Hawk and Horse Vineyards could be called a diamond in the rough, but the diamonds aren’t real and their wines are anything but rough. Located in the remote Red Hills AVA of Lake County, Hawk and Horse is spread over 18 acres on mountain slopes that rise above 2,000 feet. It’s fed from an artisan spring, breathes the cleanest air in the nation and enjoys nourishing red volcanic soils laced with clear silica shards called Lake County Diamonds.
Fortunately, this ideal land has strong stewardship, people who practice sustainable farming methods as a path to making fine wines.
Hawk and Horse Vineyards originated from the vision of father-son attorneys David and Christopher Boies who share a passion for the law and producing Bordeaux-style wines in the North Coast. David’s stepdaughter Tracey Hawkins and husband Mitch have managed the 1,340-acre property since the late 1990s when they cleared some of the forest for the vineyard and set aside native woodlands for preservation. Hawk and Horse’s first vintage was 2004.
Mitch Hawkins is a self-described “farm boy” who worked as a horse trainer on surrounding land before it was designated the Red Hills AVA. While Tracey’s gift is working with consulting winemaker Richard Peterson to produce fine wines, Mitch’s talent lies in sustaining the vineyard of organically grown grapes through certified biodynamic farming techniques.
Mitch is adamant and animated when speaking about organic and biodynamic farming. “We have great air, water and soil, why would we use poison?”
Without the use of chemical herbicides and pesticides, ground covers planted between rows are carefully selected to attract butterflies, lady bugs and even wasps that eat the damaging leaf hopper. Annual tilling is replaced by labor intensive mowing that adds mulch to the soil.
There is a unique series of biodynamic protocols employed at Hawk and Horse, some requiring assistance from a herd of Scottish Highland cattle that roam the land. Cow manure compost, made on-site, is added to the soil each winter to supply nutrients. That same cow dung is packed into several cow horns and buried in the ground to assist with the absorption of those nutrients.
The final protocol, unique to the Red Hills AVA, is to fill cow horns with finely ground silica from Lake County Diamonds and bury them in the round during the summer. The silica is later diluted with water and sprayed on the plants to aid photosynthesis.
Mitch justified the intensity of their efforts. “We are Lake County, so we felt that we had to be better to get noticed.” Although a remote location doesn’t attract many visitors to the tasting room, Hawk and Horse has found a niche in sourcing 70% of its inventory to restaurants, including high-end steakhouses in Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Bay Area cities.
Over the past few years, Mitch has had many requests from sommeliers and restaurant owners for the cabernet sauvignon releases from 2008 through 2010. Puzzled to find a correlation, he saw them all as very good wines, but as different as the growing seasons that produced them. They are connected as exceptional vintages with enough maturity in the bottle for full expression and complexity.
To showcase these distinctive wines, the winery has recently established a Library Reserve Trio package that includes bottles of the 2008, 2009 and 2010 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon ($330).
I recently sat down with Mitch via Zoom as he talked me through the vertical tasting.
Blended with small amounts of merlot, the 2008 Hawk and Horse Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon was aged 18 months in 50% new French oak before its release. Hints of spice on the nose were followed by concentrated dark berry flavors that were rich and balanced.
The vintage 2009 is 100% cabernet sauvignon, uniquely aged for 23 months in all new French oak. The wine’s color and complex aromas of dark fruit, spice and floral notes are exceptional. The wine is soft and fruit-driven on the palate through the finish.
An herbal quality enhanced the complex, perfumed bouquet of the vintage 2010 cabernet sauvignon, described as Tracey’s favorite. Soft tannins are evident on the palate and the finish lingers as it should.
In addition to current cabernet sauvignon selections, Hawk and Horse produces a highly respected petite sirah and Latigo, a cabernet franc dessert wine fortified with aged brandy.
The wines taste good and are produced responsibly. Hawk and Horse is a place where farmers, winemakers, cattle, ladybugs, bobcats, red-tailed hawks and Arabian horses serve the land together.
Guest columnist Lyle W. Norton is a wine enthusiast and blogger in Santa Rosa who has written a wine column for 20 years. Visit his blog at www.lifebylyle.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.