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Hidden Creek Winery spoke with Jim Frost, co-owner and winemaker of Hidden Creek Winery. In discussions at both his winery and the tasting room, he discussed his wine/food upbringing in England (Parsnip wine?!), which wineries/wines/regions have influenced his winemaking, and his goals for Hidden Creek.Jim Frost of Hidden Creek Winery

Wine-Food pairing with Hidden Creek wines

Hidden Creek Winery Where did the name of the winery, “Hidden Creek”, come from?
Jim Frost: Hidden Creek goes down the back of our house. My wife and I would sit out on our deck with a glass of wine to unwind at the end of a long day. We went through many different names and then one night we had a revelation.

VV: Are there any partners?
JF: No, it’s a family business just my wife and I.

VV: How did you get into this business?
JF: Coming from England and being raised by a single mother it was a part of my upbringing to learn to cook and make wine. So I grew up trying wine at an early age. I have great memories of crushing grapes and other products to help Mom make wine. I came to California about 20 years ago working in the Biotech industry. As the years went along I became more and more interested in the wine industry. I started to make my own wine and our friends kept telling me how good my wine was. In 2003 I left my role in Corporate America and decided that this is really what I wanted to do. It took us about 1 ½ years to get the business off the ground. I crushed my first Hidden Creek wines in 2005.

VV: Give us a quick history of your business.
JF: I had my first harvest in 2005. In 2006 I bottled my 2005 whites and a little Sangiovese. The majority of the bottling was in 2007 and I’m still bottling some of my ’05 reds. As soon as we had these wines to taste we opened our tasting room here at the winery in Pleasanton. In July 2007 we opened the tasting room at the Blacksmith Square which is located at 21 S. Livermore Avenue in Livermore. We are open Friday – Sunday, 12:00 – 6:00 pm. Otherwise, by appointment.

VV: Do you grow your own grapes?
JF: No, I work with wine growers who are looking for someone who is going to do something unique with their grapes. We create varietal wines that are varietally interesting for the consumer, not always the usual style for that grape. We are trying to introduce as many techniques as possible from the regions which the grapes originally come from. For example, my Pinot Noir is made more like it would be made in Burgundy, not like it would be made in Napa or the Russian River Valley. I take the French fundamentals and add my techniques, turning it into my wine.

VV: Do you have a favorite wine or region from France?
JF: I really like wines from the Haute Medoc region in Bordeaux; that is one of the areas I focus on. In Burgundy, Pommard is the style that goes great with the Pinot grapes I get.

VV: What is your style of wine?
JF: My style is BIG. The wines have structure and flavor but are varietally distinct.

VV: Alcohol levels of wine are a current hot topic in the industry. What is your outlook on this subject?
JF: The alcohol level doesn’t matter if you do a good job. I don’t do dealcoholization. It can easily strip things out of the wine. To a greater extent the consumers’ palate now is looking for a bigger, bolder wine. And with this we are eating bigger, bolder foods. Our foods now have more spices, more sauces, and more intense flavors. The difference between grapes in California and France is about 4 points of sugar, which results in a higher alcohol wine. But if we were to pick our grapes earlier, with lower sugar, we would have more problems. The grapes would not be mature and we would end up with additional tannins, acid, plus some green vegetative qualities in the wine. The problem with unripe grapes is that you can’t make wine that has enough structure and body, and has enough retained complex carbohydrates in the wine that enable you to be able to palate the higher alcohol. I sell a wine here that is very high in alcohol but does not taste “hot.” [Hot means that you taste and smell the alcohol in the wine.]

Jim Frost of Hidden Creek Winery VV: Talk about your wines and the structure and complexity that you build into them. Does that allow them to age better than many California wines which are designed to drink now?
JF: The thing that you’ll notice about wines that age better is that they have a much bigger tannic structure. So, that is always distinct. This bigger tannic structure is characteristic of my wines. The aging process is greatly affected by the tannins because the tannins use oxygen during aging and protect the wine in the barrels. My objective is to have my red wines be in the barrel between 18-24 months and then at least 12 months in the bottle before they hit the shelf.

VV: How do you work with the grape growers both during the growing season and at harvest?
JF: I visit all my growers regularly. We have a nice relationship and understand what each of our needs are, and over the years are starting to trust each other more. Once we decide when we’re harvesting, I take my own bins to the vineyard and they start harvesting around dawn. I get the grapes back here to the winery and ideally by 10 a.m. we are crushing. We sort through each grape cluster by hand so it’s a slow process. It all gets crushed the same day the grapes come in. Because of the manual process we do no more than 3 tons in a day.

VV: What are you looking for in the grape that is ready for harvesting?
JF: As the grape matures a lot of things happen to it. I’m looking for that optimum point where the acid is still there, where there is still a nice structure to the grape, that the pulp is softening, the skin in some cases such as the Syrah gets a little dimple, the seeds have little or no green covering on them, and that the veins on the grape are starting to appear. I’m pretty good at analyzing the grapes by sight and am getting better at analyzing them by taste. I do have a portable lab that I take with me so I can get a reading on the sugar, ph and total acidity right there.

VV: How many cases will you be producing from your 2007 harvest?
JF: I’ll produce about 1100 cases. This is quite an increase from 2006 and it’s put me in a nice place right now trying to decide how much bigger I want the business to get. (Probably not much bigger.)

VV: What is your personal favorite wine to drink?
JF: I started off drinking mostly red Rhones that my Mother drank. Now the wines that I find most interesting are red Bordeaux blends. I tend to gravitate to them more than other wines. However, I’m a foodie and I choose my wine around what I’m eating rather than choosing my food around what I’m drinking. I love serving my Sauvignon Blanc with seafood or anything cooked with lemon. The majority of my red wines go really well with anything from roast beef to barbeque.
VV: Which of your wines do you enjoy sipping without food?
JF: For the white wine it would have to be my Vigonier, it’s a big fruit wine and has good acid. On the red wine side, my Russian River Valley Merlot is fantastic.

VV: Since it appears that your love of wine stems from your great memories with your mother, do you foresee any of your children having this love in their blood too?
JF: Of my four children I think my youngest daughter probably has it the most. The winery has been a part of half of her life. My 21-year-old son is also interested.

VV: Do you have a role model or mentor in the industry?
JF: No one from Europe. The most influence I’ve had has been here in California. I’ve been always interested and impressed by what they did at Stags Leap Winery in Napa. They were a leader in learning how to take advantage of what California offers and produce a great wine as a result. They took a step at making and producing a good wine in a California style, where a lot of other wineries in Napa were trying to make wine in the French style. And locally here in Livermore Valley it has to be Karl Wente V. He is doing a great job in introducing the “Nth Degree” program, which is to promote education and improvements in wine making in the Livermore Valley.

VV: What does your label design mean or stand for?
JF: The label has our HC insigne on it. The deer on the front of the label is to represent the deer that we see in our backyard drinking from the Hidden Creek and it possibly subconsciously is homage to Stags Leap Winery.

VV: What is it you want people to know about Hidden Creek?
JF: The key element of what I do is to extract the most I can out of each individual grape so when you come through Hidden Creek Winery you will find a well produced, bold, well structured and well balanced wine.

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