For some unknown reason, my introduction to several great modern-day American winemakers have all been either coincidences or pure accident. My Buddhist friends might explain this more as karma, but in the end, it matters little. ”It was simply meant to be.”
I sat down on a quiet Tuesday night with winemaker Jason Fisher to talk about wine and taste his work. Jason was running on fumes, yet still jovial after a day dashing around the concrete jungle instead of plying his trade amongst his beloved vines, tools, and truck. An observer might think we were two old buddies meeting to discuss business and family- and would be halfway right- but we’d never met previously. Next time, we surely will be old friends with more great stories to tell.
Jason is the artisan winemaker, and one-third of the Hoopes, Hoopla, and Liparita wine team, along with Spencer Hoopes (proprietor and namesake), and John Healy who handles sales. This trio manages to churn out seven thousand cases of wine between the two labels annually, and unless we East Coast wine junkies start working for it, most of those cases may stay in California, where the bulk currently goes.
You might think that spending an evening drinking wine with a biochemist is a dull, systematically boring idea- unless like me, your grandfather was a chemist and your sister was a forensic biochemist. Jason’s biochemist/oenologist background was amazing to me, and offered an opportunity to discuss the exact process and choices he considers on a daily basis when making his product. I think every wine lover/drinker would relish an opportunity to spend time with the person who makes the choices in crafting a boutique, ultra-premium wine. I certainly did!
But far beyond Jason’s intellect, oenological prowess, and advanced degrees is a passionate winemaker and lover of quality. And even if you don’t care for details and chemistry, you will still be wowed by his charisma and impressed by his obvious love of his work- creating delicious wines. Speaking of which I will now bring up the topic you’ve all been waiting for: WHAT WE TASTED!
Hoopla Wines Chardonnay, 2011; 13.5%ABV, List $18.99
It took me a day to characterize what I love about this: it’s the un-chardonnay, since it never touches the oak that so many other winemakers use to mask problems. Hoopla exemplifies everything that is good naturally in chardonnay: It tastes as though you plucked the grapes right off the sun-washed vine. Citrus, grapefruit and honeysuckle dominate while notes of flint, gravel, and granite speak of the Yountville terroir. You realize as the wine expands and changes in the mouth, that it ferments and ages in stainless, never seeing wood- keeping the true characteristics of the grape intact, showcasing the terroir, grape, fruit selection, its time on the lees, and time spent in steel before bottling. It’s all out in the open, and it shows wonderfully. At under $20/bottle, it is no wonder the Californians won’t let this out of their sight!
Hoopla Wines ‘Mutt’ 2010 Red Blend; 14.3%ABV, List $29.99
Mutt is a blend that includes 80% cabernet, 10% old vine petite syrah, and 10% merlot. It has a deliciously musty nose, and on the mouth hits you with big spicy mulberry, boysenberry, and pepper with cedar on the lengthy finish. Not too big for its britches, this is a wine you can enjoy with your friends in the backyard, at a black tie dinner, or as a lovely gift idea. Flexible, capable, and athletic come to mind when thinking about this wine. And the label is great, I hope to meet this dog (Dante) one day, and his owner, Spencer Hoopes.
Hoopes Vineyard Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2009; 14.9%ABV, List $65.99
A ‘classic’ cabernet with a nose similar to the Mutt (delicious mustiness, reminder of wonderful old world reds). Old World melds with Classic Napa. Big, black fruit bursts in your mouth initially with clove, graphite, earth, loam and tight tannins following. This wants to be opened and see air, so decant or open hours before drinking. A delightful wine, fits well in the competition of Napa “establishment” reds like at a lower price range and to me, this is a killer value as it drinks like a $150/bottle. Very good now, I expect it will mature beautifully.
Liparita Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, 14.9%ABV, List $61.99
This cab tastes of all red fruit: red plum, bing cherry, raspberry are forward with wildflowers on the nose and notes of spice, oak, shale, gravel, and vanilla on the back palate, good tannins throughout the long finish. A delicious Napa that immediately compares to Plumpjack, Conundrum, Stags Leap, and Highland Estates. Lush and sophisticated, it was only a small surprise to me when Jason proudly stated these grapes are the Old Wente Bordeaux 337 clone, aged 33 months in all French oak.
Liparita Yountville “V-Block” Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, 14.7%ABV, List $61.99
This may be the Screaming Eagle for the rest of us, as it accomplishes the massive quality with first red, then black, then blue fruits in succession, the intense structure throughout the midpalate with a huge finish, yet the soft and feminine aspects are very present, most notably with the very gentle tannins. I so very much wanted to bring a bottle of this back home and deconstruct it in small sips, as I was perplexed by the number of sensations I experienced on the tongue, midpalate, backpalate, and finish. Again, this is a wine that is an excellent value and would be appreciated dearly by the new world wine lovers.
My only problem with Jason Fisher’s wines? I wanted more. Really, drinking these made me want a mixed case to drink over a couple of weeks so I could try several pairings and carefully note changes over time with air. But like many great things in life, a long night passed too quickly and left me with a nostalgic feeling and desire to find these wines again, and share them with friends. This, my friends, is a good thing.
The best news? Beyond letting you know that another little-known group of high-value wines deserves your attention and patronage, I get the honor of sharing with you the information on where you might access these bottles locally. In the metro NY area, you can find Hoopes, Hoopla, and Liparita wines in end-sale establishments like Astor Wines, Colonial, Main Street Cellars, Premier Wine & Spirits, Ridge Fine Wines, Vinomania, and Wine Library, as well as fine dining establishments like the 21 Club and London Lenny’s.
At the beginning of this too-long post, I mentioned that my introduction to several great modern-day American winemakers have all been either coincidences or pure accident. One day when I’m telling people about sitting down and meeting Jason Fisher for a night of one-on-one wine discussion, I expect people will respond as if I told them I was hanging out with Baron Eric de Rothschild downtown on a quiet Tuesday night. For now and then, it’s just karma on a not-so-quiet-Tuesday-night. Evidently, it’s really good karma. Because Jason expressed that knows that quality matters more than price, more than image. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. If it’s all about making good wine to start with, you’re going to end up with some really good options. And these options happen to be really wonderful in your glass.