Lindsay Hoopes – Second-Generation Proprietor of Hoopes Wine

Episode 103

Lindsay Hoopes has become one of the youngest and one of the few female winery leaders in Napa Valley. She is the proprietor of Hoopes Vineyard, a business that her family started when Lindsay was a teenager. Hoopes Vineyard is part of every step of the wine making process. They grow their own grapes, make their award-winning wine, and they've innovated their family business to create new trends while fostering old traditions. Before becoming the second-generation proprietor of Hoopes Vineyard, Lindsay was a lawyer and she spent many years as San Francisco's Assistant District Attorney. On this episode, Lindsay talks about what happened when she decided that she wanted to work with her family's wine business, the importance of authentic storytelling, how she turned disaster into opportunity by teaming up with Master Distiller, Marianne Barnes, to create spirits made from the smoke-tainted grapes of the 2020 California wildfires, and much more. If you’re struggling with innovation and pivoting during these challenging times, this episode is going to be exactly what you need to hear.

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Kara Goldin: Hi, everybody. It’s Kara from the Kara Goldin Show, and I’m so excited to have my next guest here, Lindsay Hoopes, who is the Proprietor of Hoopes Wine, and welcome, welcome. Super excited to have you here.
Lindsay Hoopes: Thank you so much for having me, for reaching out, and for taking an interest in the story. It’s so fun to see, I think, entrepreneurs in the beverage space hearing about what we’re doing and interested. That’s giving me a lot of passion, so-
Kara Goldin: Yeah. No, absolutely. I’m super, super excited about it. Just a little bit about Lindsay’s unique background and how she sort of got here and what she’s doing for those of you who aren’t following me on LinkedIn where I was fangirling here saying like, “This is so cool. I love it.” Just a little bit of her background, she’s developing an in-depth prospective of the wine-growing world. Not really that surprised because she’s become one of the youngest and one of the few female winery leaders in Napa Valley.
Just overall, I think she’s just really thinking differently, which as everybody knows, is really what I believe is kind of core to actually doing things differently. Sometimes the best ideas are really happening when you don’t have the experience. You’re thinking different about things and, could this actually be done? Very, very cool what she’s up to. Before leading Hoopes Wine, she spent many years as San Francisco’s Assistant District Attorney. Everybody, listen to this, you can actually go and move from being a lawyer and somebody in a government role into finding your passion and doing what you’re meant to be.
We’re going to hear about Lindsay’s journey along that, but definitely she’s now leading her family’s multi-generational business and she’s just, like I said, added a whole new twist to it, which you have to keep listening right now to kind of hear a little bit more about this. Thank you so much, Lindsay. I really, really appreciate you being here.
Lindsay Hoopes: Thank you so much.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, it’s super, super great. Take us back to the beginning. You grew up on the vineyard. Were you living in San Francisco and then you guys had a vineyard? Or were you actually like literally up there most of the time?
Lindsay Hoopes: Well, you know, that’s a tough one, actually. My mother had a career and she was in design and my father was in the military based at The Presidio in San Francisco and he got so sick of the fog, retired out. It’s funny because I think about it, he was in the military. Just before The Presidio, he was in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, so my life could have been phenomenally different. For him, it was a farming community, so one farming community to the next, but obviously very different crops. He got sick of the fog, decided to move closer to his roots in terms of an ag community. We moved up to Napa and purchased land and coincidentally lived next to a single mother who had a lot of land, unmaintained, unplanted, and she did not want to manage it, and so she asked my father, “Would you be willing to take this off my hands?”
At the time, Yountville and Oakville was sort of considered the other side of the tracks. It’s very difficult to imagine and Napa as a wine-growing region was actually not really… I mean, it was starting to happen and it was very much on that kind of launching point, but a lot of Napa was still planted to prunes and other crops, and so we decided to get back into farming. My father had a history of cotton farming, and so he sort of literally surveyed what we could grow there, what people thought was going to be the next big thing. It was a bunch of farmers sitting around saying, “Yeah, maybe I’ll get into this wine grape thing.”‘
We planted grapes by accident. Obviously, a little bit of foresight into how the world was changing, and I commuted back and forth with my mother because the community was still very much evolving, and so schools and a number of the other amenities, jobs for her weren’t necessarily available in Napa. We did not have a culinary scene. We didn’t have a design sort of environment by any stretch of the imagination. People weren’t moving to Napa building homes, building second homes. A lot has changed in 40 years, but I spent a lot of my life in San Francisco and I consider myself a local Napkin as well. I’ve been here for 40 years, which is odd to say, but I tend to be on the older side of the community members up here, so-
Kara Goldin: Wild, and so you went to law school and-
Lindsay Hoopes: Yeah.
