Hook & Ladder Q&A
A Pioneering Wine Family
As a child, Jason De Loach grew up in the vineyards, trailing his grandfather Cecil and helping out at the winery. Today, Jason is the head winemaker at Hook & Ladder Winery, in California’s Russian River Valley, located in Sonoma County. Read Jason’s answers to Opimian’s questionnaire.
Hook and Ladder was founded almost 20 years ago, in 2003. Can you tell us your story?
Our founder is my grandpa Cecil De Loach who spent 17 years as a San Francisco firefighter. Cecil was the original founder of De Loach Vineyards in the early 70s and sold the De Loach brand in 2003. For the first wines for Hook and Ladder Winery, we utilized select fruit from our 148 acres which focused primarily on small bottlings of Pinot Noir, “Old Vine” Zinfandel, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer (early and late harvest), Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Bordeaux style blends and Port. Since 2003, we’ve expanded our wines to single-vineyard bottlings of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, reserve wines called Third Alarm and our limited production wines called Four Rows. The main driving influence was focusing more on our tasting room experience and wine club.
When and how did you become involved in the family business?
I was fortunate to grow up in and around the wine industry; wine production was always exciting and energetic, especially during harvest. Right after high school, my grandpa offered me a job in production and a place to live. At the time that was my best option so I accepted his offer and started working full-time in production at De Loach Vineyards.
What makes your vineyard sustainable?
All of our vineyards are currently considered Sonoma County sustainable and certified; we adhere to strict farming practices and use only certified products in our vineyards in addition to discing our vineyards only as needed. All of the required farming certificates and technical blending information accounting for all our wines are formally submitted to the Sonoma County Wine Growers to be verified for being sustainable. Being stewards of the land helps protect our vineyards for now and in the future. This is the way my family has always farmed, long before actually being recognized as sustainable.
How do you deal with the threat of wildfires in California?
When it comes to our ranches, we keep all of the grass cut low, disc and mow our vineyards as necessary and remove dead brush and trees; for winemaking, we are always exploring the best products and protocols available to mitigate the possibility of smoke damage.
What are the particularities of making wine in the Russian River Valley?
The Russian River Valley is typically cooler in the morning from the coastal influence, often providing a nice layer of fog that dissipates in the early afternoon. Because of the cool mornings and warmer afternoons, we have a very nice extended growing season for the fruit to obtain the best balance of rich flavours, acid retention, and sugar which allows us to make the best possible wines.
Tell us about your Stegman Ranch and Aquarius Ranch vineyards.
The Stegman Ranch Pinot Noir comes from a 6-acre Vineyard specifically planted and designed for high-end wines. The Stegman Ranch vineyards is by far our favourite source for Pinot Noir and creates wines with big extended flavour profiles and a rich full body mouth feel. We use this fruit for all of our upper-tier Pinot Noir blends, with the biggest focus being on the Stegman Ranch Pinot Noir and our Four Rows program. My family has been working with the Aquarius Ranch Chardonnay for decades, since before Hook and Ladder Winery, for creating higher-end Chardonnay. The vineyard is located right along the Russian River and has a very nice slow extended growing season leading to rich flavours of apple, pear, and melon along with a dense full body mouth feel while retaining the perfect amount of acidity. We use this fruit for all of our upper-tier Chardonnay blends focusing primarily on the Aquarius Ranch Chardonnay and our Four Rows program.
Which wine(s) are you most proud of? What is your favourite grape variety to work with?
I really enjoy working on all of our single-vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines because they offer the greatest amount of creativity with a single barrel selection. My favourite grape to work with is Pinot Noir because it is one of the most physically demanding wines, being fermented in small open-top style tanks. Also, calling a pick for Pinot Noir can be very challenging while trying to dial in the perfect flavour profiles.
What wine do you like to open at family gatherings?
Typically, at family gatherings, we will open a nice bottle of Chardonnay, Aquarius Ranch, Four Rows, or Third Alarm.
What does your collaboration with Opimian and its Canadian Members mean to you?
It’s wonderful to be able to share the wines we make at Hook and Ladder Winery with an exclusive offering such as Opimian, it has been a great partnership.
Order these exceptional wines by September 19, 2022
Hook & Ladder Aquarius Ranch Chardonnay, Estate Bottled, Russian River Valley, 2020, Lot 3607
Hook & Ladder Stegman Ranch Pinot Noir, Estate Bottled, Russian River Valley, 2020, Lot 3604