This is part of a series introducing you to interesting people in the wine industry. For many, the journey into wine is not only intriguing but often quite an adventure. These talented individuals are what make the wine industry what it is today so follow this series to meet this group of passionate people who have dedicated their lives to wine.
Was there a specific wine, moment or place that unlocked your passion?
Nicole Hitchcock: I grew up in California’s Central Coast, in the very quaintly named Carmel-by-the-Sea. The whole area has a very prominent food and wine culture. There was a high value placed on how wine and food unite to elevate a social experience. Wine was regularly on my family’s dinner table, it was an integral part of our dining experience. Early on, I was fascinated by the variety of labels that passed across the table — especially wines produced from far-off places. My dad’s enthusiasm for exploring the world through wine inspired me to want to learn more about it, too.
Throughout college and a little beyond, I worked in restaurants in Carmel that are well-known for their culinary and wine programs. Beyond learning about wine at home through my parents, discovering the sophisticated interplay between food and wine at these restaurants fascinated me about the wine industry. It’s a platform to make people’s lives more interesting.
If I wanted to identify a single moment or wine that really unlocked my interest in wine, it’s from around this time. One evening after a busy night working at an Italian trattoria in Carmel known for its magnificent wine list, the owner brought out a bottle of Amarone and poured me a glass. I was enthralled. For me, it expanded my comprehension of how diverse the world of wine is; how each different region produces its own style and has its own unique qualities. It wasn’t the first wine I’d ever tasted, of course, but I remember that moment being a revelation.
What did you study in school and what were you doing before you started in the wine industry?
NH: Once I was hooked on pursuing a career in wine, I decided to study Viticulture and Enology at the University of California, Davis, while minoring in Italian. That helped me get work experience at an agriturismo in Todi, Umbria during one a summer. It was this summer abroad that gave me a true understanding of wine and food’s role as a cultural pillar. We have an appreciation for it here in the States, but once you spend time in a place like Italy, you see its importance in an entirely different light. It’s an integral part of people’s daily lives in Italy. The experience reinforced my interest and provided me with a heightened perspective on wine.
How has being in the wine industry changed you?
NH: One thing I’ll say about being a winemaker: It prepares you for anything. Every year, you’re trying to take what nature and the growing season gives you and transform it into wine. There are hundreds of variables to manage, many, if not most, that are entirely out of your control. You can do everything right and suddenly there’s a rainstorm or you need to repair your press or you have three tanks worth of fruit coming in and only two empty tanks to put it in. You learn very quickly that being a winemaker is not just about knowing the chemistry or taste, but how to stay cool under pressure, develop solutions and quickly solve whatever problem is in front of you. It’s a fantastic way to learn to trust both your instincts and your team.
What’s your favorite part of being in the wine industry?
NH: Winemaking is something you pursue because you love the intricacy and the challenge that comes from growing and making world-class wines. I have met a lot of really wonderful people and seen a lot of amazing things. I’ve been able to travel around the world with wine.
Wine just sparks so much connection and discussion. From what I’ve seen, people enjoy food and wine that are authentic to a place, are well made and just taste good. But I also recognize that people have different tastes. In winemaking, I like to produce a broad spectrum of styles to fit different occasions and preferences. This approach suits my personality in general. I can’t be pinned down to eating or drinking anything habitually; instead I like to capitalize on the wide variety of cuisines and wines that we’re blessed with in this world.
Looking back, was there something in your past that led you to wine?
NH: I owe a lot of my interest in wine to my parents, my father in particular. I am very thankful that I was raised to be curious and to explore, whether with flavors or travel or activities.
Visit www.jwine.com to learn more or buy the wines Nicole makes!