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Nothing Fishy About Jason Fisher

Jason Fisher became the winemaker for Hoopes in 2001 after stints at Napa Valley’s Grace Family Vineyards and Paradigm Winery from ’94-’99 as an assistant under the tutelage of Heidi Peterson Barrett, who is one of the winemaking stars in the United States. Fisher, who is from Arlington, Massachusetts and is a biochemist and a UC Davis-trained oenologist, also made the wines for Cosentino from 2001 to ’08 when he was director of winemaking; and for Slaughterhouse Cellars. From 2006 to ’10 he made wine for David Frost Wines in South Africa.

1.    What inspired you to become a winemaker?

I was a biochemist as an undergrad, and then decided to get an oenology degree. I wanted to be a pediatrician, but they told me I’d get sued; so when we traveled to California, my father reached out to people in the industry and we began looking at UC Davis.

2.    Oak barrels or steel barrels?

Don’t like oak barrels on white wines; whites are not supposed to be huge and cloying.  … Once you decide what barrels to use, it will determine the stylistic finish points. They’re always saying we’re (winemakers) lazy, ne’re do wells, but we’re always looking 30 months, 2 years down the pike. The decisions you make now determine the functionality of the wine – early drinker, late drinker.  Every year is different; that is why we don’t bake bread or make beer. Winemaking is a different set of circumstances every year.

3.    If you could have any celebrity (dead or alive) as a spokesperson for your wine, who would it be and why?

Edgar Allen Poe. Wine itself is not functionally definable and as with Poe, his writings are not definable because of the breadth of his work and the  breadth of wine. Wine is so complex and Poe is unbelievably complex. So they marry. It’s (wine) a little crazy, it’s art but on the backside, it’s beautiful.

4.    Is there one wine out there in the market that is so good, you wish you had made it?

1983 Clos du Val Semillon. I worked there as an intern for Bernard Portet. It was one of the most perfect white wines I ever tasted. It was the Luvisi clone, the most virus-free clone of Semillon in California (plantings are in Stags Leap AVA) ; one of the best wines I ever tasted.

5.    Favorite varietal to work with?

Got to be Cabernet. If you find it from the right place, it is beautiful. It’s perfect. You don’t need to blend it, change it; it is what it is. If you do it right, it’s perfection. If you do do it wrong, it’s dog food. Doing it right is giving people what they expect and what they want. They want lusciousness, they want acidity; they don’t know it, but they want the framing and you frame it front to back – transition, palate weight. The wines you don’t like, don’t have a mid-palate.  And then you finish, it’s like a giant tear-drop.

6.    Do you have any pets that help you in the vineyard?

I have my dog. Every day I wake up, pull the dog out of the garage and put her in the back of the truck and go to work. She’s a  Labrador, white, Darby. 6 years old. She chases off rabbits and gophers. It’s companionship. A lot of winemaking is solitary. It’s nice to have a buddy.

7.    It’s the first date with the one person you’ve been after for months. What wine do you drink?

Heartfelt, I’d buy a bottle of Beaucastel . Everyone loves Beaucastel. If you can’t drink Beaucastal, you shouldn’t be on the date. It’s not too heavy, not too light, it’s right there. If you’re trying for the happy place, yeah, Beaucastal. It’s worth the 175 bucks. You can always feed her your own wines, but that’s not right. That’s cheating.

8.    Do you have a nickname in the fermentation room?


9.    When testing the aroma of a wine, do you take deep breaths or short sniffs?

Short. Big over-powers your olfactory senses.

10.    What is the magic of your terroir where you currently grow your grapes?

Gravel. Gravel is key because of drainage. It’s almost like a child that you reprimand. You don’t want it to grow too fast or feed it too much.

11.    Do you have a go-to winemaking outfit?

Shorts, over-the-ankle-boots (for the snakes), flashlight, giant Chinese straw hat (against the sun).

12.    What’s your favorite stemware?

Best for tasting is Port glasses, small, tulip-shaped. It concentrates all the aromas.

13.    What is the one wine accessory you can’t live without?

Cork-screw. And a glass.

14.    What is your favorite wine pairing?

Sauternes and foie gras. Don’t know if it gets any better than that. ’83 Bernkasteler Doctor Riesling Spätlase and foie with salad, because you need some greens in the mix.

15.    How do you recommend consumers serve your wine?

You decant our young wines, open it one hour before you serve it.  Young wines are babies and you have to let them express themselves. By adding the oxygen, you allow the wines to evolve a bit. You’re letting loose the confined aromas. It went through a big process, it’s like a kid. Give it a break.

16.    What is your favorite vintage and why?

Best wine I’ve ever tasted, is Cabernet-based, it’s an ’87 in California. The wines had all the fundamental concepts that you look for in Cabernet. It had fruit, tannin, acid, beautiful movement and dexterity on the palate.  Dexterity– maleability, the way it moves on your mouth.

17.    Describe to me the perfect day weather-wise at your vineyard.

90 on the high, 45 on the low. You’re getting your ripening, your transitioning from phenolic maturity to acid retention.


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