I recently had the pleasure of sitting next to Beringer’s winemaker, Laurie Hook, at a wine dinner focusing on Beringer’s outstanding wines from Knight’s Valley (if you don’t know about Beringer’s Knight’s Valley tier, do yourself a favor and click here) and thought she’d be the perfect person to tap for this year’s Thanksgiving wine pairings. Here’s what Laurie had to say.
Lia: First off, what are your thoughts on the big Thanksgiving feast?
Laurie: I love all the holidays, but Thanksgiving is a special one for me as a winemaker, since it falls just after harvest. It really has that feeling to me of celebrating harvest, celebrating friends and family, celebrating time together, which I look forward to after an intense season with a lot of long hours. By the time I’m done with harvest, I’m ready to reconnect.
Lia: Do you have any favorite Thanksgiving dishes?
Laurie: I like to keep things savory. The sweetness level, other than dessert, is pretty low at my Thanksgiving table.
Lia: What wines will be on your table?
Laurie: I’m a big fan of setting a lot of wines out on the sideboard and letting people play. We’ll have people at the table who really love wine, and those who like it, but aren’t as passionate about it, so I like to have different bottles of different levels and varietals available. Most of all, I want people to enjoy the meal and eat and drink what they like.
That said, I’ll definitely have a bottle of our Private Reserve Chardonnay—it’s a really versatile wine that holds up to a lot of different foods and is great for people who aren’t big red drinkers. For red, I like having a medium-bodied pinot noir and a cabernet sauvignon on the table. I’m excited about our 2009 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon; it’s generous on blackberry flavors and cedar and brown spice notes, and its satiny tannins make it softer and rounder and easier to pair with things—like turkey—that you normally wouldn’t turn to cabernet for.
Lia: Any special pairings?
Laurie: I’m starting with a butternut squash soup that I’m really excited about pairing with our Alluvium Blanc—a Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend. It has bright acidity and citrus from the sauvignon blanc and a buttery mouthfeel from the Semillon that I think are going to go beautifully with the soup.
In general, though, I like people to discover for themselves what they like. By having different bottles on the table—a very Thanksgiving-esque way to serve—you can try tastes of different wines with different foods. It takes the feeling that there’s a “right” and “wrong” way to pair away and allows people to just play. I like to send the message of “have fun, don’t take this so seriously … just experiment and relax and enjoy yourself.”
Lia: What about dessert?
Laurie: We’ll have the usual Thanksgiving desserts and pies, and I’ll definitely be setting out a bottle of our Nightingale. It’s got gorgeous balance with notes of honeyed apricot and caramelized sugar. Honestly? I could actually just have a glass of that for dessert.
Lia: You and I bonded over dinner about sustainability and, in particular, how a big label like Beringer approaches it. Can you talk a bit about your take on the subject as winemaker?
Laurie: First off, I have to say that we want to do the right thing. We live in this community, kids are growing up here, we’re breathing the air. We want to feel like we’re leaving the world in a better place … but it does take work.
I approach sustainability in a similar way as I do winemaking—it’s not one or two things that makes it successful, it’s paying attention to everything you do along the way. Thankfully, at Beringer, the new emphasis on “being green” is a comfortable fit with what we’ve been doing for years. If you look at our large vineyards from earlier generations, for instance, you’ll find wildlife corridors and trees and a whole ecological system. And we partnered with the Fish Friendly Farming certification program years ago to protect natural watersheds and rivers and waterways.
But we’re always looking for ways to do more. We’re in the process of becoming a Certified California Sustainable Winegrower, for instance. We’re composting more and more of our humus, have installed solar energy, and have reduced water usage by 13 million gallons in the last 4 years. We’re even doing things like reducing glass usage to cut down on packaging and lighten our carbon footprint with transportation.
Lia: Lots to be thankful for!
Laurie: Absolutely. The most important thing is that it all adds up; even just turning off the lights. We all have a lot more personal power in this area than we think if we just pay attention to what we do every day. I think sustainability needs to be both systemic, as a company, and individual. When you leave work, you want those same values to continue on after work. One of the things I love is that because they’re teaching these things in school now, kids are holding adults responsible. They’re great catalysts!