Kara Goldin: … did you always want to be a lawyer? Was that kind of what you were and ultimately work in government? What was sort of your thinking there?
Lindsay Hoopes: Yeah. I knew I did not want to be a farmer, I guess as my father would put it. When I was growing up, I just felt like I wanted to be in an active, dynamic place and for me, maybe it was just because it was what my father did, I was a recalcitrant teenager, I have no idea, but I wanted out. I wanted to the big city, and so I felt a calling to something else, but law wasn’t necessarily the most obvious next step. I wanted to be a spy, and so when I went to college, I went to Georgetown. I studied a number of different languages. I applied for all of the agencies that I thought would help me get into some sort of countersurveillance or intelligence.
Ultimately, I did not get the job, and so based on the feedback I received from a number of the employers, they essentially said, “Look, one of the things about spies,” and, of course, they don’t call them spies, but special agents or any of that, “Is that they really need to blend in. It’s not that they’re not smart, it’s not that on paper you don’t have the right background, it’s just that we need people who sort of blend into the environment and don’t stand out and don’t have anything really particularly unusual or charismatic about them. Ultimately, we won’t people to forget them. That’s the whole point.”
I realized that that was never going to be my personality. I loved to communicate, speak in public, convey thoughts, opinions, persuade people, and so that was not going to be the, I guess, job for me. I ended up deciding that law would be an opportunity for me to make changes and to do a lot of the strategy and intelligence that I liked, but ultimately sort of get action at the sort of, I guess, the public opinion level. I wanted to be a district attorney. I wanted to be in court. I didn’t just want to be a lawyer. I knew very much that I wanted that job because I passionately believe in sort of taking cases that I believed in, having the discretion to dismiss cases, and make institutional change from inside. I didn’t see that as an opportunity everywhere. Working for the government is such a powerful opportunity to do the right thing.
If you have the right people in place to work from within the system to make change, then you can do so much and I learned a lot of that from my boss, who happened to be Kamala Harris. It’s so interesting today to kind of see where my career might have gone if I’d stayed there potentially.
Kara Goldin: So-
Lindsay Hoopes: So-
Kara Goldin: … interesting.
Lindsay Hoopes: Yeah, it’s bizarre, just because when she hired me, I knew she was very impressive and was doing a lot of great for San Francisco. I had no idea that she was going to be moving on to having a name and recognition across the country or the world, so it’s been an honor to kind of see, I guess, how I was able to help her in some way, shape, or form make some trailblazing moves in her career, too-
Kara Goldin: That’s-
Lindsay Hoopes: … if I did. I don’t know.
Kara Goldin: … wild. I met with her two years ago now in Washington. I’m working on a huge initiative around clean water and so I’ve learned a ton about water over the last 15 years since I started Hint, and so I was going and chatting with a few different people in Washington, which was really, really interesting. She was super supportive, so we’re actually working on something… I don’t know if you ever met Congresswoman Jackie Speier, but I’m-
Lindsay Hoopes: Yeah.
Kara Goldin: … working on something with Jackie right now that hopefully takes this initiative before Congress. We’re trying to get an ingredient called PFAS, which you’re probably familiar with, in the water supply. It’s a very dangerous thing that is starting to get more and more attention, but it’s something that is known as a… It’s actually the FDA tracks it in meat and also in dairy, but for some reason they don’t actually test it in the water supply, which is really crazy. I’ve learned a lot about it because we have eight different plants throughout the U.S. and we take all of the lead and bromine and all of this stuff out and PFAS out of the water supply. I started thinking about like, what about people who are turning on their faucet? Especially in California where we’re not testing for this.
Anyway, it’s been something I’ve been working on for a while and, again, everybody’s really in support, but it’s crazy that I’m actually like a CEO of a beverage company and not a lobbyist, not like anything other than a consumer who is caring about… I know what I see in all different parts of the country and I’m like, “This has to change.” This is not okay that we’re… Anyway, it was an interesting conversation along the way. How did you get back to the winery? How did you end up getting pulled in that direction?
Lindsay Hoopes: Well, I always thought at some point I would end up back in Napa Valley and working with my family because I was very proud of what my father had done. He actually had one of the only vineyards that survived the Phylloxera outbreak and he invented actually some farming equipment that’s been very instrumental in sort of the agricultural world and also ended up having a derivative impact in the material handling world, ironically.
I think he’s always been a contributor to the community that he was a part of, and so I wanted to somehow carry on that legacy. I think for me, he didn’t want me to just end up in agriculture unless I had a personal direction towards it because it’s a very difficult business and we are always beholden to Mother Nature. Obviously, 2017 and 2020 gave me my first personal responsibility as the owner and next-generational proprietor of our family business, but that’s always something that we have to take into consideration with farming.
