A long time ago, Jason Fisher played defense for Boston College’s legendary Division 1 hockey program. That was before he made his left turn to UC Davis Viticulture and Oenology school. Lindsay Hoopes grew up in a white country house in Oakville next to the eight acre Hoopes Vineyard that her father planted in 1989. Not very long ago, she became a San Francisco Assistant D.A. to only once more move north, this time as a proprietor of the wine business her father founded. As I wandered through the cellars on a cooperage lesson while tasting through barrels of 2012 Hoopes and Liparita Cabernets that Jason crafts and nurses, Lindsay put her fresh second generation face on the legendary Liparita and family Hoopes brands.
For many of us that began our lives of wine enthusiasm on the East Coast in the early 1980’s, we watched our cellars dotted with older bottles of California Cabernet from an earlier era shift in profile. As we aged along with those early California wines, and as many 1990’s era Cabernets got riper, bigger, chunkier, and arguably less distinctive, our cellars organically succumbed to the influx of interesting European wines that a new breed of boutique importers dragged out of obscurity inside small French, Italian, and Spanish villages to wine shops this side of the Atlantic. With these new wines, palate preferences seemed to shift en masse favoring wines with quiet restraint, detectable structure, and identifiable taste components from entry through finish.
Jason Fisher gets that “there are two different models: One being the Euro-centric rectangular concept; entry, middle, and finish. All framed and acid based. The new world style is more a tear drop. Large viscous entry due to better growing conditions. Acid framing, but allowing more mid-palate set and finishing with long fruit.” After starting out making wine twenty years ago at Grace Family Vineyards, and then working at Paradigm under Heidi Barrett, his farming and winemaking for Hoopes and Liparita is marked with a hard earned and innate comprehension of how California fruit really ought to sit in your mouth.
Getting the wine there is as much art and feel as anything else. While Liparita fruit comes from various vineyards in Oakville and Yountville, and Hoopes from the vineyard it is named for, vintage responsive barrel regimens play a central role in showcasing a wine’s “tear drop” California signature. These adjustments transcend the fact that the entire program employs all French cooperage, and that the Yountville bottling has 90% new oak, Hoopes 70%, and Oakville 60%. It’s about the tightness of grain, the region of origin (e.g. Limousin, Troncais, etc.), the specific forest, how far apart trees are planted, the cooper, and more.
Tasting the fruit in the vineyard and the juice following fermentation, every vintage requires it’s own regimen. “In 2012 we needed to shore up the mid-palate calling for some looser grained barrels while finishing the palate with fine grain from various forests,” says Fisher. Actually four different barrels were used for juice from identical vineyards at different stages of élevage. We tasted from eight different barrels of 2012 Hoopes and Liparita, each one completely distinct in style, flavor, and aromatics. Yet, each one purposely raised to play its distinct role in the creation of the classic California Cabernet that Jason knows should have a “mid palate set” without valley or ridges, and a long seamless signature fruit finish. It’s nothing short of impressive to watch this kind of winemaker lean on confidence gleaned from twenty Cabernet vintages to drive a barrel room filled with juice just as a conductor leads individual players inside a symphonic orchestra to an accomplished blended sound. More of this, less of that, longer for you, vibrato over yonder. Wood shall not simply introduce oxygen, tame harsh tannins, impart vanillin, or simply add terpines. The subtleties and textures are far more complex than that.
It is easy to like the wines Jason makes. And, the Liparita and Hoopes bottles’ suggested retail price of $60 is practically a steal in California Cabernet terms.
It figured that my “rectangular” oriented European palate preference favored the 2009 Liparita Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon. There is some heat on the tobacco tinged nose, yet the wine is so pleasantly mid weight with anise flavor delivered in tongue coating California fashion. With medium tannins, the wine is a wonderfully elegant young California Cabernet that I can gleefully wrap my palate and brain around. There is an easy path to seeing through its construction to the nuances without a wall of imposing fruit and tannin getting in the way. It’s the drop of tear that Jason aptly describes. Moving up the scale of intensity, the 2010 Hoopes Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon is a wine of greater richness, with deeper fruit, more intense extraction and palate impression. It remains seamless wine with noticeably refreshing lines of acidity coming through as it begins to finish. The wine’s complexity intensifies with its step up in weight, making for a more familiar classic California Cabernet experience. The 2009 Yountville Cabernet Sauvignon is the clear big brother of this set of wines. With deep purple color it delivers a big, fat palate impression. Four types of barrels were used in its construction. The hillside aspect of the 800 foot elevation vineyard it comes from provides a gravelly flavor you don’t get in the Oakville, and puts forward an even bigger anise burst. It will be a favorite for fans of the classically bold and more modern California Cabernets.
And how will Spencer Hoope’s daughter Lindsay, who grew up with the Hoopes Vineyard as a child, lead the charge for these wines? How will a whole new generation like Lindsay work side by side with the winemakers like Jason that bring year’s of farming and winemaking knowledge to the party? You don’t have to look much further than the likes of Jasmine Hirsch and Carissa Mondavi to figure that out. With the energy of the next generation youth they both display, Lindsay is equally determined to make the Liparita and Hoopes wines even more accessible to her contemporaries. The future for the Napa Valley that these ladies’ golden-era pioneer dads built seems to be in good hands. With initiatives like the organization NG: The Next Generation In Wine, harvest parties, social media, and sheer youthful exuberance, the future of Napa Valley is moving forward. The wine business never actually escaped the gleam in Lindsay’s eyes since she “started out in the wine business and always intended to come back, it was just life events made that transition a little earlier than expected.” Liparita , a brand that started in Napa Valley in 1880, won awards in Paris in 1900, and all but vanished in the prohibition era, has a bright new star guiding its future. Seeing Jason’s rooted Napa Valley winemaking grit side by side with Lindsay’s focused family next generation energy is comforting.