When you smell wet dirt in your glass, mad winemaker David Hopkins picks up scents of shiitake mushrooms and more.
Courtesy Photo

They bill David Hopkins “half winemaker, half mad scientist” at Bridlewood Winery, and it is true he gets to experiment on E. & J. Gallo’s behalf in this more boutique setting. Aspiring to “excess in moderation,” Hopkins will wax eloquent about how adding actual frozen viognier grapes, not just viognier juice, to syrah at fermentation will make the final syrah better, but that’s just one of the many details you’ll hear in a chat with him, which might also include talk of the best barrels to musings about Bowzer from the band Sha Na Na. Simply put, Hopkins is as good a talker as he is a winemaker, and that’s saying something: For, as he modestly claimed, “After 30 years in the business, in the last five years I’ve finally figured it out.”

That means getting very creative, whether coming up with a still-in-barrel GSM that’s grenache, syrah, and marsanne (instead of the traditional mourvèdre) — the blend is his stand-in for a rosé — or aging chardonnay in a concrete egg to avoid over-oakiness. “Everything I talk about is food related,” he explained. “I was raised on a farm back east [in Ohio], and my mother and grandmother and aunts were always cooking. I tried to stay out of the house to avoid chores, but I was always famished because of all those smells. Now I might get 16 smells out of a wine when others get two.”

His great taste adds up to fine chardonnays, pinot noirs, and syrahs. “I don’t think you can duplicate my wine,” he said. “Chances are that in the process I see something happen and go ‘whoosh,’ and, unless you tweak the way I did, you won’t get the same thing.” Altogether, Hopkins describes his goal as “taking small artisan techniques and ramping them up so the wines have that ‘wow’ factor.” And with that, he explained, “You end up making 50,000 cases of a $15 chardonnay that makes it to the Top 100 wines of the year.”

Stop by the Bridlewood Winery at 3555 Roblar Avenue (tasting room open 10am-5pm), call (805) 688-9000, or see bridlewoodwinery.com.


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