People think of wine as this luxury product, but one of our jobs as storytellers and in the wine business specifically I think is that we have to remind people that it is a luxury product, but it begins with the grapes. My day is so bizarrely varied, from looking at soil samples, testing for nematodes, looking at diseases that might affect wood and leaves on the viticultural side, thinking about science and how we can improve and make our wines, which is a very intensive chemical process. Not because we’re adding anything, but it’s a natural chemical change and alteration in route to wine and the processing is very scientific.
Then, we’re in this space of designing a brand that conveys a message and an emotional connection and sits in the luxury world because we’re Napa, so it expands all of these bizarrely different aspects, which makes it very interesting. That’s a tough job. It’s tough to have the skill set to cover all of those things, and just because you’re a great winemaker doesn’t mean you can sell it. There were a couple of things my Dad always taught me. You have to grow good grapes to make good wine, and you have to be nimble and comfortable with change because it’s a dynamic industry. I was interested in those things, but I think he wanted to make sure I was willing to take on that challenge.
Ultimately, I came home when my father started making wine. We were farmers my entire childhood and we grew grapes for other people. We ended up starting to make wine ultimately when I was in college, so I was really not a part of that decision and that transition. Of course, at that point, I was like, “Oh, this is a lot sexier than farming,” in my head, and so I rushed home right after I graduated and I didn’t get the job as a spy. I said, “Look, you know, I am ready to report to duty.” He was like, “Why would I hire you? You have no work experience and, by the way, you made the biggest mistake ever because-
Kara Goldin: Thanks, Dad.
Lindsay Hoopes: … “because you were a farmer for-
Kara Goldin: Right.
Lindsay Hoopes: … yeah. I really appreciate it today.
Kara Goldin: Yeah.
Lindsay Hoopes: We had our moments. No family business is easy and I was an only child in a largely male-dominated industry. I couldn’t tell if he was pushing me away because he didn’t think I was qualified or he wasn’t… Who knows? It’s always difficult to sort of figure out the transition in a multi-generational family business. I said I wanted to make wine. He said, “Why don’t you go see what the wine industry is really like? What we do here in Napa is not necessarily demonstrative of what the world of wine is. It is an international industry.” Napa only produces .04% of the wine that is sold throughout the world, so extraordinarily small, but it was my universe.
He wanted me to understand that if you want to actually make waves, understand the business, build the business, put your own fingerprint on it, you can’t only see the world from the eyes of someone who’s grown up in Napa, and so go try out a much larger company and see what you think. I worked for E.&J. Gallo, another family business, but extraordinarily different in size and sort of organization. I learned an incredible amount, but what I learned was that I wanted to tell our family story. Ultimately, I was passionate about what we did, not that what they do is not fantastic, but what we did was what I was connected to emotionally.
I think to your point when you were discussing why is it you making change in water and not a lobbyist, it’s because you are passionate about it. They are [crosstalk 00:15:51] paid to do that. For me, a story is more authentic if you’re passionate about it, and I knew I could not sell something I wasn’t passionate about. It had to have a sense of place, a sense of responsibility. I had to be doing something that made a difference, and maybe people have different definitions of social responsibility, but that was always a big drive for me.
I needed to be doing something I believe in and I don’t discredit people who build things that are, let’s say, I don’t know, maybe are more superficially applicable to the world. Wine is not being a DA. I’m not finding the cure to anything, but I will say that what I love about it is that you are actually helping people celebrate a very important moments in their life and experience luxury in so many different settings. That actually gives people a lot of comfort, and ironically, COVID has given me the opportunity to see that in full effect because one of the few ways that people are still connecting with people, that people are enjoying life is by bringing some of these elements of luxury home.
Wine is still connected to people, dinner, sharing moments with their family and building those experiences. I’m still a part of that and we’re still creating that in a more real sense today. It might seem far-fetched to some people, but I think what was really important to me is that I needed to be part of a business within the wine industry that I believed in, and what better business than telling our family story ultimately?
Kara Goldin: I love it. That’s so cool.
Lindsay Hoopes: Yeah.
Kara Goldin: The way that we connected was I read a story about the smoke-tainted grapes and what you were doing with them. Did this actually start in 2017 after the fires? Or when did this actually start and where did this idea come from?
Lindsay Hoopes: Yeah, so in 2017, we obviously experienced a spate of wildfires as we did most recently in 2020. What was different about the fires in 2017 is that most people were not affected in the wine industry. Obviously, there was devastation, but it happened so much later in the harvest cycle that fewer vineyards were affected, fewer wines, grapes were affected, and you didn’t see the destruction that you saw in 2020. I think that a lot of people don’t remember necessarily that there was a huge impact to the industry in ’17. It was much smaller and a lot of the bigger names that end up in people’s inboxes or that they see in the grocery stores didn’t really make comments about it because they weren’t affected, and so it wasn’t in the matter of public opinion at the time.
