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by Fred McMillin
for May 21, 1999

 

Winery of the Week

The Men of Smith and Hook


Prologue

Nicholaus Hahn  
The 642-acre Smith and Hook property is located on the east slope of the Santa Lucia Mountains above the fog line in the Salinas Valley...I have tasted each vintage of the Smith and Hook Cabernet Sauvignon. They compare in richness and elegance, cork-to-cork, with any of the classified growths of Bordeaux. These Monterey County Cabs are superb.

...Robert Balzer, California Wines

OK. Let's meet the men who had the nerve to pioneer this new Cabernet district.


The Rest of the Story

Mr. Smith owned a large horse ranch in the Santa Lucia Highlands, with the Salinas River 1,200 ft. below.

Mr. Hook owned the next ranch. It spread down toward the valley floor, and its water. Neither Smith nor Hook made wine.

Gerald McFarland is the scion of the pioneer California ranching family for which the town of McFarland is named. He organizes the purchase of the two ranches, with both European and American participants. He becomes the founding president of the Smith and Hook Winery.

Dr. Austin Goheen of U.C.-Davis selects the Cabernet clones he feels best suited for the east-facing highland vineyards. Planting begins in 1974.

Duane DeBoer is a chemical engineer who spent 20 years in the Air Force before earning a wine science degree at U.C.-Davis. He is the first winemaker and produces the Cabs Robert Balzer was praising in our prologue.

Nicholaus Hahn (pictured), Swiss-born, becomes (a) chairman of an international computer software company, and (b) aware of the quality of California wines while sipping them in England with his wife. Voila! Today he is the dynamic owner of Smith & Hook. His second label is Hahn, which specializes in Merlot.

Gary Robinson began planting those Goheen selections for Gerald McFarland back in 1974. He's been involved with the vineyards ever since, managing over 1,000 acres of vines. Today, as General Manager, he can rightfully claim to know Smith and Hook from the ground up.

Art Nathan is probably the best ragtime-pianist winemaker on the planet. In addition to those choice Cab clones and Merlot, he's now winning medals with whites from the nearby Arroyo Seco ("dried up little stream") district. The June 18, 1998 WineDay titled, " A Seco Rarin' To Go" covered the Chardonnay. The other white is the rising star... Viognier. Art's 1996 model is the best from that grape my panel has tasted in at least six months. They gave it a HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


Just the Facts

Smith and Hook Estates
The Boss—Nicolaus Hahn
Soledad, Monterey County, CA, (831) 678-2132


Postscript

The faith of the above Men of Smith & Hook in their land was confirmed on July 15, 1992 when the Feds approved a new wine district: Santa Lucia Highlands!

 
About the Writer

Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.

 
 

WineDay Annex

More articles by
Fred McMillin

 

Welcome to WineDay, the electronic Gourmet Guide's daily update. Monday through Thursday, WineDay presents a wine profile. Then on Fridays we present the Winery of the Week to take you through the weekend.

 

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