Paul Hobbs is an owner and vintner of wineries around the world, and opened his newest one this spring in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.
Hobbs’ newest brand bears the surnames of his parents — Hillick & Hobbs Estate — and he opened it near his childhood home specifically to focus on crafting Riesling.
Hobbs recently spoke to Vintner Magazine about why he chose New York and his strategy for launching and marketing his newest product.
VINTNER: What is it about the New York area and this particular estate that contributes to producing a Riesling that will stand out and entice buyers?
HOBBS: Riesling thrives in colder, marginal viticultural zones and of vinifera varieties it has good winter hardiness. The Finger Lakes has that. Beyond the basics, well-drained, slate soils that hold and radiate heat, and allow for good root exploration and drainage are key. Also, airflow is critical to keep the canopies healthy and open—here is where the combination of the lake and steep slopes come into play and work their magic. Isn’t one of the great intrigues and pleasures of wine its power to reflect site? Surely, for me it is and yet the only way this can happen is when skilled and watchful eyes guide dedicated hands. The beauty of being able to experience and share all this commitment and effort in a bottle will entice buyers
VINTNER: What does the process involve from grape to glass? Many times, winemakers work with area growers to source their locally grown product, but this is cutting that part out as a true estate wine. How does that contribute to the quality of the product?
HOBBS: Over the course of my career, I have devoted considerable time exploring and studying the world’s top Riesling sites whilst thinking about where in the U.S. would it be possible to match their quality. For a variety of reasons, I was already acquainted with the Finger Lakes region, yet it was my brother David, coupled with my consulting work in Niagara-on-the-Lake, that prompted me to go for it. Early on it became apparent that to compete with the best we would have to do things differently. That is why we chose to build everything from scratch regardless of cost in time and money.
VINTNER: You’re starting out with a DTC launch before moving it to wholesalers. Since Hillick & Hobbs is a new brand, how did you communicate with customers ahead of the launch? Are the initial customers necessarily people who have purchased other Paul Hobbs products? What is the plan to promote the brand and how are you reaching potential consumers?
HOBBS: The lion’s share of communication has been grassroots in nature—a non-coordinated word-of-mouth friend-telling-friend phenomena kind of thing. Perhaps the vineyard development and project concept was so radical and extreme for the region that it in some way captured people’s imaginations. A buzz started to crisscross the country. It has been very exciting to hear people talking about it beyond US borders as well. Another factor is the time span—a 10 year undertaking finally coming to realization. The anticipation from such a journey has been tremendous. For example, in 2013 an article by Katie Kelly Bell in Forbes magazine was one of the first to draw attention to our work whetting appetites. Since then there have been media hits along the way that have contributed to building interest. For that reason, it appears the conversation has grown to a rather wide audience. As we go to market today, we are so glad for all the people that are wishing us well and following our progress.
VINTNER: What does it bring to the market that will keep customers coming back for more?
HOBBS: The 2019 presents spring white flowers, crisp pomaceous fruit with accents of lime zest and wet slate. Its dry, bright, style is underscored by crunchy acidity and mineral backbone that energize the palate yet displays good weight filling the mouth with flavor through the finish. Once folks experience the sheer quality and beauty of our wine, we hope they will join us our journey as we strive to put this region on stage shoulder-to-shoulder with the most revered Riesling in the world.
VINTNER: Where will it be available for purchase following the DTC launch?
HOBBS: Apart from our online store Hillick & Hobbs will initially be made available to fine wine shops and restaurants in 9 states: New York, Virginia, California, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Massachusetts, Texas, Connecticut and Ohio beginning May 1. By early August, we expect to open our hospitality experience at the vineyard above Watkins Glen in Burdett, New York.