Califermenter: Chad Hinds of Methode Sauvage
In California, every generation has winemakers who think outside the box. Very few make their mark right away. Randall Graham stumbled upon the world of Rhone varietals after several years of trying his hand at Pinot Noir. Tony Coturri is just now getting his day in the sun, decades after he made his first wines using the same method he uses today.
Both of these gentlemen changed the way the people thought about what was possible in California’s vineyards. I feel as if there are some winemakers participating in Califermentation 2016 who too will have a lasting influence. Who they are, only time will tell but as I’ve been talking to some of them, I have great hope that some of the rising stars, and those who already have a following, will do great things over the course of their careers.
With 49 winemakers slated to pour I haven’t been able to and won’t have the opportunity to sit down with all of them before the fair but in the coming weeks, I’m going to publish interviews with a few of them.
CHAD HINDS, METHODE SAUVAGE
Chad Hinds was one of the first people who came to mind. I met him in 2014 when he was working at Bi-Rite in the Mission. I had no idea what he was up to on his days off. Working with Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, he’s letting the fruit speak for itself and subtly yet distinctly, the wines are developing a resounding voice of their own.
PSB: How did you come to winemaking?
Chad Hinds: I started out by going to culinary school. I went to Bauman College, which is holistically focused. Afterward, I was doing personal chef work and working in kitchens and this was right after the recession and it seemed like my prospects were minimal so I started taking basic winemaking classes and got really into it. Through this, I learned you could combine what I had been doing with holistic food and winemaking.
I then worked a harvest at La Crema. It was a good experience because I saw one extreme of the spectrum and got to do everything. It was kind of fun to be in the thick of it despite it (the wine) was full of oak chips and everything you can imagine. Also, I got to taste unadulterated juice and then see a winemaker come and tell you what to do it.
Then I heard Hardy Wallace (Dirty & Rowdy) speak. He was working at NPA (Natural Process Alliance) so I went to NPA on my days off and asked if I could help in any capacity. I worked there while I was finishing school. I finished the enology program and then worked at Wind Gap with an amazing small group of winemakers (Pax Mahle, Scott Schultz).
I went back to Salinia (Kevin Kelly of NPA’s other label) and worked out a deal where I could make wine for free in exchange for labor, which was great. I just had to pay for fruit, which was all I could afford. Twenty thirteen was my first vintage.
This is when I was working at Bi-Rite. Not knowing retail I don’t think I could have successfully started making wine and know how to market it. That was pivotal in getting a bigger picture.
CH: I have. I’m very jealous of some friends with lease situations, who get to have complete control over the winemaking process from vine to barrel and think it’s the optimal way to make wine. I haven’t started doing any of my own farming yet simply because I haven’t a connection to a special vineyard that I could have the opportunity to lease, but if anybody out there has one, let me know!
I’m not sure what the timeline is but I have a project in mind for planting a new vineyard in an area of Northern California that I think could be incredibly special as well as affordable (which is insanity for California) and currently has no viticulture going on what-so-ever. It’s exciting to think about but trailblazing is kind of a double-edged sword. Planting a flag is a pretty cool prospect but there’s no one to have gone before you to work through all the kinks. I’ll keep you posted, though.
PSB: Why Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc?
CH: In my first vintage, I went the route of unusual varieties and outskirt regions; that was part of my experience at Wind Gap. At that point, I was working at Bi-Rite and realized I gravitated towards the Loire Valley. That’s what I like to drink.
I like tasting the same grape grown in different places. You can see the terroir. For Chenin, I’m working with two vineyards. I have Vista Verde, which is very special. It’s west of Chalone and has the limestone soil. You have the soil that is reminiscent of what you see in the Loire Valley. Vista Verde is unique because they took a spot of the vineyard where Pinot Noir was planted and grafted it over to Chenin Blanc. That’s a situation where you have growers that are passionate.
The other vineyard I have is in Clarksburg. Not to knock Clarksburg but to get the same ph you have to pick early. In Clarksburg, I like to make something that is simple and fun.
PSB: What about the Cab Franc?
CH: I use Bates Ranch in Santa Cruz, Alegria in Russian River and this year for the first time, Alder Springs. Bates Ranch is really cool. Kenny (Likitprakong) does a lot of the farming there and Prudy Foxx is the vineyard manager. It’s very different from Russian River. It’s very savory, red pepper from the beginning where Russian River is fruity from the beginning. I like the Russian River Valley vineyard because it’s very yummy – it has some of the same savory elements but has hints of chocolate. It’s very much like a lean fresh wine but has some of the darker I like of the Bordeaux varietals.
PSB: How do you feel about the way California wine is evolving?
CH: I’m stoked to see the growth of people doing what I’m doing. Often it’s not their day job. In my experience, it’s a very welcoming – it’s not competitive. It’s very cool to be making wine in California right now.
From my perspective making natural wine in California on a small scale, the “new California” thing, isn’t a trend so much as a philosophy that brings back soul and passion to winemaking, and care and ethics to farming, which is the only reason I want to do it. But of course, as the industry is catching up with the “trend” now, no doubt others building a brand will bend to that style simply to fit in and be “cool.”
To put it metaphorically, its like how a band who was doing something new and special early on like Pearl Jam was somehow able to be a strong influence for a band like Creed. That said, I think if natural wine going mainstream allows more people like myself, and my friends and my winemaking heroes to have more exposure, that’s never a bad thing. What makes natural wine special and worth preaching about to me isn’t that it’s elitist and underground, rather that to me it’s just the way wine should be made, and if farming and making wine the way it should be done goes mainstream, that’s gotta be a good thing.
PSB: What was it like for you to be part of Califermentation last year?
CH: It was a huge honor to be included, pouring alongside many friends and peers, and also winemakers I consider heroes, who I truly revere. It’s incredibly exciting to see how the movement has really blossomed in recent years, and likewise how strong the public’s reception has been. I think Terroir is the perfect location as well. I remember going to Terroir as a wine student in my early twenties, making what felt like a pilgrimage to this crazy little wine bar who’s selection really revolutionized the way I thought about wine. Anytime I’m in Terroir pouring my own wine it’s a surreal experience for that reason.