Interview with Rob Hunter of Bennett Lane Winery Napa Valley

I recently had the pleasure of talking to and interviewing Winemaker Rob Hunter from Bennett Lane Winery. Bennett Lane Winery is an AMAZING family-owned winery that I adore. Curious to learn about more family-owned Napa Wineries to support. See my favorite’s below.

The Best Family-Owned Napa Wineries

I met them years ago during a media trip with Calistoga Wine Growers, speaking of Calistoga. Check out my Top 10 Calistoga Wineries below. Since that trip I have become a huge supporter of Bennett Lane Winery.

Top 10 Calistoga Wineries

One of my favorite things to do is to interview winemakers and learn about their creative process, background, and journey to where they are today. Follow along below to see My Interview with Winemaker Rob Hunter. 

Me and Winemaker Rob Hunter at Bennett Lane, Napa Valley.

Was there a moment that you remember when you knew that you wanted to be a winemaker?

After nearly completing the coursework for both the Viticulture and Ag Econ degrees at UC Davis, I realized I wasn’t inspired by either one.  I wanted to be a winemaker, but the chemistry involved was daunting. So, I spent the Harvest of 1982 working at Woodbury Winery in San Rafael, learning how Port was made.  Upon my return to school, I hit the books (wrote a lot of flash cards) and never looked back.

What was your first wine job? 

My very first wine job was on the graveyard shift during crush at Domaine Chandon in 1980.  I ran three presses from 11pm-7am and was miserable.  The funny thing was, they asked me back as a supervisor the following year, but I had already committed to a viticultural internship.

As a winemaker you taste (and spit) lots of wine, what wine do you feel bad about spitting because you love it so much?

I feel there are different levels: yuk >mehh > good > great > insane!  I always spit, but I might taste the great or insane wines twice. LOL

What was one of the biggest mistakes you have made in your winemaking career?

In 1983 I topped a barrel of Chardonnay with Cab.  Luckily, I smelled the Chard instantly and was able to siphon the 1 gallon of rosé out before it tinged the barrel.

Who has been the most influential mentor in your career? 

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have worked with some of the greats – Nils Venge, Chuck Ortman, Heidi Peterson, but by far the most influential was Greg Fowler. I first worked for him at Schramsberg, and later at Sterling. His insistence on sanitation, his amazing palate, his having worked with Andre Tchelistcheff. Greg was brilliant, strict but kind.  At Sterling he was hands off but always available.

What is something you’d like to share about Napa Valley Wines that many consumers may not know, or have a misconception about?

Napa Valley has many incredible sites to grow exceptional fruit but we as Napa Valley Winemakers are not so arrogant to think that it’s the only place to grow magical fruit.  A case in point is our Sangiacomo Chardonnay from Sonoma Carneros.

Share more about Bennett Lane Winery and the wines you make there? 

Our wines are all about Varietal Fruit Flavor.  I strive to have the intensity of the varietal fruit show first followed by a hint or nuance of oak.  My goal is to show our customers what each varietal is all about.

For those who haven’t visited Bennett Lane Winery in Calistoga yet, how would you describe it and what makes it so special?

Well, you’ve asked the Winemaker, so it’s obviously the wines, right?  But it’s so much more:

The sensational wines

The friendly and wine knowledgeable staff

The delightful garden setting, couch area or cellar seating

Calistoga itself, being more laidback and easy going.

And of course, the chance to chat with myself or Bennett (my #2) 

What is your favorite local spot in St. Helena (where you live)?

Meadowood has opened a new restaurant, Forum.  It’s outstanding.

Tell us something that would surprise people about you? 

There were two other professions I never pursued, one was in Opera, the other was in the Episcopal Church.

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