The SOMM Journal

August/September 2014

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18 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } AUGUST/SEPTEMBER 2014 { the punch-down } Dynamic Duo THE COUPLE BEHIND HILLIARD BRUCE MAKE MUSIC FROM GRAPES IN THE STA. RITA HILLS AVA { the punch-down } ALONG THE EAST-WEST VALLEY corridor of California's Sta. Rita Hills AVA, just off Route 246, at the gateway to the west end of the AVA, sits Hilliard Bruce. The area is one of the coolest parts of an already cool region, with summer highs typically only reaching into the 80s. Owners and winemakers John Hilliard and Christine Bruce produce gorgeous wines, of concentrated fruit character backed by superb acid structure. They learned how to make wine from the Prince of Pinot, Paul Lato, and today work closely with Jeff Newton and Ben Merz to manage their vineyards. By 2008, the transition from organic farming to SIP sustainable viticulture was complete, and as of 2014 they have completed construction of a new, state-of-the-art LEED-certified win - ery. I spoke with John Hilliard about the couple's vision. Jonathan Cristaldi: How did Hilliard Bruce come about? John Hilliard: We lived in Texas, where frosts, acid-destroying heat, summer and fall rains and impending Pierce's disease make grape growing quite difficult. So we fled and purchased 101 acres in Santa Barbara. Was there a wine that influenced your palate so much so that you were hoping to emulate it? The wines that influenced us are the suc - cessful Burgundy vintages. You don't learn much from failed Burgundy, such as the 1994 DRC La Tâche. But their successes teach your palate about the balance and texture of wine. What is special about the Sta. Rita Hills AVA? From Hilliard Bruce, it is all downhill to the marshes where the Santa Ynez River emp - ties into the Pacific Ocean. The air resting on the surface of the 50-something-degree Pacific is drawn inland when the interior valleys heat up, and temps rise into the 90s and 100s. We get so much wind as a result that we have to run wind blocks down vine rows. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes love cool, as it extends the time it takes to ripen, which allows the grapes to develop complex flavors. Fast ripening means monotonous flavors. Which clones did you plant in your vineyards? Our largest planting is Calera. We chose this field selection after consulting with Tom Prentice of Crop Care. Tom had discussions with Steve Kistler concerning which clones delivered the most complex - ity, and made the recommendation to me. Calera has a meaty character, more so in my soils than the Dijon clones such as 667 and 777. Tom also recommended the 76 and 96 Chardonnay, which have been beautiful. We had 115, 667, 777 and one par - ticular 828, which was a recommendation from Ryan Carr. I grafted it over the 828 to Chardonnay because the 828 I had lacked aroma and complexity in the glass. What foods do you like to pair with your own Chardonnays and Pinots? Our wines are food wines. I want seafood soups for our Chardonnay and Italian- style dishes for the Pinot Noirs. Current vintages of Hilliard Bruce retail between $30 and $70 and are available via their website,, as well as through distributors in New York, New Jersey and Florida with Texas to follow. Q: Q: Q: Q: Q: interviews and ruminations with beverage industry pros by Jonathan Cristaldi Career highlights: 1981–1992 : Christine Bruce worked as a professional keyboardist for various pop bands. 1992–2001: John Hilliard managed a suc- cessful shipyard business on Brady Island in Houston, TX. Previously he was a visual artist and served on the Cultural Arts Foundation of Houston and Diverseworks Houston. 1994: Christine founded HB Arabians, a breeding operation for Arabian horses. 2002: Together, Christine and John purchased the 101- acre Hilliard Bruce property. 2004: Planted 15.7 acres of Pinot Noir and 5.3 acres of Chardonnay. 2007–2010: Began producing wines while also studying winemaking at U.C. Davis Extension Program, Allan Hancock Viticulture and Enology Program, and Grayson County College Viticulture and Enology Program. Present: Christine specializes in Chardonnay production, while John focuses on Pinot Noir. PHOTO COURTESY OF HILLIARD BRUCE John Hilliard and Christine Bruce at home.

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