It was new to Napa. We’re certainly not the first area to experience wildfires. They had them in Australia, they’ve had them in the United States, but in our collective experience here in Napa, my father’s been growing grapes for 40 years. We had never seen or understood how to approach grapes that had been exposed to smoke taint. All of that to say that we have phenomenal resources in UC Davis and the viticulture and the enology programs there to help us take learnings from all over the world, but at the time, it was chaotic. The fires broke out and we said, “Okay, what do we do?” It wasn’t such a big issue that I was a little bit alone in making decisions.
We took tests of our grapes and based on what we were able to test for and what we understood at the time, we were advised that our grapes, by a third-party neutral testing agency, were suitable. They did not show any unfortunate signs of undesirable smoke taint, and I can explain a little bit more about that if you’re interested, but essentially we did test and our grapes came back negative for taste profiles that would not sort of be pleasant in ultra premium quality wine. We started producing wine the way that we would at any other vintage. We purchased extraordinarily expensive wine barrels from France. We proceeded along the two-year production cycle that we would for exceptional Napa Valley wine, which is what our family does.
In December of 2018, we started to notice some elements of ash, but it wasn’t necessarily unpleasant. It was a little bit more sort of, “Oh, this is different,” and it wasn’t something that we’d ever seen in our grapes before. We started testing again and we started to see higher signs of some of these compounds associated with smoke contamination, if you want to think of it that way.
Ultimately, in May of 2019, when we were preparing to bottle the vintage, we decided there is no way that we were going to put our name. The wine deteriorated very quickly and it tasted like ashtray. It sort of came on as though it were out of nowhere, really. It was all of a sudden it was not drinkable and not usable. In many cases, we tried to dilute it, see if other people wanted to purchase it because they had much larger production and see if there was something they could do. We looked into reverse osmosis to see if we could essentially remove and strip the smoke characteristics, but what we realized is we would also strip all of the high-quality characteristics that still were present in the line. We were going to essentially neutralize the wine, but that wasn’t going to give us the product we were excited about.
It’s poetry in a bottle. It tells the story of the vineyard, and if you take everything out of it, it’s not what you wanted it to be. I effectively reached out to our insurance company and I said, “We tested for this. We’ve done everything that we would have done in terms of quality protocols throughout processing and we now have something there’s no way we can use.” We didn’t know before we started this production process that we were going to end up here. We honestly thought that we had sort of escaped the problem.
I started embarking down an insurance avenue where we’re looking at our policies and saying, “Okay, where does this fit?” The exposure happened in the field, I mean, obviously, but what we know is that it’s sort of like a toxic tort, if you will. You get exposed to asbestos maybe in the ’70s before anybody knows it’s a problem, but stuff happens-
Kara Goldin: Along the way.
Lindsay Hoopes: … throughout the medical care along the way that ends up making it a health problem and it was almost the same thing here where what we did in the process was what we needed to do to make wine, but these compounds are active. They’re called volatile phenols, and so different levels of fermentation, from sugar to alcohol, or from fruit acid to dairy acid, which are all necessary to ultimately make wine skin contact. They all essentially caused these compounds to activate in some way. If you think about it, when you have a glass of wine and you introduce it to oxygen, you get much more out of the flavor in that wine. That’s why you use glasses with beautiful bowls because that way you’re kind of opening up the flavor profiles as well as the olfactory.
Ultimately, we couldn’t convince our insurance company. I still don’t think they’re right, but ultimately I was stuck with millions of dollars worth of inventory that I couldn’t use.
Kara Goldin: You had actually bottled it? Like you had [crosstalk 00:24:03]-
Lindsay Hoopes: We didn’t bottle. We were just about to bottle-
Kara Goldin: [inaudible 00:24:07].
Lindsay Hoopes: … and bottle because I wasn’t going to be able to sell it as wine.
Kara Goldin: Yeah.
Lindsay Hoopes: There is no way that I would… Even if I bottled it and sold it to somebody else, that wouldn’t feel very-
Kara Goldin: No.
Lindsay Hoopes: … honest-
Kara Goldin: Was this [crosstalk 00:24:19] all of your crops, too?
Lindsay Hoopes: Yeah.
Kara Goldin: Everything? Wow.
Lindsay Hoopes: Crops, everything purchased, and to give a little bit of personal context because I think it tells a little bit about sort of the situation I was in, my mother had just died. A week later, my father almost passed away. My husband was unemployed and I was pregnant and had two kids under three. I was-
Kara Goldin: Oh my gosh.
