Tasting Room Magazine interviewed our lovely winemaker Sarah recently, and we thought you'd enjoy and learn from her fascinating and thoughtful answers.
For those who haven't had the pleasure, Sarah is the kind of person you want to share a long lunch with. She holds three passports, as she was born in Buenos Aires, her mother is from Champagne, France, and her father is from Washington State.
And she is a fermentation wizard. If you're lucky enough to visit her house, she'll offer you a glass of her wine, a forkful of her delicious saurkraut, a boule of her artisan sourdough, and even a sip of her latest kombucha. And her brewmaster husband always has a brilliant concoction on tap.
Our favorite of her words in this interview:
"In this fast-paced world, I want to be an advocate for slowing things down."
What is the greatest impact or positive difference you have made at the winery?
The move towards more native winemaking (my brother is the one who really pushed me in this direction). It’s always hard to give up control and let things go, but I have learned to do that in my personal life and that has translated into the wines.
I will admit I am not the most scientific winemaker, and I can definitely get lost in technical speak with other winemakers. Sometimes the science can get so overwhelming you forget that this is a natural process. I have brought more of an open mind to trusting old world philosophies about winemaking and have less focus on the newest research, newest additives, adjusting maceration times, temps, etc…I have allowed the property to be expressed in the wines because of the natural process I have started committing to.
I bring the same approach to the bread I produce here. I have really helped people see that there is much more to our family, our farm, than just the wine. We are stewards of the land and the old world, something that is often looked over in our modern society.
A big obstacle was always our direct to consumer business. We founded our winery on a wholesale distribution system and it has become more evident that direct to consumer has to be a much bigger part of family wineries if we are to survive in this day and age of large companies and untraceable wines. We already had the beautiful facility, but needed someone to really market the facility with passion.
We have found the most wonderful person, Kathy. She is already a part of the family and has grown the wine club immensely. We offer more events, we are open more days and more hours per week and even have picnic foods and supplies to allow people to enjoy the beautiful property. It was a bit of an uphill battle with my parents to open more and be more accessible to the community, this is their home and opening your home to the public can feel a bit strange.
What I have seen happen is a transformation not only on the farm but also with our family and extended work family. The community has really given us a reason to keep going, to keep holding on and having faith in our philosophies, faith in our winemaking, even if it’s not the latest and greatest modern style. They are enjoying our chickens and turkeys on the farm, seeing that there is so much more to the winery than the wine in your glass. There is family, history, the land, the employees, the many animals, they have come to appreciate this little ecosystem we have created in this vast and global marketplace. We are evolving and the response has been incredible.
What are you looking forward to in the future?
I am really excited about the direction we are going with Biodynamic and Organic farming. We started this conversion in 2009 and we have had great success in both our Hedges Estate Vineyard and my brother’s vineyard Domaine Magdalena. This year we also certified our Les Gosses Vineyard (where the 2014 DLD Syrah fruit is from) to Biodynamic farming.
This method of farming has created so much life and energy on the farm and that really shows in the fruit and resulting wines. I feel more closely connected to the vineyard, and with the native fermentations in the winery I think the wines become more of what they are destined to be instead of a product of manipulation by the winemaker. We joke that I have become the fermentation “guidance counselor” instead of a winemaker. I am fascinated by the bugs and little guys that rule the fermentation world. I have taken my rustic sourdough bread baking to the next level, play around with sauerkraut, yogurt, etc…it’s hard to stop fermenting things!
My next challenge is to convert all of our winemaking practices to native ferments. I am also excited about incorporating more livestock onto the farm and creating more of an old world estate, connecting with the historic way things have been done in the past and bringing that into the future.
I am also challenging myself to travel more and get out there in the market. I love being at the winery and feeling that energy, but realize that I also need to share that energy with others. Telling the story of Hedges and the family winery in a world where few of them exist anymore is important.
In this fast-paced world I want to be an advocate for slowing things down and taking time to be present, especially when tasting wines and sharing that experience with others.
Wine, bread, and most natural fermented products take time to grow and develop the amazing flavors that they are capable of. It’s a reminder for us to slow down, if we ourselves are going to grow to our greatest potential. This also translates to the industry as a whole. I want to see less wines on the shelves that were “created” or “made” and see more wines with soul, a sense of place, a real connection to the land. More wines where grapes are the only ingredient. We tend to take natural products and manipulate them into something that is so far from their natural state.
Educating the public about this is a big challenge. Some of the most popular and best-selling wines out there are untraceable. You don’t know where the fruit came from, what facility the wine was made in, and what other additives and ingredients are in there. Grapes and the land become less a part of the product. We want to see more wines with grapes as the only ingredient with traceability to the farm it comes from.
I think one of my biggest challenges was defining my role in the company and feeling more comfortable being myself. My parents are extremely inspiring and built something amazing. Initially I wanted to do just what they did and not screw up what they built. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized I have a lot to offer and add my own unique personality and ideas and can build upon what they created. You need respect and understand the history behind the creation while also evolving into the future.