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Winemaking

7 winemakers in 138 years

Laurie Hook, Chief Winemaker

Laurie Hook, Beringer's Chief Winemaker, attributes her first spark of interest in wine to learning her family had roots in winemaking in France before the Revolution, but she quickly learned that winemaking pulled together her love of history, science and creativity. "The Mesopotamians were making wine in 6000 BC, " says Laurie. "For the past 8,000 years, we've been learning to make it better."

She transferred to the winemaking program at University of California at Davis, which is noted for training some of the best winemakers around the world. After graduating in 1984, she traveled to Australia to work at a small Melbourne-area winery. "I did everything from pruning the vines, driving a tractor and harvesting the grapes to making and bottling the wine, and even selling it," Laurie says. " I got a real hands-on education."

After returning to work a harvest in Sonoma, Laurie came to Beringer as an enologist in 1986, a job that allowed her to solidify the scientific side of her training. But, she says, "You can't make wine only through science. California winemakers learned that in the 1970s and early 1980s, when a highly scientific approach resulted in very clean wines but not necessarily the most interesting ones." In 1997, she was named Assistant Winemaker to Beringer Winemaster Ed Sbragia, and in 2000 she was promoted to Winemaker for Beringer Vineyards. "Ed was a great mentor—he showed me the importance of being true to oneself and that while the scientific part of winemaking is important (and fun), it is just as essential to trust your instincts." Laurie has been leading our winemaking team for the last 13 years, and her instincts and wisdom have made Beringer wines what they are.

Laurie Hook, Chief Winemaker
Laurie Hook, Chief Winemaker

Ed Sbragia, Winemaster Emeritus

Only the sixth winemaker at Beringer, Ed Sbragia embodies a unique heritage in winemaking in the Napa Valley. A third-generation Italian-American raised in Healdsburg, California, another great wine region, Ed earned a degree in chemistry at the University of California at Davis and a master's degree in enology at California State University at Fresno. His career at Beringer Vineyards began in 1976 as the assistant to winemaking pioneer Myron Nightingale. He was named Chief Winemaker in 1984 upon Myron's retirement.

In 2001, Ed celebrated his 25th harvest at Beringer Vineyards, which coincidentally celebrated its 125th anniversary as the oldest continuously operating winery in Napa Valley the same year. Ed Sbragia is the only winemaker in the world to receive Wine Spectator's "Wine of the Year" award for both a red (1986 Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon in 1990) and white wine (1994 Private Reserve Chardonnay in 1996). Ed's greatest achievement to date has been to establish Beringer Vineyards as one of the cornerstones of the Napa Valley wine industry.

Ed Sbragia, Winemaster Emeritus
Ed Sbragia, Winemaster Emeritus

Drew Johnson, Director of Vineyard Operations

Beringer's vineyards span not only the various appellations of Napa Valley and Knights Valley, but also elevations, soil structures, climates, microclimates, and dozens of other details. These details necessitate close monitoring throughout the growing and dormant seasons by a dedicated team of vineyard workers and viticulturists. This team is led by Drew Johnson, Beringer's Director of Vineyard Operations.

Drew has been interested in wine since a very young age. During his childhood, his father was a physician in the military and also a wine enthusiast. "I remember we had a cellar under one of our houses and my dad had us all crushing wine grapes," says Drew. They lived in Germany and traveled around Europe, camping in some of the world's greatest wine regions in Italy, Spain, Portugal and France. When the family moved back to the U.S., they settled in Fairfield, California, to be close to Napa Valley.

Drew went to University of California at Berkeley to study computer science and electrical engineering, but he soon realized that life indoors in front of a computer was not for him. So he transferred to the University of California at Davis to study viticulture.

Drew joined Beringer in 1989. Today he oversees more than 1,600 acres of vineyards, and is continuously evolving vineyard operations to maintain and build on the quality of each and every vineyard. He is passionate about the collaboration between viticulture and winemaking, and believes that "doing what is right in the vineyard" yields exceptional wines.

Masterful wine blending

Masterful wine blending

With over 2000 acres of top vineyard sites in Napa, Sonoma, and Paso Robles, Chief Winemaker Laurie Hook has an enviable portfolio from which to craft Beringer's acclaimed wines. Laurie and her vineyard team are careful to always use the highest quality fruit to make Beringer wines. However, the hallmark of many of the Reserve wines is the careful blending that goes into each vintage. The blending process is painstaking, and takes place over many months. Each lot of wine is tasted regularly, and its progress in the barrel is monitored daily by Laurie and her team. The final blend is only determined after multiple rounds of tasting and discussion, often coming down to half-a-percent difference in the varietals used or the components from other lots of wine. This exacting process, along with the passion and knowledge of Laurie and her team, is what creates wines of uncommon complexity, ageability and finesse, such as those that come from Beringer.

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Pioneering sustainable farming

At Beringer we know that part of making great wines is caring for the land, animals, and people that make those wines possible. We have had sustainable practices in place since long before sustainable farming become fashionable. All of our owned and leased vineyards are certified sustainable by third parties. And we provide our external growers with the resources they need to achieve sustainable farming practices.

So, why just sustainable rather than organic or biodynamic? Because sustainable farming is all-encompassing. It applies not only to the farming practices in the vineyard, but also the surrounding environment, community, and economy. It covers everything from soil and canopy management, planting developments, water and chemical usage to employee benefits and more. In short, sustainability is about smart farming. It encourages best practices that ensure the longevity of the vineyard and optimization of the quality of the grapes and wine.

Beringer’s Sustainable Achievements:

  • We’ve reduced our energy consumption by over 30% since 2007
  • We host the largest solar installation of any winery in California
  • We have passed a rigorous and comprehensive series of audited certification requirements, addressing all aspects from vine to bottle
  • In an effort to protect waterways, all of our owned and leased vineyards are certified by Fish Friendly Farming

Beringer’s Sustainable Farming Practices:

  • Minimal tillage reduces soil erosion
  • Tailored cover crop programs attract beneficial insects and increase organic matter and natural fertilizers
  • Compost application improves soil health and nutrition, reduces soil evaporation, and ultimately helps vine balance and wine quality
  • Equipment that can operate across many rows of vines in many functions reduces tractor hours, emissions in the vineyards and soil compaction
  • Integrated pest management systems promote healthy vineyard environments by protecting beneficial insects
  • Habitat protection provides refuge for various species (e.g., owls, raptors, bluebirds and bats) in order to sustain a balanced ecosystem and provide additional pest control
  • Modification of the trellis system to allow sunlight through the canopy of the vines and increased air movement to support even ripening and create a microclimate less conducive to pests and disease
  • Adherence to stringent regulations concerning substances we apply to our vineyards and what is safe for our vineyard staff to use
  • Use of soil-moisture monitory equipment to prevent unnecessary water usage
  • Drip irrigation to reduce water use and evaporation
 
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