10th December, 2013 by Gabriel Stone
3. Paul Hobbs
Clients: Sets himself a “personal limit” of 35 clients. Currently working across seven countries, including Perez-Cruz in Chile, Alto Limay in Argentine Patagonia, Juanicó Wines in Uruguay, Stratus in Ontario, Chalone Vineyards in California and a new project in Armenia.
A specialist focus on oak ageing from his UC Davis days helped Hobbs rise to fame for his work under Robert Mondavi, in particular as winemaker for Mondavi-Rothschild collaboration Opus One. Despite this cellar expertise, Hobbs highlights his childhood on the family farm in New York State as he insists: “I have always preferred to be in the vineyard.”
The two element combine neatly in a current “crusade against SO2.” As he explains, “doing things well in the vineyard is number one so that you’re bringing sanitary fruit into the winery. A well managed winery means that you don’t need to add much SO2.”
Today, Hobbs balances his own Sonoma winery with consultancy work, which has seen him play a pioneering role in the evolution of Argentina’s wine industry ever since his first visit to Catena in the late ‘80s. Despite admitting that he would “absolutely not” have predicted the international success of the country’s Malbec, Hobbs’ early recommendations on canopy management, irrigation and use of US oak had a transformative effect on the variety’s quality.
As for his level of involvement in a client’s business, Hobbs’ services can reach well beyond the cellar. “It really does vary,” he explains. “Sometimes it’s strictly production, sometimes it roams into commercialisation. Some of my clients are very, very small so they might need some marketing help.”
Although he is yet to lend his expertise to the potentially major producers of the future such as India or China, Hobbs confirms: “If I get a serious invitation then I’d certainly take a look at it.” For the moment, the same desire for a fresh challenge that took him to South America 25 years ago is currently being channeled into an Armenia joint venture, which is due to begin planting in spring 2014. Indeed, he describes it as “the most difficult project I’ll ever do in my life.”
Closer to home, Hobbs is due to plant a 65-acre estate in his native New York State, where he has partnered with “a top producer in the Mosel” with the aim of producing an off-dry Riesling from the slate-rich site.