HALL Wines’ vineyard and winery is beautiful. The estate vineyards encompass more than five hundred acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sauvignon Blanc. Moreover, the HALL wines are organically farmed with careful attention to the biodiversity of Napa Valley. In July 2009, HALL St. Helena became California’s first winery to receive the LEED Gold Certification. I recently sat down with Steve Leveque, HALL’s winemaker to talk about sustainability and ‘organic-minded’ gourmet pizza.
JK: Hi Steve. Can you provide readers with a little background on who you are, why you care about sustainability and what you’re doing?
SL: Prior to my career in winemaking, I earned a degree in Biology from San Diego State University and briefly pursued a career in genetics but found it unrewarding. I have been lucky to have visited great winegrowing regions and built wonderful relationships with esteemed winemakers around the world throughout my time within the industry. With winemaking, I am able to share my efforts with others, strive for perfection and have it result in an actual product that can be experienced and celebrated. I joined HALL Wines as the Director of Winemaking. As winegrowers and visionaries, the Halls have a strong respect for the environment and a commitment to cutting-edge vineyard technology to yield the highest quality grapes which in return allows our winemaking team to produce premium quality wines that express the unique and diverse character of Napa Valley’s soils and climate. Here at HALL, we choose to take a proactive approach towards the environment, taking all measures necessary to ensure the health of the land as well as that of the greater Napa Valley ecosystem.
JK: What was your first job?
SL: I started my winemaking career at Robert Mondavi Winery, where I had the opportunity to grow under the mentorship of Tim Mondavi serving as Winemaker for the majority of my eleven-year tenure.
JK: How has the wine industry changed in the last 10 years?
SL: In Napa Valley, the competition towards the highest quality wines has accelerated greatly. Vintners and winemakers are more in tune with the intricacies in the vineyard (site, row orientation, canopy manicuring, harvesting criteria and selection) and winery (sorting operations, exacting standards and a move away from recipe winemaking). The standards and resulting quality, have been raised by leaps and bounds.
JK: Any general comments, observations, predictions about the industry?
SL: Times are tough, but opportunities are rampant. The industry at large is undergoing massive change. And, at the elite end of the market, no longer will consumers expect anything less than near perfect wines. Those who have the vineyard and winery resources, as well as the fierce dedication to producing world-class wines, are positioned for success.
JK: When you’re not drinking one of your own wines, what are you drinking?
SL: I am currently on a Northern Rhone and California Pinot kick.
JK: What’s your favorite place to grab a bite out?
I have to give big props to my local favorites – Bottega and Bouchon in Yountville, and Syrah and Willi’s Seafood in Santa Rosa/Healdsburg! My most frequented venue, however, is a great organic-minded, gourmet pizzeria in Santa Rosa, Rosso’s Pizzeria!