Side Projects-CrossBarn Winery by Paul Hobbs

Photo used with permission from CrossBarn Winery

{These wines were provided as media samples, no other compensation. Thoughts are my own.}

This is a second installment in a series about side projects by established winemakers.

I hadn’t been home for quite a while, not in winter in nearly a decade. It was late January and darkness had fallen long before I arrived, as it does at that latitude. When I woke, I looked out the window and was taken aback by the weighted limbs of the evergreens, heavy with snow. It was a still. I was not.

I had been in a winter of sorts. A dormant season. One in which the only visible growth was the stretching of their little limbs, their cache of words, the length of time between awakenings, between naps. They were finally old enough for me to go visit a friend in Ithaca. Returning began a much-needed awakening.

There are places, smells, spaces that are so deeply engrained in you that they stir and swallow you in unexpected ways. I am undone by the site of Lake Champlain through the window of the plane, the sweet decay of leaves underfoot, the towering pines dressed in white. Upstate New York is home. And no matter how long I am gone, I can’t, nor do I want to, escape its pull.

Paul Hobbs seems to understand that. Reared on a family farm in Upstate New York, he learned the value of terroir, soil, and location by comparing the fruit grown on the land. His father eventually began growing grapes on the property. Hobbs began his namesake winery in 1991 and in 2000 began his side project, CrossBarn Winery, as a tribute to his childhood home.

“Farm life instills in one a deep sense of respect for family, a love of land and the joys of collaborative effort. Our CrossBarn wines are a reflection of these ideals and of our commitment to sustainable vineyard practices and gentle winemaking techniques. The “cross barn” was nestled in the middle of our one hundred fifty year old family farm in upstate New York. A favorite haunt for my siblings and me, it took on a life of its own and remains in our memories as a place of great mystery and adventure.”  – Paul Hobbs

The wines of CrossBarn reflect the ideals driven home to him in his youth: family and sustainability. He began with a small lot of Cabernet Sauvignon and eventually added Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The grapes are hand-harvested at night. Often, vineyards, even certain lots, ferment separately with minimal intervention.

Each of these wines went through native malolactic fermentation. Only a portion of each wine was aged in new oak. All were bottled unfined. The motivation is for each wine to truly reflect the AVA and for the fruit to shine.

I was fortunate to be able to sample these wines over the last few months.

The 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon was sourced from the AVA synonymous with the grape, Napa Valley. A challenging growing season with lower yield but excellent concentration. The wine is 87% Cabernet Sauvignon and the remaining 13% a blend of Bordeaux varieties. It was barrel aged for 20 months, 18% in new oak.

It was our Christmas dinner wine. We rarely have meat anymore but a classic steak au poivre demanded a classic pairing for the meal. For being bottle unfined, it had excellent clarity, a vibrant ruby to garnet in the glass. The nose of red and Bing cherry was echoed on the palate, complimented by baking spice and tertiary tobacco notes. Balanced acid, refined tannins, punctuated with lively mineral notes made for a delightful holiday quaff enjoyed by all.

Both the 2017 Chardonnay and the 2016 Pinot Noir were sourced from the Sonoma Coast. The 2016 season was cooler on average with no spikes in temperatures. The even growing season ended a week earlier than average. This wine is a classic reflection of Pinot Noir from the region. Brilliant and aromatic in the glass, red cherry in color and taste profile. Hints of violet and tea, vibrant and elegant. This wine was enjoyed with a cheese plate, on the porch, on a cool spring evening.

Some of my favorite producers of California Chardonnay look to the Sonoma Coast for beautiful fruit and this bottle reflects the reward of doing so. The diurnal swing in the AVA gives the Chardonnay the chance to ripen and maintain acidity. This season ended with a heat wave and then a cooling period which can produce the highest quality fruit.

Classic straw in the glass, yellow apple and white flowers on the nose. The addition of 8% of barrel aged juice gives this wine a depth, a roundness. The palate develops with stone fruit, lemon peel, with a lively finish. We paired this with grilled salmon, an ideal match.

Crossbarn wines were created to speak of place, to celebrate the AVA from which they came. A nod to tradition, to sustainable practices, to family values, to speak of “home.” These values are congruous with what “home” means to me.  The story of origin brought me back to my place of origin. A place, a feeling, that deserves to be honored, remembered, revisited.

These wines inspired a few questions about approach, production, and future plans.

On the website I saw that each vineyard is fermented separately. Is that true for all 3 varieties? 

o    For our pinot and cabernet programs we ferment nearly all vineyards separately, and approximately 75% of the blocks separately. There are a lot of factors that influence blending decisions prior to fermentation. Where differences exist in the vineyard we keep them separate in the winery. This allows us to extract each wine properly based on terroir, ripeness, and style. Some of these decisions are based on preference and some on environmental factors, such as yields or maturity. For example, we may split the north and south side of a block into two fermenters based on phenolic ripeness or we may blend 2 blocks into one fermenter if we have learned over multiple vintages that we prefer to do so.

o    For our chardonnay we do more juice blending up front since there is no extraction from the skins in tank (juice is whole cluster pressed from the skins before fermentation). We’ve studied, experimented, and learned which blocks we prefer to co-ferment and which we like to keep separate and mange differently. Every harvest brings new learning opportunities so we are always exploring. Our main focus is to create a harmonious blend, maintain freshness, and preserve the Sonoma Coast terroir.

 I noticed all three wines are fermented with native yeast. Is that true of all the Crossbarn wines as related to the philosophy of minimal intervention?

o    For our red varietals, cabernet & pinot, we predominantly use indigenous yeast. For us the use of indigenous yeast is respectful to the terroir and is more conducive to our fermentation kinetics. (temperature, maceration days, fermentation speed).  

o    For chardonnay we use both indigenous and isolated strains. Certain isolated strains allow us to both minimize intervention and ferment in stainless steel to preserve the wines freshness. We’ve done, and continue to do, extensive trials to find strains that respect our terroir and maintain the freshness and vibrancy in the wines.

Do you know of plans to create any CrossBarn (or another label) wines using grapes from Upstate NY? Do you know where specifically his family farm was located?

Paul Hobbs was born and raised on a family farm in upstate NY near Buffalo, NY. His upcoming project, called Hillick & Hobbs, is entirely separate from CrossBarn Winery and is focused on Fingers Lake Riesling.

Many thanks to Paul Hobbs and Sao Anash for sharing these wines with me. I look forward to his next side project with New York Riesling.




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Being a stay- at-home mom can leave one thirsting for a taste of the outside world, a world in which sentences are composed of more than three words. Being an educator means one is always seeking an opportunity to explore and learn. Being a woman with a need to connect can be a challenge when adult conversations are rare. In wine, I find the marriage of art and science, agriculture and storytelling provides limitless areas to explore. But it is the people that keep me engaged. The tenacity needed to keep the family dream alive, the risk to start anew, the trials and principles. I love the history of the vine, the impact of a season, the sentiment in the bottle. That is why I write. I write to tell their stories, to share a piece of mine. I write to learn as I teach others. I write to connect with new friends, to disconnect from the world. I write to celebrate what makes each of us unique, and that which ties us together.

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