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From Napier to Napa for EIT-Trained Winemaker

February 17, 2010

EIT Hawke’s Bay wine science graduate Sophie Matthews has jetsetted her way into a dream job working for a celebrated winery in the USA’s leading wine region.

Originally from Napier, Sophie has scored a succession of vintage jobs in wine regions around the world.
Now she’s moved onto the permanent pay roll at Hall Wines, a destination winery with roots deeply bedded into California’s Napa Valley.   As custom crush oenologist, she’s in charge of about 450 tonnes of fruit processed over harvest for 14 clients – private owners of other labels.

As grape growers in Mendocino County, wine company owner Kathryn Hall’s family have been involved in the California wine industry since 1972.

In 2005, Hall Wines opened a high tech and compact winery in Sacrashe Vineyard in the hills of Rutherford, dedicated to making rare and single vineyard red wines.  With fantastic views of the valley, it encompasses 1400sq m of hand-built caves – its centrepiece, a dazzling reception area for private tastings and entertaining where a spectacular chandelier is dressed in hundreds of Swarovski crystals.

A short drive from Rutherford is St Helena, where the Halls purchased the Bergfield winery in 2003.  The original winery was founded in 1885 and, long known as Napa Valley Co-op, it was one of the valley’s primary winemaking facilities for much of the last century.

With the first stage of a redeveloped winery completed, work will start shortly on building a tasting facility designed by leading American architect Frank Gehry.

Hall Wines has more than 200 hectares in Bordeaux varieties – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc – and its focus is on producing single vineyard and limited production wines grown on organically farmed vineyards and using hand-sorted fruit, gravity-fed tanks and native yeast fermentations.

“I really enjoy working with everyone here at the winery,” Sophie says. “We have a lot of fun and it’s great being able to work in the two different wineries that are within ten minutes of each other.”

It’s a demanding job, with the season culminating in a 10-week vintage.  After spending Christmas in New York, Sophie was straight back to bottling in the first week of January.

So she’s looking forward to a northern summer, and to introducing her American friends to backyard cricket – “I think there are enough Kiwis and Aussies here to get it going.”

It won’t be all wine and cricket stumps, however, as there’s still her Master of Wine Business to finish through Adelaide University.

Reflecting on her glamorous globetrotting lifestyle, Sophie is pleased to have heeded advice offered at Trinity Hill, where she worked while studying at EIT.

Winery owner John Hancock told her she should travel, taste wine from around the world, learn about different wine regions and network with people who could help her secure work in the industry.

And that’s advice she’s been able to follow, having first secured her Bachelor of Wine Science from EIT Hawke’s Bay.