Winemaking dates back centuries, but today producers around the world are still constantly enhancing the winemaking and viticultural processes so that the quality constantly evolves and hopefully improves, while at the same time delivers their unique characteristics. Here are 5 of many innovative producers worth your attention!
Paul Hobbs is unquestionably a legend in the California wine industry, hailed as “the Steve Jobs of Wine” by Forbes Magazine. In addition to Paul Hobbs Winery, he owns CrossBarn in California, Crocus in France, Yacoubian-Hobbs in Armenia, and Viña Cobos in Argentina. He never sticks to the rules and always pursues the highest level of precision. With his sustainable winemaking philosophy, he adapts to the conditions of vineyards and perfectly expresses the terroir. In his namesake winery, there are a number of highly collectible wines, such as Paul Hobbs Beckstoffer To Kalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. To Kalon Vineyard is a legendary vineyard in Napa Valley, meaning “The Highest Good” in Greek, widely known as one of the best sources of premium grapes in the region.
As a winemaker, Paul is highly regarded for his pioneering, innovative work in new and historical sites and regions, particularly for his ability to identify and cultivate exceptional vineyards. He managed to seek out, study, and develop vineyards sites across the globe and fully express the potential of the terroir with his minimalist winemaking.
Catena Zapata is one of the top wineries in Argentina, with its story more or less considered the story of Argentine wine. In 1902, long before Malbec became a household name among wine lovers, the Catena family sailed from Italy to Argentina and planted their first Malbec vineyard in Mendoza, which is now the most important grape variety in the country.
When the third generation Dr. Nicolás Catena Zapata began running the family winery in the 1960s, he drastically modernised the winemaking techniques and pioneered planting on extremely high-altitude vineyards in the Andes Mountains. Once again, they succeeded with flying colours, most famous for their flagship Adrianna Vineyard, the first ‘Grand Cru’ Vineyard in South America. It is located nearly 5,000 feet above sea level, and no one thought grapes could ripen at such extreme altitude. But they do, and produce extremely soft, velvety, complex wines considered world-class quality. Nicolás was awarded the “Lifetime Achievement Award” by Wine Enthusiast in 2021 for his contribution to putting Argentine wines on the world map of premium wines.
Catena Zapata’s story hasn’t stopped – the winery is now in the hands of the fourth generation, Dr. Laura Catena, a Harvard-and-Stanford-educated vintner, physician, and author. While running a very successful wine business and taking a very active role in studying and promoting the Mendoza wine region and Argentine Malbec, particularly in the field of high-altitude viticulture, the vineyard soil microbiome, and wine ageability, she practises as a part-time physician of Emergency Medicine in the US. It’s believed that with the thorough studies of vineyards and in the talented hands of such calibre and intellect, more breakthroughs will come again from Catena Zapata!
Ceretto, based in Langhe, Italy, was the pioneer of the single-vineyard movement in Barolo. It was their brilliant insight of the “Cru” that brought Ceretto wines to the fore of the winemaking elite. They believe in the land 100%, the winery is obviously important, but great wines are made with great grapes.
The Ceretto winery was founded in the 1930s by Riccardo Ceretto, who did not own any vineyards and simply produced wine from grapes he purchased. The turning point came when his sons Bruno and Marcello joined the business, with their innovative thinking for the time: the importance of the land. In the 1960s, Bruno and Marcello started mapping out the land that produced the best wines and buying the vineyards. They would never leave the region again, and these exceptional vineyards have provided them with top-quality grapes for making wines.
Part of the third generation of the family, Alessandro Ceretto, has joined the company in the early 2000s after graduating from the school of oenology and working for a few years in wineries around the world. He noticed it was very difficult to express the terroir in the wine. Over time, he realised that to understand the characteristics of the terroir you must limit human impacts. In short, he had to forget about what he had been taught about oenology, which was about following recipes of winemaking to produce correct, standardised wines. Since then, the winery started to work by subtraction, for example, fermenting the grapes with no selected yeast, and using less and less new wood. Over the last twenty years, they have embarked on a journey to adopt more environmentally sustainable farming methods and obtained organic certification in 2015. Their philosophy of working by subtraction allows them to express the terroir fully.
d’Arenberg is one of the most iconic wineries in South Australia, managed by the famous Chester Osborn who acts as not only the chief winemaker but also viticulturalist. Taking care of both winemaking and the vineyard is an important binary for him. In the winery, he’s as minimalist as possible for his belief in terroir expression; and in the vineyard, he pushes the boundaries of sustainable grape growing, and now the winery is both certified organic and biodynamic.
Among so many South Australian wineries, d’Arenberg stands out in many different ways – in addition to the wide range of wine offerings and great quality, they are also always full of character. From the signature red stripe on the label to the truly unique 5-storey d’Arenberg Cube and the owner with a big personality and outstanding outfit, d’Arenberg can be recognised easily from the crowd. It’s especially the case if you visit their cellar door – they are revolutionising the wine experience, combining wine, food, art, luxury and discovery. For example, we may try to blend and bottle our own wines.
The last producer we introduce is unlike the big names above – instead, it is a hand-made, small batch British craft gin distilled by the seaside in Brighton, England: Brighton Gin! When talking about innovation, we easily associate with fancy machines and technology, but it can be about ideas and spirits, too.
Brighton Gin was born of a passion for gin, and a passion for the place where the founders live and play. They desired to create a gin that embodies the Spirit of Brighton: unusual, playful, and fiercely independent. They started from zero with countless experimentations on different ingredients, combinations, distilling techniques, and approaches, and have organised lots of trials to finalise the blend.
With continuous effort, they are the first craft gin to be certified 100% vegan, which includes the wax bottle tops and the gum used to stick the labels. Their distillation process also removes gluten from the gin. True to their founding principles, each bottle is carefully washed and filled by hand, and they also stick each label on and dip every one in wax themselves: no factory production lines are included. They also try to keep the carbon footprint down by delivering in Brighton and Hove on specially adapted gin bikes! With minimal technology, they have managed to craft a truly special and delicious gin and a business model that is sustainable and inspiring.