Wine time: Winemaker’s talents run worldwide

March 11, 2013 

In our January column, we recommended a wine by Paul Hobbs. It generated many questions and inquiries. Hobbs is a talented and different type of winemaker.

Hobbs came from a farming family in upstate New York. At an early age, he became fascinated with the concept of terroir when he sampled apples of the same variety from different orchards and found that had different tastes. He was studying pre-med at the University of Notre Dame when he decided to change his career path and transferred to the University of California-Davis. He credits this change to being inspired by a bottle of 1962 Chateau Y’Quem, a Grand Cru Sauterne, that he shared with his father.

UC-Davis is the most renowned wine school in the world with highly-motivated students. One of his classmates was Jeorge Catena from Argentina. They became friends. After graduation, Hobbs went to work for Robert Mondavi on his Opus One wine program. Catena contacted him and convinced him to visit Mendoza, Argentina, where the Catena/Zapata family is a major wine producer. When he arrived in Argentina, Hobbs found a wine-making area with antiquated facilities, no refrigeration, no stainless steel tanks and old screw presses of poor quality. He, however, could foresee potential. Catena persuaded him to stay two weeks. The time stretched into years.

Winemakers and growers have their own “social grapevine,” and word of his expertise quickly spread. Much was happening during this time. The economy was unstable, and the peso was devalued. This opened the door for a flood of foreign investment from around the world in the local wine business. Hobbs consulted on winemaking ventures throughout the Mendoza area, and as his reputation spread to neighboring Chile. Along the way, he made contacts that enabled him to form a partnership and establish Vina Cobos Winery, a leading high-quality wine producer in Mendoza. If you visit Mendoza today, you’ll find several world-class wineries with state-of-the-art winemaking facilities and cutting-edge architecture. While Hobbs didn’t rejuvenate the Mendoza wine industry single-handedly, his imprint is definitely there.

Splitting time between North and South America in 1991, he opened the Paul Hobbs Winery in Sonoma, Calif. While he has his own vineyards, like many producers, he has contracts with other growers. His contracts are sometimes unique. He understands vineyards perhaps better than anyone. When he contracts with a grower, he will often specify the grapes come from specific grapevines within a vineyard. Such is his quest for perfection. This attention to detail comes at a price. His wines aren’t cheap, but for the quality they deliver, they represent value.

This is reflected in his Sonoma winery. Appointments are required, and there’s no bar. You’re seated in a tastefully appointed guest area. The wines are individually presented and poured while the host explains its pedigree.

While Mendoza produces fine wines from a variety of grapes, this part of Argentina is best noted for its world-class Malbec. Hobbs has become a leading expert on this grape variety. Cahors, France, is the birthplace of the Malbec grape. Bertrand-Gabriel Vigouroux a leading winemaker in Cahors ventured to Mendoza recently to seek out Hobbs and learn more about the grape variety. As a result Hobbs now commutes to Cahors to consult on wines made under the Chateau de Mercues label.

In addition to making wines under his own labels Hobbs, has become a globetrotting wine consultant. He now consults for more than 20 wineries worldwide, including Hungary and Armenia. He’s a unique individual and twice has been named as “Wine Personality of the Year” by Robert Parker.

Wine Recommendations

This trio of wines are all from Paul Hobbs wineries.

Vina Cobos El Felino Malbec 2011, Mendoza, Argentina, about $19. The nose has aromas of anise and dark berries as a prelude to flavors of plum and raspberry with notes of white pepper. Well balanced between fruit and firm tannins with accents of minerals on the finish. We really enjoyed this wine, and it also has earthy notes that pair well with soft and semisoft cheeses such as Brie and Manchego.

• Crossbarn Chardonnay 2011, Sonoma Coast, Calif., about $27. This wine is fermented 70 percent in stainless steel and 30 percent in oak barrels. It’s aged four months in French Oak barrels. It’s a pale straw color with flavors of peach, crisp apple with notes of lime.

• Paul Hobbs Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Napa Valley, Calif., about $95. This wine is an experience you’ll long remember. It’s a multidimensional Cabernet Sauvignon with concentrated flavors of great depth. Deep dark garnet in color, it has pronounced flavors with layers of cassis, black current, tobacco and earth. It’s a bold wine with a long finish with expertly balanced tannins and acidity. It is aged 20 months in small French oak barrels. You’ll want to take your time sipping this wine and experiencing every nuance it has to offer.

Coming up

On March 27, Marie will be serving as guest bartender at the Grapevine Wine Bar and Wine Shop in Baxter Village, Fort Mill. Proceeds from the sales will go to Saving Southern Kitties, an animal rescue charity. Stop by and meet Marie and enjoy a glass of wine. While Hobbs wines aren’t currently on their list, we’re donating a bottle of his El Felino, Malbec. The event starts at 5 p.m. If you come by early, you can try the El Felino on us. Of course, donations are accepted.

Jim and Marie Oskins live on Lake Wylie. For questions about wines or food and wine pairings, email

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