May of Wine and Roses
By Mary Swift-Swan
Spring reaches full bloom in the month of
May. Flowers are everywhere. The air smells so sweet and
clean it kisses the lips like clear cool water or fine wine.
Plants everywhere are growing with a burst of green. Rose
blooms are at their peak of perfection. Wines aged to
perfection are tried at wine festivals all over the country.
Tiburon holds its annual wine festival in May, along with
many other festivals all over northern and central
California. One thing they all have in common besides great
wines are their outstanding display of roses. Roses decorate
the front of the vine rows throughout the growing season.
Why roses? According to Lorrie Rodgers of Smith and Hook/Hahn
Winery of Montery, roses are the canary in the mine to wine
growers. When roses show any abuse by pests, they are
treated quickly. If not, the invasion can rapidly move to
the vines. Roses not only look gorgeous and produce a
lucious and fragrant aroma, they also save our vines.
New Crush at Hahn Winery
May is a wonderful time to visit wineries.
Monterey has one of the oldest wine festivals in California,
held this year on the first weekend of May. Meeting Lorrie
Rodgers who represented Smith and Hook/Hahn Winery at the San
Francisco Crab and Wine Fest, I accepted her invitation to
visit Hahn Winery. It was a very interesting tour, and
provided an opportunity to introduce Bay Crossings readers
to a new option in nearby wine country excursions.
Nicky and Gabby Hahn were looking for
property in the San Lucia Highlands of Monterey County in
the ’70s. They found two ranches for sale, the Smith and
Hook ranches, which were adjacent to each other. One had
been a cattle ranch and the other a Quarter horse ranch.
Nicky and Gabby purchased both and began planting grapes.
There are now 1,000 acres of land planted in grapes. The
winery is around 1,000-foot elevation that looks directly
across the Salinas Valley at the Pinnacles. Nicky Hahn was a
driving force in getting the San Lucia Highlands to be an
accredited appellation, an area designated for growing
grapes like Napa and other grape regions of California. The
Hahn land rolls down from the mountains. It looks like
rolling waves covered with the lines of vines.
The first label for wine produced was
Smith and Hook Vineyards. In the early 1990s, Nicky
introduced the Hahn label with an easily identified rooster.
(Hahn in German means rooster.) The label artist won an
award for the attractive artwork. The shop at the tasting
room at the winery has roosters everywhere in many art
Four years ago, Nicky decided to make a
world-class wine with the Hahn label. He made sweeping
changes toward that end. The vineyard chose a new vision, a
new mission, a new winemaker (Adam La Zarre), a new vineyard
manager (Andy Mitchell), a new president (Bill Leigon), plus
a new sales and marketing team including Lorrie Rodgers.
The winery developed totally new vintage
wines for both existing labels and created a third label of
table wine, called Rex Goliath after a circus Rooster that
weighed 47 pounds. Rex Goliath is a pleasant non-vintage
casual or weekday dinner wine available in four varieties.
Lorrie said, “Adam makes these big, rich supple, full-
bodied, well-balanced reds. Due to team effort we are
winning many awards with our new vintage wines. He has such
a sophisticated palate, I ask him, ‘Since Betty Gable
insured her legs, have you insured your palate yet?’ He just
Laurie went on to explain the value roses
in the vineyard. “Roses are used at the head of the rows of
vines to alert the vineyard manager of possible problems
with insect pests. The vines are trimmed with fewer leaves
on the side that faces the mountains that separate us from
the ocean to allow them more sun because of the cool morning
fog. On the opposite side, the canopy is heavier to provide
protection from the warm valley sun. The vines are trained
with four primary branches that weave together forming
picture perfect rows. When the grapes ripen, deer can be
seen eating grapes from my office window. They look so
pretty we do not begrudge them. We have enough to share with
a few deer. The reds are grown near the top of the property.
As the property rolls toward the warmer valley floor,
lighter grapes are planted working toward whites, like
chardonnay, grown nearest the valley floor.”
“Smith and Hook label is now only for
grand reserve red wines. The first released of the new
Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Reserve won 2nd in the Pro Wine
Trade Competitions, a blind tasting competition, against
wines from 1,500 professional vineyards from all over Europe
and from other parts of the world. The internationally
respected competition was held in Germany this past January.
At the same competition, the Hahn Meritage won a first, a
gold, in the classic Boudreaux style,” Lorrie crowed. The
team at Smith and Hook/Hahn Winery are deservedly proud of
their four-year effort to change the winery to produce
quality vintage wines. The prices for both wines are very
reasonable. The gold winning Meritage is only $18 and the
Smith and Hook Grand Reserve Cabernet is $20. Smith and Hook
or Hahn vintage wines can be found at fine bottle shops,
cheese and wine shops, Cost Plus, Whole Foods, gourmet food
stores ,and at several of the up coming wine festivals.
The winery has a wine club that sends out
new wines to try every quarter. The club members also
receive a newsletter, discounts of 20% at the winery for
wine and the gift shop. It also entitles members to use one
of the original ranch houses that has been changed into a
lovely site for meetings gatherings, parties, weddings, or
whatever they choose once a year at no charge. There is also
a BBQ party there in October for all the members.
Visiting the Monterey wine country is a
treat. The wine council has subtle signs that can be seen
all along the road pointing out the different wineries.
There are many wineries along River Road, which runs along
the base foothills. The Smith and Hook/Hahn winery is two
miles up a private road from River Road. During my short
visit to the winery, it was surprising how many people came
to the winery to enjoy the wine tasting room on a Friday. In
most groups , at least one person in the group had been to
this beautiful winery before. Some of the wines available at
the winery are not available in stores. For more
information, call (831) 678-2138, or go to