Lindsay Hoopes: … supporting our family. I’ve know walked through the dark forest, if you will, on a personal level, and then all of a sudden, our family business, which essentially is not just a luxury or a trophy item for us, it was like how we eat and we had no backup, is gone. This is, of course, after two years of wildfires, so we were having a community decline in terms of hospitality, consumption up here, visitation to Napa as well, so any other revenue stream was depressed as well. This is all before COVID, too, so it’s been a couple of interesting three years. I essentially hit a wall and I was very determined to find a solution. I think of myself as extraordinarily creative, but I actually, honestly, think at the time I recall feeling like it was [crosstalk 00:25:46]-
Kara Goldin: Yeah.
Lindsay Hoopes: I mean, I had lost our family business and there was nothing we could do and it was millions of dollars way over my head. I went, of course, as angels appear, I went to Kentucky. It was a preplanned trip and we were actually launching a book about women in wine country. We were going to the Kentucky Derby and I was like, “Why am I going? I am not in the mood to be happy and to pretend like the wine lifestyle is fabulous and amazing all of the time and we were presenting the book at a tastemakers dinner essentially at Castle & Key Distillery in Frankfurt, Kentucky.
There were five winemakers and then the master distiller, who happened to be a female, was sponsoring the event and actually hosting it. She was showcasing her gin and they had not released their bourbon yet, but I got to know here. We were sitting across the table and I said, “You know, I’m actually.” Kind of jokingly, “I am a huge scotch fan. I love scotch and I lived in Ireland for three years. I wouldn’t always disclose this to the Irish, but I love scotch, but that’s where I was introduced. I love Irish whiskey, too. I have to imagine that there’s something we can do with the wine that has been exposed to smoke because I-
Kara Goldin: Yeah, smoky [crosstalk 00:27:14]-
Lindsay Hoopes: … I love [crosstalk 00:27:15]-
Kara Goldin: … yeah. I mean, definitely there is things that are being done outside of wine that have that [crosstalk 00:27:20] smoky-
Lindsay Hoopes: Characteristic.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, absolutely.
Lindsay Hoopes: The difference between scotch and any other sort of smoke-enhanced product is that scotch is smoked before it’s distilled. Most people introduce smoke through barrel aging. If you get a smoky bourbon or something like that, the smoke actually is in the inside of the barrel and that’s the difference is that everybody thought, “Well, this has been smoked before, so it’s not going to be usable because it wasn’t controlled smoking. It wasn’t sort of designed to be smoky.” I was like, “Wait a minute. Scotch is the same thing.” You actually literally roast and toast the barley or whatever you’re putting into it.
We were sitting around and she was like, “That’s actually a really cool idea.” One of the things that drives Marianne that I love, I mean, she was crying when she was presenting the gin and I was like, “I love this girl,” because she is so passionate about her product. She loves the R&D component and trying new things, and yes, she’s been featured as the sort of Queen of Bourbon. She was the first female master distiller post-prohibition in Kentucky. She is not limited to bourbon. She is a trailblazer. She will try things. She will enter industries that aren’t necessarily the most obvious industries. She’s a chemical engineer and she’s fascinated by the science, but also creating new things and cool things because she’s an engineer.
We got to talking and she was like, “Let’s try it.” I didn’t know where it was going to go, but you have to pay to get rid of alcohol, so I was like, “I’m not paying any more… I’m not going to pay to throw this away. We’re going to find a solution.” Ultimately, we got together. We starting distilling the product and what we realized is what makes Napa so amazing for wine makes Napa so amazing for this product because the substrate is such high quality. As my Dad told me, “What you put in, you get out,” so you’re a farmer first, you grow good grapes, you make good wine. You grow crap grapes, you make crap wine.
Ultimately, the same is true here, that the quality was great, it just had been exposed to smoke. As we distilled it out, we were unbelievably floored by the quality of the product. I was hoping, “Okay, let’s make something.” Sort of like the COVID response, let’s see if we can salvage it for hand sanitizer-
Kara Goldin: Yeah.
Lindsay Hoopes: … or something like that, but it turned out that it was actually more impressive than we even imagined. We got excited about distilling different varietals, different Cabernet, Rose, and all of the wines that we had made, we distilled as separate products. We started aging them in different barrels and ultimately came up with a product that is kind of the Cognac of Napa, if you will. It’s like if you think about it, it’s the highest possible quality of wine that is then distilled into brandy-
Kara Goldin: I love it.
Lindsay Hoopes: … more or less, yeah-
Kara Goldin: I love it.
Lindsay Hoopes: … and-
Kara Goldin: No one’s [crosstalk 00:30:34] doing this. You guys [crosstalk 00:30:36] yeah. That’s amazing.
