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Hendry Vineyards - From Physicist to Vintner
By Katie Kreifels

Small, family-owned vineyards with a strong commitment to quality, the art of growing, and knowledge of the vineyard's terroir (soil and climate) might usually be associated with small Burgundy estates, not Napa Valley, California. However, some of the finest California wines are made with grapes grown on small estates run by families with a longstanding tradition and passion for perfecting the art of growing. These families have an intimate knowledge of the subtle differences between growing conditions and vines' growing tendencies on different plots of land.

Hendry Vineyard, 120 acres nestled between Napa Valley's Carneros and Mt. Vedeer viticultural districts, is one of the rare, special, and family-run vineyards. Hendry is known for producing some of the highest quality wine grapes in California, distinguished by their commitment to quality, and highly regarded by great winemakers; their Cabernet is used in Opus One and their Chardonnay wine and Pinot Noir are used in Mondavi Reserve wines. Kent Rosenblum even receives Hendry Zinfandel from the vineyard for a "Hendry Vineyard" designated bottling. Hendry's focus has long been on perfecting the art of growing their grapes, and until the 1992 vintage, they focused only on growing: all of the grapes were sold to other wineries. Starting with the 1992 harvest, Hendry started reserving small lots of fruit from the best vineyard blocks for Hendry's own label. Hendry's goal now is a natural next step: to produce great wines with their own grapes because they believe that viticultural greatness is determined by a delicate balance of terroir, viticulture, and enology-a balance they have worked diligently and successfully to understand. Hendry's mission is to search for and improve that balance.

George Hendry is more than qualified to conduct his study, as he is well versed in analysis-aside from his lifelong research at the winery, he has earned a graduate degree in physics and is the President of Cyclotron Inc., where he designs and manufactures accelerators that are used to make radio pharmaceuticals for cancer research. He applies the same dedication, attention to detail, and desire for perfection to his work in the vineyard as he must necessarily use in the laboratory-from overalls to labcoat, pruning shears to generators, Hendry knows what he's doing.

Interview with George Hendry

StarChefs: How did Hendry Winery begin?
George Hendry: In 1939, my parents came to Napa and founded "the Ranch." The 70 acres of land had an old vineyard, and my father started to grow grapes.

SC: You make wine and study molecules?
GH: Yes, I grew up on this vineyard, and have worked in it for 40 years. For college, I went to UC Berkeley and studied Physics. My second career is as a physicist…I am the president of Cyclotron Inc, where we design and manufacture particle accelerators that are used for cancer research. But my first priority is and has always been the vineyard.

SC: How big is the vineyard?
GH: When my parents moved here, they only had 70 acres. In 1970, we developed "the Ranch" into vineyards, and in 1994 we expanded our operation, so that we now have 200 acres, and 115 of those are grapevines. The land is divided into 44 individual blocks.

SC: How do you determine the division of the blocks?
GH: Different land, different soil and climate, produces different varietals. Each block has a different terroir, which is everything the site brings to a bottle of wine.

SC: I know that many of your grapes are used by other wineries in some of their best wines. When did you start producing under your own label?
GH: 10 years ago.

SC: What kind of advice would you give to other winemakers?
GH: Don't impose a style on the wine. Give the wine a chance to get to its fullest potential. You can see to it that it has the right things. Make sure not to overcrop your vineyard. In order to achieve the right flavor and complexity, your grapes need to be ripe but not overripe. You get more complexity by knowing the physiological maturity: when are the skins and seeds really ripe? In Napa, there is too much sun, so sugars mature quickly and tannins mature less quickly. You need to be careful with the ripening.

SC: What is, to you, the most important thing about winemaking?
GH: Remember to focus on the bottom line, which is not profit. It is the glass of wine.

Hendry Wines

New Spring 2002 Releases:

  • 1999 Block 28 Zinfandel
  • 1999 Pinot Noir
  • 2000 Blocks 9 & 21 Chardonnay
  • 2000 Blocks 19 & 20 Chardonnay
  • 2001 Napa Valley Rose
  • 2001 Pinot Gris

Still Available from other vintages:

  • 1998 Block 8 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 1999 Block 7 Zinfandel

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