Winemaker Jeff Hinchliffe's Silver Jubilee
Cheers to 25 Years!
February marks winemaker Jeff Hinchliffe’s 25 years with HANNA Winery & Vineyards. Jeff’s wines for HANNA are consistent award winners, with numerous 90+ ratings and gold medals. To celebrate this hallmark anniversary, we sat down with Jeff to talk about his career and passion for all things wine.
Jeff told us his style has transformed over the last 25 years, as he learned and adopted new methods and techniques in the vineyard and the cellar. Jeff is a lifelong student, always looking to innovate and even make mistakes in order to learn and improve, a value the entire winemaking team shares. A recent change in Jeff’s winemaking practice has been the use of non-saccharomyces yeast as an alternative to SO2 additions. This specifically affects the Sauvignon Blanc, to make ours distinct from the Marlborough, New Zealand style, which contains elevated levels of SO2. “We are trying to create a Russian River style of Sauvignon Blanc that has some elements of Marlborough winemaking but also attributes that are more terroir driven.” The result is a highly aromatic, complex, fruit driven Sauvignon Blanc with bright acidity.
Jeff is as exacting about vineyard practices as he is about cellar technique. He explains that Northern California faces unique challenges when it comes to growing wine grapes. “It’s not necessarily the obvious, which is fires. It’s the one bad day that can ruin your whole vintage.” For example, when temperatures reach 117 degrees Fahrenheit, the fruit can be irrevocably damaged. How we remove leaves from the vine canopy can protect the fruit from sunlight and help us preserve quality. The standard leafing technique in California is to strip all the leaves on the morning side, but when temperatures are soaring, this technique does little to protect the integrity of the fruit. “I took a laser thermometer and used it on the fruit one day. The temperature outside was about 95 degrees, but the fruit was 118!” We started leaving a leaf layer to cover the fruit, and we opened the canopy up above. Jeff convinced all our growers to implement this technique, but there was pushback at first. “Growers said they would not be able to accommodate this technique because they were worried about rot. Actually, we haven't had rot in Sauvignon Blanc since we started leafing in this way.”
If you ask Jeff to pick his favorite wine or varietal, he answers “I have four kids and five grandkids, so that’s like asking me who I like best.” He admits the wine he drinks the most of is our flagship Sauvignon Blanc. He’s also fond of the newest HANNA addition, the 2021 Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc. With the help of Assistant Winemaker Marti Quan, Jeff developed HANNA’s first ever sparkling wine, made with grapes grown at our stellar Slusser Road vineyard in the heart of the Russian River Valley. Looking ahead, Jeff is excited about the Italian varietals we’ve begun to cultivate. The goal with HANNA’s Alexander Valley Nero d’Avola, and with the new Dry Creek Mountain Sangiovese, is to create elegant, smooth, and supple wines with opaque color, and balanced tannins.
With five HANNA estate vineyards to choose from, it’s equally difficult for Jeff to pick a favorite. HANNA’s Bismark Vineyard, a wine club member favorite, is certainly the most striking. Located in the sub-appellation of Moon Mountain District, Bismark Vineyard sits at over 2,000 ft. elevation in the Mayacamas Mountain range, overlooking both Sonoma and Napa. “The combination of the altitude and the young volcanic soil makes for wines that are undeniably distinctive, and echo the beauty and majesty of the view.” Our Titan Bordeaux blend is a particular expression of the terroir of the vineyard and the hand of the winemaking team.
Fans of HANNA can be the first to taste the fruits of Jeff’s labor on March 25th at HANNA’s Spring Soirée & Barrel Tasting event.
Release of HANNA’s first vintages of Italian varietals will be available this spring, so make sure you're on our email list. Coming soon:
Sangiovese & Nero d'Avola
A full list of HANNA’s Flagship, Reserve, Bismark & Elias wines and new releases can be found here. For help with orders or inquiries, email:
Jeff, we feel lucky to have you leading our winemaking team, and look forward to what’s to come. Happy 25th Anniversary Jeff!