Lindsay Hoopes: Well, and it was funny because so many people in the beverage industry… I mean, this is where I felt like we had finally really been on to something, is that people who have been in the industry, some of the leaders who developed mezcal into what it is today all of a sudden are like, “Whoa, why didn’t we think of that?” I was like, “Okay, if they’re impressed,” because so many beverage introductions are marketing twists, clean wine in anything. When people who had legitimate authentic histories in the beverage space were interested in the project, that’s when I was like, “Okay-
Kara Goldin: That’s interesting.
Lindsay Hoopes: … but [inaudible 00:31:18] yeah, it’s interesting, and for me, as any entrepreneur, I was a little bit crazy because, of course, we’re continuing to invest in a product that most people think is trash. I was like, “Okay, how much more money do I really want to put into this before I call it quits?” As a business owner, you know, there are those moments at the T-junction where you’re like, “Okay, is it time? Or do I keep going? Do I believe in it enough?” Her interest in the project and then some of these sort of outside enthusiasts who were like, “You know, I don’t know why it wouldn’t work.” I mean-
Kara Goldin: I love it. That’s-
Lindsay Hoopes: … no-
Kara Goldin: … so great.
Lindsay Hoopes: That’s right.
Kara Goldin: It’s bottled, it’s ready, it’s like it’s-
Lindsay Hoopes: No.
Kara Goldin: Not quite yet? When will we be able to see it?
Lindsay Hoopes: Yeah, so we are still finalizing. We have to barrel age everything for two years-
Kara Goldin: Okay.
Lindsay Hoopes: … so we did the wine production aging on the front end, which is not required, but again, we did it because we thought we were making wine. Now, to be able to call it brandy or anything else and actually legally sell it, we have to barrel age it for a full two years. At the end of 2021, we will be able to release the final blends, but I think the reason that we started talking about the product was in 2020, the wildfires exploded again. You would think that people learned from 2017, but for most people weren’t actually affected in 2017, and so people didn’t have crop insurance. A lot of people hadn’t gone through this whole adventure that I went through, and so my goal in telling this story at that time was I have a lot of neighbors who have uninsured groves and I felt like I could provide some glimmer of opportunity potentially.
We haven’t released the product, so how it’s going to be received is a little bit yet to be known, but I offer to take in grapes that were uninsured and had been exposed to smoke with an opportunity for a profit share for the uninsured growers in Napa. It’s not an easy pivot. I mean, not everybody has a master distiller on staff. Not every has the know-how to distill a high-quality product. We had a great sort of combination of factors that were [crosstalk 00:33:45] I guess I’m thankful-
Kara Goldin: Yeah.
Lindsay Hoopes: … for because we found that we made it happen. It’s not a super easy pivot, but we were able to provide this story as, I think, hope. In Napa, COVID has affected everybody, and then to have another series of wildfires during COVID when things were just starting to open up has really sort of depressed the community. This was one of those we can turn disaster into some possible benefit and I wanted to be part of that story because everyone needs something to look forward to right now.
Kara Goldin: Yeah, absolutely. No, absolutely. Obviously, you’re actually recording from your vineyard, so how did you fare through these last set of fires?
Lindsay Hoopes: We did lose our entire harvest and obviously I would say that, you know-
Kara Goldin: That’s so scary.
Lindsay Hoopes: … it’s… Yeah, it remains to be seen how much of the Valley is going to be affected ultimately, or how much of the vintage I should say because the Valley’s a large place. People forget that and just because there were fires doesn’t mean everybody has made a bad wine this year. They’re going to proceed, but one of the amazing points of strength that I was able to take into this harvest is, well, I have an alternative. I can just convert all of this into brandy. I think this project has given me so much hope because I can help my neighbors. I can potentially change the industry in terms of understanding what alternatives if we do continue to experience wildfires, and then for me, it’s a great diversification if we have fire.
I would hate to think that this is going to be as regular as it has been, but if it is, we can make wine in some years and we can make brandy in other years. It’s going to allow us to remain economically viable despite climate change, and I don’t say that as a… My term of climate change is not necessarily politically motivated, although I will say that as a farmer, I can tell you things are different. My father did not experience these fires and our harvests are less predictable.
For me, I have to be able to find a way to innovate when I can’t control Mother Nature, and this is my generation’s contribution. My father’s generation was pivoting with what they were planting, root stocks, that kind of thing, so it’s the same, I guess, catalyst, Mother Nature, but it’s just a different outcome, so-
Kara Goldin: Interesting. Another thing that you shared with me, the nonprofit Save the Family Farms. Can you share a little bit more about that?
