With Jeff Smith, Vintner, Hourglass Winery
Jeff Smith, who was born and raised in the Napa Valley, gained valuable experience at the Robert Mondavi Winery in the late 1980s, where he refined his knowledge of wine, food and business—a skill set that helped catapult him to the role of Vice President of Sales & Marketing for what was to become the brand phenom SKYY Vodka.
While at SKYY, Jeff was responsible for introducing the iconic cobalt blue bottle, and for propelling the business from zero to 600,000 cases in annual volume in just 5 years.
In 1990, Jeff took over the management of a small four-acre family vineyard in St. Helena. He replanted it to Cabernet Sauvignon and brought in winemaker Bob Foley to craft the wines. Jeff dubbed the vineyard “Hourglass” because of it geographic location—at the “pinch” of the hourglass-shaped Napa Valley. His first vintage—1997—was released in the summer of 2001.
Recently, Tony Biagi (a veteran of Duckhorn, Neal Family Vineyards and Plumpjack Group) took over the reigns of winemaking and today Hourglass is one of the most sought after brands from Napa Valley. Interesting fact: At San Francisco State University, Jeff’s reputation was “rock star” over vintner.
CCA: 1. As a child, you collected ____________________ ?
Jeff Smith: Baseball cards. I had a killer collection dating back to the 1950s with older cards like Wille Mays' second season. I had to learning the history of baseball to know who the guys on the cards were.
2. Name a book that has had the most impact on your life?
Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” The journey to the center of madness is better left to others…
3. Recall the biggest and best mistake you ever made and what you learned from it.
My biggest mistake was hiring my own boss at SKYY Vodka, who summarily sacked me for the favor. He made a large sum of money at my expense. As a result I’ve become much more aware and make a point to avoid opportunists. My best mistake was thinking I had enough experience to start Hourglass—I didn’t, but trial by fire is not always a bad way to learn.
4. Cabin in the woods or penthouse in the city and why?
How about a penthouse in the woods? Less congestion, better view!
5. What do you think about a future with driverless cars?
Means another drink at the bar. All for it!
6. In 10 years how do you predict technology will change winemaking?
It will provide much greater windows into the complex web of chemical relationships that is wine. With knowledge and understanding, comes more informed artistic decisions and a much greater articulation of style.
7. Bacon or sausage?
Both, I’m a sucker for pork.
8. Most memorable bottle of wine you made?
Well, I’d didn’t make it, Bob Foley did, but its influenced everything we are doing now—the 1998 Hourglass Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. It boasts a classical structure, balanced tensional acidity and mineral-counterpoints to the depth of richness and killer aging arc, with loads of exotic aromatics and flavor, textured, yet nervy, balanced on the head of a pin—been chasing that ghost ever since.
9. If you weren't a winemaker, what career path might you have followed?
Rock star, what else?
10. Name one thing every person should try at least once.
Playing in a really loud, really tight band in front of a large audience. If you don’t play, just standing on the stage when a really big band is playing full throttle and the audience is going crazy! There are few things that rival that electricity!
All the Swirl is a collections of thoughts and opinions assembled by the staff and industry friends of Charles Communications Associates, a marketing communications firm with its headquarters in San Francisco, California. We invite you to explore more about our company and clients by visiting www.charlescomm.com.