The Tasting Panel magazine

August 2010

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Page 86 of 104

INTRO-VINOUS the grapeWhisperer FOr HerzOg WINemaker JOe HuRlImaN, a NeW SINgle- VINeyard deSIgNate prOgram IS all abOUt cOmmUNIcatION— FIrSt WItH tHe grapeS, tHeN WItH tHe cUStOmer by Rachel Burkons / photos by Maria Schriber I t is a fair assumption that most winemakers, when given the opportunity to talk about their wines, exhibit a hefty amount of enthusiasm for the subject, delving headfirst into nuanced discussions of their favorite varieties, pruning techniques, crush- ers and de-stemmers, or the benefits of time spent in oak versus stainless steel casks. For these winemakers, educating consumers about wine is a perk; for Joe Hurliman, winemaker at Herzog Wine Cellars, it’s a veritable thrill, sending this vivacious man into a sort of excitement that one could only describe as sheer exuberance. Hurliman, a health sciences major who caught the wine bug in 1982 and never looked back, perches himself atop an antique wine barrel at the state-of- the-art Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard, CA, just north of Los Angeles. All the while, he animatedly describes his latest pet project: a single-vineyard-designate program through which the storied Herzog family is releasing some of its best wines to date. “You can see that I get a little excited about it,” he admits with an air of sly giddiness. “It’s almost like I think it’s fun or something.” For the past two years, Herzog has rolled out limited releases of Cabernet Sauvignon from the acclaimed To Kalon and Haystack Vineyards, producing high-end small-lot wines that are focused, balanced and among the best Herzog has ever offered. And, oh yeah—they’re kosher. “Being kosher has nothing to do with the 86 / the tasting panel / august 2010 vineyards,” explains Hurliman, who knows that the Herzog reputation is enough to woo vineyard managers and owners looking to pair with a winemaker, even if they’re uncertain as to what it really means for a wine to be kosher. (Hurliman provides the skinny: “Kosher wine is wine that, from the moment it goes into the de-stemmer, is made by Sabbath-observant Jewish individuals.”) In 2005, Hurliman was looking for a challenge for his state-of-the-art equip- ment at then-new Herzog winemaking facility (his “winemaker’s toys”) when he was presented with the chance to tap into Napa’s famed To Kalon. “I wanted to get a feel for what the facility was capable of,” Hurliman reminisces, “and in order to test that, I needed to go out and procure the most stellar Cabernet Sauvignon out there—that’s To Kalon.” The result: 392 cases of Herzog 2006 Generation VIII Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP $200), a beautiful artisan affair offering rich black cherry fruit and cedar followed by toasty oak that is full-bodied and well-balanced. “Being able to produce this wine from a vineyard like this was a tremendous feather in our hat,” Hurliman humbly admits. Accolades aside, however, for Hurliman, the magic of Generation VIII was time spent in the vineyards. “That’s the excitement, the real joy,” he says. “I saw this opportunity to converse with the vineyards and respond to what the vineyards are telling me.” The following year, Hurliman found another vineyard with which to continue this small-lot conversation, Haystack Peak Vineyards, perched at the top of Atlas Peak in Napa Valley. Porous, volcanic soil, direct afternoon sunlight and cool nighttime tempera- tures produced grapes with balance and good acidity, but Hurliman was

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