How This Infectious Disease Expert Became An Expert Winemaker

Emily Hodson, Winemaker, Veritas Vineyard & Winery — Virginia — Monticello AVA

[From the July/August print issue]

VINTNER: What was it about the wine industry that led you to choose it as your career path?

HODSON: To be quite honest, the wine industry found me. I was taking a year off from working in the public health field in infectious diseases and my parents had just bought land in Virginia with the hopes of planting a vineyard and starting a winery. I was planning on just being in Virginia a year to figure out my next steps career-wise. In the process I was also helping my parents with a lot of the details of planting the vineyard and getting started. I absolutely fell in love with agriculture and being outside and all of the details of soil science and rootstock and varietals. It was a wonderful wormhole of science married with the beauty of actually creating something from crop that you spend most of the year tending to.  

VINTNER: You have a Master’s Degree in Oenology, which is impressive, because there are certainly many winemakers who don’t possess that educational background. How did that successful educational pursuit change your approach to making wine, and would you recommend others pursue that degree?

HODSON: I have my Master’s Degree in Oenology from Virginia Tech, and I studied under Dr. Bruce Zoecklein. When I obtained this degree it was in my first three vintages of making wine in Virginia. I really loved the opportunity to study and work at the same time as it was a very tangible application of what I was learning in my Master’s degree. I am not sure the degree specifically changed my approach to making wine, but it certainly allowed me to understand the practical and chemical side of winemaking. When you are comfortable with running labs and analyzing results it makes the creative winemaking side a lot more fun because you have a good understanding of the basic chemistry and stability of wine (basically the strong points and the weak points of what you are working on)

VINTNER: You came up in the Virginia wine industry, working with the fruit that’s available to you in that region. According to your bio, you’ve got a lot of faith in Virginia-grown fruit and the varietals it can produce. What gives you that confidence, and does your background as a Virginia winemaker contribute to that?

HODSON: I am very proud of the fact that I have made wine solely in the Virginia wine industry.  I have a strong background in wine (drinking) and I know the wines that we are growing are world class as far as quality. It is fun to have those wines made from varietals that are a little less-known than other varietals, but that comes with some challenges as well. As an industry I think Virginia has done a great job of teaching people about the grapes that grow well here and why, and I am very proud of the wines that are coming out of our region.

VINTNER: Who is your mentor in the industry and what have you learned from them?

HODSON: My mentor early on was my professor, Dr. Bruce Zoecklein and then as I transitioned from learning to producing Luca Paschina at Barboursville Vineyards has really been the most influential in my winemaking career.  He has always been a resource to me when I have questions, and he is also very straightforward with me as far as what I am doing right and what could use some improvement.

VINTNER: If you could implement one strategy (business, winemaking or other) to improve the wine industry, what would it be and why?

HODSON: I would like to see Virginia look even further towards grape breeding and constantly seeking to find varietals that are even more well suited to our growing environment so that we constantly have an eye to the sustainability of our industry.

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