina as a winemaking consultant. Matt explained that at the time, Argentina was producing bulk wines that where of such poor quality that even the local people didn’t want to drink them and Catena wanted to improve them so they could be exported.
Catena, who had lived in California for a number of years, was a fan of Opus One and knew that Hobbs had been involved in that winery. In addition, Catena’s younger brother was a classmate of Hobbs at UC-Davis and had mentioned him to Nicolas several times, Matt said.
Hobbs went to Argentina, loved what he saw and knew it had potential as a quality wine-growing region.
After serving as a consultant winemaker for the Catena family for many years, Hobbs and two partners established the Vina Cobos winery in Argentina’s Mendoza Province.
“He helped produce the first generation of new wines in Argentina,” said Matt. “Paul really is considered one of the key people for putting Argentina on the (wine) map.”
Since then, Paul has become involved in wineries in different places around the world, more recently in Cahors, France and Armenia.
Matt said Paul is now globally recognized for his impact on the wine world, noting that a 2013 article in Forbes Magazine called Hobbs “The Steve Jobs of Wine.”
Food and wine
The wine dinner at Brasserie featured four wines from the Sonoma Coast CrossBarn Winery and a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Paul Hobbs Winery in Napa Valley.
After passed canapés and a welcome glass of the CrossBarn Sauvignon Blanc, the CrossBarn Chardonnay was served with a local land crab agnolotti and creamed corn dish.
“All I can say is ‘Wow,’” Matt said of their pairing, noting how well the texture and flavors of the wine went with the textures and flavors of the dish.
“Texture is what really differentiates our wines,” he said. “It’s the signature stamp, the DNA, that runs through all of the wines.”
Matt said the CrossBarn Chardonnay falls in the middle of spectrum between the oaky, buttery expressions California became known for, and the crisper, non-oaked expressions that have become more popular in recent years.
Coming from the cooler Sonoma Coast, the CrossBarn Pinot Noir is less fruity than Napa Valley expressions of the grape. It was paired with grilled fresh wahoo and toasted fregola, a type of pasta from Sardinia that is similar to Israeli couscous.
Matt said that Pinot Noir is one of his personal favorite wine varieties and he thought the CrossBarn was a good example of the Paul Hobbs style.
“There is an undeniable richness to these wines, but at their core, there is finesse and elegance,” he said.
The 2012 Paul Hobbs Napa Cab was paired with a 42-day aged ribeye steak served with grilled oyster mushrooms. Four years in age is usually very young by Cabernet Sauvignon standards, but Matt said the wine was made to drink well when young.
“One thing Paul is known for is crafting wines that are approachable in their youth, but that also have the potential to age.”
The final wine of the evening, CrossBarn Cabernet Sauvignon, was paired with dessert, something Matt said was not a common pairing. But dark chocolate does go well with red wines and the bittersweet chocolate and garden rosemary marquis was so delicious, it would have probably paired well with any beverage … even powdered milk.