Jeff was born in San Francisco to Hugh and Marilyn Hinchliffe; the fifth of six children. Hugh was an engineer at UCSF and Marilyn raised the kids. Beyond this superficial normalcy was a very iconoclastic family. After a sudden decamping to Nepal in 1970 the family repatriated to the smoky lumber town of Willits where his mom opened the town’s first book store and Jeff attended local schools where he met his wife to be, Diane Snyder. After graduating from Willits High they moved to Arcata where an assortment of jobs, and majors, ensued.
After brewing a particularly bad batch of home brew he took a friend’s advice to investigate the brewing program at UC Davis. Diane had taken a job in Sacramento, and after completing a quarter’s worth of prerequisites at HSU, Jeff followed, excited to become a professional brewer, and caring not a whit about wine.
At Davis, Jeff was admonished to cut his hair and get a job at Anheuser Busch, as there was “No future in microbreweries.” After graduation, loan debt and a lack of brewing jobs permanently (and serendipitously) detoured him into the wine industry and an enologist position at Christian Brothers in Napa Valley where, under Tom Eddy and Derek Holstein, he helped develop their Oxygen control program. “At Christian Brothers, I lost my disdain for wine and learned that wine captured the drama of farming. I realized that in grape growing there was a Venn overlap of the intellectual and of nature. Then I tasted the 1981 Dry Creek Fume Blanc – and the hook was set.”
From Christian Brothers he returned home to Mendocino County to become winemaker for Dennis Patton at rustic, overachieving Hidden Cellars. There he pioneered the use of reverse osmosis (now common) in the sodden 1989 vintage and produced California’s s first organic, no S02 chardonnay. Later, Jeff, along with college friend Sam Gabrielli, founded, built and planted Gabrielli Winery and Vineyards, specializing in avant garde blends and another first, old vine Zin aged in native oak barrels.
Seeking a larger stage and a winery with both a track record and tremendous potential, Jeff joined HANNA Winery & Vineyards in February of 1998. As winemaker his first move was to change the Sauvignon Blanc style. “I moved away from oak, started night picking at lower sugar and using native yeast. My goal was to stylize the wine in the vineyard, not the winery. My philosophy is that Sauvignon Blanc does not have to be oaked and high in alcohol to be serious- and that a wine can be both serious and utterly delicious.“
Four sweepstakes awards for best white wine, growth from 7000 cases in 1998 to 50,000 plus in 2022, testify to that philosophy’s validity as HANNA has become the preeminent producer of Sauvignon Blanc from the prestigious Russian River appellation.
Jeff also spearheaded the transformation of HANNA’s Cabernet program – beginning with the redevelopment of the Alexander Valley Estate Vineyard. “My goal was to create a Cabernet Sauvignon based estate that looks at the Bordeaux varieties from the perspective of our unique meso –climate and hillside terroir. Our mix of blending cultivars is unique in California, and will continue to evolve.”