Creative California winery makes brandy from soot-covered grapes

AP Photo/Eric Risberg

As California continues to suffer through a season of record-breaking wildfires, even Napa Valley’s tranquil vineyards have been subjected to scorching flames and damaging smoke. Like thousands of other small business owners in the state, Spencer Hoopes and his daughter, Lindsay, the proprietors of Hoopes Vineyard, struggled with how to save their winery.

The vineyard first experienced damage during the 2017 wildfires. While producing wine from the smoke- and soot-tainted grapes seemed impossible, and their insurance would not cover the financial loss, the family was unwilling to call it quits. Realizing that such fires were likely to be a recurring issue, they decided to look for a creative solution.

Considering the fact that some brandy is distilled from the mash, juice or wine of grapes and that a smoky flavor is often considered a favorable attribute of the liquor, Lindsay Hoopes got to work on an idea.

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Teaming up with Master Distiller Marianne Barnes, Hoopes decided to distill the tainted grapes into a unique type of brandy.

“We had a choice,” Hoopes told Food & Wine, “to find a solution and make something beautiful out of a tragedy, or to lose everything. We chose to rise from the ashes, literally, and explore the rebirth of grapes into spirits. Nature is a master of innovation, and we took her cue. Responding to crisis with resilience, we found opportunity.”

She mentioned the ambitious project in a recent Facebook post, as well.

“Napa, we can rise from the ashes,” Hoopes wrote. “So honored to be part of this innovative product. I am humbled to bring a creative solution to my family, and potentially industry, to tackle Mother Nature’s incredible hurdles in recent vintages.”

The brandy, which takes two years to process, is not only being made from grapes from Hoopes Vineyard but from those of neighboring vineyards as well, potentially creating a profit-sharing opportunity. It should be available to the public by the end of 2021 or in early 2022.

Food, Good News, Science & Nature
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Tricia Goss
Tricia Goss is a Texas-based writer and editor with nearly two decades of experience. She is passionate about helping readers improve their skills, gain knowledge and attain more happiness in life. When she’s not working, Tricia enjoys traveling with her husband and their dog, especially to visit their five grandchildren.

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