The Art of Winemaking

Interview by Monica Parpal |
Beer, Wine, and Spirits

Girard Winery planted its first vineyard nearly 30 years ago, and has cultivated the reputation of quality that helped put Napa Valley on the map. In 2000, Girard came under new ownership, acquiring new vineyards, opening the tasting room in Yountville, and garnering talent like Winemaker Glenn Hugo. Hugo has years of experience in the culinary and beverage industry, but it's his work ethic, his humility, and his true passion for wine that have paved his way for success as a winemaker. In talking with Hugo, <i>DiningOut<i> got a taste of the skill, passion, and focus that go into every bottle at Girard Winery.


You've been with Girard since 2006, but your career œstarted in the restaurant industry. Tell us a bit more about what led you to winemaking.

I worked in the restaurant industry for over 12 years, where I was involved with the beverage side of restaurant operations. This eventually led into being a wine buyer, and I would travel from Texas to Napa Valley to visit various wineries. I just became enamored of the whole industry and wanted to learn more. My wife and I got married in 2003, and I got her to fall in love with wine, too. I told her that, if I could do anything, I would like to move to Napa Valley and learn how to make wine. So, we did that very thing—we left our careers in the corporate restaurant industry, and took a big leap.


I started volunteering at some small production places, and eventually I was fortunate enough to work with Tom Rinaldi at Provenance Winery, and later, Marco Di Giulio, who was Girard's primary winemaker at the time. Eventually, they offered me a full-time position as the cellar manager, and later I transitioned to assistant winemaker and, finally, to winemaker.


You're lauded for your minimalist and terroir-driven approach. What does this look like in the vineyard, and how does it shape your winemaking style?

Everything is based on flavors, and we pay attention to taste above everything. To me, what's most important is that the grapes are at their peak flavor when they are picked. Now that I've been working with these same vineyards for more than six years, I have been able to develop a relationship not only with the vineyard managers, but also with the vineyards themselves.


In that same vein, what do you think sets Girard apart from the rest of the wineries in California?

I work with vineyards from many different regions. Vintage to vintage, that gives me a broader palate of flavors to work with. I think Girard as a whole tries to emphasize qualitites that we find indicative of Napa Valley, and continue to expose it as a world-renowned wine-making region. It's amazing what an outstanding reputation Napa has earned in only about 50 years.


What are some of your favorite wines produced at Girard Winery? How do they bear your signature?

Our Artistry blend is one of my favorites, as it showcases all the traditional Bordeaux varieties. When we're blending Artistry, it's as though we're painting on a canvas, finding the perfect combination and creating the perfect piece of art. That's one of the most fascinating and exciting times for me. After two years of working hard, just before bottling, it's exciting to blend these flavors into something amazing. To us, making wine means making the best piece of art that we possibly can.


What are some wines you're particularly excited about this year?

For us, the varietal Petit Syrah is especially fun and fascinating. It's the wine we bring to parties with our wine-making friends. I think we do a nice job with it. It's balanced and not over-powering, and starting to get the respect that it deserves.


What's been the biggest challenge you've faced as a winemaker? How about the biggest reward?

The most challenging thing is wrapping my head around how diverse and complex wine can be. Just when I think I know everything about wine, I realize that wine is always changing. I'm constantly learning and evolving, and that's what makes wine so fascinating. To me, winemaking is a journey. After years of hard work, I feel fortunate to be able to sit down and enjoy a bottle that I had a hand in making. To me, nothing is more rewarding. Every vintage is an opportunity to explore, and that sense of constant discovery is what drives me each day.