Lindsay Hoopes: Sure. A lot of people don’t realize that Napa at its core is still small family farms, multi-generational farms. A lot of people also don’t realize that the farms are not necessarily the winemakers or the larger corporate wine brands that they’re familiar with. These fires affect growers, not necessarily winemakers, so I’m lucky. I’m vertically integrated, so I’m my own consumer of my grapes, but for a lot of growers, they’ve lost revenue and there’s nothing they can do with them. They can’t even turn them into brandy because they don’t have the licenses to process them, if you can believe it, so they just throw them on the ground, literally.
Economic viability has been a much larger problem for small family farms in Napa for a while because we are not allowed to have tours and tastings on our farms. A lot of these small family farms do not have the financial resources to build their own winery, so that’s why they either sell grapes or they produce at a custom crush facility, which is like a co-op kitchen, like many restaurants starting up.
What Napa has is a distinct layer of regulation that makes it cost prohibitive for these small farms to transfer into tours and tastings, and so people think, “Oh, well, I’ve never heard of these wines.” It’s because you can’t visit legally. The problem for us is that most of us sell through restaurants, which are closed because of COVID. A lot of us sell in events where people find us, which have all been disbanded essentially, and we’re losing traction because people are moving away from Napa. I think the consumer now is wanting that more authentic family experience, and some people think that Napa has been too corporatized and that they want to move to these smaller, more upstart burgeoning areas of wine production where they can meet the growers, meet the family.
That all exists in Napa, we just aren’t allowed to invite you to our homes, and so I am trying to create that path of sort of, I don’t know, economic viability through decreasing regulation, and for all people. As a government agent, my Dad was always like, “Well, do you like regulation or don’t you like regulation?” I’m like, “I like smart regulation that has a purpose,” and I think that it’s important what worked in 1990 does not necessarily work today regardless of industry. We have to constantly look at what regulation we have and the purpose so that we make sure it’s still serving a purpose and achieving the best results in any community.
In Napa, I think the Agricultural Preserve was a fabulous, fabulous initiative. It has kept Napa from converting into Silicon Valley in terms of development and it’s kept it in agricultural community. The problem is is that there are unintended consequences. Nobody knew in 1990 that what they wrote meant small farms wouldn’t be able to survive in 2020, so [crosstalk 00:40:08] that’s okay.
Kara Goldin: Yeah.
Lindsay Hoopes: Well, we need to change it.
Kara Goldin: Well, I think there are changes and I think California needs to do that as a whole. I mean, just look at retail and how things are [crosstalk 00:40:22] zoned. At the end of the day, the consumer… What you’re really talking about is what the consumer wants, right?
Lindsay Hoopes: Totally.
Kara Goldin: They don’t know that they can’t visit the small businesses in Napa, the small wineries. They just think, “Oh, they’re not open. They’re not big enough. They’re not good enough and they’re better in these other areas. That’s why they’re open.” The reality is [crosstalk 00:40:49] is the regulation is so fascinating. It’s really interesting [crosstalk 00:40:53]-
Lindsay Hoopes: Or that we’ve all left, or that we’ve all left Napa somehow, that we’ve all been purchased by large conglomerates and you can’t find boutique wine, so we need to move to some other destination to find those gems. There’s still so many up in Napa and I just want to make sure that families who are multigenerational can continue to stay in this community and continue to keep business going and pass it on multigenerationally because that is the heart and soul.
Napa has become so many other things, but it’s where I grew up and so I really believe in providing a path for all of these families to stay in the business that they’re passionate about. You don’t do it for money. Some people do, but it’s definitely more of a passion project, and I say that only because you can lose a year’s worth of revenue on the drop of a dime. It’s very capital-intensive and there are a lot of things that are working against in terms of if you wrote this as a business plan to Marketing 101, your teacher would be like, “You’re dumb,” right?
Kara Goldin: Yeah.
Lindsay Hoopes: “It’s going to take you 20 years to return revenue and blah, blah, blah, and it’s capital-intensive. What are you doing? Go into tech.”
Kara Goldin: “Do something else,” and also responsibility of your family and I love that. It’s a noble cause for sure. You’re also doing the vacation rental. I read about it. It’s a farmhouse that you rent out.
Lindsay Hoopes: Yeah, so I like to think of it as more… One of the things that drives me in maintaining the business is that I wanted to put my own fingerprint on our business, so I’ve always wanted to innovate. I didn’t want to do just what my father did. Not because I wasn’t proud, but because that was his vision, and it took me a little while to develop my own, but I think what is most impressive to me is you can get good wines anywhere. Almost every wine in Napa is going to be of a certain quality, so you’re rarely going to be very disappointed with the availability of high-quality product.
I want to create much more of an experience where people who are looking to maybe get out of the city, who are looking to understand farming and living that actual Napa lifestyle, which I’ve grown to realize is so precious and unique, especially during COVID, is that I want them to have the opportunity to learn about farming, learn about animals-
Kara Goldin: I love it.
Lindsay Hoopes: … learn about [inaudible 00:43:34] learn about ecosystems and how all of that works together. That was really the inspiration behind the Oasis by Hoopes, which is a regenerative farm. It’s not a tasting experience. You can try wine here, but it’s really meant to show you how animals and different crops and wine all function together in an agricultural community. It’s not just about marble mausoleums. With our farmhouse, what we’re trying to do is take all of the produce that we grow and literally translate that to farm-to-table, so not just with the wine, but talking about these curated sort of pop-up experiences.
Unfortunately, Napa does not allow us to do that, so a way that people can experience it, at least for now, is coming to my family home that I grew up in and renting it, according to Napa regulations, but live that lifestyle. Come and harvest from the garden, stay overnight. Learn more about the winemaking process. Maybe dip their toe into it with us. It’s more comprehensive. It’s not just a vacation stay, it’s an experience of introducing you to winemaking and farming in Napa.
Kara Goldin: I love it. I want to go see it, for sure [crosstalk 00:44:54]-
Lindsay Hoopes: Yes.
Kara Goldin: … come check it out. Yeah, it sounds amazing. Where do people find out more about the brandy-ish experience, the Hoopes Vineyard, and everything that you’re doing?
Lindsay Hoopes: Right now, we are open at the Oasis by Hoopes facility and that is just South of Yountville, so phenomenal location and, of course, at our website, www.hoopesvineyard, with an E, .com. We are hosting people. We can show them the gardens. We are outdoors, so we are totally COVID-friendly. You can meet our friendly animals. We have an animal rescue sanctuary here. We actually have our garden. We have a farmers market on the weekends and then you can try our wines before you take them home. Then, our vacation rental hopefully will be open. You can rent it now, but we’re having renovations, so it’s spotty, but you can always contact me at [email protected] and we will definitely see if we can make that experience available.
Unfortunately, a lot of the in-person events that we had planned, of course, for 2020 we were not able to execute, so we’ve transferred a good few of them online. We do virtual cooking classes and we oftentimes send boxes of all of the produce that we’re using for those classes, we send it to you if you register for the class as well as the wines, so you can cook alongside us with our produce even if we can’t host you in person.
Kara Goldin: I love it. I’m looking at your site right now. It looks amazing, so it looks super [crosstalk 00:46:25]-
Lindsay Hoopes: We do virtual wine tastings, so if you can’t come visit us, we’ve been having a lot of fun doing virtual wine tastings where we can send miniature packages, basically miniature format bottles of wine to your home if you want to entertain clients, do team building activities, just drink wine with family. All together via virtual platform, we’ve been able to actually execute sending these little sampler packs out to everybody and engaging people online-
Kara Goldin: I love it.
Lindsay Hoopes: … with me.
Kara Goldin: I love it.
Lindsay Hoopes: Yeah [crosstalk 00:46:58]-
Kara Goldin: That’s so great. Well, I love everything about it and I wish you guys the best and hope 2021 is great for everybody, including you guys and I just love your innovation and I’ll definitely be watching more for what you’re doing. I think you’re the perfect person to be dealing with a lot of this, this craziness as it’s been, and I love it, but definitely everybody, if you’re enjoying this podcast, definitely give Lindsay some great remarks. Go visit the website for sure and check out what she’s doing. I can’t wait for this to be complete as well, so I’m very, very excited to taste exactly… The end of 2021 you think that will be ready?
Lindsay Hoopes: Yeah, and I think talking about it now is fun because I feel like consumers can sort of watch us through the process. We’ll, of course, on social media be sharing our development-
Kara Goldin: Yeah.
Lindsay Hoopes: … you know-
Kara Goldin: I love it.
Lindsay Hoopes: … as it [inaudible 00:48:05] and of course now that we’ve got another vintage to work with, I’m actually excited. What will we change? What will be do? This is going to be an ongoing project in a fun way. Obviously, I don’t love that it’s born from devastation, but I do love that there is something kind of fun to play with despite the fact that, you know-
Kara Goldin: It’s happened this way.
Lindsay Hoopes: Absolutely [crosstalk 00:48:27]-
Kara Goldin: I love it-
Lindsay Hoopes: Yeah.
Kara Goldin: … and I love your mindset and looking forward and really recognizing that there’s some things that you can do something about it and sometimes you can’t and things are out of your control. Well, thank you so much, Lindsay, and definitely [crosstalk 00:48:43] very, very excited for the future for you, so everybody [crosstalk 00:48:47]. Thank you for checking in with everybody, with us, and have a great rest of the week.